Ben Vereen

Benjamin Augustus Vereen (born October 10, 1946) is an American actor, dancer and singer. Vereen gained prominence for his performances in the original Broadway productions of the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar, for which he received a Tony Award nomination, and Pippin, for which he won the 1973 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Ben Vereen
Ben Vereen at TIFF 2014.jpg
Born
Benjamin Augustus Middleton

(1946-10-10) October 10, 1946 (age 74)
OccupationActor, dancer, singer, voice actor
Years active1965–present
Spouse(s)Andrea Townsley (m. 1966, div. 1974)[1]
Nancy Bruner (m. 1976, div. 2012)
Children5

Early lifeEdit

Vereen was born Benjamin Augustus Middleton on October 10, 1946, in Laurinburg, North Carolina.[2][3][4] While still an infant, Vereen and his family relocated to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York City. He was adopted by James Vereen, a paint-factory worker, and his wife, Pauline, who worked as a maid and theatre wardrobe mistress.[5] He discovered he was adopted when he applied for a passport to join Sammy Davis Jr. on a tour of "Golden Boy" to London when he was 25.[6] He was raised Pentecostal.[7]

During his pre-teen years, he exhibited an innate talent for drama and dance and often performed in local variety shows. At the age of 14, Vereen enrolled at the High School of Performing Arts, where he studied under world-renowned choreographers Martha Graham, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins. Upon his graduation, he struggled to find suitable stage work and was often forced to take odd jobs to supplement his income.

CareerEdit

StageEdit

When Vereen was 18 years old he made his New York stage bow off-off Broadway in The Prodigal Son at the Greenwich Mews Theater. By the following year, he was in Las Vegas, performing in Bob Fosse's production of Sweet Charity, a show with which he toured in 1967–68. He returned to New York City to play Claude in Hair in the Broadway production, before joining the national touring company.

The following year, he was cast opposite Sammy Davis Jr. in the film adaptation of Sweet Charity. After developing a rapport with Davis, Vereen was cast as his understudy in the upcoming production of Golden Boy, which toured England and ended the run at the Palladium Theatre in London's West End.

Vereen was nominated for a Tony Award for Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972 and won a Tony for his appearance in Pippin in 1973. Vereen appeared in the Broadway musical Wicked as the Wizard of Oz in 2005. Vereen has also performed in one-man shows and actively lectures on black history and inspirational topics.

TelevisionEdit

 
Vereen in 2007

Vereen has also starred in numerous television programs, and is well known for the role of 'Chicken' George Moore in Alex Haley's landmark TV miniseries Roots, for which he received an Emmy nomination in 1977.

Vereen's four-week summer variety series, Ben Vereen ... Comin' At Ya, aired on NBC in August 1975 and featured regulars Lola Falana, Avery Schreiber and Liz Torres.

In 1978, on a Boston Pops TV special, Vereen performed a tribute to Bert Williams, complete with period makeup and attire, and reprising Williams' high-kick dance steps, to vaudeville standards such as "Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee".

In 1981, Vereen performed at Ronald Reagan's first inauguration. The performance generated controversy as Vereen performed the first part of the show in blackface. Before the finale, ABC cut the live performance, generating confusion and anger from viewers at home.[8] According to video artist Edgar Arcenaux, what TV viewers didn’t see was the second part of the performance, in which Vereen mimicked being refused service because of his color while trying to buy the Republican elite a congratulatory drink. As Arceneaux explains, Vereen's performance was meant as a critique of Republican civil rights policies, but the TV audience didn't get to see it.[9]

Vereen was cast opposite Jeff Goldblum in the short-lived detective series Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980). During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Vereen worked steadily on television with projects ranging from the sitcom Webster to the drama Silk Stalkings.

In 1985, Vereen starred in the Faerie Tale Theatre series as Puss in Boots alongside Gregory Hines. He appeared on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode, "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse", in which he played Will Smith's biological father, Lou Smith. He made several appearances on the 1980s sitcom Webster as the title character's biological uncle.

