Frank Silvera

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Frank Silvera
BornFrank Alvin Silvera
(1914-07-24)July 24, 1914
Kingston, Jamaica
DiedJune 11, 1970(1970-06-11) (aged 55)
Pasadena, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Accidental electrocution
Resting place
Long Island National Cemetery
EducationEnglish High School of Boston
Alma materBoston University
Northeastern University School of Law
OccupationActor, theatrical director
Years active1934–1970
Spouse(s)Anna Lillian Quarles (1942–1963; divorced); 2 children
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Frank Silvera
BornFrank Alvin Silvera
(1914-07-24)July 24, 1914
Kingston, Jamaica
DiedJune 11, 1970(1970-06-11) (aged 55)
Pasadena, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Accidental electrocution
Resting place
Long Island National Cemetery
EducationEnglish High School of Boston
Alma materBoston University
Northeastern University School of Law
OccupationActor, theatrical director
Years active1934–1970
Spouse(s)Anna Lillian Quarles (1942–1963; divorced); 2 children

Frank Alvin Silvera (July 24, 1914 – June 11, 1970) was a Jamaican-born American character actor and theatrical director. Silvera was known as "the man with a thousand faces" because of his ability to play a wide array of roles.[1]

Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Boston, Silvera dropped out of law school in 1934 after winning his first stage role. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was active in numerous stage productions on and off Broadway and appeared in radio shows. Silvera made his film debut in 1952. Over the course of his 36-year career, he was cast in a wide variety of ethnic roles in film and television. Silvera also remained active onstage. Silvera was nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award in 1963 for his role in The Lady of the Camellias. He founded The Theatre of Being, a Los Angeles theatre for black actors, in 1965. At the time of his death he had a recurring role in the NBC Western series The High Chaparral.

Early life[edit]

Silvera was born in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of a Spanish Jewish father and a mixed-race Jamaican mother.[2][3] His family emigrated to the United States when he was six-years old, settling in Boston.[4] Silvera became interested in acting and began performing in amateur theatrical groups and at church.[1]

He graduated from English High School of Boston, and then studied at Boston University, followed by the Northeastern Law School.[3][4][5]


Silvera left Northeastern Law School in 1934, when he was cast in Paul Green's production of Roll Sweet Chariot. He next joined the New England Repertory, Theatre where he appeared in productions of MacBeth, Othello, and The Emperor Jones. He also worked at Federal Theatre and with the New Hampshire Repertory Theatre. In 1940, Silvera made his Broadway debut in a small role in Big White Fog. His career was interrupted in 1942, when he enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II. He was assigned to Camp Robert Smalls, where he and Owen Dodson were in charge of entertainment. Silvera directed and acted in radio programs and appeared in USO shows. Honorably discharged at the war's end in 1945, he joined the cast of Anna Lucasta and became a member of the Actors Studio.[1][5][6]

In 1952, Silvera made his film debut in the western, The Cimarron Kid. Because of his light brown complexion, he was cast in a variety of ethnic roles in films and television.[3] He was cast as General Huerta in Viva Zapata!, which starred Marlon Brando. Ironically, it was the first time a major motion picture studio had used a non-white actor to play a non-white character. Silvera also portrayed the role in the stage production, which opened at the Regent Theatre in New York City on February 28, 1952.[6] He appeared in two films directed by Stanley Kubrick, Fear and Desire (1953) and Killer's Kiss (1955).

In August 1955, he appeared on Broadway in a revival of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, which earned him favorable reviews. In November 1955, he portrayed John Pope, Sr., the Italian father of Ben Gazzara and Anthony Franciosa's characters on Broadway in Michael V. Gazzo's A Hatful of Rain (a role portrayed by Lloyd Nolan on screen), and again was praised by critics.[7]

Silvera made guest appearances in numerous television series, mainly dramas and westerns, including Studio One in Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bat Masterson, Thriller, Riverboat, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, The Untouchables, and Bonanza. In 1962 he portrayed Dr. Koslenko in The Twilight Zone episode "Person or Persons Unknown", opposite Richard Long. That year, he also played Minarii, a Polynesian man in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty, again starring Marlon Brando. In 1963, Silvera was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for playing Monsieur Duval in The Lady of the Camellias.

