|From||United States of America|
|Field||Film, TV, Stage & Radio|
|Birth||1941, Florida, USA|
Philip Hepburn (born 1941) is an American former actor, known for his roles in Bright Road (1953), Studio One in Hollywood (1955), and The Big Story (1957). Hepburn happens to be one of the first African-American child actors to have played non-stereotypical dramatic roles in American theater and cinema in the 1950s.
Philip Hepburn was born in 1941 in Florida but grew up in New York.
For a long time, due to prejudice and racial segregation, African American actors and actresses were offered only strongly stereotyped roles. This also applied to child actors, employed exclusively as servants or in comic or musical interludes. Only in the very particular context of The Little Rascals (Hal Roach's Rascals series), between 1922 and 1944, few African American child actors — such as Ernie Morrison, Eugene Jackson, Allen Hoskins, Matthew Beard, and Billie Thomas — were able to emerge with the prestige of co-stars.
In the new climate following the end of the Second World War, the African American community began to openly rebel against this stereotypical view. The first Disney film to involve an African-American child actor, Song of the South with Glenn Leedy (1946), was the subject of bitter controversy for promoting a sweetened and patronizing image of interracial relationships.
In 1948, director Sidney Meyers showed that a different path is possible by calling a non-professional child actor, Donald Thompson, to play the lead role of a child in his documentary film The Quiet One. It's a neo-realist-inspired documentary in which Thompson was seen alongside Gary Merrill, Estelle Evans, and Clarence Cooper. For the film, Meyers won the "International Award" at the 1949 Venice Film Festival. It was also nominated for "Best Documentary, Features" at the 1949 Oscars and "Best Writing, Story and Screenplay" at the 1950 Oscars.
It is in this climate that Hepburn debuted on Broadway in October 1949 with a small part in Marc Blitzstein's musical Regina. He was also seen in the revivals of James Matthew Barrie's Peter Pan (1950-51) and Marc Connelly's The Green Pastures (1951).
In 1953 he co-starred with Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte in the film Bright Road, based on the short story "See How They Run" by Mary Elizabeth Vroman (1951). The film won the Christopher Award of that year. In the film, Hepburn offers an intense and realistic portrait of the life and problems of a young student in a segregated school in Alabama.
In the following years, Hepburn continued his acting career on Broadway in other major theatrical productions, such as Truman Capote's House of Flowers (1954-55) and Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson (1956). In 1957, he made his only television appearance, as "Jeff", in "Bob Thomas of the Philadelphia Inquirer" episode of the TV series The Big Story.
Hepburn's last known stage appearance was in 1960, in Warren Miller and Robert Rossen's The Cool World. He retired from acting after that, passing the baton to other child actors such as Glynn Turman and Steven Perry, who in his wake will contribute to building a less stereotypical image of the African American child.