He also appeared as Mayor Ben (a leopard) on the children's program Zoobilee Zoo and as Itsy Bitsy Spider in Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme. In 1993 he appeared in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Interface" as the father of Roots co-star LeVar Burton's character Geordi La Forge; fellow Roots star Madge Sinclair appeared in the same episode as Geordi's mother. In Roots, Vereen had played "Chicken George", the grandson of Burton's character Kunta Kinte.[10] He also appeared on the television series The Nanny episode "Pishke Business". In 2010, he appeared on the television series How I Met Your Mother episodes "Cleaning House" and "False Positive" as Sam Gibbs, the long lost father of James Stinson, Barney Stinson's brother. He returned in 2013 and 2014 for another two episodes.

Personal lifeEdit

Vereen has appeared as a public speaker and humanitarian speaking on such topics as black history, overcoming adversity, and the importance of continuing education.

In 2007, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and has a website in which he shares his personal story along with advice from medical experts.

According to the 'Fayetteville Observer' of April 29, 2006, Vereen learned while applying for a passport in the late 1960s that he was adopted. His birth certificate revealed that his birth name was Benjamin Augustus Middleton, that he was the son of Essie Middleton, and that he was born in Laurinburg, N.C. In April 2006, Vereen visited Scotland County with a genealogist on a search for family members and learned that his mother's name was Essie May Pearson. The Laurinburg Exchange reported: "Vereen, an adoptee who learned that he was born in Laurinburg and made a celebrated trip to Scotland County in 2006 to reconnect with family. While on the trip he learned his mother had died 24 years before, but that several relatives still lived in the area." According to her acquaintances, Essie had gone on a trip when Vereen was a child, and had left her baby in someone's care. When she returned, the child was gone. In the April 28, 2006, interview with the 'Laurinburg Exchange', Vereen said that his visit "has just all been so overwhelming ... I've finally found my family".[11] In May 2006, he met his mother's daughter, (his sister), Gloria Walker, of Derby, Connecticut.[12][13][14] He also has a brother, James Middleton, who lives in Tucson, Arizona.

In the early 1980s, Vereen moved with his family to Saddle River, New Jersey.[15]

His 16-year-old daughter, Naja, was killed in an auto accident in 1987[16] on the New Jersey Turnpike when a truck overturned on her car.

In 1992, Vereen suffered three accidents in one day, when his car hit a tree causing him to hit his head on the roof of his car, then he suffered a stroke while he was walking on a Malibu highway, apparently veering into the road where he was struck by a car driven by record producer David Foster. His critical injuries (including a broken leg) required him to undergo arduous physical rehabilitation in the ensuing months.[17][18]

Vereen is the godfather of R&B superstar Usher and is also the first cousin once removed of New York Giants running back Shane Vereen. Vereen was the keynote speaker for the Boys & Girls Clubs in St. Petersburg, Florida annual alumni tribute gala held in October 2007.

In August 2011, Vereen was named Co-Artistic Director of Tampa's Broadway Theatre Project.[19]

In September 2012, Vereen filed for divorce from his wife Nancy Bruner Vereen of 36 years, citing irreconcilable differences.[20]

He is an active Democrat.[21]

Vereen was inducted as an honorary member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity on April 9, 2019.[22]

His 55-year old son, Ben Vereen, Jr., passed away in 2020.[23]

Sexual harassment allegationsEdit

In January 2018, four actresses in a Florida production of Hair directed by Vereen in 2015 alleged that he sexually harassed them throughout the production.[24]

According to the New York Daily News, "the women — part of the Venice Theatre production outside of Tampa — say Vereen forced unwanted kisses, hugged them aggressively, stripped naked during an acting exercise and made degrading comments about their weight, sex appeal and personal lives". The Daily News published cast members' claims that he used his position of authority as a director and mentor to pressure them to engage him in unwanted sexual interactions. For example, two of the actresses said he did this by privately luring them on separate occasions to his Florida rental home. One woman willingly admits she and Vereen began a relationship though feels it was ultimately coerced; the other says he sexually molested her and later nonconsensually kissed her and made sexually disparaging remarks.[25]

