[Photo Archive of Alfred “Slick” Chester, African American Film Actor—the “Colored Cagney”—and Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Inductee].
Archive of candid photographs relating to African American film actor Alfred “Slick” Chester—known as “the Colored Cagney” for his gangster and detective roles in such films as Temptation (1935) and Murder in Harlem (1935) directed by the first major black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux.
The archive contains approx. 110 black and white or sepia photographs. None are film-specific. Of these, about 24 images in the archive show Alfred Chester; a few as a young man, with most likely dating from the 1940s. Frances Chester, Alfred’s wife, can be seen in numerous other photographs. Many images show Chester, his wife Frances Chester, and their circle of friends at play, on the beach at Coney Island etc., and in nightclubs and restaurants.
Thirteen photos were likely taken in the Philippines and Japan just after World War II. Within this group, Chester is often shown wearing khaki, one photograph showing what appear to be captain’s bars on his collar. He is seen with a small jazz band or musical combo performing in a U.S.O. camp show. One image clearly connects Chester’s USO involvement at Manila. It is a photograph of a drawing of Chester by Russian-American painter Dolya Goutman (1918–2002), an art director in Hollywood who painted the portraits of many actors and actresses.¹ This photo bears the legends “Alfred Chester, Base X Manila, Dolya Goutman, USO Camp Shows” and “Mrs. Frances Chester, 631 Edgecombe Ave., New York City, N.Y.”
An additional image, a strong image, is a group photograph that depicts an 18-man all African American medical unit from the World War II-era. Chester’s connection to some or all of these men is unknown; it is possible he appears at the upper left.
Further seen is a 1943 photograph, a head shot, of one Ezra Underwood, an African American woman who may have been an aspiring actress. She inscribes and signs the image to Chester and his wife.
Alfred “Slick” Chester (1900–1978) was raised in Harlem. His career began as a dancer in vaudeville and he became an early actor in the silent movie era. Early in his career he performed in New York City with The Bronze Revue and on stage with the Ida Anderson Dramatic Players. He appeared in such stage shows as Chocolate Dandies (1924), Pansy (1929), and The Man from Baltimore (1934). Other studio films he acted in —in addition to Temptation (1935) and Murder in Harlem (1935)— include Harlem After Midnight (1934), Underworld (1937), and Miracle in Harlem (1948).
Along with Josephine Baker, Harry Belafonte, and Ethel Waters, Chester was a 1976 inductee to the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
A solid collection of candid images of this early African American movie actor, the “Colored Cagney”, and his immediate family, friends, and associated individuals. For more on Chester see his excellent interview within Manchel’s Every Step a Struggle: Interviews with Seven Who Shaped the African-American Image in Movies (2007).
Description: [Photo Archive of Alfred “Slick” Chester, African American Film Actor—the “Colored Cagney”—and Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Inductee].
New York, Coney Island, Manila, Tokyo, etc. c.1910s—1940s. Approx. 110 Photographs. Various formats, ranging in size from 3¼ x 2¼ inches to 8 x 10 inches. A few photographs with annotations. Creasing to many corners; overall, very good to fine.
Note. 1. Castagno, Jewish Artists, Signatures and Monograms, An International Directory (Lanham, Matyland, 2010), p176. Refs. Berry and Berry, Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema (Lanham, Maryland, 2007), p64 and p379. Sampson, Blacks in Blackface, A Soucebook on Early Black Musical Shows (Second Edition), (Lanham, Maryland, 2014). Manchel, Every Step a Struggle: Interviews with Seven who Shaped the African-American Image in Movies (Washington, D.C., 2007), pp62–107. ‘Slick’ Chester - IMDb accessed online.