Legendary actor Cameron hits 100
As Earl Cameron turns 100 today, friends spoke of Bermuda’s acting legend — the first black actor to star in a British film — as a humble man who cherished his local roots.
“He never forgot his homeland,” recalled former cultural affairs officer Ruth Thomas, who in 1970 shared a local stage with Mr Cameron in Galileo.
An ardent member of the Bahá’í faith, Mr Cameron’s spirituality “kept a glow about him and he always had a wonderful aura”, she added.
“You can’t help admiring someone who has a dream and pursues it in unknown territory. He left Bermuda as he could not have acted to that extent here, and found himself in England, in a foreign land, on his own, and made it.”
Seeking fortune just before the Second World War, Mr Cameron joined the merchant marine, struggled through menial jobs in wartime London, and stumbled on to the stage as a hurried recruit when an actor failed to show up.
He went on to break the race barrier in 1951 in Pool of London, while back home all of Bermuda turned out to see his films.
His accomplishments were recognised in 2009 when he was made a Commander of the British Empire by the Queen in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, while the The Earl Cameron Theatre was named in his honour at a ceremony he attended in 2012.
Folklife Officer Kim Dismont Robinson, who interviewed him in 2012 for An Evening with Earl Cameron, remembered the “palpable sense of pride that the community brought to that event, especially some of the older Bermudians who were familiar with his legacy. Everyone was smiling. It’s as if all the people who were there that night wanted to say out loud ‘he is ours’.
“Everyone who meets Earl comes away with the same impression. He is a quintessential Bermudian gentleman in the way that I remember my own grandfather and others of his era. He is almost courtly with his self-effacing politeness, his charm and is philosophical about where he has come from and the path he has travelled during the course of his long life.”
At a time when celebrities seem expected to be entitled, Mr Cameron “remained true to his upbringing and culturally instilled values”.
“You will never hear from Earl what he has accomplished, and how significant he has been in breaking the colour barrier in film. One can only imagine the conversations that he has had with his close friend Sidney Poitier over the years, and collectively what these two men have experienced. “Given last year’s protests at the Oscars about the lack of black representation, Earl’s accomplishments are even more impressive when you consider the degree to which black actors still struggle in the film industry.”
The Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the Hamilton Princess Hotel & Beach Club, is to honour Mr Cameron’s 100th birthday on October 19 with “Our Earl Is 100 Years Young!”, Dr Dismont Robinson said, where the man himself will relate his experiences across close to 30 films. That trip home coincides with a momentous occasion for Bahá’í worldwide: the 200th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Bahá’u’lláh, according to friend Leighton Rochester. Mr Cameron joined the faith in 1963.
“It was the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the faith — the first Bahá’í World Congress, at the Royal Albert Hall in London,” Mr Rochester said.
Leroy Stines, the lone Bermudian attendant, knew Mr Cameron and invited him along.
“Earl was so impressed and he immediately embraced it,” Mr Rochester said, recalling Mr Cameron’s fascination with the peaceful bearing of the attendees.
The actor is “very humble, humorous, colourful, kind and very knowledgable”, he said.
The pivotal Bahá’í teaching of the oneness of mankind was “reflected in Earl”, Mr Rochester added.
Adherents traditionally open their homes to “seekers and friends”, and in the 1970s Mr Rochester often stopped by Mr Cameron’s home.
Veteran broadcaster Charles Webbe was another frequent caller as a London student, enjoying “a pleasant respite from normal schooldays, spending a Sunday afternoon at Earl’s house”.
It was reciprocated, for the actor liked keeping in touch with Bermudians, and followed news from home.
“You’d never use the term ‘movie star’ as he was very self- effacing, courteous, and always had time for us youngsters in London,” Mr Webbe said.
“When he came out here, which was not that often, he was always the same. Never put on any airs. I think he was more wedded to his faith than to the acting world.”
In fact, Mr Webbe noted, Mr Cameron “never talked about himself” as that was overshadowed by his interest in others and world events.
Reflecting on the actor’s legacy, Ms Thomas said she admired his fortitude.
“So many of us would like to do things,” she said. “But somebody like that has the extra bit of nerve. Later in life we can find ourselves thinking ‘if only’. I am very proud of him.”
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