MELVIN VAN PEEBLES Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: Melvin Van Peebles                                                               
Born: 21 August 1932                                                                   
Melvin Van Peebles (born August 21, 1932 in Chicago, Illinois) is an American         
actor, director, screenwriter, playwright and composer, and the father of actor       
and director Mario Van Peebles.                                                       
Van Peebles joined the Air Force thirteen days after graduating from college,         
staying for three and a half years. He lived in Mexico for a brief period,             
earning a living by painting portraits, before coming back to the United               
States, where he started driving cable cars in San Francisco. He began writing         
about his experiences as a cable car driver. What evolved from an initially           
small article and a series of photographs was Van Peebles' first book, The Big         
One day, a passenger suggested that Van Peebles should become a filmmaker. He         
shot his first short film, Pickup Men for Herrick, in 1957. He made two more           
short films during the same period. According to Van Peebles, "I thought they         
were features. Each one turned out to be eleven minutes long. I was trying to do       
features. I knew nothing." As Van Peebles learned more about the filmmaking           
process, he found out that "I could make a feature for five hundred dollars.           
That was the cost of ninety minutes of film. I didn't know a thing about               
shooting a film sixteen to one or ten to one or none of that shit. Then I forgot       
you had to develop film. And I didn't know you needed a work print. All I can         
say is that after I did one thing he would say, 'Well, aren't you gonna put           
sound on it?' and I would go, 'Oh shit!' That's all I could say."                     
When Van Peebles completed his first short films, he took them with him to             
Hollywood in order to try and find work, but was unable to find anyone who             
wanted to hire him as a director. In New York City, Van Peebles met a man who         
saw his films and wanted to screen them in France. "And they said—'Jesus! This       
man's a genius! Where is he? He should be making films!'" In France, Van               
Peebles learned the language and was hired to translate Mad magazine into French.     
He began to write plays in French, utilizing the sprechgesang form of                 
songwriting, where the lyrics were spoken over the music. This style carried           
over to Van Peebles' debut album, Brer Soul.                                           
Prior to entering Hollywood, Van Peebles directed the French film Story of a           
Three Day Pass (La Permission). His first Hollywood film was the 1970 comedy           
Watermelon Man, written by Herman Raucher. The movie told the story of a               
casually racist but well meaning white man who suddenly wakes up black and finds       
himself alienated from his friends, family and job. In 1970 Van Peebles was also       
to direct filming of the Powder Ridge Rock Festival which was banned by court         
Van Peebles then wrote and directed the independent feature, Sweet Sweetback's         
Baadasssss Song. His son Mario's 2004 film BAADASSSSS! tells the story behind         
his father's film. Despite the success of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, he       
has directed only a few other films.                                                   
Melvin Van Peebles speaks English, French and Dutch. He was educated at Ohio           
Wesleyan University.                                                                   
Van Peebles was recently the subject of a documentary entitled How to Eat Your         
Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) (2005). Van Peebles' next project           
will be a double album with Madlib, to be released on Stones Throw Records. The       
first disc of the album will be Brer Soul Meets Quasimoto and the second disc         
will be the Madlib Invazion remix. Madlib had previously sampled Van Peebles           
heavily on both of his albums under the Quasimoto moniker. He is also working         
on a new film, titled Confessions of an Ex-Doofus Mutha.