LeVar Burton

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LeVar Burton
LeVar Burton by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Burton in May 2012
BornLevardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr.
(1957-02-16) February 16, 1957 (age 56)
Landstuhl, West Germany
NationalityAmerican
Other namesLeVar Burton
OccupationActor, director, producer, author
Years active1976–present
Spouse(s)Stephanie Cozart Burton
(m. 1992–present)
ChildrenMichaela Jean Burton
Eian Burton Smith
AwardsSee Awards
 
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LeVar Burton
LeVar Burton by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Burton in May 2012
BornLevardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr.
(1957-02-16) February 16, 1957 (age 56)
Landstuhl, West Germany
NationalityAmerican
Other namesLeVar Burton
OccupationActor, director, producer, author
Years active1976–present
Spouse(s)Stephanie Cozart Burton
(m. 1992–present)
ChildrenMichaela Jean Burton
Eian Burton Smith
AwardsSee Awards

Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr. (born February 16, 1957), professionally known as LeVar Burton, is an American actor, presenter, director, producer, and author.

Burton is best known for his roles as the young Kunta Kinte in the 1977 award-winning ABC television miniseries Roots, Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as the host and executive producer of the long-running PBS children's program Reading Rainbow.

Early life[edit]

Burton was born to American parents at the U.S. Army Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in West Germany. His mother, Erma Jean (née Christian), was a social worker, administrator, and educator. His father, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, was a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and at the time was stationed at Landstuhl.[1][2][3] Burton and his two sisters were raised by his mother in Sacramento, California.[4] Burton was raised Catholic and, at the age of thirteen, entered St. Pius X seminary in Galt, California to become a priest.[5]

He attended Christian Brothers High School and graduated in the class of 1974. He started having doubts about his religion, after reading books such as those writen by Lao-Tzu, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.[6] At seventeen, he left the seminary to enroll at the University of California with a drama scholarship.[7] He is a graduate of University of Southern California's School of Theatre.

Roots[edit]

LeVar Burton rose to fame in 1977 when he played Kunta Kinte in the ABC award-winning drama series Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley. Burton's audition for the role of Kinte was the first of his professional career.[8] As a result of his performance, he was nominated for the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Burton reprised the role of Kunta Kinte in the 1988 television film Roots: The Gift. When asked about the societal impacts of Roots, Burton is quoted as saying, "It expanded the consciousness of people. Blacks and whites began to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes. And if you throw a pebble into the pond, you're going to get ripples. I think the only constant is change, and it's always slow. Anything that happens overnight is lacking in foundation. Roots is part of a changing trend, and it's still being played out."[9]

Early career[edit]

Burton played a role as a visitor to Fantasy Island, was a participant in Battle of the Network Stars, a guest of the Muppet Show's televised premiere party for the release of The Muppet Movie, and a frequent guest on several game shows. In 1986, he appeared in the music video for the song "Word Up!" by the funk/R&B group Cameo.

Burton accepted an invitation to host Rebop, a multicultural series designed for young people ages 9–15, produced by WGBH for PBS.

Reading Rainbow[edit]

Burton was host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow starting in 1983 for PBS.[10] The series ran for 23 seasons, making it one of the longest running children's programs on the network. Furthermore, the series garnered over 200 broadcast awards over its run, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmy Awards, 11 of which were in the "Outstanding Children's Series" category.[11][12]

Burton himself won 12 Emmy awards as host and producer of the show.[13] After Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2006, Burton and his business partner, Mark Wolfe acquired the global rights to the brand and formed RRKIDZ, a new media company for children. Reading Rainbow was reimagined as an all new app for the iPad in 2012 and was an immediate success, becoming the #1 Educational App within 36 hours. At RRKIDZ, Burton serves as Co-Founder and Curator-in-Chief, ensuring that the projects produced under the banner meet the high expectations and trust of the Reading Rainbow brand.[14]

Star Trek: The Next Generation[edit]

