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Indiana Historical Bureau

IHB > Historical Markers > Find a Marker > Charles Gordone Charles Gordone

Charles Gordone

Location: Elkhart Public Library, 300 South 2nd Street, Elkhart (Elkhart County, Indiana)

Installed: 2009 Indiana Historical Bureau, Elkhart County Historical Society, NAACP of Elkhart County, Goshen College English Department, Elkhart Historical and Cultural Preservation Commission, Shirley Gordon Jackson, and Susan Kouyomjian Gordone

ID#: 20.2009.1

Text

Side one:

Born in Ohio, 1925, Gordone grew up in Elkhart and graduated from Elkhart High School in 1944. In the 1950s, he moved to New York City where he worked as an actor, director, and playwright. During the 1960s, he acted in the award-winning off-Broadway play, The Blacks, and worked to ensure more opportunities for blacks in the entertainment industry.

Side two:

In 1970, Gordone won national acclaim as the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for No Place to Be Somebody , also the first off-Broadway play to win the award. In the 1980s, Gordone advocated integrating minority actors into the casts of classic dramas. In 1987, he joined the Texas A&M University faculty. He died in 1995.

Keywords

African American, Arts & Culture

Annotated Text

Charles Gordone

Side one:

Born in Ohio, 1925,[1] Gordone[2] grew up in Elkhart[3] and graduated from Elkhart High School in 1944.[4] In the 1950s, he moved to New York City[5] where he worked as an actor,[6] director,[7] and playwright.[8] During the 1960s, he acted in the award-winning off-Broadway play, The Blacks,[9] and worked to ensure more opportunities for blacks in the entertainment industry.[10]

Side two:

In 1970, Gordone won national acclaim as the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for No Place to Be Somebody, also the first off-Broadway play to win the award.[11] In the 1980s, Gordone advocated integrating minority actors into the casts of classic dramas.[12] In 1987, he joined the Texas A&M University faculty.[13] He died in 1995.[14]

Notes

  1. “Certificate of Birth,” State of Ohio, October 12, 1925 (B070662). Charles Fleming’s birth certificate, under “full name of child,” reads only Fleming. His parents are listed as “Charles Joseph Fleming” and “Betty Morgan.”

    “Charles Gordone Is Dead at 70; Won a Pulitzer for His First Play,” New York Times, November 19, 1995 (B070252).

  2. During his lifetime, Gordone had three separate last names. He was born Charles Fleming on October 12, 1925. “Certificate of Birth,” State of Ohio, October 12, 1925 (B070662).

    His last name changed to Gordon after his family moved to Elkhart and his mother married William L. Gordon on December 18, 1931. “William L. Gordon, Elkhart Truth, November 9, 1995 (B070164) and People and Places of Your Town and Mine as shown in the 1944 Pennant Annual [sic], Elkhart High School (Elkhart, 1944) 11, 32, 59,71, 81, 103, 104 (B070098).

    His last name changed to Gordone after he moved to New York City circa 1952. The exact date he changed his name to Gordone is not clear, however, by 1954 he signed up for Actors’ Equity Association (an actors’ union) using the last name, Gordone. “Application for Membership,” Actors’ Equity Association,” Chuck Gordone/Charles E. Gordon, Received September 15, 1954 (B071439).

  3. By 1930, Camille Morgan Fleming, Charles Fleming’s mother, moved with her children to Elkhart, Indiana. Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census (1930), Population, April 11, 1930, Elkhart, Elkhart County, Indiana, 14 A (B070106). Census indicates Camille Fleming living with her father and head of household, Edward Morgan.  Fleming’s children Charles, Stanley, Cecil, and Shirley also lived in this household.

  4. People and Places of Your Town and Mine as shown in the 1944 Pennant Annual [sic], Elkhart High School (Elkhart, 1944) 11, 32, 59,71, 81, 103, 104 (B070098). The entry in the Elkhart High School yearbook for Gordone follows. “Gordon, Charles E., College Preparatory, Hi-Y, Dramatics Club, Yell Club, Annual Ad Staff, Student Council, Choir (Pres.), Cross Country (Capt.), Track (Capt.), Boys’ Glee Club, Tumbling team, Blue Jackets, Superintendent’s Council.”

