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Laurence Fishburne (cont.)

   Following "What's Love Got To Do With It," came a succession of films in 1995, including John Singleton's "Higher Learning." "Higher Learning" wasn't their first meeting, however. Singleton and Fishburne had met years earlier when Fishburne worked as a security guard on the set of "Pee Wee's Playhouse." Singleton had cast him back then in his 1991 directorial debut "Boyz in the Hood."
   This was also the year that British actor/director Kenneth Branaugh was looking for a lead actor for a new film project. Fishburne caught Branaugh's attention and held it, eventually making movie history as the first African-American to play the title role of Shakespeare's "Othello" on-screen. It was a ground-breaking role that would herald another first for Fishburne; his off-Broadway debut as both playwright and director in the critically admired stage play "Riff Raff", a story that Lion's Gate has purchased and then cast Fishburne in to recreate his acclaimed stage role. The movie version has been renamed "Once In The Life" and is expected to be released sometime in October, 2000.
   In 1999, Fishburne blew audiences away with his portrayal of Morpheous in the blockbuster "The Matrix." With "The Matrix" Fishburne had become a true Hollywood superstar and is expected to recreate his role in the movies two projected sequels. The downside to all the fame and stardom for Fishburne, however, is the constant attention by the press. Never known for being "friendly" toward the paparazzi, Fishburne has tried to deal with the endless stream of photograpers and interviewers as best he can.
   He explained his intimidating attitude toward the press in an interview a few years back with the Calgary Sun. "I'm very shy," Fishburne explained. ""I resent that I'm expected to pretend to enjoy being grilled by reporters. I wish it were possible for my movies to speak for themselves, but that's not the way business is done in Hollywood. I agree to be put on the hot seat but that doesn't mean I have to pretend I enjoy it."
   Because of his natural shyness, Fishburne also has a hard time dealing with his fans at times.
   "Fans are very giving," he says. "It's beautiful but it puts me off. It frightens me. But I'm learning how to embrace it as much as I can."
   On a more humorous note, Fishburne laughs when asked about his being confused by fans with his good friend and fellow actor Samuel L. Jackson.
   "I once signed an autograph in New York for someone who thought I was Sam," he smiles. "I just wrote, 'Best Wishes, Sam L. Jackson.' Sam sent me flowers after he read about it."
   When asked about the future, Fishburne says he'll never be able to do everything. There will always be things he hasn't had the chance to get to.
   "I have lots of things to look forward to," he muses.
   He's not alone. His anticipating fans are looking forward with him.

The Nicholas Brothers

Last month we noted the passing of legendary tap artist Harold Nicholas. We thought you might like to know a little more about Fayard and Harold Nicholas and what made them so special to so many.

   Fayard and Harold Nicholas, the Nicholas Brothers, enjoyed a career that spanned over 60 years. They were, arguably, history's best and most legendary dance team, appearing in more than 30 Hollywood musicals and gracing the stages of theaters and nightclubs throughout the world.
   Fayard and Harold Nicholas came from a family of entertainers. Their parents made the club circuit with an orchestra they named The Nicholas Collegiates. Young Fayard Nicholas used to sit in the wings and watch as the best vaudeville acts of the 20s performed their acts. He taught himself to dance by imitating what he saw. In fact, the first "flying split" was done over a fire hydrant in Philadelphia after Fayard saw a dancer do a split on stage using no hands and began thinking he could go one better. He was about eight years old at the time.
   When little brother Harold showed an interest, Fayard taught him how to dance and eventually, the two boys knew they were good enough to be on stage so they put an act together and showed it to their father. He loved it, and told Fayard he had a great way of using his hands when he danced and to never stop including them in his routines. His remaining advice for both boys was, "Don't look at your feet. Always look at the audience."
   The "Nicholas Kids" got their first gig at the Strand Theater in Philadelphia, but it wasn't long before the youngsters were touring with their parents and building a reputation all their own. They danced everywhere they could, even performing in London. As fame spread about the duo, they were asked to audition for Duke Ellington by Owney Madden, the ganster-owner of the famous Cotton Club in Harlem. Ellington loved the boys, changed their name to the "Originals" and put them in the show. After their first performance, however, no one else in the show wanted to go on after "the kids." They were "too" good. This meant late nights for the boys since they did, indeed, become the closing act. Tutors were hired to teach the boys their school work since they never woke up before mid-afternoons.

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The Nicholas Brothers (cont.)

   The Cotton Club was the summit of success for the time. In addition to Duke Ellington, the boys worked with Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, The Step Brothers and many others. It was where all the best black performers could be seen -- by rich and famous all-white audiences. Segregation at the club was rigidly enforced, but the audiences loved the boys so much, they were allowed to mingle with the guests. They were the only performers ever permitted to do so. They would drink orange juice and talk with Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Mayor Jimmy Walker, the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin and influencial people from all walks of "white" life.
   The boys made their first movie in 1932, "Pie, Pie Blackbird" with Eubie Blake. The very next year Samuel Goldwyn saw them at the Cotton Club and cast them in his film "Kid Millions".    In 1940 they contracted with 20th Century- Fox and made six films for the company. But early in their film careers, much of their footage remained on the cutting room floor. Especially when their movies were played for southern white audiences. Only when their movies played for northern audiences were memorable scenes like "Chatenooga Choo-Choo" with Dorothy Dandridge from the film "Sun Valley Serenade " seen by theatergoers. It was a racially motivated industry practice at the time, but one the Nicholas Brothers, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and other great black entertainers paved the way for others to eliminate from future movie productions.
   As a team, Fayard was the introspective one, Harold the outgoing charmer. It was Harold who regularly captured headlines and the attention of Hollywood gossips; like during his whirlwind courtship and marriage to Dorothy Dandridge. An affair that ended tragically with their subsequent divorce and Dandridge's eventual suicide in 1965.
   The Nicholas Brothers were also a favorite of Josephine Baker's. A huge star in Europe, she once returned to New York to do a Broadway show. She invited the Nicholas Brothers to be a part of the hit production and the rich and powerful came from all over the U.S. to catch the performances.
   George Jessel invited Ms. Baker, Flo Ziegfeld and the Nicholas Brothers to the legendary Stork Club after the show one night, but when they got there the doorman refused to let them enter the gangster-owned fiercely segregated nightclub. When the doorman finally demanded to know who had made their reservation, George Jessel came back in classic form, sweeping the doorman aside by replying, "Abraham Lincoln."
   George Jessel, Josephine Baker, Flo Zegfeld and the Nicholas Brothers desegregated the Stork Club that very night.
   The Nicholas Brothers went on to break the color barrier in many ways, knocking down walls and acting as role models for many dancers and actors who have come after them. Modern tap legend Gregory Hines believes it. He credits the Nicholas Brothers with making it possible for dancer/actors such as himself to be successful in Hollywood today.
   Harold Nicholas died of heart failure Monday July 3, at age 79. Harold and Fayard made their last film together in 1948's "The Pirate," in which they danced with Gene Kelly, breaking the color barrier yet again.