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Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee

Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee
Your Price: $25.99 CDN
Author: Mona Z. Smith
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Format: Softcover
# of Pages: 230
Pub. Date: 2005
ISBN-10: 0571211453
ISBN-13: 9780571211456

About the Book:

Imagine an actor as familiar to audiences as Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman are today – who is then virtually deleted from public memory. Such is the story of Canada Lee. Among the most respected black actors of the forties and a tireless civil rights activist, he was branded a traitor in the 1950s, blacklisted, and his name reduced to a footnote in the history of the McCarthy era. Lee's untimely death in 1952 at age 45 is one of a handful directly attributed to the blacklist.

Born Lionel Canegata in Harlem in 1907, he was a Renaissance man. A musical prodigy on violin and piano at eleven, by thirteen he had become a successful jockey and by his twenties a national champion amateur boxer. In 1926 he turned professional and adopted the name Canada Lee. After wandering into auditions for the WPA Negro Theater Project, Lee took up acting and soon shot to stardom in Orson Welles's Broadway production of Native Son, later appearing in such classic films as Lifeboat and the original Cry, the Beloved Country. But Lee's meteoric rise to fame was followed by a devastating fall. Labelled a Communist by the FBI and the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as early as 1943, Lee was pilloried during the notorious spy trial of Judith Coplon in 1949, then condemned in longtime friend Ed Sullivan's column. He died in 1952, forty-five and penniless, a heartbroken casualty of a dangerous and conflicted time. This critically acclaimed work, based on over a decade of research by playwright and biographer Mona Smith, revives the legacy of the great black actor, activist, athlete who was perhaps the blacklist's most tragic victim.

What people say:

"Lee has long deserved a thoughtful biography like this one." — The Seattle Times

"Armed with extensive research and huge files hoarded by [Lee's] widow, Smith has put together a richly detailed ... narrative ... Becoming Something does an important [service by making] possible much more discussion and reflection on a life that still has lessons to teach us." — The Washington Post

"...written like a drama, a mystery story, and a vindication ... enlivening every page of this well-paced biography. Ms. Smith is superbly gifted in creating suspense, in asking tantalizing questions about Lee's motivations and reactions to racism, politics, and art." — The New York Sun

"Smith's well-crafted biography does due honor to Canada Lee, a man who deserves recognition not only as a pioneering activist, but also as a superb actor." — Hollywood Reporter

"Heartbreaking and cautionary ... A book well worth reading." — Red Rock News (Sedona, Arizona)

About the Author:

Mona Z. Smith is an American playwright, screenwriter, author, and former newspaper reporter. She is also a consultant to nonprofits and teaches theatre and writing. She started her professional writing career at The Miami Herald, covering crime and politics.