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Yaphet Kotto Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Family (2)  | Trade Mark (3)  | Trivia (22)  | Personal Quotes (10)

Overview (4)

Born in New York City, New York, USA
Died in Manila, Philippines  (undisclosed)
Birth NameFrederick Samuel Kotto
Height 6' 4" (1.93 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Physically imposing, intense Yaphet Kotto was one of the few actors of his generation to succeed in breaking racial stereotypes in Hollywood. He was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Gladys, a nurse and army officer, and Yaphet Kotto, a businessman-turned-construction worker. His father was a Cameroonian immigrant, of royal ancestry (his great -grandfather had been a king in pre-colonial days), and his mother's family was from Antigua and Panama. Yaphet, whose first name means "beautiful" in Hebrew, was raised in the Jewish faith. After his parents divorced, he was brought up by his grandparents in the tough Bronx district of New York. He also had an aunt in showbiz who ran a dance academy. Among her alumni were Marlon Brando and James Dean. In fact, it was Brando's performance in On the Waterfront (1954) which inspired Kotto to go into acting.

He began acting on stage in 1958 with little theatrical experience, making his debut in the title role of Othello, a role he eventually reprised on screen in 1980. He also appeared on Broadway as understudy to James Earl Jones in The Great White Hope. After joining the Actor's Studio, Kotto commenced his screen career and soon gathered critical recognition with several edgy performances across diverse genres. From playing a barkeeper in 5 Card Stud (1968) and a thief in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), he moved on to juicier supporting roles as the evil Kananga/Mr. Big in the James Bond thriller Live and Let Die (1973), Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the telemovie Raid on Entebbe (1976) and the ill-fated Nostromo engineer Parker in Alien (1979). Kotto also starred as a street-smart Detroit car worker in Blue Collar (1978) and had a recurring role as a senior detective on television's long-running crime series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993) (in addition to penning several scripts for the show). He was even on a Paramount shortlist for the coveted role of Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), alongside Mitchell Ryan and Roy Thinnes). He apparently spurned the role for fear of being typecast, but came to rueing that decision in later years. For the same reason Kotto had also turned down the part of Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars franchise (which went to Billy Dee Williams).

Kotto died on March 15 2021 in Manila, Phillipines at the age of 81.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Family (2)

Spouse Tessie Sinahon (12 July 1998 - 15 March 2021)  (his death)
Antoinette Pettyjohn (29 January 1975 - 1989)  (divorced)  (3 children)
Rita Ingried Dittman (1962 - May 1973)  (divorced)  (3 children)
Parents Kotto, Avraham
Kotto, Gladys Marie

Trade Mark (3)

Often played police detectives and military officers
Deep authoritative voice
Towering height and heavy frame

Trivia (22)

Eldest son, Fred Kotto, is a very successful officer in the San José Police Department.
Has a Bay Area hardcore punk band named after him.
Moved from Littleton, Colorado to Canada, because he felt it would be safer to live there. Two years after moving, he saw the news coverage on Columbine, and recognized some of the kids fleeing the school.
Campaigned for Steve Forbes during his bid for the Republican nomination for the Presidency in the 2000 primaries.
Turned down the role of Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980). He feared that Lando would be killed in the movie, and that he would be forever typecast. The role went to Billy Dee Williams.
Along with his wife, Tessie, they operate an artists retreat resort in Southern Leyte, Philippines called "The Running Man Institute", which was founded in 2001 and is focused on working with people in the entertainment industry to build their creativity, as well as to relax and read up about holistic health.
His father, Njoki Manga Bell, was the great-grandson of King Alexander Bell, who ruled the Douala region of Cameroon in the late 19th century, before the nation fell into the hands of Germany and, later, France and Britain. Fleeing the Germans, Manga Bell emigrated to Harlem in the 1920s and changed his name to Abraham Kotto (the surname is from a relative).
Yaphet means "beautiful" in Hebrew.
His parents divorced when he was 3.
Although he did not enjoy filming Midnight Run (1988), the character Agent Alonzo Mosley remains his favorite. He later played the same role for the film Witless Protection (2008).
Within a week of the divorce from his first wife Rita, he married Antoinette Pettyjohn.
Spends the majority of his free time living in the Philippines.
He made guest appearances on both of the longest running prime time dramas in US television history: Gunsmoke (1955) and Law & Order (1990).
Along with Richard Belzer, Kyle Secor, Clark Johnson and Sharon Ziman, he is one of only five actors to appear in both the first and last episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street (1993): Homicide: Life on the Street: Gone for Goode (1993) and Homicide: Life on the Street: Forgive Us Our Trespasses (1999).
With the death of Joseph Wiseman on October 19, 2009, he was the earliest surviving actor to have played a main Bond villain until his own death on March 15, 2021. He played Dr. Kananga (Mr. Big) in Live and Let Die (1973).
At 33, he was the youngest actor to play a main Bond villain.
He was the first black actor to play a main Bond villain.
The "Film Production" section of the May 4, 1988, issue of Variety lists the movie "Nightmares of the Devil", directed by Yaphet Kotto, which began filming in Los Angeles September 20, 1987. Cast included Kotto and Tina Marie Goff. No evidence the film was ever completed or released.
Appeared in repertory productions of 'A Raisin in the Sun' and 'Othello'.
He made his Broadway debut in "The Great White Hope".
Upon his death, he was cremated and his ashes were given to his widow.
He was the father of four daughters and two sons (three children from each of his first two marriages), named (from eldest) Natasha, Fred, Robert, Sarada, Mirabai and Salina.

