Edmund J. Cambridge, stage, film and television actor and director who was a founding member of New York’s famed Negro Ensemble Co., died Aug. 18 at Harlem Hospital from complications following an accidental fall. He was would have turned 81 in mid-September.
Born in the same hospital that he died in, Cambridge grew up during the Harlem Renaissance, studying under poet Countee Cullen and at the Harlem YMCA.
He began his professional theatrical career in 1946 as a dancer, then moved into acting, stage managing and directing. He broke color barriers during the 1940s, often cast as the only black in a show.
Cambridge’s personal manager, Sharon Newman, said he told her that during that time, he came to Los Angeles on tour with a play and was refused entrance into the opening night after-party by a maitre d’ at a segregated restaurant. Actress Bette Davis was at the party and happened to see his plight, and, although she did not know him, told the maitre d’, “This gentleman is seated at my table.”
In 1968, Cambridge — along with Douglas Turner Ward, Robert Hooks and others — was instrumental in founding the renowned Negro Ensemble Co. Cambridge went on to become a stage manager with Jean Genet’s highly regarded “The Blacks,” which ran at Off Broadway’s St. Mark’s Playhouse from 1973-75 and featured a virtual who’s who of African-American performers; among them: Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr., two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones, Emmy winner Roscoe Lee Browne, Oscar nominee Cicely Tyson, American poet laureate Maya Angelou.
Cambridge later directed the original production of Lonne Elder III’s “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” which ran Off Broadway and in Hollywood, starring Billy Dee Williams.
Cambridge’s many directing credits also included James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” and August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running.” He directed the play “227” — which later became a TV sitcom starring Marla Gibbs — at Gibbs’ Crossroads Theater in L.A.
Cambridge’s acting career included more than 80 film and TV credits. He completed a TV pilot scheduled to air this fall called “Bernie Mac.” He also appears in the feature film “Minority Report,” which was shot this summer starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg.
Cambridge co-founded with Lincoln Kilpatrick the Kilpatrick-Cambridge Theater Arts School in Hollywood. He served as artistic director of the Cambridge Players during the 1980s, an acting company that included Esther Rolle (“Good Times”), Juanita Moore (“Imitation of Life”) and Lynn Hamilton (“The Waltons”).
Surviving are two brothers, a sister, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Memorial services are being planned on both coasts. Plans have not yet been finalized for the New York service. The West Coast service will be held at 8 p.m. Sept. 22 in the Bradley Theater at the Los Angeles Theater Center on Spring Street. It is being presented by friends and family including Della Reese, whose church Cambridge attended.