In 1986, Gene Roddenberry approached him with the role of the then Lieutenant Junior Grade Geordi La Forge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. La Forge is blind, but is granted "sight" through the use of a prosthetic device called a VISOR, which is worn over his eyes. La Forge is the USS Enterprise's helmsman, and as of the show's second season, its Chief Engineer. At the time, Burton was considerably better known than Patrick Stewart in the United States, due to the fame he gained from starring in Roots and Reading Rainbow. The Associated Press stated that Burton's role was essentially the "new Spock."[15]

Burton also portrayed La Forge in the subsequent feature films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, beginning with Star Trek Generations in 1994 through 2002's Star Trek Nemesis. Burton directed the season one episode of Star Trek: Voyager titled "Ex Post Facto" as well as season two episode of Star Trek: Voyager titled "Dreadnought." Burton also directed and appeared in the season five episode of Star Trek: Voyager titled "Timeless" and directed several episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Other appearances[edit]

Burton with social activist and former Second Lady Tipper Gore

On television, Burton has helped dramatize the last days of Jim Jones's suicide cult in Guyana, the life and times of Jesse Owens, and the life of the nine-year-old Booker T. Washington. He portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 2001 film Ali. He also portrayed Detroit Tiger Ron LeFlore in the television movie One in a Million, The Ron LeFlore Story.

In 1987, Burton played Dave Robinson, a journalist (sports writer), in the third season of Murder, She Wrote, episode 16 - "Death Takes a Dive", starring Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher.

In 1992, a clip of Burton's Voice was sampled by DC Talk for the track "Time is..." on their album Free at Last. The sample is at the very end of the song, in which Burton can be heard saying: "Whoa, wait a minute."

He has also lent his voice to several animated projects including Kwame in the cartoon series Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990–1993) and The New Adventures of Captain Planet (1993–1996), Family Guy, Batman: The Animated Series, and Gargoyles. Burton is on the audio version of The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Burton has been cast as voice actor for Black Lightning in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies DVD.

Burton appeared several times as a celebrity guest on the Dick Clark–hosted Pyramid, from 1982 until 1988. Burton also was the strongest link in the special Star Trek episode of The Weakest Link. He defeated his final opponent Robert Picardo and won $167,500 for his charity, a record for the show at that time and the largest amount won in any Celebrity Edition of the show (it was later surpassed by a $189,500 win in a "Tournament of Losers" episode).

He has made appearances in such sitcoms as Becker.

Burton at the Schlow Centre Region Library, January 29, 2007

Burton is the host and executive producer of a documentary titled The Science of Peace, which was in production as of 2007. It investigates the science and technology aimed at enabling world peace, sometimes called peace science. The film explores some of the concepts of shared noetic consciousness, having been sponsored in part by the Institute of Noetic Sciences.[16]

He appeared in an April Fool's episode of Smosh pretending to have taken over the channel and making various edits at popular Smosh videos.[17]

He makes occasional appearances on This Week in Tech, where he is a self-proclaimed "nerd", and also participated in the Consumer Electronics Show 2010.[18]

In 2010, he made an appearance on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! as the ghost of himself in the episode "Greene Machine".

In February 2011, Burton made an appearance as himself on NBC's Community in the episode "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking".

He has appeared as a fictionalized, humorous version of himself on The Big Bang Theory, first appearing in the episode "The Toast Derivation", in which he almost attends a party thrown by Sheldon (before swearing off Twitter), as well as in November 2012 in the episode "The Habitation Configuration", in which he appears on "Fun With Flags" in exchange for lunch and gas money.

In 2012, he had a recurring role as dean Paul Haley on the TNT series Perception. For the second season (2013), he became part of the regular cast.

Directing[edit]

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Burton directed episodes for each of the various Star Trek series then in production. He has directed more Star Trek episodes than any other former regular cast member.[citation needed]

Burton is on the board of directors for the Directors Guild of America.

Burton has also directed episodes of Charmed, JAG, Las Vegas, and Soul Food: The Series, as well as the miniseries Miracle's Boys and the documentary The Tiger Woods Story.

His first theatrical film direction was 2003's Blizzard for which he received a "Best of Fest" award from the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, and a Genie Award nomination for his work on the film's theme song, "Center of My Heart."

He also directed the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House starring Katey Sagal, Kevin Kilner and Jessica Steen.

