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Evelyn Preer- Our First Lady of the Silver Screen

Evelyn Preer was the first lady of screen and stage. As far as dramatic acting, Evelyn Preer was considered the best. In her time, she was hailed as the best actress of her race not only by critics but her contemporaries as well like Paul Robeson, Clarence Muse, and Oscar Micheaux. Lauded as "the Race's most famous and most versatile actress." Some have called Evelyn Preer... a Bette Davis before there was one.

Lovely Evelyn's beauty was youthful, innocent, fresh, ravishing. Evelyn was the first black beauty of the silver screen.

Evelyn Preer had so many talents to amaze people. Evelyn was a passionate actress. She had the talent of embracing a role wholeheartedly and making audience take it to heart and mind. From playing a prostitute to an angel...she had the persona, ability to change from one role to another, change personality or mood with ease. She could be many roles and personality in one. She could make you cry and laugh. Evelyn made whoever she played life-like. That what was so special about Evelyn. She kept you guessing. No matter how indecent of a woman she was in some of her roles. She always maintained that spark of innocence that made audience take her to heart and feel sorry for her no matter how bad she was. Evelyn was as comfortable and natural doing Shakespeare as she was in a low-down Harlem musical/comedy. No matter what she did, she never changed. You always had that sweet but fiesty Evelyn. Evelyn could even make the hard-nose critics warm up to her and tug at their heart strings. In the silents, Evelyn really prove to be an actress. She knew how to let the audience know how she was thinking, tell the story with her eyes, facial expression. She was an actress without even saying a word. What she felt was written on her face.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Evelyn Preer was one of the hardest working women in Show Business and a favorite from stage, screen, recording, nightclubs from singing, dancing, comedy and acting...She was one who lived up to "The Show Must Go On No Matter What."

Evelyn got her start through Oscar Micheaux films, through his films, Evelyn Preer brought and left behind her incredible acting style which the world came to love her.

Oscar Micheaux once said "Miss Preer could play any role assigned her and always did so cheerfully and without argument."

Evelyn was born July 26, 1896. Evelyn was brought up in Chicago in a stern, religious household. Evelyn was too vivacious and ambitious to become a teacher, nurse or settle down to marry fast like most girls. She had her eyes set on acting. She was her only role model for there were no Black women on screen or stage in her time. After Evelyn convinced her mother to allow her to pursue acting, she landed a role in Micheaux's first film, "Homesteader" in 1919. Impressed with her talent, Micheaux cast her in several more films, including the controversial "Within Our Gates" from 1920. This role brought Evelyn stardom. It was a a scatching commentary on race relations. In the challenging role of Sylvia Landry, Preer portrayed a woman who survives an attempted assault by a white man who is actually her biological father.

Preer tackled the screen and suceeded. Now she wanted to become a stage actress. Her role in the 1926 Broadway Production of "Lulu Belle" had critics raving. She had a successful stint on Broadway in David Belasco's production of Lulu Belle. In 1926, Evelyn supported and understudied German actress Lenore Ulrich in the leading role of Edward Dheldon's steamy drama of a Harlem prostitute. In 1927, she appeared in the musical comedy "Rang Tang." Evelyn's success was due in part to her participation in the esteemed black acting troupe, The Lafayette Players, which she joined in 1924. There, she not only met her future husband Edward Thompson who also became a movie star, but she appeared in acclaimed plays like Somerset Maugham's Rain in 1927 many of which had never been produced and acted by all black companies. "Rain" brought Evelyn huge success.

Evelyn also starred in such mainstream classics as Oscar Wilde's "Salome"(1923), "Within the Law," "The Yellow Ticket," "The Unborn," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "The Thirteenth Chair," "The Gorilla," "Old Kentucky," "Potash and Perimutter," "The Cat and the Canary" and Anna Christie(wonder if Evelyn played it as good as Greta Garbo) throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. She was further acclaimed as Sadie Thompson on the West Coast in a revival of Somerset Maugham's falled woman melodrama, "Rain" in 1928 and likewise squeeze some musical comedy and cabret to her repetoire.

She became world-wide known through "Rain". Her popularity had many piling into the theaters to watch her do her stuff.

Evelyn got to go back to her first love...the screen. Through friendship with another Black film-maker Spencer Williams, Evelyn got a chance to add more films to her repertoire by starring in four black film shorts: The Framing of the Shrew, Melancholy Dame, Oft int he Silly Night, and Georgia Rose. Evelyn Preer and Edward Thompson was the first Black screen and stage lovers. They were a formiable leading duo, frequently headlining productions also for the traveling faction of the Lafayette Players. They were really enjoyed by movie audiences.

Evelyn had a down to earth, laugh at life, live for today image on screen that the new generation took aliking to and mimicked.

The versatile Evelyn was also bringing smiles and applause through her singing. She was a fine singer, so fine, Hollywood used her singing voice in the movies, of course, white actresses would lip sync on screen. Thank heavens Evelyn did record. Many of her recordings are available.

