Legendary actor/singer credits John Murray Anderson for giving him a break
Harry Belafonte. — Photo courtesy of S2BN films
Harry Belafonte has given a shout out to the Newfoundlander who gave him a major career break.
In his recently-released biography, “My Song,” the legendary actor and singer penned in a few lines about John Murray Anderson.
He called him a legend.
Writes Belafonte: “He’d started out in Vaudeville, gone to produce the Ziegfeld Follies, along with Billy Roses’s revues, done movies, and even overseen the Ringling Brothers’ circus. An effervescent figure, always just in from Paris and making a grand entrance with two or three theatrical grand dames, Anderson had an air of infallibility about him.”
Anderson, according to an article by Bert Riggs on www.heritage.nf.ca, was born in St. John’s Sept. 20, 1886.
He was schooled at Bishop Feild College, at Edinburgh Academy in Scotland and in Switzerland at Lausanne University.
After graduating, he studied acting and singing in London.
“He returned to Newfoundland around 1910 and spent a year collecting and selling antiques before moving to New York,” reads the article, which originally appeared in the MUN Gazette.
“There he quickly became involved in theatre, first becoming a dance instructor, before becoming a writer and producer, particularly of musical comedy and revues.”
Anderson led numerous productions over the next three decades and he was a mover and shaker behind Holywood’s first all-colour musical, “King of Jazz,” which starred Bing Crosby.
“(Anderson) was a periodic visitor to Newfoundland throughout his life and hailed here as one of the many Newfoundlanders who have made good abroad,” Riggs’ article reads.
Anderson saw Belafonte sing at The Village Vanguard, a New York jazz club, in 1953 and chose him for a leading role in the “John Murray Anderson Almanac.”
“I’ve selected you to be in my revue,” he told Belafonte. “That means you’re the best there is.”
The show was a rousing success, and earned its star a Tony Award, a hit song, and the attention of Otto Preminger, a director who cast him in “Carmen Jones,” a 1954 musical.
Belafonte — perhaps best known for tunes like “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” — went on to become a major star.
Anderson didn’t get to see it though. He died of a heart attack in January 1954.
Interestingly, Anderson’s Scottish-born father John was big into business and politics in Newfoundland.
“He is best known as the person who convinced the Newfoundland legislature to adopt daylight savings time in 1917,” the Gazette article says.
Belafonte turned 85 in March.