His most recent directorial project Reach for Me, in which he also played a supporting role, was released in theaters in March 2008. The film was produced by longtime producer and exec Mark Wolfe, whom Burton officially teamed with in 2010, forming Burton/Wolfe Entertainment. BWE will produce motion pictures, television, web content and more. Says Burton, "We are looking to tell stories everywhere there will be a screen, BWE will be there. That is our plan."

Personal life[edit]

LeVar Burton married Stephanie Cozart Burton,[19] a professional make-up artist, in 1992. He had a daughter, Michaela Jean Burton (born in 1994), with his wife. He and his wife currently live in Sherman Oaks, California, with their one child.[7]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

YearFilmRoleNote
1976Almos' a ManDaveAlternative title: Richard Wright's Almos' a Man
1977Looking for Mr. GoodbarCap Jackson
Billy: Portrait of a Street KidBilly PeoplesGhetto Child
1978One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore StoryRon LefloreThe Man of Passion
BatteredAndrew Sinclair
1979DummyDonald Lang
1980Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim JonesRichard Jefferson
The HunterTommy Price
1981The Acorn PeopleRodney
Grambling's White TigerCharles 'Tank' Smith
1983Emergency RoomRay Walden
1984The Jesse Owens StoryProfessor Preston
BookerDavis
1985And the Children Shall LeadGlenn ScottAlternative title: PBS Wonderworks: And The Children Shall Lead
The Midnight HourVinnie DavisAlternative title: In The Midnight Hour
1986The SupernaturalsPvt. Michael Osgood
LibertyRobert Johnson
1987A Special FriendshipBen Summer
1988Roots: The GiftKunta KinteAlternative title: A Roots Christmas: Kunta Kinte's Gift
1993Firestorm: 72 Hours In OaklandFire Chief J. Alan MathersAlternative title: Firestorm: A Catastrophe In Oakland
1994Parallel LivesDr. Franklin Carter
Star Trek GenerationsLt. Cmdr. Geordi La ForgeAlternative title: Star Trek 7: Generations
1996Yesterday's TargetWinstrom
Star Trek: First ContactLt. Cmdr. Geordi La ForgeAlternative title: Star Trek 8: First Contact
1998Star Trek: InsurrectionLt. Cmdr. Geordi La ForgeAlternative title: Star Trek 9: Insurrection
1999Our Friend, MartinMartin, Age 26 (voice)
2000Dancing in SeptemberHimself
2001AliDr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
2002Star Trek: NemesisLt. Cmdr. Geordi La ForgeAlternative title: Star Trek 10: Nemesis
2003BlizzardNight Watchman ElfDirected by Burton
2008Reach For MeNathaniel
2009Taken In Broad DaylightMike Timbrook
Superman/Batman Public EnemiesJefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (voice)
2011And They're OffHimself
2012Rise of the ZombiesDr. Dan Halperntelevision movie

Television[edit]

Burton with Brent Spiner and William Shatner in July 2010
Television
YearTitleRoleNotes
1976-1979RebopHost
1977RootsKunta KinteTV Miniseries
1982Trapper John, M.D.Luther Peacock"A Piece of the Action"
1983Fantasy IslandEdward Ross, Jr."Edward/The Extraordinary Miss Jones"
1983–2006Reading RainbowHost155 episodes
1984The Love BoatDarnell"Love is Blind"
1987Murder, She WroteReporter Dave Robinson"Death Take a Dive"
1987Houston KnightsJason Evans"Bad Girl"
1987-1994Star Trek: The Next GenerationGeordi La Forge178 episodes
1990-1996Captain Planet and the PlaneteersKwame (voice)113 episodes
1993Batman the Animated SeriesHayden Sloane/Hatter Henchman (voice)"The Worry Men"
1995ChristyDaniel Scott7 episodes
1995Deadly GamesMr. Metcalf"The Boss"
1995Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every ChildVoice"The Frog Prince"
1996GargoylesAnansi"Mark of the Panther"
1997Pinky and the BrainMurray"The Real Life"
1998Star Trek: VoyagerCaptain Geordi LaForge"Timeless"
1998Mister Rogers' NeighborhoodHimself"Giving and Receiving"
2000BeckerMr. Haller"Beckerethics"
2003BoomtownMarvin Lloyd"The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang"
2005
& 2009
Family GuyVern (voice)
& himself (voice)
"Petarded"
& "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven"
2009The Super Hero Squad ShowWar Machine (voice)"Tales of Suspense"
2010Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!Ghost of LeVar Burton"Greene Machine"
2010The Jensen ProjectKendrick JamesTV film (brokered programming from Procter & Gamble/Wal-Mart)[20]
2011 & 2014CommunityHimself"Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking"
&"Geothermal Escapism"
2011
& 2012
The Big Bang TheoryHimself"The Toast Derivation"
& "The Habitation Configuration"
2012Face OffHimself"Alien Interpreters"
2012–presentTransformers: Rescue Botsvoice of Doc Greene26 episodes
2012PerceptionPaul Haley13 episodes
2013Adventure TimeBubble"BMO Lost"
2013The Colbert ReportHimself"1192"

