John Henry Redwood III, actor- turned-playwright died June 17 at his home in Philadelphia of heart disease. He was 60.
For the past year and a half, he had been performing all around the country in the one-man show “Looking Over the President’s Shoulder.” Written by James Still, the play is a true account of Alonzo Fields, the head White House butler under four presidents. It was scheduled to appear at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. next year.
Redwood’s play “The Old Settler” was cited by American Theatre magazine as one of the 10 most-produced plays” in the U.S. during the 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 seasons. It was also produced in Russia and translated into both Russian and French, and garnered Redwood numerous awards. It was also seen on PBS in 2001, starring Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad.
His other plays include “No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs,” a co-production with Philadelphia Theater Company, where it was nominated for a 2001 Barrymore Award for best new play, as well as “Mark VIII: xxxvi” and “Acted Within Proper Departmental Procedure,” which both won Audelco Awards for best play. “A Sunbeam” won the McDonald’s Literary Achievement Award.
Redwood was most proud of his one-act play “What if You’re the One,” which encouraged women to have mammograms for the early detection of breast cancer, and “We Never Knew Their Names,” which he was invited to write for a performance at Gotham Town Hall in remembrance of Sept.11, 2001.
Brooklyn native spent two years in the Marines after his basketball scholarship was withdrawn from the U. of Kansas due to his participation in a desegregation sit-in. He nonetheless went on to earn master’s degrees in Religion and History and had completed his classwork toward his Ph.D. in religion.
He came to legit later in life when a date with a woman taking acting classes led him to join the class himself. He soon began a career that led to roles on Broadway in “Guys and Dolls” and “The Piano Lesson.” Regional credits include 10 productions of “Fences” as Troy Maxson, four productions in the title role of the one-man play “Paul Robeson” (he was also the voice of Robeson in the PBS Special “I’ll Build Me A World”), “Amber Waves,” “A Lesson Before Dying” and numerous others. He also appeared in Off Broadway’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s” with Danny DeVito and William Devane.
Film credits include “Boys and Girls,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Passion Fish,” “Big,” and “Porky’s.” On television he appeared in two episodes of “Law and Order: SVU.”
Redwood eventually turned to playwriting to create roles for himself and others in the black acting community. In honor of his mother, who died of breast cancer, he was an honorary co-chair for the 1994 “Race for the Cure” and devoted time as a speaker and volunteer in cities where the event was held. Additionally he was active in other performing arts orgs.
He is survived by four children and two grandchildren
Services will be held Sunday June 29 in Halifax, NC.
Donations may be made in his name to the American Cancer Society.