Thursday, March 11, 2021

Paul Winfield

"I was given a lot of prestige as a distinguished black actor but very little power.  They give prestige out by the buckets, but they give power by the teaspoon, just enough to stroke your ego."
  -- Paul Winfield

Paul Edward Winfield
was born......somewhere.  Normally, I start these posts with the specifics on when and where, but there seems to be some controversy on both those points with Winfield.  Some state he was born in Texas, others in Los Angeles.  His birth year is also a mystery, but since his headstone says 1939, I'll go with that.  

Winfield was the son of Lois Beatrice Edwards, a union organizer in the garment industry.  Little is known of his father.  In fact, Paul took the name Winfield from his stepfather Clarence, who was an L.A, area construction worker.

After high school, Winfield attended college. Six of them to be exact.  He eventually graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1971, intent on becoming a dramatic actor.

But long before he graduated, Winfield had already begun appearing on television and in films.  His first role was in a 1965 episode of Perry Mason.  This led to a recurring role on the Diahann Carroll sitcom Julia (right), a series that was unique for its time in its casting of a female African-American lead.  Then in 1969, he made his big screen debut in the Sidney Poitier film The Lost Man.

In 1973, Winfield starred in the film Sounder, the story of an African-American family in the Deep South during the Great Depression.  It was both a critical and box office success, earning Winfield an Academy Award nomination.  You can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube.  

In 1978, Winfield returned to television playing the title role in King, a three-part mini-series based on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Although the series was heavily promoted, it was a ratings disappointment.  Despite this, Winfield earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal.  You can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube.

In 1982, Winfield made his first appearance in the world of science fiction with a small but memorable role in the classic film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Do yourself a favor and DO NOT watch this clip.

Two years later, he followed that up with a role in the first Terminator film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  This too was a small role, as most of Winfield's scenes were cut from the film.  

Winfield returned to television in 1987 with a starring role on the sit-com The Charmings, a series that saw Prince Charming and his wife adapting to life in the suburbs.  Winfield played the wise-cracking Mirror, who got most of the script's funniest lines.  You can catch a compilation clip here.  He'd segue from there to the Marla Gibbs' sitcom 227 for its final two seasons.

I'm sure somebody wants me to point out that he returned to Star Trek in a TNG episode called "Darmok."  But I've always found that episode to be ridiculous and over-rated.  Here's one reason why.

In the 1990s, Winfield turned to the world of voice-overs, performing on a number of animated series, including Batman Beyond, Gargoyles and the PBS series The Magic School Bus.  He also appeared on The Simpsons as a Don King wannabe named Lucius Sweet.  Here's a clip of that performance.  Winfield also served as narrator of the A&E true crime series City Confidential.

In 2002, Winfield's partner of more than thirty years, Charles Gillian, died of bone cancer.  Winfield was himself a diabetic, and by this point, his own health was in decline.  He died of a heart attack on March 7, 2004.  He was 64 years old.

He was buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

Location: Court of Liberty, Plot #1475.
Inscription: "I, if the birds do not come, will sing to you.
Will you who are spring and flight and all music,
will you sing to me, if the birds do not come?"

Rest in peace, Captain.

  • Winfield continues to be a mystery to me even in death, as I cannot identify the quote on his marker.  If anyone is familiar with it, please note it in the Comments section below.

  • As a young actor in a local production of the classic Of Mice and Men, Winfield once appeared onstage in whiteface, as he felt that an African-American would not be accepted in the role.

  • Winfield's cousin was actor William Marshall, known to Star Trek fans as Dr. Richard Daystrom in "The Ultimate Computer."

  • Winfield was a dog breeder who bred pugs at his California home.  While attending a dog show in Colorado in the late 1990s, he fell into a diabetic coma and required three weeks of hospitalization.

  • Winfield was a gifted musician, adept at both the violin and the cello.  He was offered scholarship to Yale based on these talents, but turned it down to pursue acting instead.

1 comment:

  1. LOL, OK, I had to look at that "Wrath of Khan" clip, and in the first two seconds I'm like, oh, THAT clip ...