Mantan Moreland – “That Ain’t My Finger!”
Born in Monroe, Louisiana, Moreland began acting by the time he was an adolescent, reportedly running away to join the circus. By the late 1920s, he had made his way through vaudeville, working with various shows and revues, performing on Broadway and touring Europe. Initially, Moreland appeared in low-budget “race movies” aimed at African-American audiences, but as his comedic talents came to be recognized, he received roles in larger productions. Moreland, with his bulging eyes and cackling laugh, quickly became a favorite supporting player in Hollywood movies. He is perhaps best known for his role as chauffeur Birmingham Brown in Monogram’s Charlie Chan series. At the height of his career, Moreland received steady work from major film studios, as well as from independent producers who starred Moreland in low-budget, all-black-cast comedies. Moreland also toured America in vaudeville, making personal appearances in the nation’s movie theaters. His straight man was Ben Carter, and they developed an excellent rapport and impeccable timing. Their “incomplete sentence” routines can be seen in two Charlie Chan pictures, The Scarlet Clue and Dark Alibi. Moreland was offered fewer roles in the 1950s, when filmmakers began to reassess roles given to black actors. He was briefly considered as a possible addition to the Three Stooges when Shemp Howard died in 1955. Moreland returned to the stage and appeared in two all-black variety films in 1955, with Nipsey Russell standing in for Ben Carter as his straight man.