Godfrey MacArthur Cambridge
February 26, 1933
New York City, United States
|Died||November 29, 1976 (aged 43)|
Burbank, California, United States
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles|
|Occupation||Actor, stand-up comedian|
|Medium||Stage and screen|
Godfrey MacArthur Cambridge (February 26, 1933 – November 29, 1976) was an American stand-up comic and actor. Alongside Bill Cosby, Dick Gregory, and Nipsey Russell, he was acclaimed by Time in 1965 as "one of the country's foremost celebrated Negro comedians."
Cambridge was born in New York City on February 26, 1933, to Alexander and Sarah Cambridge, who were immigrants from British Guiana. His parents, dissatisfied with the New York Public School System, sent him to live with his grandparents in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada during his primary school years. When he was 13, Cambridge moved back to New York and attended Flushing High School in Flushing, Queens.
In 1949, Cambridge studied medicine at Hofstra College, which he attended for three years before dropping out to pursue a career in acting.
While pursuing an acting career, Cambridge supported himself with a variety of jobs, including "cab driver, bead-sorter, ambulance driver, gardener, judo instructor, and clerk for the New York City Housing Authority," as well as cleaning airplanes and making popcorn bunnies.
His first role was as a bartender in the Off-Broadway play Take a Giant Step. He made his Broadway debut in the original production of Herman Wouk's 1957 play Nature's Way. Cambridge received a 1962 Tony Award nomination as part of the original cast of Purlie Victorious, a play written by and starring Ossie Davis; he was featured in an opening-night cast that also included Ruby Dee, Alan Alda, Sorrell Booke, Roger C. Carmel, Helen Martin, and Beah Richards.
Godfrey's memorable film roles include The Last Angry Man (1959), in which he played a character called "Nobody Home", The President's Analyst (1967), where he plays a depressed government agent, and Watermelon Man (1970), in which he played the lead character, a white bigot who one day wakes up and discovers his skin color has turned black. He also had a starring role in the 1970 Ossie Davis adaptation of the Chester Himes novel Cotton Comes to Harlem, as well as its 1972 sequel, Come Back, Charleston Blue. Cambridge made a cameo appearance in director Sidney Lumet's Bye Bye Braverman (1968) as a Yiddish speaking NYC cab driver involved in a car collision with the main protagonists, and another as a gay underworld figure in the 1975 film Friday Foster. His other film appearances included roles in The Busy Body (1967), The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), The Biscuit Eater (1972), Beware! The Blob (1972), and Whiffs (1975).
He hosted, financed, and produced Dead is Dead (1970), a drug-awareness film. It gave an uncensored look at the downside of drug abuse, showing actual addicts injecting drugs and going through withdrawal.
Cambridge appeared on several network television programs, including Car 54 Where Are You? ("The Curse of the Snitkins"), The Dick Van Dyke Show ("The Man From My Uncle"), I Spy ("Court of the Lion"), The Monkees ("It's a Nice Place to Visit"), and Police Story ("Year of the Dragon"). He also had a small speaking part as a member of Sgt. Bilko's platoon in The Phil Silvers Show, 1957 episode "Boys Town". Cambridge gave an acclaimed performance alongside Tom Bosley in the episode "Make Me Laugh" of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, a story about a failed comedian who looks to a genie for a quick fix to success; the episode was directed by Steven Spielberg. He perhaps reached his largest television audience in a series of comical commercials for Jockey brand underwear.
He later appeared in Jean Genet's The Blacks: A Clown Show, giving a performance that earned him an Obie Award in 1961. Four years later he did a stock version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
I am only concerned with letting people see the truth of our lives, like, for example, the way Negroes are afraid of each other too. We have got to show the common bonds. I have an act about people staring at a Negro in the Safeway. I want people to realize that they really do stare. We must bring things out into the open. There are some people you can't reach. You neutralize this kind. If two men are laughing at each other, nobody gets stabbed."— Cambridge in February 1965, on his stand-up act.
In addition to acting, Cambridge had major success as a stand-up comedian. By 1965 he was earning "as much as $4,000 a week...in all respects a headliner, working the best places, such as San Francisco's Hungry i and Hollywood's Crescendo." He appeared on The Tonight Show and was introduced by his favorite actress Joan Crawford on The Hollywood Palace. His routines were imbued with biting sarcasm and the trenchant topical humor that was common in comedic circles at the time. He was noted for comic lapses from standard educated speech to Black street-speak.
Cambridge, along with writer Maya Angelou and actor Hugh Hurd, organized one of the first benefits for Martin Luther King Jr. held in New York City; according to Angelou, it was held at the Village Gate in the late 1950s and raised $9,000 for King's civil rights movement. (On his 1964 album Ready Or Not, Cambridge joked he was supporting Barry Goldwater, saying that the GOP presidential nominee had "come flat out against slavery...in principle!")
Cambridge married actress Barbara Ann Teer in 1962; the couple divorced three years later. During the 1970s he remained in semi-retirement, making few public appearances and marrying Audriano Meyers in 1972.
Cambridge died of a heart attack at the age of 43 while on the Burbank, California, set of the ABC television movie Victory at Entebbe, in which he was to portray Idi Amin. Amin commented that Cambridge's death was "punishment from God." He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.
|1959||The Last Angry Man||Nobody Home||Uncredited|
|1961||Splendor in the Grass||Chauffeur||Uncredited|
|1963||Gone Are the Days!||Gitlow Judson|
|1964||The Troublemaker||Fire Inspector|
|1967||The Busy Body||Mike|
|1967||The President's Analyst||Don Masters|
|1968||The Biggest Bundle of Them All||Benjamin 'Benny' Brownstead|
|1968||Bye Bye Braverman||Taxi Driver|
|1970||Cotton Comes to Harlem||Gravedigger Jones|
|1970||Watermelon Man||Jeff Gerber|
|1971||Make Me Laugh/Clean Kills and Other Trophies||Jackie Slater||Episode of Night Gallery|
|1972||The Biscuit Eater||Willie Dorsey|
|1972||Beware! The Blob||Chester Hargis|
|1972||Come Back Charleston Blue||Gravedigger Jones|
|1973||Five on the Black Hand Side||Himself|
|1975||Friday Foster||Ford Malotte|
Mr. Hurd joined with Godfrey Cambridge and Maya Angelou in organizing one of the first benefits in New York for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an occasion memorialized in Ms. Angelou's book The Heart of a Woman. The benefit, held at the Village Gate in the late 1950s, raised $9,000 for Dr. King's civil rights movement.
Cambridge was often overweight and it was speculated that his habit of "yo yo dieting" may have been a factor in his early death.