Frank Silvera

Frank Alvin Silvera (July 24, 1914 June 11, 1970) was a Jamaican-born American character actor and theatrical director.[1]

Frank Silvera
L. to r.: Frank Silvera, Mark Richman and Vivian Blaine in Michael V. Gazzo's play
A Hatful of Rain (publicity still)
Frank Alvin Silvera

(1914-07-24)July 24, 1914
DiedJune 11, 1970(1970-06-11) (aged 55)
Cause of deathAccidental electrocution
Resting placeLong Island National Cemetery
EducationEnglish High School of Boston
Alma materBoston University
Northeastern University School of Law
OccupationActor, theatrical director
Years active19341970
Anna Lillian Quarles
(m. 1942; div. 1963)

Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Boston, Silvera dropped out of law school in 1934 after winning his first stage role. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was active in numerous stage productions on and off Broadway and appeared in radio shows. Silvera made his film debut in 1952. Over the course of his 36-year career, he was cast in a wide variety of ethnic roles in film and television. Silvera also remained active in theatre. Silvera was nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award in 1963 for his role in The Lady of the Camellias. He founded the Theatre of Being, a Los Angeles theatre for black actors, in 1965. At the time of his death he had a recurring role in the NBC Western series The High Chaparral.

Early life

Silvera was born in Kingston, Jamaica the son of a mixed race Jamaican mother, Gertrude Bell and Spanish Jewish father, Alfred Silvera.[2][3] His family emigrated to the United States when he was six-years old, settling in Boston.[4] Silvera became interested in acting and began performing in amateur theatrical groups and at church.[1]

He graduated from English High School of Boston and then studied at Boston University, followed by the Northeastern Law School.[3][4][5]


Silvera left Northeastern Law School in 1934, when he was cast in Paul Green's production of Roll Sweet Chariot. He next joined the New England Repertory Theatre where he appeared in productions of MacBeth, Othello and The Emperor Jones. He also worked at Federal Theatre and with the New Hampshire Repertory Theatre. In 1940, Silvera made his Broadway debut in a small role in Big White Fog. His career was interrupted in 1942, when he enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II. He was assigned to Camp Robert Smalls, where he and Owen Dodson were in charge of entertainment. Silvera directed and acted in radio programs and appeared in USO shows. Honorably discharged at the war's end in 1945, he joined the cast of Anna Lucasta and became a member of the Actors Studio.[1][5][6]

In 1952, Silvera made his film debut in the western, The Cimarron Kid. Because of his strongly Latin appearance, he was cast in a variety of ethnic roles in films and television.[3] He was cast as General Huerta in Viva Zapata! which starred Marlon Brando. Silvera also portrayed the role in the stage production, which opened at the Regent Theatre in New York City on February 28, 1952.[6] He appeared in two films directed by Stanley Kubrick, Fear and Desire (1953) and Killer's Kiss (1955).

In August 1955, he appeared on Broadway in a revival of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, which earned him favorable reviews. In November 1955, he portrayed John Pope, Sr., the Italian father of Ben Gazzara and Anthony Franciosa's characters on Broadway in Michael V. Gazzo's A Hatful of Rain (a role portrayed by Lloyd Nolan on screen), and again was praised by critics.[7]

Silvera made guest appearances in numerous television series, mainly dramas and westerns, including Studio One in Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bat Masterson, Thriller, Riverboat, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, The Untouchables, and Bonanza. In 1962 he portrayed Dr. Koslenko in The Twilight Zone episode "Person or Persons Unknown", opposite Richard Long. That year, he also played Minarii, a Polynesian man in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty, again starring Marlon Brando. In 1963, Silvera was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for playing Monsieur Duval in The Lady of the Camellias.

In 1964, Silvera and Vantile Whitfield founded the Theatre of Being, a Los Angeles-based theatre dedicated to providing black actors with non-stereotypical roles. One of their first projects was producing The Amen Corner by African-American writer James Baldwin. Silvera and Whitfield financed the play themselves and with donations from friends. It opened on March 4, 1964 and would gross $200,000 within the year, moving to Broadway in April 1965. Beah Richards won critical acclaim for her performance as the lead.[8]

Silvera continued his career in films and guest star roles on television. In 1965, he appeared as Gaspar, one of the Biblical Magi in the epic film The Greatest Story Ever Told, In 1966, he teamed with Marlon Brando for a third time in the Western The Appaloosa. The next year, he portrayed Nick Sorello in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, followed by guest roles on Dundee and the Culhane and The Wild Wild West. He appeared as a Mexican bandit in the 1967 Martin Ritt-directed Western classic, Hombre, based on the Elmore Leonard novel. In 1969, Silvera had a supporting role as Goatherd in Che!, and as Lobero in the Zapata Western Guns of the Magnificent Seven.

Silvera was then hired as the first guest director at Fresno State College (FSC), with plans to stage a production of The Tea Concession by Henry J. Kemp-Blair, which reversed the racial positions of black and white in a drama about South Africa.[9] However, he was forced to resign less than two weeks later, caught in the middle of administrative shakeups and the aborted hiring of Marvin X by the Black Studies department. "With this upheaval it seemed to blacks and browns that Silvera was part of the package, part of the hardline takeover (at FSC). There was such a sense of despair and betrayal...they took it out on me," Silvera said to David Hale, theater writer for The Fresno Bee. "It seemed to me they thought I was the agent to smooth things over while the establishment hatched up something else dirty."[10]

At the time of his death, Silvera had a recurring role in the NBC western series The High Chaparral as the Mexican squire, Don Sebastian Montoya. His final film, Valdez Is Coming, was released posthumously, in 1971.

Personal life

Silvera married actress Anna Lillian Quarles in 1942. They met while appearing in a stage production of Stevedore. Quarles was the sister of historian and educator Benjamin Arthur Quarles. They had two children, Frank, Jr. and Linda, before divorcing in 1963.[1][5][11]


Silvera was killed on June 11, 1970, after accidentally electrocuting himself while repairing a garbage disposal unit in his kitchen sink.[4][12] He was 55.

Silvera was buried with military honors at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.


In 1973, the Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop Foundation, Inc. was created in honor of Silvera and his efforts to support African-American actors and playwrights. The organization sponsors promising African-American playwrights. In 2005, the workshop was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg.[13]


Year Title Role Notes
1952 The Cimarron Kid Stacey Marshall
1952 The Fighter Paulino
1952 Viva Zapata! Victoriano Huerta
1952 The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima Arturo dos Santos
1953 White Mane Narrator
1953 Fear and Desire Sgt. Mac
1954 The Lonely Night The Narrator
1955 Death Tide Eric Paulsen
1955 Killer's Kiss Vincent Rapallo
1956 Crowded Paradise Papa Diaz
1959 Crime and Punishment U.S.A. Lieutenant Porter
1960 Heller in Pink Tights Santis
1960 The Mountain Road Col. Kwan
1960 Key Witness Det. Rafael Torno
1962 Mutiny on the Bounty Minarii
1963 Toys in the Attic Henry Simpson
1963 Lonnie Paco
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told Caspar
1966 The Appaloosa Ramos
1967 Hombre Mexican bandit
1967 The St. Valentine's Day Massacre Nick Sorello
1968 The Stalking Moon Major
1968 Up Tight! Kyle
1969 Guns of the Magnificent Seven Lobero
1969 Che! Goatherd
1971 Valdez Is Coming Diego Released posthumously
Year Title Role Notes
1951-1957 Studio One in Hollywood Various roles 2 episodes
1954 The Marriage Mr. Ramon Episode #1.1
1955 Producers' Showcase Judge Episode: "The Skin of Our Teeth"
1957 The Seven Lively Arts John Episode: "The World of Nick Adams"
1958 Wanted: Dead or Alive Sheriff Will Echert Episode: "Sheriff At Red Rock"
1958 Playhouse 90 Nick Serrello Episode: "Seven Against the Wall"
1958 Perry Mason Jonathan Hyett Episode: "The Case of the Fancy Figures" s2e10.
1959 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Mr. Roderiguez Episode: "A Personal Matter"
1959 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater Ysidro Episode: "Trouble at Tres Cruces"
1959 Decoy Andrew Garcia Episode: "Across the World"
1959 Bat Masterson Grasia Episode: "The Romany Knives"
1959 The Lineup Papa Vanetti Episode: "My Son is a Stranger"
1959 The Man From Blackhawk Kiczek Episode: "The Gypsy Story"
1960 Johnny Ringo Bevinetto Episode: "Shoot the Moon"
1960 The Law and Mr. Jones Garcia Episode: "Music to Hurt By"
1960 Thriller Cesare Romano/Charlie Roman Episode: "The Guilty Men"
1960 Hong Kong Kivori Episode: "Freebooter"
1960 The Rebel Cota Episode: "Deathwatch"
1960 Riverboat Colonel Ashley Episode: "Devil in Skirts"
1960 The Untouchables Dino Patrone Episode: "A Seat on the Fence"
1961-1964 Bonanza Various roles 2 episodes
1962 The Twilight Zone Dr. Koslenko Episode: "Person or Persons Unknown"
1962 The New Breed John Hernandez Episode: "My Brother's Keeper"
1962 The Beachcomber Various roles 2 episodes
1962 The Dick Powell Show Episode: "Borderline"
1963 The Defenders Ballin Episode: "The Last Illusion"
1963 The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters The Indian, Speaks to the Wind Episode: "The Day of the Taboo Man"
1964 The Great Adventure Gambi Episode: "The Pirate and the Patriot"
1964 Channing Episode: "Memory of a Firing Squad"
1964 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Alejandro Episode: "The Life Work of Juan Diaz"
1964 Mr. Novak Andy Towner Episode: "Boy Under Glass"
1964-1965 Kraft Suspense Theatre Various roles 2 episodes
1965 Profiles in Courage Episode: "Hamilton Fish"
1965 Daniel Boone Marcel Bouvier Episode: "Daughter of the Devil"
1965 Rawhide Pajarito Episode: "El Hombre Bravo"
1965 Gunsmoke John Drago Episode: "Death Watch"
1966 I Spy Munoz Episode: "Crusade to Limbo"
1966 The Rat Patrol Arab Leader Episode: "The Chain of Death Raid"
1966 Run for Your Life Esteban Episode: "The Shock of Recognition"
1967 Dundee and the Culhane Luis Montoya Episode: "The Vasquez Brief"
1967 The Wild Wild West El Sordo Episode: "The Night of Jack O'Diamonds"
1967-1970 The High Chaparral Don Sebastian Montoya 14 episodes
1968 The Young Loner Carlos Television film
1968-1971 The Wonderful World of Disney Carlos 4 episodes
1969 Marcus Welby, M.D. Nick Eugenides Episode: "The Vrahnas Demon"
1970 The Flying Nun Thomas Sebastien Martinez Episode: "No Tears for Mrs. Thomas"
1970 Hawaii Five-O Frank Kuakua Episode: "Paniolo"
1971 The Boy from Dead Man's Bayou Television film
Aired posthumously
1976 Perilous Voyage Gen. Salazar Television film
Aired posthumously, (final film role)