In 1964, Silvera and Vantile Whitfield founded The Theatre of Being, a Los Angeles-based theater dedicated to providing black actors with non-stereotypical roles. One of their first projects was producing The Amen Corner by African-American writer James Baldwin. Silvera and Whitfield financed the play themselves and with donations from friends. It opened on March 4, 1964 and would gross $200,000 within the year, moving to Broadway in April 1965. Beah Richards won critical acclaim for her performance as the lead.[8]

Silvera continued his career in films and guest star roles on television. In 1965, he appeared as Gaspar, one of the Biblical Magi in the epic film The Greatest Story Ever Told, In 1966, he teamed with Marlon Brando for a third time in the Western The Appaloosa. The next year, he portrayed Nick Sorello in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, followed by guest roles on Dundee and the Culhane and The Wild Wild West. He appeared as a Mexican bandit in the 1967 Martin Ritt-directed Western classic, Hombre, based on the Elmore Leonard novel. In 1969, Silvera had a supporting role as Goatherd in Che!, and as Lobero in the Zapata Western Guns of the Magnificent Seven.[citation needed]

Silvera was then hired as the first guest director at Fresno State College (FSC), with plans to stage a production of The Tea Concession by Henry J. Kemp-Blair, which reversed the racial positions of black and white in a drama about South Africa.[9] However, he was forced to resign less than two weeks later, caught in the middle of administrative shakeups and the aborted hiring of Marvin X by the Black Studies department. "With this upheaval it seemed to blacks and browns that Silvera was part of the package, part of the hardline takeover (at FSC). There was such a sense of despair and betrayal...they took it out on me," Silvera said to David Hale, theater writer for The Fresno Bee. "It seemed to me they thought I was the agent to smooth things over while the establishment hatched up something else dirty."[10]

Frank Silvera died in an accident at home in 1970. At the time, he was playing an important recurring role in the NBC western series The High Chaparral as the Mexican squire, Don Sebastian Montoya. His final film, Valdez Is Coming, was released posthumously, in 1971.

Personal life[edit]

Silvera married actress Anna Lillian Quarles in 1942. They met while appearing in a stage production of Stevedore. Quarles was the sister of historian and educator Benjamin Arthur Quarles. They had two children, Frank, Jr. and Linda, before divorcing in 1963.[1][5][11]


On June 11, 1970, Silvera was accidentally electrocuted at the age of 56 while attempting to repair the garbage disposal unit in his kitchen sink.[4][12] He was buried with military honors at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.


In 1973, Silvera and his efforts to support African-American actors and playwrights were honored with the co-founding of the Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop Foundation, Inc. The organization sponsors promising African-American playwrights. In 2005, the workshop was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg.[13]

Selected filmography[edit]

