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A Natural Born Gambler


In 1916 the Biograph film company signed black comedian Bert Williams to write, produce, direct and star in two comedies. Williams created "A Natural Born Gambler" and "Fish." While hardly a breakthrough in shattering racial stereotypes (Williams was required by the studio to wear "darkie" makeup), a black production with a black cast was unprecedented. The response was tepid and Williams did not appear in any movies after Fish. Gambler borrows from Williams' Vaudeville skits. It makes heavy use of stereotypes, e.g., stealing, cheating, minstrel speak, mainly for the amusement of white audiences of the time. But Williams portrays a leadership role throughout, something unseen in black performances of that period. Williams' character, "Bert", is unprincipled, but likable nonetheless. The delegate of his social club has a very distinguished role worth noting. When a well-dressed man from out of town visits Bert's watering hole with a wad of cash, Bert sees an opportunity and calls for a poker game. The closing sequence, probably the most entertaining, is straight from Williams' stage act. Bert plays an imaginary card game in a skit Williams made famous on Vaudeville. IMDb entry:

Bert Williams

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