Roscoe Lee Brown

In Los Angeles in the early 1990's, I appeared in a play called To Be Let Alone, at the old Burbage Theatre on the West Side. Directed by Paul Gillette, it was a docu-drama/fantasy, set in the Reagan years, in which a group of 'radicals' kidnapped the conservative members of the Supreme Court and put them on trial for their decision in the infamous Georgia sodomy case. The radicals, as it turned out, were all homosexuals who'd been persecuted for being gay, or in the case of the Prosecutor, the father of a young man who'd killed himself after the decision was handed down.

The play starred Don Galloway as the prosecuting attorney, Denise Dowse as the Judge, and Dennis Safren as the boy's psychologist. I played the bailiff, who was put on the stand to reveal he'd been disbarred for being gay. As trite as the premise sounds, it was actually a powerful piece of theatre, wholly of it's time. I think audiences enjoyed watching William Rehnquist, 'Whizzer' White, Sandra Day O'Connor, and the others, squirm and defend their thinking as they attempted to justify the decision. The cast was quite wonderful, with Galloway particularly effective as a father who realized too late his son's anguish.

Roscoe Lee Brown
We played to full houses, and the show had decent reviews. There was quite a buzz in the gay community, of course, and some nights the audience were very vocal, giving the whole enterprise a feeling of a 'call and response' church service. One night toward the end of the run, after curtain calls and the crowd had mostly cleared out, I walked back out onstage to cross to the exit (this was a very small theatre), I was approached by Roscoe Lee Brown, who'd been in the audience. He shook my hand, and said "Thank you for your performance. So often we're portrayed in a negative light, or with unfortunate mannerisms and speech. You had none of that, just a simple dignity that was very real and honest." Well. As I'm not black, his use of "we're" could only mean that Mr. Brown had just outed himself to me, and further, that he was including me in that "we're". It didn't occur to me to correct his assumption, because I had just been complimented by an actor who I'd long respected and admired. We chatted a bit more, with me asking about, as I recall, his work on The Cowboys, (he found John Wayne easy to work with, with a working-man's sense of humor) and then, in an instant, he was off speaking with other cast members.

Roscoe Lee Brown died yesterday in California, aged 81. He was a consistent, if not ubiquitous, presence in American film, television, and theatre throughout his long career, and I found him to be gentle man, and a gentleman.