Edit
Ivan Dixon Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trivia (10)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 6 April 1931New York City, New York, USA
Date of Death 16 March 2008Charlotte, North Carolina, USA  (complications of kidney failure and hemorrhage)
Birth NameIvan Nathaniel Dixon III
Height 6' 0½" (1.84 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Ivan Dixon, a handsome, mustachioed African-American actor and director who carried a strong, serious nature about his solid frame, initially earned attention on the ground-breaking stage and film with pronounced themes of social and racial relevance. He would become better known, however, for his ensemble playing in the nonsensical but popular WWII sitcom Hogan's Heroes (1965). His role as a POW radio technician, while heightening his visibility, did little to satisfy his creative needs. Overshadowed by the flashier posturings of stars Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer and John Banner, Ivan eventually left the series, the only one of the original cast to do so. In retrospect, he was among the few African-American male actors in the 1960s, along with Bill Cosby and Greg Morris, to either star or co-star on a major TV series.

Born Ivan Nathaniel Dixon III on April 6, 1931, in New York's Harlem district, his parents originally owned a grocery store. He grew up, however, in the South and was headed towards a young life of crime when he took a young, burgeoning interest in acting. He got back on the straight-and-narrow studying dramatics at Lincoln Academy, an African American boarding school in Gaston County, North Carolina. He then graduated from North Carolina Central University (in Durham) with a degree in drama in 1954. Ivan's Broadway debut occurred three years later in William Saroyan's "The Cave Dwellers" and in 1959 his career took a significant jump after earning the part of Joseph Asagai, the well-mannered Nigerian-born college student, in Lorraine Hansberry's landmark drama "A Raisin in the Sun," which starred Sidney Poitier and was the first play written by a black woman that was produced on Broadway. He and Poitier became lifelong friends.

Ivan's early film career included providing stunt double assistance for Poitier in The Defiant Ones (1958). Following minor film parts in the racially-tinged Something of Value (1957) and Porgy and Bess (1959) (both of which starred Poitier), he and Poitier recreated their respective Broadway roles in the film version of A Raisin in the Sun (1961), which drew high marks all the way around. Ivan's most mesmerizing film role, however, came a few years later when he and renowned jazz singer Abbey Lincoln starred in the contemporary film drama Nothing But a Man (1964). Starring as a young, aimless railroad worker who gives up his job to marry a school teacher and minister's daughter (Lincoln), his character matures along the way as he strives to build a dignified life for the couple living in a deeply prejudicial South. The film was hailed for its extraordinarily powerful portrayals of black characters and its stark, uncompromising script. The film, which was written by two white documentary filmmakers who spent time in the Deep South in the 1960s, was considered far ahead of its time. Dixon himself never found a comparable role on celluloid again. During this time he was cast dramatically on TV with fine roles on "Perry Mason," "The Twilight Zone," "Laramie" and "The Outer Limits", among others.

Following another strong but secondary showing as Poitier's brother in the film A Patch of Blue (1965), Dixon won his "Hogan's Heroes" TV role. While shooting the series, he managed to squeeze in the title role in "The Final War of Olly Winter," a dramatic special which earned him his sole Emmy nomination in 1967. Ivan's post-"Hogan" acting work was limited. Active in the civil rights movement (he served as a president of Negro Actors for Action), he steadfastly refused to play roles that he felt were stereotypical in nature. As a result, he launched himself as a director and was a noted success, helming hundreds of 70s and 80s television episodics including "Nichols," The Waltons," "The Greatest American Hero," "The Rockford Files," "Magnum, P.I.," "Quincy" and "In the Heat of the Night."

Ivan also managed to direct films, including Trouble Man (1972) and the controversial crime drama The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973), the story of the first African-American officer in the Central Intelligence Agency who turns revolutionary. The blaxploitation-era movie did not bode well upon initial release (the film's title being highly in question) and was quickly pulled from theaters. It subsequently gained cult notice.

Throughout his career, Ivan actively pitched for better roles for himself and black actors. Among the honors he received were four NAACP Image Awards, the National Black Theatre Award and the Paul Robeson Pioneer Award from the Black American Cinema Society. In his last years he battled kidney disease and died of a resulting brain hemorrhage at age 76 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Long married (58 years) to Berlie Ray, whom he met while both were college theater students, two of their four children, Ivan Nathaniel IV and N'Gai Christopher, predeceased him. Of his surviving children, Doris Nomathande and Alan Kimara, Doris has been a documentary filmmaker and was a one-time production assistant on the film Boyz n the Hood (1991).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (1)

Berlie Ray (1954 - 16 March 2008) (his death) (4 children)

Trivia (10)

Became a director in 1970.
Father of Doris Nomathande Dixon and Alan Kimara Dixon.
Attended Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina.
Began his acting career in Broadway plays.
Became friends with Sidney Poitier when Dixon was his stunt double in The Defiant Ones (1958).
Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Directors Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild of America, and the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
Graduated from North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina in 1954.
Was portrayed by LeJon in the film Auto Focus (2002) about Hogan's Heroes co-star Bob Crane's life.
Son, Alan Kimara Dixon, lives in Oakland, North Carolina.
His daughter Doris made the 2006 documentary, "Retrospective: Lincoln Academy 1948-1950." This is the school where Ivan first took up acting.

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page