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Roscoe Lee Browne


Roscoe Lee Browne

Roscoe Lee Browne
Browne in 1979.
Born (1925-05-02)May 2, 1925[1]
Woodbury, New Jersey, U.S.
Died April 11, 2007(2007-04-11) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Stomach cancer
Resting place
Alma mater Lincoln University
Occupation Actor, stage director
Years active 1961–2007

Roscoe Lee Browne (May 2, 1925 – April 11, 2007) was an American actor and director, known for his rich voice and dignified bearing.[1]


Browne was the fourth son of a Baptist minister, Sylvanus S. Browne, and his wife Lovie (née Lovie Lee Usher). Born in Woodbury, New Jersey, Browne first attended historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he became a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1946.

During World War II Browne served in Italy with the Negro track and field team.[2]

After the war he undertook postgraduate work at Middlebury College in Vermont, Columbia University in New York City, and at the University of Florence in Italy. Also an outstanding middle-distance runner, Browne won the Amateur Athletic Union 1,000-yard national indoor championship in 1949. He occasionally returned to Lincoln University between 1946 to 1952 to instruct classes in comparative literature, French, and English. Upon leaving academia he earned a living for several years selling wine for Schenley Import Corporation. Despite his limited amateur acting experience, in 1956 he stunned guests at a party – among them opera singer Leontyne Price – when he announced his intention to quit his secure job with Schenley to become a full-time professional actor.

Acting career

Despite the apprehensions of his friends, Browne managed to land the roles of soothsayer and Pindarus in Julius Caesar, directed by Joseph Papp for New York City's first Shakespeare Festival Theater. More work with the Shakespeare Festival Theater followed, and in 1961 he voiced a part as an off-screen camera operator, J. J. Burden, in The Connection (1961), his first movie role.[1]

Endowed with a resonant, WNEW-FM in New York reciting poetry, passages from the Bible, and assorted literary works. In 1968, he recorded "Music and Gibran", which consisted of English interpretations of Khalil Gibran's poetry, mixed over Middle Eastern background music performed by John Berberian (oud), Souren Baronian (clarinet and baritone saxophone), and Robert Marashlian, among others.

Browne was determined not to accept stereotyped and demeaning roles that had routinely been offered to black actors, and he resisted emulating others. Browne also desired to do more than act and narrate, and in 1966 he wrote and made his directorial stage debut with A Hand Is On The Gate starring Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Moses Gunn, and other rising black talent.

A lifelong bachelor who coveted his privacy, in the turbulent decades of the civil rights revolution Browne avoided participation in public protests preferring instead to be “more effective on stage with metaphor...than in the streets with an editorial”.[3]

His theatrical work brought him to the attention of producer Leland Hayward, and in 1964 he began a regular stint as a cast member on Hayward's satirical NBC-TV series That Was the Week That Was. Starting in the late 1960s, Browne increasingly became a guest star on TV on both comedy and dramatic shows like Mannix, All in the Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show, A Different World, and dozens of other shows. He also was a regular on Soap[1] where he played Saunders, the erudite butler from 1979–81, replacing Robert Guillaume who went on to his own show Benson. Browne later guest-starred on Benson with Guillaume. His appearances on The Cosby Show, including a memorable episode in which he recited Shakespeare with fellow guest star Christopher Plummer, also drew acclaim as well winning an Emmy Award in 1986 for his guest role as Professor Foster. He and fellow actor Anthony Zerbe toured the United States with their poetry performance piece, Behind the Broken Words, which included readings of poetry, some of it written by Browne, as well as performances of comedy and dramatic works.

Browne's most notable movie role may have been in The Cowboys where, as a camp cook, he leads a group of young cowhands avenging the death of John Wayne's character in the movie.

Browne found additional success performing in August Wilson plays, both on Broadway and the Pittsburgh Public Theater. He was described as having "a baritone voice like a sable coat," speaking the King's English with a strong mid-Atlantic accent. To someone who once said Browne sounded "too white", he replied, "I'm sorry, I once had a white maid."[4] Four years before his death, Browne narrated a series of WPA slave narratives in the HBO film Unchained Memories in 2003.[5]


Browne died of stomach cancer in Los Angeles on April 11, 2007, aged 81.[6][1][7][8] He was remembered for his contributions in a New York Times encomium by Frank Crohn, President of The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society:
We mourn the loss of our long-time Trustee and faithful friend. He was always to be counted upon to be supportive of the aims and purposes of the Society. He filled our lives with the soft sound of poetry as only he could recite it. Now the stage is empty and the lights are low.

Awards and recognition




  1. ^ a b c d e Robertson, Campbell (April 12, 2007). "Roscoe Lee Browne, 81, Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies".  
  2. ^ pp.48-49 Dillard, Harrison & McIntosh, Michael Bones: The Life and Times of Harrison Dillard AuthorHouse, 17 Jul 2012
  3. ^ (Troupe, 92)
  4. ^ Christopher Rawson (2009-01-28). "Lane, Hamlisch among Theater Hall of Fame inductees". Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  5. ^ profileJet Magazine
  6. ^ The Associated Press (April 11, 2007). "Actor Roscoe Lee Browne dies at 81 in Los Angeles". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  7. ^ Roscoe L. Browne: Death Record from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) - GenealogyBank
  8. ^

External links

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