A Vote for Clarence Muse
Kane and Rosebud, nine years before “Citizen Kane.”
I recently watched “Winner Take All,” a Roy Del Ruth-directed Jimmy Cagney vehicle from 1932, in which Cagney plays Jimmy Kane, a boxer; Guy Kibbee, in one of 18 movies he made that year, plays his manager, Pop; and Clarence Muse plays the trainer, Rosebud.
Yes, for those scoring at home, that's a Kane and a Rosebud in the same movie—nine years before “Citizen Kane.”
Rosebud as a character isn't a particular stand-out but he still stands out. Why? Muse is African-American but there's nothing stereotypical about the character. He's a man with common sense doing a job. He's allowed to just be himself.
My father interviewed Muse for The Minneapolis Star-Tribune in Nov. 1976, right before the election that sent Jimmy Carter to the White House. Muse was 87 and my father was a punk kid of 44, and this is the article that appeared on Nov. 3. Enjoy.
Actor not amused musing on blacks who don’t vote
Nov. 3 1976
If you didn’t vote Tuesday because the six blocks to your polling place were too far, or because you thought your vote wouldn’t make any difference, stay out of Clarence Muse’s way.
Muse, an 87-year-old black actor, flew the 2,000 miles to Los Angeles from Minneapolis early yesterday just so he could vote — the straight Democratic ticket, naturally, keeping intact his record of having voted in every presidential election since Woodrow Wilson’s in 1912.
“Any black who doesn’t vote,” he said in a rare burst of anger, “with the blood their grandparents shed to get the vote for us, ought to be shot.
“When I found out I was gonna be here on election day, I told ‘em to get hold of the main man (at Universal Studios) and tell ‘em I gotta be back in California tomorrow. I got control of 25,000 votes, you understand, and if I’m not there, they might get mixed up.”
He leaned back and laughed, resplendent in his black beret, flowered shirt and shocking-pink sweater.
Muse will return to Minneapolis today to continue his promotion tour for “Car Wash,” his 218th film. The first was “Hearts in Dixie,” made in 1928, and one of the earliest talking pictures.
Muse still remembers how he made the trip to Hollywood. “I was touring with an acting company in Columbus, Ohio, and William Fox (of Twentieth-Century Fox) called me and said he wanted me for this movie.
“Well, I’d just caught ‘The Jazz Singer’ and I thought, ‘Is this what all the fuss is about?’ I was sure it wouldn’t last. Besides, I had a good job and Chicago was as far West as I ever wanted to go. So to get rid of him, I told him I’d do it for $1,250 a week, 12 weeks guarante and three round-trip tickets on the train.
“The next day a telegram came confirming the terms. And I never worked for less than that again.
“I got all I need, ‘cause I was never careless with money. I got no sad stories to tell you, about how I walked in the cotton fields and they grabbed me and shoved peanuts in my mouth.
“You know, Stepin Fetchit made $1.5 million in one year in Hollywood. Now there’s an association called the National Assocation of Colored People, and of all the people in the entertainment world, the first thing they did was go after him and ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy.’
“They made a lotta progress. Now we got ‘Sanford and Son,’ about a junk dealer. And washing cars. Man, that’s worse’n pickin’ cotton.
“I’ll admit thoguh, that Step sometimes outdid the instructions when he created a character. Because of my training [10 years of study under a German theater director and cofounder of the Lafayette Players of Harlem] I was able to find a human touch in all the characters I played.
“I made five pictures for Frank Capra, and he never wrote a damn line for me. He told me, ‘It’s up to you. You’ll find a way.’
“But I don’t criticize those other guys. They had no way to learn the trade the way I did.”
After the tour, Muse and his Jamaican wife, Ena, will return to “Muse-a-while,” their 1,500-acre ranch near Perris, Calif. He won’t make any more films this year because “I don’t wanna get in the wrong bracket. I wanna work for Dr. Muse, not Uncle Sam.”
And next year? “I don’t know. My life never had a plan. I’m the most accidental character you ever met.”