Paul Robeson | 1898–1976
In 1943, Paul Robeson’s performance in Othello set a record for the longest running Shakespeare production on Broadway, drawing great interest from wartime audiences both for his powerful acting and for the then-unusual mixed-race casting of an African American Othello opposite a white actress as Desdemona.
Robeson grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of a minister. A football all-American and valedictorian at Rutgers and a 1923 Columbia Law School graduate, he was equally versatile as a performer. By 1943, he had appeared on Broadway and the London stage many times in modern roles, as well as making concert appearances as a singer and acting in several movies. Robeson first played Othello in 1930 in London, which was then more receptive to black performers. He played the part again in 1959 in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Carl Van Vechten. Paul Robeson as Othello. Photograph, 1944. Estate of Carl Van Vechten and the Carl Van Vechten Trust. Folger Shakespeare Library.