Frederick O'Neal

Frederick O'Neal (August 27, 1905 August 25, 1992) was an American actor, theater producer and television director. He founded the American Negro Theater and was the first African-American president of the Actors' Equity Association. He was also known for his work behind the scenes as a revolutionary trade unionist.

Early life and acting career

Born in Brooksville, Mississippi, O'Neal made his New York debut in 1936 with the Civic Repertory Theatre. In 1944, he won the Clarence Derwent award for his Broadway performance as the greedy brother-in-law in Anna Lucasta. He also earned acclaim for his stage portrayal of Lem Scott in Take a Giant Step in 1953. He reprised both roles on film.

In 1954, O'Neal filmed a pilot for Sammy Davis Jr.'s ABC television show. The show presented African-Americans as struggling musicians, not the usual slapstick comedy or the stereotypical mammy roles of the time. The cast included actresses Ruth Attaway and Jane White, and Frances Davis who was the first black ballerina to perform for the Paris Opera The network couldn't get a sponsor, so the show was dropped.[1]

On television O'Neal was frequently on Kraft Suspense and Hallmark Hall of Fame productions. He also portrayed Officer Wallace on Car 54, Where Are You? from 1961 to 1963. In 1964 he played Matty Howard in a boxing-centered episode of the ABC drama Breaking Point titled "Never Trouble Trouble Till Trouble Troubles You" that boasted a primarily black cast, including Terry Carter, Diana Sands, Rex Ingram, and Mark Dymally.

He narrated, along with Hilda Simms, the educational record "Great Negro Americans" which was written and produced by Alan Sands (no relation to Diana).

Organization and union work

Among theater companies which he helped organize were Harlem's American Negro Theatre in 1940, which started the careers of Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, among others. O'Neal also co-founded the British Negro Theatre.[2]

In 1964 he became president of the Actors' Equity Association and Associated Actors and Artistes of America. He was the first African-American president of Equity (1964–73). His work landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents.


  1. Haygood, Wil (2003). In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. New York : A.A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House. pp. 148–149. ISBN 9780375403545.
  2. "[index to] Frederick O'Neal Papers". New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
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