1952The Cimarron KidStacey Marshall
1952The FighterPaulino
1952Viva Zapata!Victoriano Huerta
1952The Miracle of Our Lady of FatimaCouncil Administrator Arturo dos Santos
1953White ManeNarrator
1953Fear and DesireSgt. Mac
1954The Lonely NightThe Narrator
1955Death TideEric Paulsen
1955Killer's KissVincent Rapallo
1956Crowded ParadisePapa Diaz
1959Crime and Punishment U.S.A.Porter
1960Heller in Pink TightsSantis
1960The Mountain RoadCol. Kwan
1960Key WitnessDet. Rafael Torno
1962Mutiny on the BountyMinarii
1963Toys in the AtticHenry Simpson
1965The Greatest Story Ever ToldCaspar
1966The AppaloosaRamos
1967HombreMexican bandit
1967The St. Valentine's Day MassacreNick Sorello
1968The Stalking MoonMajor
1968Up Tight!Kyle
1969Guns of the Magnificent SevenLobero
1971Valdez Is ComingDiegoReleased posthumously
1951-1957Studio One in HollywoodVarious roles2 episodes
1954The MarriageMr. RamonEpisode #1.1
1955Producers' ShowcaseJudgeEpisode: "The Skin of Our Teeth"
1957The Seven Lively ArtsJohnEpisode: "The World of Nick Adams"
1958Wanted: Dead or AliveSheriff Will EchertEpisode: "Sheriff At Red Rock"
1958Playhouse 90Nick SerrelloEpisode: "Seven Against the Wall"
1958Perry MasonJonathan HyettEpisode: "The Case of the Fancy Figures"
1959Alfred Hitchcock PresentsMr. RoderiguezEpisode: "A Personal Matter"
1959Dick Powell's Zane Grey TheaterYsidroEpisode: "Trouble at Tres Cruces"
1959DecoyAndrew GarciaEpisode: "Across the World"
1959Bat MastersonGrasiaEpisode: "The Romany Knives"
1959The LineupPapa VanettiEpisode: "My Son is a Stranger"
1959The Man From BlackhawkKiczekEpisode: "The Gypsy Story"
1960Johnny RingoBevinettoEpisode: "Shoot the Moon"
1960The Law and Mr. JonesGarciaEpisode: "Music to Hurt By"
1960ThrillerCesare Romano/Charlie RomanEpisode: "The Guilty Men"
1960Hong KongKivoriEpisode: "Freebooter"
1960The RebelCotaEpisode: "Deathwatch"
1960RiverboatColonel AshleyEpisode: "Devil in Skirts"
1960The UntouchablesDino PatroneEpisode: "A Seat on the Fence"
1961-1964BonanzaVarious roles2 episodes
1962The Twilight ZoneDr. KoslenkoEpisode: "Person or Persons Unknown"
1962The New BreedJohn HernandezEpisode: "My Brother's Keeper"
1962The BeachcomberVarious roles2 episodes
1962The Dick Powell ShowEpisode: "Borderline"
1963The DefendersBallinEpisode: "The Last Illusion"
1963The Travels of Jaimie McPheetersThe Indian, Speaks to the WindEpisode: "The Day of the Taboo Man"
1964The Great AdventureGambiEpisode: "The Pirate and the Patriot"
1964ChanningEpisode: "Memory of a Firing Squad"
1964The Alfred Hitchcock HourAlejandroEpisode: "The Life Work of Juan Diaz"
1964Mr. NovakAndy TownerEpisode: "Boy Under Glass"
1964-1965Kraft Suspense TheatreVarious roles2 episodes
1965Profiles in CourageEpisode: "Hamilton Fish"
1965Daniel BooneMarcel BouvierEpisode: "Daughter of the Devil"
1965RawhidePajaritoEpisode: "El Hombre Bravo"
1965GunsmokeJohn DragoEpisode: "Death Watch"
1966I SpyMunozEpisode: "Crusade to Limbo"
1966The Rat PatrolArab LeaderEpisode: "The Chain of Death Raid"
1966Run for Your LifeEstebanEpisode: "The Shock of Recognition"
1967Dundee and the CulhaneLuis MontoyaEpisode: "The Vasquez Brief"
1967The Wild Wild WestEl SordoEpisode: "The Night of Jack O'Diamonds"
1967-1970The High ChaparralDon Sebastian Montoya14 episodes
1968The Young LonerCarlosTelevision film
1968-1971The Wonderful World of DisneyCarlos4 episodes
1969Marcus Welby, M.D.Nick EugenidesEpisode: "The Vrahnas Demon"
1970The Flying NunThomas Sebastien MartinezEpisode: "No Tears for Mrs. Thomas"
1970Hawaii Five-OFrank KuakuaEpisode: "Paniolo"
1971The Boy from Dead Man's BayouTelevision film
Aired posthumously
1976Perilous VoyageGen. SalazarTelevision film
Aired posthumously


  1. ^ a b c d Hinton, Garfield (April 2, 1957). "The 'man with a thousand faces' comes to Baltimore". Baltimore Afro-American. p. 6. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ Rodriguez, Clara (2008). Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood. Oxford University Press. p. 160. ISBN 0-19-533513-9. 
  3. ^ a b c Berry, Torriano; Berry, Venise T. (2007). Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema 12. Scarecrow Press. p. 310. ISBN 0-8108-5545-3. 
  4. ^ a b c Films and Filming 25. Hansom Books. 1978. p. 46. 
  5. ^ a b c "Silvera Gets Role of Joe in "Ann Lucasta"". The Afro American. December 22, 1945. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Silvera Has Top Role in 'Viva Zapata!". Baltimore Afro-American. February 26, 1952. p. 15. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Frank Silvera starred on 'Studio One' program". The Afro American. August 3, 1957. p. 7. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  8. ^ "'Civil Rights' Theater Has New Show on Broadway". St. Joseph News-Press. May 9, 1965. p. 5D. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  9. ^ "'Chapparral' Actor Dies in LA Area". The Fresno Bee (Fresno, California). 1970-06-11. p. 6-D. Retrieved 2013-08-16. "Frank Silvera, 56, the veteran character actor who spent a week at Fresno State College last fall in an aborted post as artist-in-residence, died earlier today in his home in Pasadena." 
  10. ^ Kirwan, Tom (1970-07-28). "Frank Silvera ... What Might Have Been". The Fresno Bee (Fresno, California). p. 14-A. "Silvera was the veteran actor who spent a brief and unhappy interlude at Fresno State College last year as an artist-in-residence." 
  11. ^ "Frank Silvera, Actor-Director, Electrocuted in Coast Mishap". The New York Times. June 12, 1970. 
  12. ^ Ceilán, Cynthia (2007). Thinning the Herd: Tales of the Weirdly Departed. Globe Pequot. p. 91. ISBN 1-59921-219-6. 
  13. ^ Roberts, Sam (July 6, 2005). "City Groups Get Bloomberg Gift of $20 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 

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