According to Variety, "While directing the 2015 production of the musical at the Venice Theatre in Florida, Vereen is alleged to have invited female cast members back to his apartment and goaded them into sex acts. He’s also accused of inappropriate talk and conduct during rehearsals that involved cast members stripping naked, ostensibly as preparation for a show that has, since its original 1967 production, been associated with a famous, full-cast nude scene."[26]

Vereen has since apologized for his misconduct.[27]

FilmographyEdit

FilmEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1969 Sweet Charity Dancer
1970 Gas-s-s-s Carlos
1975 Funny Lady Bert Robbins
1979 All That Jazz O'Connor Flood
1980 This Boxer Wears a Shirt
1982 Cycling Through China Himself Documentary
1982 Sabine Stanley
1985 The Zoo Gang The Winch
1988 Buy & Cell Shaka
1993 Once Upon a Forest Phineas voice
1998 Why Do Fools Fall in Love Richard Barrett
1999 I'll Take You There Mr. Gwin
2001 The Painting Whistlin' Willie Weston
2006 Idlewild Percy Senior
2007 And Then Came Love Chuck Cooper
2009 Tapioca Nuts
2009 21 and a Wake-Up General Garner
2011 Mama, I Want to Sing! Horace Payne
2013 Khumba Mkhulu, the Elder Zebra voice
2014 Top Five Carl
2014 Time Out of Mind Dixon

TelevisionEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1975 Ben Vereen... Comin' at Ya Host 4 episodes
1976 Louis Armstrong – Chicago Style Louis Armstrong Television Movie
1976 The Muppet Show Special Guest Star Episode: "Ben Vereen"
1977 Roots Chicken George Moore 3 episodes
1977 The Carol Burnett Show Self 2 episodes
1980 Tenspeed and Brown Shoe E.L. 'Tenspeed' Turner 14 episodes
1981 Pippin: His Life and Times The Leading Player Television Movie
1982-84 The Love Boat Various roles 3 episodes
1983 The Charmkins Dragonweed Voice; Television Short
1983-85 Webster Uncle Philip Long 11 episodes
1984 SCTV
1984 The Jesse Owens Story Herb Douglas Television Movie
1984 Ellis Island Roscoe Haines 3 episodes
1985 A.D. Ethiopian 5 part miniseries
1985 Lost in London Paul Williams Television Movie
1985 Faerie Tale Theatre Puss in Boots Episode: Puss in Boots
1986-87 Zoobilee Zoo Mayor Ben 62 episodes
1988 Jenny's Song Joe Television Movie
1988 J.J. Starbuck E.L. "Tenspeed" Turner 5 episodes
1990 The Kid Who Loved Christmas Performer Television Movie
1990 Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme Itsy Bitsy Spider Television Movie
1990 Booker Carl McQueen Episode: "The Life and Death of Chick Sterling"
1991-93 Silk Stalkings Capt. Ben Hutchinson 11 episodes
1992 Intruders Gene Randall 2 episodes
1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation Dr. Edward LaForge Episode: "Interface"
1994 Lois and Clark:
The New Adventures of Superman
Dr. Andre Novak Episode: "Illusions of Grandeur"
1994 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Lou Smith Episode: "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse"
1994 The Nanny Ben Vereen Episode: "Pishke Business"
1995 New York Undercover Louie Episode: "Eliminate the Middleman"
1996 Touched by an Angel Ulysses Dodd Episode: "Secret Service"
1997 Second Noah Sweet Billy Episode: "Desperately Seeking Mickey"
1998 Soldier of Fortune, Inc. Senator Stanford Parks Episode: "Party Girl"
1999 Promised Land Lawrence Taggert Sr. 3 episodes
1999 The Jamie Foxx Show Royal Episode: "Taps for Royal"
2001 The Feast of All Saints Rudolphe Lermontant Television Movie
2002 Oz A.R. Whitworth Episode: "Good Intentions"
2007 Grey's Anatomy Archie Roche Episode: "Love/Anarchy"
2007 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Rev. Jeremiah Morris Episode: "Senseless"
2008 Accidental Friendship Wes Television Movie
2008 Your Mama Don't Dance Judge 8 episodes
2010 House of Payne Clarence Sanderson Episode: "Curtis Sings the Blues
2010-14 How I Met Your Mother Sam Gibbs 4 episodes
2011 Broadway: The Next Generation Himself Documentary Series
2014 Love That Girl! Judge Episode: "Business is Business"
2013 NCIS Lamar Addison Episode: "Homesick"
2015 Hot in Cleveland Mayor of Cleveland Episode: "Out of Our Minds"
2016 The Rocky Horror Picture Show:
Let's Do the Time Warp Again
Dr. Everett von Scott Television Special NBC
2017 Making History Dr. Theodore Anthony Cobell 3 episodes
2017-18 Sneaky Pete Porter 6 episodes
2018 Magnum P.I. Henry Barr Episode: "Death Is Only Temporary"
2018-19 Star Calvin 5 episodes
2019 Bull Willie Lambert Episode: "Forfeiture"
2019 Tales Harry Episode: "My Life"

