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F. E. Williams; Leader in L.A.'s Black Theater

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frances E. Williams, actress, activist and producer who worked for more than seven decades to promote black theater in Los Angeles, has died. She was 89.

Ms. Williams died Monday in Los Angeles of complications from a stroke she suffered in September.

She was familiar to audiences in such classic films as MGM’s 1951 version of “Show Boat” and in such recent television roles as Miss Marie, “waitress emeritus” on the CBS series “Frank’s Place.”

“I think that each actor, each craftsman has a responsibility,” she said, “to go a step beyond where they are and challenge the powers that be.”

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Ms. Williams’ acting career began at 16 in Cleveland’s Karamu Theatre, where she worked for 14 years as an actress, a director and a producer. She went to Russia, where she trained at the Meyerhold Theatre and appeared in the 1936 film “The Circus.”

In Hollywood in 1941, Ms. Williams worked with the Actors Lab and performed with Charlie Chaplin at the Circle Theater. She later appeared in the Broadway production and national tour of “You Can’t Take It With You.”

She co-founded the Los Angeles Paul Robeson Community Center, helped form the Minority Actors’ Committee of the Screen Actors Guild and in the 1980s directed and helped produce “Art Against Apartheid.” She worked with the World Peace Council and labor unions and became the first black woman to run for the Los Angeles City Council and the state Assembly.

Ms. Williams helped found Los Angeles’ first Equity theater and served on the board of Actors’ Equity for 20 years. In the late 1940s, she co-founded the city’s first black theater company, the Negro Arts Theatre.

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Memorial contributions may be made to the Frances E. Williams Trust Foundation to aid young actors and writers. Arrangements are being made by attorney Leo Branton, 3460 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 410, Los Angeles, Calif. 90010


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