James Wheaton

James Wheaton (January 11, 1924 – June 9, 2002), was an American motion picture, stage, and television actor. Wheaton's credits include THX 1138, Trouble Comes to Town and Sanford and Son.

James Wheaton
James Lorenzo Wheaton

(1924-01-11)January 11, 1924
DiedJune 9, 2002(2002-06-09) (aged 78)
OccupationActor, director, writer
Years active1950–2001

In the early 1950s, he moved from his native Mississippi to Los Angeles, where he found work in local radio productions. His big break came when he was selected to join the Bishop's Company, a repertory theatre company which toured churches in the United States."[1] Wheaton appeared in their first production, Christopher Fry's "The Boy with a Cart," which premiered at the Vermont Square Methodist Church in Los Angeles on January 11, 1953."[2] As the only African-American member of the group, he was given the opportunity to play a wide range of roles, which was rare for black actors at the time. One of his best known roles with the company was as "Scratch" in "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Later, he would become a leading actor with the Ebony Showcase Theatre in Los Angeles. He would also direct several productions for the theatre.[3] Regarding his staging of The Odd Couple, Los Angeles Times theatre critic Margaret Harford wrote "James Wheaton's slick direction makes the overall production all one could ask."[4][5] His role as "J.B. Mongoose" in the Ebony Showcase production of "Carnival Island" was so popular, that he was soon appearing on television.

However, his biggest success on stage was the West Coast premiere of Norman, Is That You? at the Ebony Showcase Theater in Los Angeles. This production, in which he both directed and starred as the father was enormously popular with audiences and critics alike. At one time, it was the longest running play in the history of the Los Angeles theatre.[6] "With a blend of shock and bruised vanity, Wheaton gives a richly flavored performance" wrote John C. Mahoney in his Los Angeles Times review. "Wheaton's assured direction keeps featherweight ingredients afloat and on target."[7][8]

During the late 1960s and 1970s, Wheaton appeared on some of the most popular television programs of the day including Room 222, Kojak, Good Times, and the final episode of Ironside. He had a recurring role as Nelson B. Davis, "The Friendly Undertaker", on Sanford and Son. Other feature film credits included Black Belt Jones and lastly, Gun Crazy with Drew Barrymore. He also reteamed with Bill Cosby in A Piece of the Action, which also starred and was directed by Sidney Poitier.[9]

In the early 1970s he taught at Figueroa Street Elementary School and Parmelee Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles.

Selected creditsEdit



Year Production Theatre(s) Notes
1968 The Odd Couple[4] Ebony Showcase Theater Larry McCormick's acting debut[10]
1971 Norman, Is That You?[7][8] Ebony Showcase Theater Also starred. One of the longest running plays in Los Angeles theatre history.[6]


Year Title Role Notes
1971 THX 1138 OMM Voice
1974 Black Belt Jones Eulogizing Minister Uncredited
1977 A Piece of the Action Voisin Waiter
1992 Guncrazy Parole Officer #2


  1. ^ "Bishop's Company to make northern tour". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. 11 Sep 1955. p. A14. Retrieved 1 Sep 2020.
  2. ^ "'Church drama group to stage 'Boy with Cart'". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. 10 Jan 1953. p. A8. Retrieved 1 Sep 2020.
  3. ^ Fuller, Hoyt W. (Apr 1970). Johnson, John H. (ed.). "A report: on black theatre in America". Negro Digest. Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. 19 (6): 36.
  4. ^ a b "Negro version of 'Couple' to open". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. 7 Jun 1968. p. 99. Retrieved 11 Sep 2017.
  5. ^ Harford, Margaret (17 Jun 1968). "'The Odd Couple' at Ebony Showcase". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. p. 82. Retrieved 11 Sep 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Student rates at Ebony Showcase". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. 14 Mar 1973. p. 90. Retrieved 11 Sep 2017. ...the Ron Clark-Sam Bobrick comedy is the longest-running stage play in Los Angeles.
  7. ^ a b Mahoney, John C. (23 Oct 1971). "'Norman, Is That You' put together for laughs". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. p. 30. Retrieved 11 Sep 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Anniversary Date for 'Is That You?'". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. 13 Jun 1972. p. 15. Retrieved 11 Sep 2017. James Wheaton, who also directed, stars in the Ebony production...
  9. ^ Credits, [Internet Movie Database], Retrieved on 2007-08-18.
  10. ^ "Negro version of 'Odd Couple' set". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. 21 May 1968. p. 64. Retrieved 11 Sep 2017. Larry McCormick, KGFJ disc jockey, will make his acting debut in the show.

External linksEdit