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You are here: Home » Articles » English » Louis Gossett Jr.: An actor and a gentleman -- 55+ Magazine, Issue 7
| Thursday, 24 Apr 2014
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Louis Gossett Jr.: An actor and a gentleman -- 55+ Magazine, Issue 7

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By NELSON A. GARCIA

Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. shares his innermost feelings and struggles in his new book, ‘An Actor and A Gentleman.’ Gossett allows the reader to get inside his head so they can share his life with him…. a life that was not always fair. Reading his work is an eye-opening experience and a great gift from this gentleman to his fans and admirers.

55+:  Tell us about your parents and how you related to them in your early years in Brooklyn?

LG:  It was not only my parents, it was a complete family. I was the first one born up north. We were from Georgia. Our whole family did not live more than 10 to 15 blocks from one another. I was an only child but I was raised with many cousins. The older women from the family, starting with my great-grandmother, took care of the children. It was complete care for one another. My older cousins took care of me and I took care of my younger ones. We were together almost all of the time and Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter were the best times of all! I can picture all of us sitting around the table and eating together. We were a family of people and the neighborhood was pretty much like that too. I wish America were like that again today.

55+:  You lived a protected childhood with not only very protective and loving parents but also relatives, neighbors and friends. How did that play a part in putting together the person you would become as an adult?

LG:  Well, it formed a great security blanket around me. Whether you were Irish, Jewish, Black, Filipino or Italian, we took care of one another both in our schools and in our neighborhood. It was right after the Depression and I remember that the toys were incredible! We would take a broomstick and make it a bat. When we played cops and robbers or cowboys, we would use our fingers to point at people and say “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!” Our belief system was 100%. We had teachers that taught us that there was no such thing as impossible. What was on television and films was uplifting at that time.

55+:  You have met some incredible people in your life. Which two would you say have made the biggest impact on you and how?

LG:  The first one has to be my great-grandmother. She was a slave. She must have been around 7 years old when the slaves were freed, and she was still alive to watch me do my first play. She passed away when she was 109. My number two person, outside of the business, would be my English teacher, Gustav Blumberg. He was in the European theater and later became a director-writer. He watched the trades daily and one day he said, “they are looking for a kid to do a Broadway show. Tell your mother to take you down there…. what do you have to lose?” I would like to see more of that in America. I have a foundation with all these philosophies, based on the way I was raised. This is the way we should be living in this country. When people came to America and entered through Ellis Island, they were welcomed in our neighborhoods with open arms. This is the reason people came here in the first place; this is supposed to be the promised land. And this is the promised land. We cannot take that for granted.

55+:  After your father passed away, your mom came to live with you for some time. How was that experience for you?

LG:  It was wonderful. My mom and I were able to relate to each other as grown-ups. My mom had a little bout with cancer that was not malignant. She came to my home in the countryside, like where she was raised in the country in Georgia. What it did was extend her life for two years. But she missed the screaming at the kids in the street, like a grandmother and after two years, I let her go back home. We had a good time together.

55+:  You grew up in Coney Island where you had many friends and neighbors from many different backgrounds. Growing up in such a diverse environment, where you learned to respect all kinds of people, it must have been painful for you to experience discrimination later in life, according to what you wrote in your book. Tell us about that.

Louis Gossett jr. with familyLG:  It caused a seed of doubt to grow in my system. When I could not act or behave the way I did in my childhood or for my first 25 years of life, it was hard. We lived and partied together, we had successes and disappointments together. The workers that formed the fabric and the backbone of Los Angeles did not come from the background that I did. They were forced psychologically not to behave the way we did back east. That caused a hot pill in my stomach and in order to make it there, I had to force myself NOT to behave the same way I did in New York. That was necessary in order to be successful. Over the long run, it could have been a psychological mistake. I do not do that today because I believe that the way I was when I was young, the way we were together when I was young, is the way we should be today across this country.

55+:  The demands of your career sacrificed your happiness many times in your personal life. How do you feel about that? Would you do things differently in retrospect?

LG:  That’s a tough one. It’s a tall order. Making a movie requires the same 10-hour day like being a taxi driver or a garbage man, the same hours, the same devotion. You have to bring in the money to make sure that the rest of the family is taken care of. Your family needs to understand that this is the case in many situations and overcome it.  It does not happen all the time but when it does, it’s a beautiful thing.

55+:  How is your relationship with your sons today?

LG:  They are both fantastic. They were at my house just the other day… the whole family was. 

55+:  Winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for your role in ‘An Officer and A Gentleman’ was a great achievement for you. Tell us about that?

LG:  Well, it made history. I was the first African-American man to win an Oscar. Sidney Poitier was the first black man to win an Oscar, but he is from the Bahamas. Good stuff came from it but many things that I expected to come from it did not happen. It did not bear that much weight. I had to wait for a year to get proper work. And I have never made a great deal of money from my movies, but I have had quite an accomplished career and I am very satisfied with it. Before that movie, I had won an Emmy for my work in ‘Roots.’ That established me on television.

55+:  Since your book title is similar to the name of this movie, do you personally think that this is the role that your fans will most remember you by?

LG:  I think so. It hit the world pretty strong. Everywhere I go it has a nice fan base.

55+:  You have won numerous other awards for your exemplary work. Does one specifi c award stand out besides the Academy Award?

LG:  Well, there are two. The Golden Globe, which is the foreign press, and I have 3 of those. And, of course, the NAACP Image Award. My people are very proud of what I have done. Those two are invaluable to me.

55+:  You founded the Eracism Foundation in 2006. Tell us how that came about and what the foundation is doing today?

LG:  It comes out of my personal experience of being a black man with success and still not having the keys to the kingdom. It’s overwhelming to try to change everybody. But if you can, start the way I started as a child, with the experiences that I have had with so many different people. Teach the children how to experience this at a young age, then it will be there when they grow up. Take a little slice from each of the different neighborhoods and show them how to live together, let them know who they are and let them have pride in themselves. Teach them to respect the opposite sex and their elders. Today, you are going for a different thing… ‘who has the most money.’ That has nothing to do with why this country was started. That’s my little contribution to it. It’s a play on words ‘erase racism.’louis gossett jr with grandchild

55+:  Do you have any suggestions for our 55+ readers as to how they should approach the future?

LG:  All they have is really today. You need to make a choice about what you want to do today. Make it a point to help someone you do not even know. Help someone to cross the street. You have to take better care of yourself. You have to know that God is in charge all the time and you need to get as close to Him as possible on a daily basis. He will give you instructions on what to do to make this world better.

55+:  Your book certainly made an impact on this fan of yours. Are there chapters still to be written? What would they be about?

LG:  I am starting another book. It’s a continuum called ‘For What It’s Worth.’ The way you hear me speaking now, but more specifi cs. Why it is important that we take care of this planet, number one, and that we take better care of our children. We do not cheat one another, we need to take better care of one another -- whether they are part of our family or not. That is the key to our success as a people. That is the charm of America, it’s all written. We must behave that way.

For more information about Louis Gossett Jr, please visit the following websites:

www.louisgossett.com

www.eracismfoundation.org

 


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