Personal Quotes (10)

I do have a favorite kind of director, which is the kind who allows me to create. Some haven't allowed me to create and I think by doing that they don't need an actor. They need a puppet.
[on Homicide: Life on the Street (1993)] I felt like I was a beggar doing Homicide. Begging to act. Begging for scenes. The writing was not obviously for me. It mainly focused on others. I went from a movie star playing leads to a bit player doing one line here and one line there. The rest of the week I would be hanging around Fells Point waiting to come in and do my one line. When I asked if they could write more for me to do, they would say "You're doing great. You're the anchor of the show. "Anchor? I'm an actor, let me out!" I finally ended up writing for the show and gave myself something to do. Nine years of not acting.
[on filming Midnight Run (1988)] That was another difficult shoot. [Robert] DeNiro is very spontaneous and it always helps to work with an artist like that. But Marty Brest! He shot so many takes of the scenes that I lost all joy in doing the film. It became hard and tedious work. Then he stopped eating during the shoot and became thinner and thinner each day, until he looked like a ghost behind the camera. When I met Marty at the Universal Studios with DeNiro, he looked healthy and strong, but as filming went on, he began to turn into someone you would see in Dachau (Concentration Camp). It was weird. I got sick and for the whole of the film I had a fever and was under the weather for most of it. I was shocked when it came off so funny. It sure wasn't funny making it.
[on filming Alien (1979)] All of the scenes were challenging, particularly when you know you have to act against sets that were huge. The special effects determined where you could walk. Then you ask yourself how can you survive in acting against a monster. Will you be remembered? Ridley Scott was cool. He gave us a ninety-page outline detailing each of our characters and then he disappeared behind the camera. That's how he directs; he operates his own camera. The Alien script was tight. It was one of the best scripts I have ever read, so there was very little improve.
[on Live and Let Die (1973)] There were so many problems with that script. I was too afraid of coming off like Mantan Moreland. I had to dig deep in my soul and brain and come up with a level of reality that would offset the sea of stereotype crap that Tom Mankiewicz wrote that had nothing to do with the Black experience or culture. The way Kananga dies was a joke, and well, the entire experience was not as rewarding as I wanted it to be. There were a lot of pitfalls that I had to avoid, and I did.
[on when he decided to become an actor] I was roaming around Manhattan looking for work; in fact I had just come from an employment center in New York called 'Warren Street' where you can buy a part-time job for about ten bucks. On this particular day, I didn't feel like delivering lunches, or pushing a dolly truck through lower Manhattan, so I went up to 42nd Street around Times Square, which at the time looked like a circus: porn theaters on one side of the street and B-movies on the other. I stopped before one particular theater and there were gangster photos all over the marquee. The movie must have cost about seventy-five cents, so I went in and sat down and saw On the Waterfront. I was so blown away after that day - it was Brando's performance that made me leave the streets to become an actor.
If you're a black actor, you really don't have too many choices. If you keep turning things down, you might as well hit the unemployment office. If I didn't sometimes take small parts in small films I wouldn't get to play anything, and I do have to eat.
[on Anthony Quinn and Across 110th Street (1972)] I can't stop laughing about Mr. Quinn. He wouldn't let me have anything. When I told him about how rough I had it as a kid in Harlem, he told me how he was hanged by the neck in Russia and left for dead. I told him I'd love to win an Academy Award. "Don't bother, I'll lend you mine". "You don't know how rough it is coming up black in America". "Listen Yaphet, until you have been a Mexican, you don't know what rough means!" When we were shooting 110th in Harlem... I said to him: "Finally, I'm with my people". "Your people? My great-grandmother was a slave in Alabama!"
[on turning down the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)] I think I made some wrong decisions in my life, man. I should have done that but I walked away. When you're making movies, you would tend to say no to television. It's like when you're in college and someone asks you to the high school dance. You say no.
[on turning down the role of Lando Calrissian in the Empire Strikes Back] I wanted to get back down on Earth. I was afraid that if I did another space film after having done Alien, then I'd be typed. Once you get one of those big blockbuster hits, you better have some other big blockbuster hits to go with it too and be Harrison Ford, because if you don't ... you place yourself right out of the business.

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