Actor/athlete Woody Strode celebrated at Vanderbilt

Woody Strode

Woody Strode

Woody Strode was an extraordinary African American film actor whose career spanned seven decades, from the 1930s through the 1990s. Dr. Frank Dobson, the Director of Vanderbilt University’s Bishop Johnson Black Cultural Center, examines the film career of this underappreciated actor by screening examples of his mid-career films during February as part of the school’s International lens film series. Two of his films will be screened free at Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Cinema on consecutive Wednesdays, Feb. 5 and 12 at 7:30 pm.

Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode, born July 25, 1914 in Los Angeles, California, was a top-notch decathlete and a football star at UCLA. Strode played college football for the UCLA Bruins, the most integrated collegiate team in the nation in 1939, which included future NFL running back Kenny Washington and future Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Jackie Robinson. Strode was inducted into the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992. Strode’s first film role was as Man in Saloon in Stagecoach in 1939, followed by three more brief roles in the 1940s.

Strode was one of the first four Blacks who integrated professional football in 1946. The others were Bill Willis and Marion Motley of the Cleveland Browns (All America Football Conference [AAFC]), and fellow NFL Los Angeles Ram Kenny Washington. The character ‘Woody’ in the Toy Story films franchise is named after Strode.

Pork Chop Hill (1959) will be screened on Wednesday, February 12. Directed by Lewis Milestone, it is a Korean War war film based upon the book by military historian Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall, an eyewitness, depicting the bitterly fierce first Battle of Pork Chop Hill between the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Chinese and Korean Communist forces at the end of the Korean War in April of 1953. The film runs 98 minutes.

Strode became part of Hollywood lore after meeting legendary director John Ford and becoming a part of the Ford ‘family,’ appearing in four of Ford’s motion pictures. Strode also played the powerful gladiator who does battle with Kirk Douglas in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960). Reportedly, Woody’s favorite film from his career was Ford’s Sergeant Rutledge (1960), which will be screened on Feb. 5. Sergeant Rutledge was the first big budget Western to feature a Black hero, and it was a military courtroom drama. The film runs 111 minutes.

International Lens film series is presented by the Dean of Students office and coordinated by Arts & Campus Events and International Student & Scholar Services in collaboration with Vanderbilt University academic departments, centers, and programs. Sarratt Cinema is located on the 1st floor of the Sarratt Student Center. Parking for International Lens screenings in Sarratt Cinema is available at no charge in Zone 2 Lot 2 on West End Avenue. Avoid parking in spaces that are reserved. If the lot is full, there is no charge after 6 pm for parking at meters along West End. All other meters on campus are enforced 24/7.