EARL CAMERON returns
The great Earl Cameron has described as “highly productive” the sentimental journey he has made to the land of his birth during the past ten days. It’s been hectic, but most enjoyable, he said, made moreso by working with Marcus Thompson, the award-winning producer and director and the crew accompanying him from London producing a full length documentary on Cameron. At age 93, Cameron was as sprightly and spry as ever, complemented by his sharp memory of people and places that helped shape his eventful life prior to going to Britain, the base for the international acclaim he received as a legendary stage, screen and television actor. The homestead of the charismatic Cameron family was in the grounds just beyond the north-western end of Cedar Avenue, Hamilton, and in the shadow of the old Convent School. That’s where he was born in 1917and that was one of the first places of interest to the Marcus documentary crew. And even more so was the sparkling session they had was with Earl reminiscing with one of his former neigbours, the charming 100-year-old Mrs. Rosalind Robinson, an icon in her own right as a Harrington Sound School Principal. An obvious thrill for Earl was briefing the young and not so young persons selected to be Cameron-stand-ins for the film, and watching them perform whether on stage at the Ruth Seatlon James Centre for the Performing Arts or as a boy on the corner of Front Street and the landmark Birdcage shouting and selling Recorder newspapers during the late 1920s. The paper boy was nine-year-old Jadier Franks from Prospect Primary School. An easy and natural choice to impersonate Earl’s sister Helen, was the actor’s great grand-daughter Kyra Astwood from St. George’s. Kyra did several takes, on stage singing”I’ll See You in my Dreams” to the backing of a seven-piece combination headed by Maxi Maybury, before Marcus exclaimed ‘Beautiful’! Marcus said he was initially moved to produce a documentary focusing on Cameron’s brilliant stage and screen career. But after learning of his exciting early life growing up on the Island, he was impelled to develop the effort into what he termed a “dramatised documentary” which took on unticipated dimensions after arriving and seeing the abounding beauty of Bermuda and the friendliness of the people encountered. One of the highlights on this ‘journey’ was the special Devotional Gathering on Sunday honouring Earl and his wife Barbara at the Baha’i National Centre in Hamilton. They were given a warm and eloquent welcome by leaders of the Centre, including video producer Wayne Symons and barrister Leighton Rochester. Morning devotions centred aroud the theme of “Unity of Religions”. Special reference to what was called ‘Work in Worship’, and the Baha’i philosophy of work done in the spirit of service being the highest form of service. And the belief of Bahai’s that in the new order of things each child must be taught a profession, art, or trade so that each member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood. After detailing some of the major contributions Earl had made to the arts, during the past 40 or fifty years, he was called upon to respond. He noted how propitious it was for him to be back in what essentially was his neighbourhood. The Baha’i Centre is situated just off Cedar Avenue, minutes away from his birthplace, and on the corner with Angle Street where he got his first thrill being taken to the old Aeolian Hall where his sister Helen took him to see is first movie, which incidentedly was a silent one. He didn’t mention it, but in the same block next to Aeolon was where the first Recorders were printed in 1925 by the late A.B. Place. It seemed to have been the ambition of most city boys to sell Recorders and Mid-Oceans, and for the more adventurous as they grew up to get a job on one of the Furness boats plying weekly between Bermuda and New York. Young Cameron realised both ambitions. Seeking even broader horizons, he managed to switch ships and got a job aboard a British vessel sailing to Central and South America. When the war broke out in 1939, his ship was diverted by the authorities to London for conversion to war service. Earl tried desperately to return home, being penniless and unable to get even the most menial work, because of prejudices against West Indians and other blacks. It was with unfeigned emotion he told the congregation how the bleak winter weather, among other things, took its toll on him. He contracted pneumonia was driven to the brink of starvation and suicide. It was while hospitalised, refusing to eat, and dying as a consequence, that he received what some call a divine visitation from a nurse. Nobody on staff had heard about her or knew of her. But her ministrations that one night, with reference to his mother in Bermuda, caused him to turn his life around. Earl succeeded in stabilising his life in lonely London, doing what many industrious workers in the restaurant and hotel industry in Bermuda “back in the day” called “pearl diving”, that was hustling for kitchen jobs, which though low paying guaranteed them “pearls” (aka) food that might otherwise have been trashed. An acquaintance with a young West Indian man led him to seek a “bit part” in a stage play on London’s famous West End. His grace and authority, as one biographer put it, catapulted him to the forefront of black acors working in the British stage and film television industry, and elsewhere. Among the blockbuster movies that indellibly stamped his place in stardom included his role as Captain Abraham in Guns at Batasti, as James Bond’s Caribbean assistant Pinder in Thunderball; A Man from The Sun; A Fear of Strangers; The Heart Within and in two melodramas that attempted to confront the issue of racism in Britain. And, more recently, there was his highly publicised role in The Queen. Cameron has received many awards and honours, including the Bermuda Government’s Lifetime Achievement Award and a retrospective of his work at the Tenth Bermuda International Film Festival, as well as a retrospective by the prestigious National Film Theatre in London in Loondon. Following his role in The Queen, a year ago, Cameron was invited to Buckingham Palace where the Prince of Wales, the son of the real Queen, personally presented him a medal and insignia as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). From Bermuda and after a short respite at home in the U.K, Marcus said he, the Camerons and crew will pan out their documentary with interviews in California with such legends as Sydney Poitier who acted with Earl. That would be followed by a journey to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific where Earl and his family spent some 15 years in business and promoting the Baha’i Faith.