    “From Nowhere to ‘No Place,’” New York Times, June 8, 1969 (B070137).

  5. Gordone indicated in various interviews that he moved to New York City in 1952. “From Nowhere to ‘No Place,’” New York Times, June 8, 1969 (B070137) and “Pulitzer-Winning Author Recalls Days in Elkhart,” Elkhart Truth, May 26, 1970 (B070099).

  6. Gordone’s earliest roles in New York City included Climate of Eden (1953), Mrs. Patterson (1954), and Fortunato (1956). “At the Theatre,” New York Times, November 21, 1953 (B071440); “Application for Membership,” Actors’ Equity Association,” Chuck Gordone/Charles E. Gordon, Received September 15, 1954 (B071439); “Two One-Act Plays Given at Cinema Club,” New York Times, March 24, 1956 (B070935). The most notable play of Gordone’s career before completing No Place to be was The Blacks: A Clown Show, which began in 1961. See endnote 8 for more information.

  7. Gordone’s earliest directing experiences in New York City were Rebels and Bugs (1958), Faust (1959), Peer Gynt (1959), Detective Story (1960), and Tobacco Road (1961). Charles Gordone, Vita, Spring 1994, provided by Susan Kouyomjian Gordone (B070651) and “From Nowhere to ‘No Place,’” New York Times, June 8, 1969 (B070137).

  8. Gordone wrote his play, No Place to Be , after working in a Greenwich Village bar owned by Johnny Romero in the 1950s. In an interview in 1969, Gordone indicated he began this job in 1959. “From Nowhere to ‘No Place,’” New York Times, June 8, 1969 (B070137).

    In a 1970 interview, Gordone recalled that he began working at the bar in the mid 1950s. “Pulitzer-Winning Author Recalls Days in Elkhart,” Elkhart Truth, May 26, 1970 (B070099). In both articles, Gordone credited work at this bar in the 1950s for inspiring his play, which he began writing in 1960.

  9. Gordone was an original member of the American cast for Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show.  The playwright, a white man, intended the play for an all African-American cast and a white audience. Gordone played the role, “Valet.” Jean Genet, The Blacks: A Clown Show (New York, 1960), 3 (B070952); “Theater: ‘The Blacks’ by Jean Genet,” New York Times, May 5, 1961 (B070934); and “From Nowhere to ‘No Place,’” New York Times, June 8, 1969 (B070137). 

  10. After moving to New York City circa 1952, Gordone saw how difficult it could be for African-American actors to earn a living in the entertainment business and decided to act. “From Nowhere to ‘No Place,’” New York Times, June 8, 1969 (B070137); “I am a combination of five nationalities,” Deadline Magazine, Berkeley, California, July 16, 1982 (B070737); “His Place to be ,” Drama-Logue, July 16-22, 1987 (B070675).

    Gordone’s efforts to end discriminatory practices included rallying union support. On June 8, 1962, he submitted a resolution to Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), an actors’ union that he joined in 1954, which sought to eliminate discrimination in casting by getting the American Federation of Labor’s (AFL) support (AEA was affiliated with the AFL). Gordone, Charles, “Resolution,” June 8, 1962, Fourth Quarterly Membership Meeting of Actors’ Equity Association (B071437).

    In 1962, Gordone took these concerns to Congress, when he testified during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and Labor. The Committee at that time was investigating discrimination in the performing arts. During his testimony, Gordone said that discrimination took more forms in the entertainment field than in any other industry. “Negro Actors at Hearing Assail Bias in Casting,” New York Times, October 30, 1962 (B070933).

    In 1963, Gordone claimed that television producers feared the withdrawal of corporate sponsorship if they “put Negroes in their shows.” “Broadcasters Warned to Speed Hiring of Negroes,” New York Times, June 25, 1963 (B070932).

