Black Jewish History Month: Yaphet Kotto

Today in Black Jewish History Month, Yaphet Kotto.

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Yaphet Frederick Kotto is an American actor, known for numerous film roles, and his starring role in the NBC television series Homicide: Life on the Street.

Kotto was born in New York City, the son of Gladys Marie, a nurse and army officer, and Avraham Kotto (originally named Njoki Manga Bell), a businessman from Cameroon.  Kotto’s father, who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, was, according to Kotto, an observant Jew who spoke Hebrew, and Kotto’s mother reportedly converted to Judaism before marrying his father.  Kotto has said that his paternal family originated from Israel and migrated to Egypt and then Cameroon, and have been African Jews for many generations.

Being Black and Jewish gave other children even more reason, he has said, to pick on him growing up in New York City. “It was rough coming up,” Kotto said. “And then going to shul, putting a yarmulke on, having to face people who were primarily Baptists in the Bronx meant that on Fridays, I was in some heavy fistfights”.

By the age of 16, he was studying acting at the Actor’s Mobile Theater Studio, and at 19, he made his professional acting debut in Othello. He also was a member of the Actors Studio in New York. Kotto got his start in acting on Broadway, where he appeared in The Great White Hope, among other productions.

His film debut was in 1963 in an uncredited role in 4 For Texas. He performed in Nothing But a Man in 1964 and played a supporting role in the 1968 caper film The Thomas Crown Affair. He played John Auston, a confused Marine Lance Corporal, in the 1968 episode “King Of The Hill” on the first season of Hawaii Five-O. In 1973 he landed the role of the James Bond villain Mr. Big inLive and Let Die, as well as roles in Across 110th Street and Truck Turner. Kotto portrayed Idi Amin Dada in the 1977 television film Raid on Entebbe. He also starred as an auto worker in the 1978 film Blue Collar.

The following year he played Parker in the sci-fi–horror film Alien. He followed with a supporting role in the 1980 prison drama Brubaker. In 1983, he guest-starred as mobster “Charlie” in the A-Team episode “The Out-of-Towners”. In 1987, he appeared in the futuristic sci-fi movie The Running Man and in the 1988 action-comedy Midnight Run, in which he portrayed Alonzo Mosely, an FBI agent.

He played Lieutenant Al Giardello in the television series Homicide: Life on the Street.

He has written two books: Royalty, and The Second Coming of Christ, and also wrote scripts forHomicide: Life on the Street.

This is Black Jewish History Month at Manishtana’s Musings.

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