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Canada Lee Comes to New Hampshire

canada Presents
Historic Portsmouth #450

Independent Newington film producer Louis de Rochemont rocked the Hollywood movie scene with the nation's first "race film" in 1949. Shot largely in the seacoast region, the film was an adaptation of a Reader's Digest article and book entitled LOST BOUNDARIES. (Continued below)

De Rochemont got the idea about a New England negro family "passing" for white when he met Albert Johnston, Jr., played here in the film by actor Richard Hylton. De Rochemont himself was criticized for hiring white actors like Hylton instead of light-skinned blacks to play all the major roles. But key among the cast members was veteran African-American actor Canada Lee, seen here playing a kindly Harlem policeman. A veteran boxer turned Broadway performer, Lee was “the greatest Negro actor of his era and one of the finest actors in the country” according to the New York Times. Lost Boundaries premiered in four emotional showings at the Olympia and Colonial theaters in downtown Portsmouth on June 22, 1949. In a surprise appearance with the actual Johnston family, Canada Lee spoke onstage after the film. Lee recited the lyrics to "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Then he said:  “You see a picture like this, and hear all the applause coming from you people for what it’s trying to do, and you begin to believe again.” An unflinching civil rights activist, Canada Lee made an enemy of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Lee was branded a Communist,  blackballed from acting, and his name all but expunged from the public record. He died of a heart attack in 1952.  (RD-DR Production photo from the collection)

canada lee and richard hylton copy




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