HISTORY & MORE
The Cambridge Players-Next Generation is a Black Theatre Troupe that was originally The Cambridge Players Inc., formed by Edmund J. Cambridge stage, film and television actor and director who was a founding member of New York's famed Negro Ensemble Company. He worked with a virtual who's who of African-American performers; among them: Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr., two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones, Emmy winner Roscoe Lee Browne, Oscar nominee Cicely Tyson, American poet laureate Maya Angelou and many more. Cambridge later directed the original production of Lonne Elder III's "Ceremonies in Dark Old Men," which ran Off Broadway and in Hollywood, starring Billy Dee Williams.
Cambridge's many directing credits also included James Baldwin's "Amen Corner" and August Wilson's "Two Trains Running." He directed the play "227" that Edmund brought to the attention of N.B.C.-- which later became a TV sitcom starring Marla Gibbs -- at Gibbs' Crossroads Theater in L.A. He served as artistic director of the Cambridge Players during the 1980s, an acting company that included Esther Rolle ("Good Times"), Academy Nominated Actress Juanita Moore ("Imitation of Life"), Helen Martin (“Pineapple Express”, “227”, “Cotton Comes To Harlem”), Royce Wallace (“Murder In Texas”) and Lynn Hamilton (“Sandford And Son”, "The Waltons"). Supporting Cambridge Players were, Isabel Sanford (The Jefferson), Beah Richards (Oscar Nominee- “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”) and Maya Angelou (Actress, Director, Poet).
The Original Cambridge Players were successful in taking a Los Angeles Premiere of James Baldwins "The Amen Corner" to Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in April of 1965. Produced by Mrs. Nat Cole, ( Nat King Cole's Spouse), Written by James Baldwin, Directed by Frank Silvera, Scenic Design by Vantile Whitfield, Production Stage Manager: James Gelb; Stage Manager: Edmund J.Cambridge (ED) and Press Representative: Dorothy Ross
Cast : Art Evans, Gertude Jeanette, Amentha Dymally, Whitman Mayo, Beah Richards, Juanita Moore, Isabel Sanford, Frank Silvera and C.P. Walker.
Tony Award Nominations for the production were as follows:
"The Amen Corner Awards"
1965 Tony Award® Best Actress in a Play
Beah Richards [nominee]
1965 Theatre World Award
Beah Richards [winner]
Numerous Drama Louge
NAACP Image Awards and Ovation Awards for all productions.
"Reunion In Bartersville"
Selected for inclusion in the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
Nominated for two NAACP Image awards Best Ensemble Cast and Best Producers, with Kirk E. Kelleykahn, Doug Fager and Jeffrey Nutting taking home the famed award for
bIO OF eDMUND J. CAMPBRIDGE
Edmund J. Cambridge, an actor and director began his professional theatrical career in 1946 as a dancer, then moved into acting, stage managing and directing. He broke color barriers during the 1940s, often cast as the only black in a show. In 1968, Cambridge -- along with Douglas Turner Ward, Robert Hooks and others -- was instrumental in founding the renowned Negro Ensemble Co. Cambridge went on to become a stage manager with Jean Genet's highly regarded "The Blacks," which ran at Off Broadway's St. Mark's Playhouse from 1973-75 and featured a virtual who's who of Black performers; among them: Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr., two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones, Emmy winner Roscoe Lee Browne, Oscar nominee Cicely Tyson, Emmy winner Esther Rolle, American poet laureate Maya Angelou. Best known as a stage director, he received an Obie nomination for his direction of the original 1969 Negro Ensemble Company production of Lonne Elder III’s “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men” at St. Mark’s Playhouse in New York.
He came to Los Angeles on tour with a play and was refused entrance into the opening night after-party by a maitre d' at a segregated restaurant. Actress Bette Davis was at the party and happened to see his plight, and, although she did not know him, told the maitre d', "This gentleman is seated at my table."Cambridge directed subsequent productions of Elder’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play at the Pocket Theater in New York and at the Ivar Theater in Hollywood. In 1988, he played the lead role of the family patriarch, Harlem barber Russell Parker, in a revival of the play at the Canon Theater in Beverly Hills.In 1984, Cambridge directed the original production of Christine Houston’s play “227” at Marla Gibbs’ Crossroads Theater in Los Angeles and later directed a number of episodes of the NBC sitcom that grew out of the family comedy, which was set in Chicago.“He was a brilliant director and it was actually due to his interpretation that brought the play to the attention of NBC,” said actress Lynn Hamilton, who alternated with Gibbs in the lead role of the play and won a National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award for her performance under Cambridge’s direction.
Among Cambridge’s many TV acting credits were guest appearances on “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son,” “ER,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Family Matters” and the miniseries “The Atlanta Child Murders.” On film, he appeared in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey,” “Deep Cover” and “Cool Breeze.” Cambridge did film and TV only to pay the bills, said Lincoln Kilpatrick, co-founder of the Kilpatrick-Cambridge Theater Arts School.“He was,” Kilpatrick said, “a dedicated man of the theater. Born in Harlem in 1920, Cambridge began his career on the sly: While still in high school, the 15-year-old Cambridge landed a job as a chorus boy at Harlem’s historic Swan’s Paradise. Fearful that his family would discover what he was up to, he’d tell his mother that he was doing his homework with friends. Then he’d rush to Swan’s, get into makeup and perform in the 8 p.m. show, rush home and slip into bed. After his family was asleep, he’d slip out again to perform at the midnight show. His mother caught on and ended his moonlighting as a chorus boy.“We were both raised with strict parents,” recalled actress Isabel Sanford(The Jeffersons), who met Cambridge when they were teenagers studying acting at the Harlem YMCA. Cambridge became a director of the YMCA productions and, Sanford said, “I was in every one that I could be in, And throughout Cambridge’s life, she said, “If you asked him to do anything in show business and didn’t have any money to offer him, he did it anyway. It wasn’t the money he was after. He really loved the business.
In addition to acting, Cambridge worked as a stage manager off-Broadway in the late 1950s and early ’60s before moving into directing. He served as artistic director of the Cambridge Players during the 1980s, an acting company that included Esther Rolle ("Good Times"), Juanita Moore ("Imitation of Life"), Lynn Hamilton ("The Waltons"), Helen Martin(Pineapple Express , 227, Bulworth) and Royce Wallace (Murder in Texas) and Cheryl Francis (Dude Where’s My Car). Cambridge began teaching acting after moving to Los Angeles and co-founding the Kilpatrick-Cambridge Theater Arts School in 1971.Cambridge also directed many productions for the Los Angeles Theater Center.
For the last decade, he taught acting to senior citizens at the Oasis Center. Edmund J. Cambridge will be missed, but his spirit lives on. Author and Actress Patricia Forte’ has written a book about the Cambridge Experience, and this book will hit shelves soon. The book is entitled The Cambridge Way: An Itmate look at black theatre by those who held up it’s walls. The Legacy of an astounding man who formed the award winning Legendary Cambridge Players shall continue with Cambridge Players- The Next Generation.