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Calvin Lockhart, 72; Bahamian-born actor starred on stage, screen

Times Staff Writer

Calvin Lockhart, a strikingly handsome, Bahamian-born actor whose on-screen heyday in the 1970s included prominent roles in “Cotton Comes to Harlem” and “Uptown Saturday Night,” has died. He was 72.

Lockhart died of complications of a stroke March 29 at a hospital in Nassau, said his wife, Jennifer Miles-Lockhart.

Described by a New York Times writer in 1970 as having “matinee idol looks,” with “chiseled-out-of-marble features” and “skin the color of brown velvet,” Lockhart had his first starring film role that year in “Halls of Anger,” a racially explosive drama in which he played an ex-basketball star and English teacher who becomes vice principal of an inner-city high school where 60 white students are being bused in.

The same year, he played the smooth-talking preacher-con artist in “Cotton Comes to Harlem.”

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Lockhart’s first notable screen role had been in “Joanna,” the London-set 1968 film starring Genevieve Waite about an interracial romance, in which Lockhart played Waite’s nightclub-operator boyfriend.

It was a role that “marked him as a very gifted young man,” said Sidney Poitier, who directed Lockhart in the 1970s comedies “Uptown Saturday Night” and “Let’s Do It Again,” both of which starred Poitier and Bill Cosby. Lockhart played underworld characters in both films.

“Calvin had wonderful range as an actor,” Poitier told The Times this week. “He really had such enormous promise. I don’t know why he was not more utilized, because he was so good. As a matter of fact, he had movie-star qualities. He was a very handsome man, his impact on the screen was striking and his work was highly praised.”

Among Lockhart’s other film credits in the 1970s were leading roles in “Melinda,” “The Beast Must Die,” “Honeybaby, Honeybaby” and “The Baron.”

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In 1974, he became an actor-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, England, where he appeared in “Julius Caesar” and other productions.

Lockhart, who appeared in the short-lived Broadway musical “Reggae” in 1980, played a recurring character on TV’s “Dynasty” in the mid-'80s and later had small roles in the films “Coming to America,” “Wild at Heart” and “Predator 2.”

Born Bert Cooper in Nassau on Oct. 18, 1934, he moved to New York at age 18. After a year at the Cooper Union School of Engineering, he dropped out to pursue a career in acting, during which he supported himself by running a carpentry business in Queens and driving a taxi.

After making his Broadway debut in 1960 playing a gang leader in “The Cool World,” which ran for only two performances, Lockhart moved to Italy, where he formed his own theater company, for which he acted and directed. He later moved to Germany and then to England, where he acted frequently on British television and played small roles in several films in the late 1960s, including “A Dandy in Aspic” and “Salt and Pepper.”

About nine years ago, Lockhart moved back to the Bahamas, where he worked as a director on several productions of the Freeport Players Guild. As an actor, he recently finished filming “Rain,” an unreleased movie shot in the Bahamas.

Lockhart’s family plans to establish a scholarship fund in his name for Bahamian students who are interested in acting and filmmaking.

In addition to Jennifer, his fourth wife, Lockhart is survived by two sons, Michael Cooper and Julien Lockhart Miles; a daughter, Shari; his mother, Minerva Cooper; three brothers, Carney, Eric and Phillip Cooper; and two sisters, Delores Bain and Melba Styles.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com


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