By Sergio | Shadow and Act January 23, 2012 at 10:54AM
So all this talk and discussion we've been having for the last few weeks on S & A about Red Tails I thought it was the right time to go back and repost an item I wrote last year back in June about the first black astronaut in the movies.
Actually there were two and it happened in the same year and not surprigingly neither was an American film. However, if anyone knows who was was the first black actor to appear in an American film as an astronaut please tell us. (That is assuming that it has happened by now..hasn't it?)
But the guy in the picture on the left is Archie Savage and anybody who knows the history of black dance in America should be familiar with him as one of its true pioneers. The Virginia-born Savage, who died in 2003, was one of real innovators of modern black dance, and for many years danced with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company as her partner
He went on to appear uncredited in several American films as a dancer, with his biggest role in the 1954 Gary Cooper/Burt Lancaster Robert Aldrich directed western Vera Cruz. But like so many other black artists who felt they were under-appreciated, went to Europe for better opportunities.
He settled in Italy and continued making more films, though they were mostly still no better than roles he had played in the U.S. But in 1960, he had a supporting role as an astronaut in the cheapo Italian sci-fi movie Space Men (Assignment: Outer Space) directed by Antonio Margheriti.
Now, that would have made him the first black actor ever to play an astronaut in a film if it wasn't for the fact that, in the very same year, 1960, the Nigerian actor Julius Ongewe, of whom practically nothing else is known, appeared as an astronaut as well, in the then Communist East German film First Spaceship on Venus.
I've never seen Assignment Outer Space, but as you can see from the clip below, in which Savage appears very briefly at the beginning, it's a pretty chintzy movie with comical special effects. However it's pretty much on par with foreign made, cheapo sci-fi films from that period.
However, I have seen First Spaceship to Venus since the original, restored, widescreen uncut German language version of the film under its original title, The Silent Star, was released on DVD a few years ago by First Run Features home video. Though there are DVDs of the edited, English dubbed, version around and the film as even been on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But no matter which version you see, just take a guess what happens to the brother?
That's right. You guessed it! HE DOESN'T MAKE IT! Goddamn Commie pinko bastards! All this talk about brotherhood, comradeship and singing The Internationale , and they STILL do a brother wrong! HYPOCRITES! Can't a brother get a break?
Here's the clip from Assignment Outer Space with Archie Savage: