STEP RIGHT UP AND MEET
FORREST McCLENDON IS MR. TAMBO
MR. TAMBO: In the minstrel tradition, the end men (Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones) play a variety of different characters. One of the characters portrayed by Mr. Tambo in the musical “The Scottsboro Boys” is New York lawyer Samuel Leibowitz.
Born in Romania in 1893, Samuel Leibowitz served as legal counsel for the Scottsboro Boys. Because of his impeccable record (seventy-seven acquittals, no convictions), Leibowitz was considered by many to be the next Clarence Darrow. Leibowitz was brought into the case by the International Labor Defense, the legal arm of the Communist Party. Although Leibowitz was not a Communist himself, he felt the case enabled him to “defend the basic rights of man.”
A powerful showman in the courtroom, Leibowitz quickly became an object of loathing and ridicule when he opened his defense of Haywood Patterson in 1933. Not only was Leibowitz from the North, he was also Jewish. Local hatred grew uglier as death threats were made against him. After Haywood Patterson was found guilty following the second trial, Leibowitz vowed to defend the boys “until hell freezes over.”
After the trial, Leibowitz made his worst mistake at a rally in New York. Questioned by a reporter how the jury could have found a guilty verdict, Leibowitz replied, “If you ever saw those creatures, those bigots whose mouths are slits in their faces, whose eyes pop out like a frog’s, whose chins drip tobacco juice, bewhiskered and filthy, you would not ask how they could do it.”
Leibowitz appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court to participate in the appeal of the convictions on the ground that blacks were systemically excluded from Alabama juries. The court agreed that the absence of black jury members deprived the boys of equal protection under the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Once more, the trials were sent back to the Alabama courts. In early 1937, following a series of backroom negotiations, Leibowitz reluctantly agreed to a compromise which resulted in the release of four of the Scottsboro Boys. Of the compromise, Leibowitz said, “I say yes, but with a heavy heart and I feel very badly about it.” After his work on the Scottsboro Case was finished, Leibowitz returned to his New York practice. Later, he was appointed to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court of New York. Leibowitz died in January 1978.
FORREST McCLENDON created this role in The Scottsboro Boys at the Vineyard and Guthrie Theaters. Off-Broadway: James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire (New Federal Theatre, Audelco Award Nomination). Regional: Avenue X (11th Hour Theatre Company, Barrymore Award), Sizwe Bansi is Dead (Lantern Theatre Company), The Threepenny Opera (Wilma Theater, Barrymore Award Nomination), The America Play (Zachary Scott Theatre, Central Texas Critics Table Award), Julius Caesar (People’s Light and Theatre Company), A Christmas Carol (Westport Country Playhouse), Dreamgirls (Prince Music Theater), Finian’s Rainbow (Walnut Street Theatre). Trained at the University of Connecticut.
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS begins performances October 7 and opens October 31 at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street).
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