Cleavon Little's Big Talent

Today marks the 75th birthday of Cleavon Little, better known to the world as Sheriff Bart in the classic Western farce Blazing Saddles. Here's one of the few clips from the film appropriate for this website:

The movie earned mixed reviews. Vincent Canby said that director Mel Brooks should "do much better" with his talent, while Roger Ebert gave it four stars and praised its manic lack of structure. The film grossed nearly $120 million in theaters, an extremely impressive feat in 1974. At the heart of the film was Little's sly, charming straight man.

Little was hardly a newcomer when he starred in Blazing Saddles. Before he strapped on his six-shooter, he was a working actor in Hollywood, guest-starring in several series in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Little had honed his chops on Broadway, working alongside Dustin Hoffman in the play Jimmy Shine and starring in the musical Purlie, for which he won both the Tony and Drama Desk awards for best actor in a musical. Here he is performing one of his songs from the show at the Tony Awards broadcast in 1974.

Little continued acting onstage and on screen until his death in 1992, picking up an Emmy in 1989 for a guest appearance on the Dear John television series, but he never eclipsed the phenomenal success he found in Blazing Saddles. He died in 1992 of colorectal cancer at just 53, leaving behind a legacy of song, dance and laughter.

Written by Seth Joseph. Find him on Google+.