  1. Hinton, Garfield (April 2, 1957). "The 'man with a thousand faces' comes to Baltimore". Baltimore Afro-American. p. 6. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  2. Rodriguez, Clara (2008). Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood. Oxford University Press. p. 160. ISBN 0-19-533513-9.
  3. Berry, Torriano; Berry, Venise T. (2007). Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema. 12. Scarecrow Press. p. 310. ISBN 0-8108-5545-3.
  4. Films and Filming. 25. Hansom Books. 1978. p. 46.
  5. "Silvera Gets Role of Joe in "Ann Lucasta"". The Afro American. December 22, 1945. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  6. "Silvera Has Top Role in 'Viva Zapata!". Baltimore Afro-American. February 26, 1952. p. 15. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  7. "Frank Silvera starred on 'Studio One' program". The Afro American. August 3, 1957. p. 7. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  8. "'Civil Rights' Theater Has New Show on Broadway". St. Joseph News-Press. May 9, 1965. p. 5D. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  9. "'Chapparral' Actor Dies in LA Area". The Fresno Bee. Fresno, California. June 11, 1970. p. 6-D. Retrieved August 16, 2013. Frank Silvera, 56, the veteran character actor who spent a week at Fresno State College last fall in an aborted post as artist-in-residence, died earlier today in his home in Pasadena.
  10. Kirwan, Tom (July 28, 1970). "Frank Silvera ... What Might Have Been". The Fresno Bee. Fresno, California. p. 14-A. Silvera was the veteran actor who spent a brief and unhappy interlude at Fresno State College last year as an artist-in-residence.
  11. "Frank Silvera, Actor-Director, Electrocuted in Coast Mishap". The New York Times. June 12, 1970. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  12. Ceilán, Cynthia (2007). Thinning the Herd: Tales of the Weirdly Departed. Globe Pequot. p. 91. ISBN 1-59921-219-6.
  13. Roberts, Sam (July 6, 2005). "City Groups Get Bloomberg Gift of $20 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
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