TheatreEdit

Year Production Role Venue Notes
1965 The Prodigal Son Dancer Greenwich Mews Theater, Off-Broadway
1967–68 Sweet Charity Dancer US & Canada Tour
1968–72 Hair Hud - Claude Biltmore Theatre, Broadway
National Tour
1968 Golden Boy Understudy to
Sammy Davis Jr.
London Palladium
International Tour
1970 Gurton's Apocalyptic Needle Alternate roles The New Troupe/Touring
1970 Don't Call Me Toby Singer/Dancer The New Troupe, Touring
1970–71 No Place to be Somebody Alternate roles Touring Company
1971–73 Jesus Christ Superstar Judas Iscariot Mark Hellinger Theatre, Broadway
1972–74 Pippin Leading Player Imperial Theater, Broadway,
U.S. tour
1985 Grind LeRoy Mark Hellinger Theatre, Broadway
1992–93 Jelly's Last Jam Chimney Man Shubert Theater, Broadway Replacement
1995–96 A Christmas Carol Ghost of Christmas Present Madison Square Garden, Broadway
1999 Chicago Billy Flynn U.S. & Canada Tour
2001 Fosse Performer Shubert Theater, Broadway Replacement
2002 I'm not Rappaport Midge Shubert Theater, Broadway
U.S. National tour
2003 The Exonerated Performer Off-Broadway
2005-06 Wicked The Wizard of Oz Gershwin Theatre, Broadway Replacement

DiscographyEdit

Solo albumsEdit

  • Off-Stage (Buddah Records, 1975)
  • Ben Vereen (Buddah Records, 1976)
  • Signed, Sealed, Delivered! (51 West, 1979)
  • Here I Am (Accord, 1982)
  • Steppin' Out Live (Ghostlight Records, 2010)

Ensemble albumsEdit

Singles and EPsEdit

  • Superstar (MCA Records, 1971)
  • Could We Start Again Please? / Heaven On Their Minds (Decca, 1972)
  • Stop Your Half-Steppin' Ma Ma (Buddah Records, 1975)
  • By Your Side (Buddah Records, 1975)
  • Got It Made / Read Between the Lines (Ariola, 1980)

Awards and NominationsEdit

 
The handprints of Ben Vereen in front of Theater of the Stars at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park
Theater
Year Award Category Title Results
1972 Tony Award Best Featured Actor in a Musical Jesus Christ Superstar Nominated
1972 Theatre World Award N/A Won
1973 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance Pippin Won
1973 Tony Award Best Actor in a Musical Won
Television
Year Award Category Title Results
1976 Golden Globe Award New Star of the Year – Actor Funny Lady Nominated
1977 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in Variety or Music The Bell Telephone Jubilee Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actor Drama or Comedy Series Roots Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actor - Television Ellis Island Nominated
1992 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries Intruders Nominated
Honors

The Community Mental Health Council awarded Vereen with their 2004 Lifeline Celebration Achievement Award. For his humanitarian contributions, he has received a number of awards including Israel's Cultural and Humanitarian Awards, three NAACP Image Awards, an Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award and a Victory Award. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Arizona, Emerson College, St. Francis College, and Columbia College in Chicago. In 2001, Medgar Evers College created the Ben Vereen Scholarship for the Performing Arts, and in 2004, he received an Achievement in Excellence Award from his alma mater, the High School of the Performing Arts.

