Mantan Moreland

Mantan Moreland (September 3, 1902 September 28, 1973) was an American actor and comedian most popular in the 1930s and 1940s.[1]

Mantan Moreland
Moreland in the 1946 film The Trap
Born(1902-09-03)September 3, 1902
DiedSeptember 28, 1973(1973-09-28) (aged 71)
Resting placeValhalla Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesMan Tan Moreland
Manton Moreland
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1933–1973
Spouse(s)Hazel Moreland (1 child)

Early years

He was born in Monroe, Louisiana, to Frank, an old-time Dixieland bandleader, and Marcella.[2] Moreland began acting by the time he was an adolescent; some sources say he ran away to join a minstrel show in 1910, at age eight,[2] but his daughter told Moreland's biographer she doubts this date is correct.[3] She and other sources agree it is more likely he left home when he was fourteen.[4]


After "nearly ten years of working the small, small time", Moreland gained an opportunity in 1927 when he was hired as a comedian in Connie's Inn Frolics in Harlem.[5] He next worked in the musical revue Blackbirds of 1928, which ran for 518 performances.[5]

By the late 1920s, Moreland had made his way through vaudeville, working with various shows and revues, performing on Broadway and touring Europe. Initially, Moreland appeared in low-budget "race movies" aimed at African-American audiences, including One Dark Night (1939) with Bette Treadville, but as his comedic talents became recognized, he appeared in larger productions.

Monogram Pictures signed Moreland to appear opposite Frankie Darro in the studio's popular action pictures. Moreland, with his bulging eyes and cackling laugh, quickly became a favorite supporting player in Hollywood movies. He is perhaps best known for his role as chauffeur Birmingham Brown in Monogram's Charlie Chan series.[5] At the height of his career, Moreland received steady work from major film studios, as well as from independent producers who starred Moreland in low-budget, all-black-cast comedies.

In 1940's Drums of the Desert, Moreland played a more serious role as the sergeant in charge of a squad of Senegalese Tirailleurs in French colonial Algeria alongside Ralph Byrd, known for appearing in Republic Pictures' Dick Tracy serials.

Moreland also toured America in vaudeville, making personal appearances in the nation's movie theaters. His straight man was Ben Carter, and they developed an excellent rapport and impeccable timing. Their "incomplete sentence" routines can be seen in two Charlie Chan pictures, The Scarlet Clue and Dark Alibi.[6]

Moreland was offered fewer roles in the 1950s, when filmmakers began to reassess roles given to black actors.[7] He was briefly considered as a possible addition to the Three Stooges when Shemp Howard died in 1955.[8] Moreland returned to the stage and appeared in two all-black variety films in 1955, with Nipsey Russell standing in for Ben Carter as his straight man.

Later career and death

Moreland's last featured role was in the 1968 darkly humorous horror film Spider Baby (filmed in 1964), which was patterned after Universal's thrillers of the 1940s. After suffering a stroke in the early 1960s, Moreland took on a few minor comedic roles, working with Bill Cosby, Moms Mabley and Carl Reiner. He later partnered with Roosevelt Livingood to form the comedic team of Mantan and Livingood. Producing a number of recorded albums

Moreland died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1973 in Hollywood.[1][9]


In 2004, Moreland was inducted into the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame.[10]

Selected filmography



  • That Ain't My Finger (Laff)
  • Elsie's Sportin' House (Laff)
  • Tribute to the Man (Laff)

Cultural references

Robert B. Parker makes an allusion to Moreland in Hush Money, one of his long-running series of Spenser novels.[11]

Bamboozled, a 2000 film directed by Spike Lee, centers around a fictional television show called "Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show" featuring stereotypes of minstrel theater and starring a tap dancing character, played by Savion Glover, named Mantan.

B-Boys Makin with the Freak Freak, a song performed by Beastie Boys on their 1994 album Ill Communication, samples a line from Mantan's comedy album, That Ain’t My Finger referencing a bit about a party and the mashed potatoes.

Further reading

  • Michael H. Price - Mantan the Funnyman (2007), a biography of Moreland


  1. "Moreland, Actor Is Dead At 72. Played in Chan Films and in Black 'Codot'". The New York Times. September 29, 1973. Retrieved 2014-10-30. Mantan Moreland, the comedian who played the chauffeur Birmingham Brown in the Charlie Chan movies, died today at the age of 72.
  2. "Charlie Chan's Right-Hand Man - The Eyes Have It". Washington Afro-American. Washington, D.C. February 26, 1957. p. 5, Afro Magazine Section. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  3. quoted by Michael H. Price and Josh Alan Friedman. Mantan the Funnyman. Midnight Marquee Press, 2007, p. 63.
  4. "M. Moreland, Charlie Chan Butler, Died." Pomona (CA) Progress-Bulletin, September 29, 1973, p. A-2.
  5. Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America. Psychology Press. pp. 792–793. ISBN 9780415938532. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  6. Dave Kehr (June 13, 2010). "Golly, Pop, You Always Get 'Em, Even on a Poverty Row Budget". The New York Times. p. AR12.
  7. Thompson, Jennifer. "From Blackface to Blaxploitation: Representations Of African Americans In Film". Duke University Library. Duke University. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  8. Disclosed by Moe Howard in a 1971 interview with film historian Michael H. Price, cited in Price's 2007 biography of Moreland, Mantan the Funnyman, from Midnight Marquee Press of Baltimore.
  9. Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. Routledge. p. 794. ISBN 0-415-93853-8.
  10. "2004 Hall of Fame Inductee". National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum. Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  11. Parker, Robert B. Hush Money, page 12, New York: Putnam
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