Rose McClendon (left) in a scene
from Porgy, 1927
Photograph by Florence Vandamm,
THE ROSE MCCLENDON PLAYERS
1937-1942 | 124th Street Public Library
“Harlem can possess a theater that reflects all the grace and the beauty and the truth of our daily life...”
The Rose McClendon Players had the imposing task of living up to the outstanding legacy left by their legendary namesake, Rose McClendon, who was featured in Langston Hughes’ Broadway production of Mulatto (October 1935). Miss McClendon has been described as “a great actress of power and dignity.” She was very talented and committed to the theater. She appeared in memorable plays co-starring Charles Gilain and Paul Robeson.
The Rose McClendon Players consisted of a group of talented artists who were committed to producing plays written by and for blacks. One of the signature productions of the Rose McClendon Players was Abram Hill’s On Strivers Row which ran for sixteen performances. Everyone involved, from the group’s founders, the husband and wife team of Dick Campbell and Muriel Rahn, to the actors and actresses themselves—Fred O’Neal, Ossie Davis, Helen Martin, Maxwell Glanville, Claire Leyba, and Freddie Carter—all had a demonstrated commitment to Harlem theater.
In his book, Black Drama, Loften Mitchell wrote that “Mr. (Dick) Campbell stands as one of the truly majestic figures of the 1930s. He was there dreaming of a bright future for the Negro theater worker just as James Hewlett did in the early 19th Century…Lester Walton and Eddie Hunter in the early part of the 20th Century, and the Lafayette Players after World War I.”
As a sign of the company’s belief in the possibilities of Harlem theater and its firm commitment to presenting black plays, it introduced a subscription series featuring three plays by black playwrights. Those playwrights included George Norford, Abram Hill and Loften Mitchell.
With its impressive line-up of talent, it is not surprising that the Rose McClendon Players became a major contributor to Harlem theater.