The Legacies Series, an oral history project, features our theatre elders — actors, writers, directors, composers, designers and producers — working people who have kept alive a dedication to the precarious profession that is theatre. This program honors their work by the passing on of their working histories to those of us coming up after them.
Robert Earl Jones & Gertrude Jeannette
Held at The Langston Hughes House
Hosted by Billie Allen & Carl Hancock Rux
“Miss J” (as she is called) has been producing and directing theatre non-stop for nearly 50 years. Less than a week before The Foundry Theatre’s 1995 Legacy Series discussion, Miss J turned 81 years old, and without pause continued work on the next play she produced with The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players, a company that grew out of a desire to enrich the cultural life of the Harlem community. In addition to directing her own plays (This Way Forward, a Bolt from the Blue, Light in the Cellar, Who’s Mama’s Baby Who’s Daddy’s Child and Gladys’ Dilemma), Miss J has directed the work of John Perkins, Celeste C. Walker, Phillip Hayes Dean, Ajene Washington and Lorraine Hansberry, and for many years she worked as an actress in radio, stage, film and TV. On Broadway, she originated roles in Lost in the Stars, Nobody Loves Analbatross, the Amen Corner, the Skin of our Teeth, the Great White Hope and Vieux Carre. Her films credits include: Nothing but a Man, Cry for the City, Shaft, the Legend of Charlie, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Black Girl and several documentaries and short films. Miss J received the Outstanding Pioneer Award from the AUDELCO in 1984 and the AT&T and Black American Newspapers 1987 Personality of the Year Award. In 1991 she was the recipient of the Harlem Business Recognition Award from the National Council of Negro Women.Gertrude Jeannette
Robert Earl Jones
In 2006, Robert Earl Jones passed away at his family home in Englewood Legacy N.J. at the age of 96. Born in Mississippi in 1910, Robert Earl was an actor with far-reaching experience. At 16 years old, he swung onto a freight train heading North and arrived in New York unintentionally—he meant to get to Boston and hopped the wrong train. Robert Earl was a railway worker, a welder, a butler, a truant officer for the WPA, a prize fighter (knocking out Bob Norman in NYC’s Hippodrome, February 23, 1938), to name but a few of his lives. But in 1938 Langston Hughes’ Aunt Toy, helped him to read his first poem. That poem became part of a one-act play, Jones’ acting debut, entitled “Don’t You Want to be Free?” Since then, his many Broadway credits included: Herod and Mariamne, The Hasty Heart, Strange Fruit, The Iceman Cometh, Othello (an obsession of his), Gospel at Colonus and Mulebone. Film credits included: The Sting, Wild River, Cold River, Trading Places and The Cotton Club. Robert Earl Jones was the recipient of more awards than there is space to list, but among his proudest achievements was completing the New York City Marathon —twice.
“I started writing about women, strong women,
that I knew that no one would be ashamed to play.”
– Gertrude Jeannette