  11. Gordone stated that he finished No Place to Be Somebody in 1967. “From Nowhere to ‘No Place,’” New York Times, June 8, 1969 (B070137) and “His Place to be Somebody,” Drama-Logue, July 16-22, 1987 (B070675).

    Gordone produced a “showcase version” of the play at the Sheridan Square Playhouse in 1967.  No Place to Be Somebody played a few Monday nights. “From Nowhere to ‘No Place,’” New York Times, June 8, 1969 (B070137).

    In 1969, producer Joseph Papp accepted the play for the Public Theater’s “Other Stage Workshop” at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Gordone, No Place to be Somebody (B070953); “Openings of the Week,” New York Times, May 4, 1969 (B070931); “Theater: ‘No Place to Be Somebody’ on Lafayette St.,” New York Times, May 5, 1969 (B070157).

    Shortly after the play opened, No Place to Be Somebody moved to the Anspacher Theater for an extended run and on December 30, 1969, it opened for a limited run on Broadway at the ANTA Theater. “Theater: ‘No Place to Be Somebody’ Opens Run,” New York Times, December 31, 1969 (B070930).

    On May 4, 1970, Gordone won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. “The Pulitzer Prizes for 1970,” The Pulitzer Prize Web site, http://www.pulitzer.org/cgi-bin/year.pl?type=w&year=1970&FormsButton2=Retrieve, (accessed October 9, 2007) (B070129); “Report of Songmy Incident Wins a Pulitzer for Hersh,” New York Times, May 5, 1970 (B070160); “Pulitzer-Winning Author Recalls Days in Elkhart,” Elkhart Truth, May 26, 1970 (B070099); “Charles Gordone Is Dead at 70; Won a Pulitzer for His First Play,” New York Times, November 19, 1995 (B070252); “Gordone made mark in theater,” [sic] Elkhart Truth, November 20, 1995 (B070165).

    No Place to Be Somebody was the first off-Broadway play to win the Pulitzer Prize. “Report of Songmy Incident Wins a Pulitzer for Hersh,” New York Times, May 5, 1970 (B070160) and “His Play Is First Off-Broadway Winner,” Elkhart Truth, May 5, 1970 (B070678).

  12. In 1982, Gordone joined with The American Stage, an organization that cast minorities into non-traditional roles, in Berkeley, California.  The American Stageproductions included: A Streetcar Named Desire with a Creole as Stanley, Of Mice and Men with two Chicanos playing George and Lenny, and The Night of the Iguana with an African American in the lead role of Shannon. According to Gordone, The American Stage’s “resident director,” he never set out to provide more opportunities for “black, Hispanic and Asian actors,” during his career. By 1982, however, Gordone said “it is now very much my thing.” “This Stage is Bare no More,” The Berkeley Gazette, Sept 10, 1982 (B071320) and “His Place to be ,” Drama-Logue, July 16-22, 1987 (B070675).

    Gordone said that his goal was to logically cast actors “so that you don’t insult the work’s integrity.” Gordone believed “innovative casting enhances the plays,” and makes them so exciting that “it’s almost like you’re seeing them for the first time.” “His Place to be ,” Drama-Logue, July 16-22, 1987 (B070675).

  13. “His Place to be ,” Drama-Logue, July 16-22, 1987 (B070675). “Lecturer promotes cultural unity, encourages student creativity,” [sic] The Battalion, November 19, 1992 (B070677) and Charles Gordone, Vita, Spring 1994, provided by Susan Kouyomjian Gordone (B070651).

  14. Gordone died on November 16, 1995. Social Security Death Index, Ancestry Library http://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&rank=0&tips=0&gsfn=Charles (accessed October 17, 2007) (B070175); “Gordone made mark in theater,” [sic] Elkhart Truth, November 20, 1995 (B070165); “Charles Gordone Is Dead at 70; Won a Pulitzer for His First Play,” New York Times, November 19, 1995 (B070252).