Black Like Me (1964)

107 mins | Drama | 13 May 1964

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HISTORY

The 4 Nov 1962 NYT announced that film editor Carl Lerner planned to make his directorial debut with a screen adaptation of John Howard Griffin's nonfiction chronicle, Black Like Me. As stated in the 23 Jan 1963 Var, Lerner partnered with first-time producer Julius Tannenbaum to form Film Features, Inc. According to the 13 Feb 1963 DV, the screenplay would be the first by veteran writer Paul Green since 1949. An article in the 2 Aug 1963 NYT revealed that Green had written the treatment upon which Lerner and his wife, Gerda, based the screenplay. The project was taken over by producer Victor Weingarten, who arranged distribution with Walter Reade's Continental Film Distributors. Reade provided an undisclosed portion of the $273,000 budget. Weingarten explained that the film would focus on "subtle attitudes" rather than violence, creating "a gradual, powerful, cumulative effect." The 17 Jul 1963 Var noted that it was one of several racially-themed independent pictures to be produced that year.
       The 12 Feb 1964 DV reported that production took place in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Florida, under the working title, No Man Walks Alone, purportedly a story "about an FBI investigator." The cast included forty African American actors, along with an integrated crew. At least a portion of star James Whitmore's salary was a share of profits. Whitmore told the 5 Apr 1964 LAT that the working title was intended to help the company avoid interference while filming in the Southern U.S. Although the company worked "quickly and ... More Less

The 4 Nov 1962 NYT announced that film editor Carl Lerner planned to make his directorial debut with a screen adaptation of John Howard Griffin's nonfiction chronicle, Black Like Me. As stated in the 23 Jan 1963 Var, Lerner partnered with first-time producer Julius Tannenbaum to form Film Features, Inc. According to the 13 Feb 1963 DV, the screenplay would be the first by veteran writer Paul Green since 1949. An article in the 2 Aug 1963 NYT revealed that Green had written the treatment upon which Lerner and his wife, Gerda, based the screenplay. The project was taken over by producer Victor Weingarten, who arranged distribution with Walter Reade's Continental Film Distributors. Reade provided an undisclosed portion of the $273,000 budget. Weingarten explained that the film would focus on "subtle attitudes" rather than violence, creating "a gradual, powerful, cumulative effect." The 17 Jul 1963 Var noted that it was one of several racially-themed independent pictures to be produced that year.
       The 12 Feb 1964 DV reported that production took place in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Florida, under the working title, No Man Walks Alone, purportedly a story "about an FBI investigator." The cast included forty African American actors, along with an integrated crew. At least a portion of star James Whitmore's salary was a share of profits. Whitmore told the 5 Apr 1964 LAT that the working title was intended to help the company avoid interference while filming in the Southern U.S. Although the company worked "quickly and efficiently," the 22 Nov 1963 LAT noted that unspecified "incidents" occurred. Whitmore, who played a Caucasian reporter disguised as an African American, recalled entering the ballroom of a Washington, D.C., hotel while in character, and receiving the "hate stare" from a white woman. Completion of photography on 22 Jan 1964 was announced the next day in NYT.
       A news item in the 21 Aug 1963 Var stated that an unidentified publicist for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) reportedly refused an offer to work on the film, exclaiming, "We're fighting a war here-don't bother me about movies!" Additional crew members included first assistant director Mickey Rich (1 Apr 1964 Var), publicist Randy Cameron (17 Jun 1964 Var), and associate producer Egon Pohoryles (12 May 1965 DV).
       The 28 Apr 1964 DV noted that James Whitmore appeared at a preview in Los Angeles, CA, three days earlier. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was expected as well, but cancelled for undisclosed reasons. Although the picture was not entered in the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, the 6 May 1964 Var announced a showing at the Cannes "Film Market," which was sponsored by the French Film Producers Association.
       Black Like Me opened 13 May 1964 in Detroit, MI, as indicated by 20 May 1964 Var box office reports. Openings followed on 20 May 1964 in New York City and on 30 Sep 1964 in Los Angeles. James Whitmore and John Howard Griffin were scheduled to attend the New York City debut, according to the 6 May 1964 Var. Reviews were unenthusiastic, with the 19 May 1964 DV and 21 May 1964 NYT criticizing Whitmore's makeup, the film's inconsistencies with the source book, and the focus on several "lurid" aspects of the story. The 29 Apr 1964 Var quoted the National Legion of Decency, which warned that some dialogue sequences could shock "sensitive viewers." Regardless, the 5 Jun 1964 and 6 Oct 1964 issues of DV stated that the film was expected to earn a profit.
       The 10 Jun 1964 Var reported openings at thirty drive-in theaters in or near the Texas cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston, beginning 18 Jun 1964. The 12 Aug 1964 issue noted a "balanced bill" at a Harlingen, TX, drive-in, comprised of Black Like Me and I Passed for White. No incidents of violence were reported at any Southern showings, according to the 11 Nov 1964 Var. However, the 17 Feb 1965 edition revealed that additional Southern engagements were limited to only seven in North Carolina and one in Florida. Domestic rentals to date totaled approximately $1 million.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
13 Feb 1963
p. 1.
Daily Variety
12 Feb 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
28 Apr 1964
p. 2.
Daily Variety
19 May 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
5 Jun 1964
p. 4.
Daily Variety
18 Sep 1964
p. 8.
Daily Variety
6 Oct 1964
p. 16.
Daily Variety
12 May 1965
p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
22 Nov 1963
Section D, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times
5 Apr 1964
Section C, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
23 Sep 1964
Section D, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
24 May 1965
Section C, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
2 Oct 1964
Section C, p. 13.
New York Times
4 Nov 1962
Section X, p. 9.
New York Times
2 Aug 1963
p. 15.
New York Times
23 Jan 1964
p. 25.
New York Times
17 May 1964
Section X, p. 9
New York Times
21 May 1964
p. 42.
Variety
23 Jan 1963
p. 3.
Variety
17 Jul 1963
p. 3.
Variety
21 Aug 1963
p. 4.
Variety
1 Apr 1964
p. 7.
Variety
29 Apr 1964
p. 13.
Variety
6 May 1964
p. 7, 25.
Variety
20 May 1964
p. 9.
Variety
10 Jun 1964
p. 17.
Variety
17 Jun 1964
p. 5.
Variety
12 Aug 1964
p. 4.
Variety
11 Nov 1964
p. 23.
Variety
17 Feb 1965
p. 7.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
MUSIC
Mus comp & cond
SOUND
Sd re-rec
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to the prod
Asst to the dir
Tech dir
Title des
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin (Boston, 1961).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
No Man Walks Alone
Release Date:
13 May 1964
Premiere Information:
Detroit opening: 13 May 1964
New York opening: 20 May 1964
Los Angeles opening: 30 September 1964
Production Date:
26 August 1963--22 January 1964
Duration(in mins):
107
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

John Finley Horton, a white Southern newspaperman, darkens his skin and begins to live as a black while writing a series of magazine articles about his experiences. Horton has a number of harrowing encounters, both with whites and blacks, as he travels from town to town in his disguise. His treatment brings him close to hysteria, and he seeks temporary refuge with some white friends before resuming his masquerade. One of Horton's last encounters is with black Frank Newcomb and his son Tom. Frank believes integration will be accomplished only through love, but Tom feels differently and is cynical about Horton's articles and outraged when he learns that Horton is really white. It is pointed out that Horton, unlike a real Negro, can always shed his blackness. Horton returns to his own world unsure if his articles had any beneficial effect, but with the satisfaction of having told the ... +


John Finley Horton, a white Southern newspaperman, darkens his skin and begins to live as a black while writing a series of magazine articles about his experiences. Horton has a number of harrowing encounters, both with whites and blacks, as he travels from town to town in his disguise. His treatment brings him close to hysteria, and he seeks temporary refuge with some white friends before resuming his masquerade. One of Horton's last encounters is with black Frank Newcomb and his son Tom. Frank believes integration will be accomplished only through love, but Tom feels differently and is cynical about Horton's articles and outraged when he learns that Horton is really white. It is pointed out that Horton, unlike a real Negro, can always shed his blackness. Horton returns to his own world unsure if his articles had any beneficial effect, but with the satisfaction of having told the story. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.