Bert Williams

     FIRST BLACK DIRECTOR

Egbert Austin Williams was born in Antigua in 1875. He had a natural sense of humor and was said to be at his best as a mimic. He had also learned to play music by ear. His family later moved to New York, and when he  was 12 they moved to California. His father was in poor health and had lost his money. So following  Bert's graduation from high school, he had to abandon his civil engineering studies in college to help earn a living. He naturally turned to entertaining and went from café to café in San Francisco singing minstrel ditties and passing the hat.

Bert had developed a particular interest in the mannerisms of a certain type of peasants
while in Antigua. He later shifted his  attention to humble, shiftless who could neither read nor write but who had  a certain hard, and not altogether  inaccurate, philosophy of life. He would study this type patiently and rejoice whenever he discovered a new twist of dialect or expression. From this Bert would go on to develop an act into what became his trademark character, "Mr. Nobody" and the accompanying song he composed.

He  fortunately had met George Walker, with whom he had a natural affinity. George was even poorer than he was and could neither dance nor play. But Bert took him under his wings and groomed him as a partner. They went on to become a successful Bandana Land, Abyssinia,  and The Policy Players and had tremendous success. When George took ill, Bert continued working and shared his earnings with him until he died in 1911. Bert continued on working alone and later joined the Ziegfeld  Follies. It was the top production of its kind in America, and Bert  was its highest paid star for ten years.

He was hired in 1916 by the Biograph Company to write, direct, and star in "Natural Born -Gambler", based on a character he created in vaudeville, and a film called "Fish", also for
Biograph. Bert Williams enjoyed full popularity until the end. While in Chicago he fell seriously ill, but continued to perform rather than have the promoter suffer financial loss. He would later suffer a complete breakdown because of this behavior to the point that even doctors could not help. He died on March 4, 1922.

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