He was the first simultaneous winner of the "Entertainer of the Year," “Rising Star," and "Song and Dance Star" awards from the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). He also earned a coveted spot in the Casino Legends Hall of Fame.

Vereen was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his performance in the Hallmark movie An Accidental Friendship. In 2004, Vereen was nominated for a "Career Achievement Award" by the Le Prix International Film Star Awards Organization.

In 2011, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[28]

In 2012, Vereen was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Dwyer, Jim (November 29, 2016). "Ben Vereen's Disappearing Divorce". The New York Times. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  2. ^ "Ben Vereen". TV Guide. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  3. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Ben Vereen". Allmovie. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  4. ^ Calhoun, Jennifer (April 29, 2006). "'Roots' actor finds his roots". Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved November 9, 2019 – via NewsBank.
  5. ^ "Ben Vereen Biography (1946–)". filmreference.com.
  6. ^ "Ben Vereen Writes About 'Blood Family' in New Book". EURweb. January 26, 2011. Archived from the original on March 24, 2012. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  7. ^ Gliatto, Tom (December 7, 1992). "The Road Back". People. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  8. ^ L’Official, Pete (January 6, 2017). "When Ben Vereen Wore Blackface to Reagan's Inaugural Gala". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  9. ^ L’Official, Pete (February 14, 2018). "What Viewers Didn't See Changed Everything for Ben Vereen Cy Musiker". KQED. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  10. ^ "Ben Vereen Biography (Actor/Dancer) —". Infoplease.com. October 10, 1946. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  11. ^ Lentz, John. "Farr cancels, Vereen in at Putting on the Ritz Nov. 7" Archived August 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine The Laurinburg Exchange. Retrieved June 11, 2011
  12. ^ "WTNH news". Archived from the original on June 16, 2008. Retrieved May 28, 2006.
  13. ^ Saul, Emily (September 8, 2016). "Ben Vereen is revealed to be a bigamist". pagesix.com.
  14. ^ "Ben Vereen Allegedly Spent 36 Years Married to Two Women". People.
  15. ^ "Vereen moving to Saddle River", Daytona Beach Morning Journal, July 15, 1982. Retrieved December 17, 2013. "Actor and Singer Ben Vereen is putting down new roots in Saddle River because, he joked Wednesday, the residents 'asked me to move out there to improve the neighborhood.'"
  16. ^ Gliatto, Tom (December 7, 1992). "The Road Back". People. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  17. ^ "Ben Vereen interview by Chet Cooper". Abilitymagazine.com. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  18. ^ "Ben Vereen: Awake, Aware, and Alive". Cabaret.broadwayworld.com. February 15, 2007. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  19. ^ "Ben Vereen Named Co-Artistic Director of Tampa's Broadway Theatre Project". theatermania.com.
  20. ^ "Ben Veeren files for divorce from wife of 36 years". Associated Press. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
  21. ^ Jay Mathews (May 28, 1983). "Democrats Hope to Get $6 Million in Telethon". The Washington Post.
  22. ^ "Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc". facebook.com. Retrieved June 26, 2019.[non-primary source needed]
  23. ^ "Ben Vereen Jr., Son of Tony Award-Winning Performer, has Died". www.ny1.com. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  24. ^ "Broadway legend Ben Vereen accused of sexually assaulting and harassing actresses during production of 'Hair'". Daily News. New York. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  25. ^ Dillon, NICOLE BITETTE, Nancy. "Broadway legend Ben Vereen accused of sexually assaulting and harassing actresses during production of 'Hair'". nydailynews.com. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  26. ^ Cox, Gordon; Cox, Gordon (January 5, 2018). "Broadway Star Ben Vereen Apologizes After Accusations of Sexual Harassment". Variety. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  27. ^ "Broadway Star Ben Vereen Apologizes After Accusations of Sexual Harassment". Variety. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  28. ^ Playbill.com Archived September 28, 2012, at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit