Taking a look at older articles I’ve written for S & A, I thought this piece from two years ago is ripe enough to take a second look at.
But think about it - just who was the first black man in outer space… in the movies? And I think I’ve discovered the answer.
The guy on the right 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 Robert Aldrich western Vera Cruz with Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. But like so many other black artists who felt they were under-appreciated, went to Europe for better opportunities.
He eventually settled in Italy and continued making more films, appearing even in Federico Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita, though, for the most part, they were 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 cheapo sci-fi films of 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.
Although, there are DVDs of the edited, English-dubbed version around, which has even been on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
But no matter which version you see, just take a guess at 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?
P.S. In case you’ve been wondering who the first back man in space in reality was - ironically, talking about the Commies, it was the Cuban born Russian cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez in 1980.
Here's the clip from Assignment Outer Space with Archie Savage: