Lee, Canada

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Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata whose stage name was Canada Lee, achieved success in diverse careers, but was best known as an actor of the stage and screen. Born in New York City in 1907, Lee began studying violin at age seven, and made his first concert appearance five years later. His varied career included stints as a jockey and prizefighter. In the 1920's he won the national amateur lightweight title, later becoming a leading contender for the welterweight championship. An eye injury ended his ring career in 1933, and he returned to music in the capacity of a bandleader.

In 1936 Lee first won critical acclaim in the W.P.A. Negro Federal Theater Unit's "Macbeth" followed by roles in "Haiti," "Mamba's Daughters," and "On Whitman Avenue" on Broadway. His 1941 performance in Richard Wright's "Native Son" brought him great success. Other theatrical productions featuring Lee include "Set My People Free," "The Dutchess of Malfi," "Othello" and "Anna Lucasta." His film credits include "Cry, the Beloved Country," Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" and "Lost Boundaries." In addition to his many theatrical and film performances, Lee narrated a radio series, "New World A-Comin'.".

During the 1940s and early 1950s, after achieving prominence as an actor, Lee used his name and popularity to garner support for the many causes and issues he believed in, particularly the struggle for equal rights for black people and against fascism and oppression worldwide.

As a result of his participation in and support of organizations theState Department had declared subversive, the State Department labelled Lee a communist. In 1949 he was blacklisted, which seriously handicapped his ability to work in the entertainment industry. However, in 1950 he was offered a role in the British production of "Cry, the Beloved Country," which would be his last. Lee died in 1952 shortly after the film was completed.

From the guide to the Canada Lee papers, [microform], 1912-1999, 1941-1952, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

Canada Lee was a well known actor who performed on stage, screen, radio and television, with his most important performances being in Richard Wright's "Native Son," "Cry the Beloved Country," and "On Whitman Avenue." Born in New York City in 1907, Lee's diverse career included stints as a jockey, prizefighter, bandleader and violinist.

Following Lee's death in December 1952, his widow, Frances Lee and leaders in entertainment and politics organized the Canada Lee Foundation to preserve his memory and ideals through aid and encouragement to talented youth in the dramatic arts. The Foundation sought to assist in the full integration of African American youth in all phases of the performing arts including writing, producing, directing and acting, both amateur and professional. It provided scholarships to talented young actors and presented awards of recognition to individuals representing various aspects of the theatrical arts. It also produced a posthumus private edition record album, entitled "The Canada Lee Memorial Record," which included readings and dramatic presentations by Lee. The Foundation, which was not conceived as a permanent body, ceased functioning in the mid 1950's.

From the guide to the Canada Lee Foundation records, 1952-1955, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Canada Lee Foundation records, 1952-1955 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Welles mss., 1930-1950, (Bulk 1936-1947) Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
referencedIn Theatre Arts Monthly, collection of portraits, ca., ca., 1924-1939 (bulk), 1916-1964 (inclusive). Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
creatorOf Canada Lee research materials The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Lucille Lortel papers, 1902-2000 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Herman Buchman papers, 1939-1990 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Robert Benney research materials, 1926-1978 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Guide to the Daily Worker and Daily World Photographs Collection, 1920-2001 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
creatorOf Canada Lee papers, [microform], 1912-1999, 1941-1952 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alexander, Frank, playwright person
associatedWith Benney, Robert, 1904-2001 person
associatedWith Buchman, Herman person
associatedWith Canada Lee Foundation corporateBody
associatedWith Communist Party of the United States of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Coward, Noel, 1899-1973 person
associatedWith Gough, Lloyd person
associatedWith Hammerstein, Oscar, II, 1895-1960 person
associatedWith Lee, Frances person
associatedWith Lortel, Lucille person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Paton, Alan person
associatedWith Pearson, Frances Lee, 1919- person
associatedWith Saddler, Donald person
associatedWith Welles, Orson, 1915-1985 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
African American actors
Occupation
Activity

Person

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