Director[edit]

YearWorkNote
1987–1994Star Trek: The Next Generation2 episodes
1993–1999Star Trek: Deep Space Nine10 episodes
1995–2001Star Trek: Voyager8 episodes
1998The Tiger Woods StoryAlternative title: Son, Hero, and Champion
1998–2006Charmed3 episodes
1999Smart House
2000–2004Soul Food2 episodes
2001–2005Star Trek: Enterprise9 episodes
2003Blizzard
JAG1 episode
2005Miracle's Boys1 episode
2006Las Vegas1 episode
2008Reach For Me

Awards[edit]

Nominations[edit]

Wins[edit]

Books[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "LeVar Burton Biography (1957-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  2. ^ "NewsLibrary.com - newspaper archive, clipping service - newspapers and other news sources". 1993-05-18. 
  3. ^ "Pennsylvania: Burton speaks of 'Roots,' other strong influences". Herald-mail.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  4. ^ Lee, Elyssa (February/March 2012). "LeVar Burton Q&A". Sactown magazine. Retrieved July 20, 2013. 
    • a 'You live in LA now, but Sacramento comes up regularly in your tweets.' "-It's my hometown, my home base. It's where I grew up. I was born in Landstuhl, Germany in '57, came to Sacramento in '59—we lived in Glen Elder—then went back to [Germany] in '64, then [returned to Sacramento] in '66. [Burton's father was a photographer in the Army.] My parents split up during that second tour of duty when I was in the third or fourth grade. So my mom, my sisters and I settled in West Sacramento, in Broderick. Then we moved to South Sacramento when I was in the sixth grade—St. Anne's Elementary." — ¶ 15.
  5. ^ "LeVar Burton At Book-Signing: Actor, Now Author, Returns To - Sacramento Observer | HighBeam Research - FREE trial". Highbeam.com. 1997-02-19. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  6. ^ "Metacritic.com". Metacritic.com. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  7. ^ a b "Bio.com". Biography.com. 1957-02-16. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  8. ^ "Burton, LeVar. Twitter status update, 11:28 PM (PST) 27 August 2010". Twitter.com. 2010-08-27. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  9. ^ Beale, Lewis (1987-01-29). "Sun Sentinel Ft. Lauderdale January 29, 1987". Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  10. ^ Jones, Fred (1999-05-19). "Learning to Read the Rainbow". Tacoma Herald. 
  11. ^ "Reading Rainbow Awards". IMDb.com. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  12. ^ "About Us - Reading Rainbow". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  13. ^ "LeVar Burton Awards". IMDb.com. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  14. ^ "Reading Rainbow Team". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  15. ^ "Toledo Blade August 2, 1987". News.google.com. 1987-08-02. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  16. ^ "Science of Peace". scienceofpeace.com. 
  17. ^ "LeVar Burton Buys Smosh (April Fools)". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  18. ^ "LeVar Burton at CES 2010.". 
  19. ^ "Matinee Classics". Matinee Classics. 1957-02-16. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  20. ^ "NBC sets 'Jensen' with P&G, Wal-Mart". The Hollywood Reporter. October 13, 2010. Retrieved 2012-02-19. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]