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Leigh Whipper starred as Crooks in Of Mice and Men on Broadway and in the 1939 film. But likely you’ve never heard his name. (He doesn’t even have his own entry on Wikipedia). Regardless, he was a talented stage actor, an accomplished film star, and a barrier-breaker.
Whipper became the first African American member of Actor’s Equity Association in 1913, and he was one of the founders of Negro Actors Guild of America in 1937. He was an active member of the Screen Actors Guild and remained a strong presence in the acting community throughout his life.
Whipper got his first Broadway break at the age of 24 after leaving law school to pursue acting. He never had any formal training. He became most well-known for his portrayal of Crabman of the Catfish Row in Porgy. His on-screen career began in 1920, and he appeared in almost two-dozen movies over his lifetime.
Whipper in Of Mice and Men: A Question of Race
Whipper was a light-skinned man, and his skin color led some to question his race. A fan of the Of Mice and Men film complained that Crooks was played by a white man. Others believed that Leigh Whipper was a white man in blackface in his films.
More to Know: Whipper Trivia
He was honored by the Ethiopian government for his role Haile Selassie in Mission To Moscow. His most famous scene in the film: delivering a speech before the League of Nations as superior Emperor.
His father was a Pennsylvanian abolitionist before the Civil War and later became active in the Reconstruction movement.
He lived to be 98 years old. He died in 1972 in Harlem.