The Black Press was proud of Evelyn and ran articles on her consistently. Anything she did they Black Press was always there to report her doings on and off stage and screen. Even the White Press jumped on the bandwagon.

It didnt take long for White Hollywood to start pulling on Evelyn's coat-tails. They came calling with several film roles but Evelyn's heart was broken many times when she either was turned down or scenes were cut because of her fair complexion. Often Evelyn and Edward had to wear make up to darken their skin on stage so the audience wouldn't think they were white. But Evelyn did achieve behind the scenes of Hollywood. She was the voice of many songs white actresses lip sync to. No one is quite sure how many movies Evelyn sung in and Hollywood has kept that a secret.

Evelyn performed at the prestigious nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Sebastian's Cotton Club in California where she knocked them cold. Good reviews was as apart of Evelyn as her talent. Evelyn worked with many important figures in the world of Show Business like Eubie Blake, Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, Paul Robeson, Bill Robinson, Ethel Waters, Mildred Washington, Lottie Gee, Paul Robeson, Florence Mills, Clarence Muse and others and they always held a torch for Evelyn till they died.

Evelyn was a enthusiastic performer. Energetic, Lively. You sat up and listen and watched her. She had the ability to make a song and role come alive, so alive you kept thinking about her long after the show was over. That still stands today. Anyone who see's Evelyn's work is impressed and can't forget her. Evelyn always had a way with people. Even through the screen you can't help but feel comfortable with her welcoming, inviting smile and eyes and refreshing spirit.

Evelyn passed away unexpectedly. Her illness happen so fast. She was stricken ill while engaged at the Harlem Showboat cabaret management which she had just opened at. She had to cancel her appearance, went home to take a rest but her condition worsen and she was she was rushed to the hospital where she lapsed into unconsciousness. She aroused once, murmured her last words then the end came on a Thursday night at 10:30. Evelyn was stricken with double pneumonia which suddenly developed from a heavy cold. Evelyn Preer passed away on November 27, 1932, just as soon as Evelyn was pronounced dead, local dailies all ran the news of her passing and in addition to the radio announcements, the Associated Press sent it over their leased wires to all parts of the country. White and Black Press showed her recognition and appreciation- They lauded her as one of the country's greatest actresses and published her photography and story.

Evelyn's passing was another shock and time of sorrow not only for fans but the Blacks in Show Business. They had lossed another fabulous talent. People were as heart-broken as they were when Florence Mills passed. Evelyn had one of the biggest funerals in Show Biz history. Many stars attended her funeral. Etta Moten, Clarence Muse, Cleo Desmond, Monte Hawley, Lottie Gee, Laurence Criner, Alec Lovejoy among others...Many sung, read poems, shown their condolenses to Evelyn. The service for Evelyn was beautiful. She was buried with great honor. Beautiful floral blossoms represented her beautiful blossoming face and smiles. Even years after her passing admirers kept her name and talent alive. Many fans and friends occassionally gave tributes to her long after her passing.

Evelyn Preer accomplished and open so many doors in Show Business for Blacks. Evelyn didn't mind proving talent would make people overlook how she looked. She was up for the fight and won for others as well.

Evelyn's contribution to movie history and to Blacks is indescribable but richly appreciated. She showed Blacks could do more then sing, dance, jump and shout. She showed Blacks could act and take on Shakespeare if given the chance. After Evelyn many Blacks found success on the stage in real roles, unstereotypical roles. Rest assure Evelyn left her mark in movie history and black history. Had Evelyn lived she would of done bigger and more successful things but alive her achievements are impressive for a Black woman of her time. Many of Evelyn's movies are around. Some of her shorts are featured in a compliation called "Birmingham Black Bottom." A few of the Oscar Micheaux films she appeared in are available. When you watch Hollywood films between 1930 and 1932 listen closely cause it might be Evelyn Preer voice an actress is lip syncing to. Evelyn worked for Fox, Paramount, Columbia, Warner and MGM.

Evelyn's last words were: Where's is my baby? Well, all the admirers last words were...Why Our Evelyn?
Evelyn's life was kind of like a movie with Evelyn playing herself. A girl from a smalltown comes to the big city with dreams that no one thought were achieveable but she proved them all wrong. Acclaimed the grandest of them all...anyone in her presence praising her beauty and talent in admiration. She marries the love of her life has a baby, just when she thinks her life is complete, she's stricken with an illness out of nowhere, she leaves the world but leaves the world only physically. Her many gifts she leaves to cherish. Evelyn's daughter who she named Edeve but is known as Sister Francesca Thompson has kept her mother and father's name alive by sharing stories and memorabilia and showing what real acting talent is.

Enjoyed Evelyn Preer's story, Come Home to the Main Page for stories and introductions of other unsung Black Beauties and Talents of Stage and Screen!