D'Urville Martin

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D'Urville Martin
D'urville Martin 1974.jpg
D'urville Martin in 1974
Born (1939-02-11)February 11, 1939
Died May 28, 1984(1984-05-28) (aged 45)
Resting place Inglewood Park Cemetery
Spouse(s) Lillian Martin (1966–1984; his death)
Children 3

D'Urville Martin (February 11, 1939 – May 28, 1984) was an American actor and director in both film and television. He appeared in numerous 1970s movies in the blaxploitation genre. He also appeared in two unaired pilots of what would become All in the Family as Lionel Jefferson, the role which was eventually played by Mike Evans. Born in New York City, Martin began his career in the mid-1960s and soon appeared in prominent films such as Black Like Me and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Martin also directed films in his career, including Dolemite, starring Rudy Ray Moore.

Personal life

D'Urville Martin was born in New York City in 1939. He had a daughter, Debra, with his first wife, Frances L. Johnson. After their divorce he married Lillian Ferguson in 1966 and had two more children. Martin died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of 45.[1]



Black Like Me (1964) was a film based on the popular book by John Howard Griffin, telling of the true experiences of the author when he passed as a black man. The film made a strong civil rights statement as John Horton, the main character, traveled through the South meeting real African Americans and gaining first-hand exposure to the plights of blacks facing racism. Martin played a speaking line extra.[2]

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn, was a groundbreaking film for its positive representation of the controversial subject of interracial marriage, which had been illegal in most of the United States. The film tells the story of Joanna Drayton, a white woman who falls in love with Dr. John Prentice, played by Poitier. Martin plays “Frankie,” whose car is accidentally struck by Matt Drayton, played by Tracy, prompting a heated exchange.[3]

Rosemary's Baby (1968) was a horror/drama/mystery movie about a young couple who have recently moved and find themselves surrounded by odd neighbors and happenings. When the woman becomes pregnant without explanation, paranoia over her unborn child's safety ensues. Martin has a small role as Diego, the elevator operator in the couple's building, and one of the few characters entirely innocent and ignorant of the goings-on.[4] This film was one of Martin's more serious movies, and one of the few horror films in which he appeared.

Later movies

Later movies of D'Urville Martin are of the blaxploitation genre, starting with The Legend of Nigger Charley in 1972 and continuing throughout the decade until he appeared in The Bear in 1983.


The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972): Nigger Charley (Fred Williamson) escapes from being sold to a plantation owner along with Toby (Martin) and another man. The three fugitives travel through the west seeking freedom but are treated poorly and chased by a gang of white men on horseback vowing to catch them. When the film ends, Martin as Toby asks, “Where shall we go now, Charley?” and is answered with: “Don't matter. Wherever we go, there's trouble waiting for us.” The film's success led to two sequels, The Soul of Nigger Charley and Boss Nigger.

Black Caesar (1973): Tommy Gibbs, a tough kid who aspires to be a criminal after his leg is broken by a cop, takes his vengeance throughout the rest of the movie. He initiates a hit on a Mob contract, gaining the attention of the Mafia. As he is accepted into the Mob family, he eventually starts a gang war which he wins. Martin plays Reverend Rufus in the movie which spawned a sequel, Hell Up in Harlem.

Hammer (1972): B.J. Hammer is a boxer who rises up the ranks with help from the Mafia but doesn't realize that the help comes at a price: he is asked to throw a fight. Gangsters threaten to harm his girlfriend in an attempt to force him to go through with their plan. Hammer is forced to figure out a way to save his dignity and the life of his girlfriend when she is kidnapped by the gangsters. Martin plays Sonny in the film.[citation needed]

The Get-Man (aka Combat Cops) (1974): a police officer becomes obsessed with a sadistic killer called "The Zebra Killer" who has kidnapped his girlfriend and discovers many murders along the way while tracking him down. Martin plays the pimp in the movie, showing his transition into more mainstream blaxploitation-style acting roles.[citation needed]


Martin directed the wildly popular movie Dolemite in which a pimp played by Rudy Ray Moore is set up by Willie Green and the cops by planting drugs, stolen furs, and guns in his car's trunk to get him arrested. Despite a 20-year sentence, the warden and Queen B plan to get him out of jail. He then gets pardoned and released. Taking revenge on Willie Green and the corrupt detectives who framed him, Dolemite has many sidekick kung fu fighting girls. Throughout the movie Dolemite attempts to regain his reputation through the streets, a common theme in blaxploitation movies.[5] In addition to directing the film, Martin plays the villain, Willie Green, who is also seen in flashback as one of the people framing Dolemite. The movie inspired a sequel, The Human Tornado, in 1976 that was not directed by Martin.[citation needed]

Cultural significance

As a prominent supporting actor in blaxploitation movies, D'Urville Martin helped define the genre through all of its increasing controversy and popularity. Following the lead of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, these films typically possessed certain attributes and stereotypes. For example, in The Get-Man, Martin plays a pimp, a common occupation in the genre. In addition Martin takes on the job of both a hit man and drug dealer in his later movies which targeted primarily lower class black audiences across the country. Though extremely popular with these audiences, they were accused of stereotyping blacks. Calling for the end of the controversial genre, organizations such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Urban League condemned these films and formed the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. With the support of many professionals in black film, media exposure eventually forced the end of the genre by the late 1970s.[citation needed]

Directing Dolemite was Martin's career high. The film proved to be a good example of the era's blaxploitation movies and to this day remains one of the most popular, still inspiring spoofs today such as Black Dynamite (2009). Cultural historian Todd Boyd finds that Rudy Ray Moore's depiction of Dolemite is linked to rappers like Snoop Dogg and The Notorious B.I.G., pointing out Moore came up with the pronunciation "Biotch!" that Snoop made ubiquitous. Boyd notes the humor in Moore carrying himself off as a sex symbol "to bed the fine-ass women who can't keep their hands off him.”[6]


Year Title Role Notes
1964 Black Like Me
1967 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Frankie
1968 Rosemary's Baby Diego
1968 A Time to Sing Luke Harper
1970 Watermelon Man Bus Driver
1972 The Legend of Nigger Charley Toby
1972 The Final Comedown Billy Joe Ashley
1972 Hammer Sonny
1973 Black Caesar Reverend Rufus
1973 Book of Numbers Billy Bowlegs
1973 The Soul of Nigger Charley Toby
1973 Five on the Black Hand Side Booker T.
1973 Hell Up in Harlem Reverend Rufus
1974 The Get-Man The Pimp
1975 Boss Nigger Amos
1975 Sheba, Baby Pilot
1975 Dolemite Willie Green
1976 Death Journey Detective Don
1976 Blind Rage Willie Black
1976 Black Samurai Uncredited
1977 Disco 9000 Stuffman
1983 The Big Score Easy
1984 The Bear Billy (final film role)

See also


  1. ^ "Actor D'Urville Martin Dies Of Heart Attack". Jet. 66 (14): 14. June 11, 1984.
  2. ^ D'Urville Martin filmography, d-urville-martin.fullmoviereview.com; accessed November 1, 2014.
  3. ^ IMDb synopsis of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, imdb.com; accessed November 1, 2014.
  4. ^ IMDB synopsis of Rosemary's Baby, imdb.com; accessed November 1, 2014.
  5. ^ imdb plot summary by Ali Jordana M/kungfulay19
  6. ^ Greg Oguss's review of Todd Boyd's book A Guide to the Super Fly '70s: A connoisseur's Journey through the Fabulous Flix, Hip Sounds and Cool Vibes that Defined a Decade in the article "Stereotypes of a Black Male Misunderstood", 2007

External links

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