Louise Beavers (1902-1962)

Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington, Imitation of Life (Universal Pictures, 1934)
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Film and television actress, Louise Beavers, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she was part of an act called “Lady Minstrels” before moving to Los Angeles to begin her film career in the silent films, “Gold Diggers” (1923) and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1927).

Beavers appeared in more than 100 films between 1929 and 1960, playing the role most available to the few African American actresses able to work steadily in Hollywood, maid to the white female star.  However, in the 1934 adaptation of “Imitation of Life” in 1934, Beavers and Claudette Colbert both played characters dealing with “the demands of single parenthood and careers.”

Like her cousin, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company co-founder, George Beavers, Jr., Louise Beavers was a prominent and active member of the African American community in Los Angeles.  She was involved in community functions, from the People’s Independent Church, where she helped develop the theater program of the Young People’s Lyceum, to the 1939 public ceremonies celebrating development of the all-black resort, Val Verde County Park.

In the 1940s, as a resident of the affluent enclave in the West Adams district of Los Angeles known as “Sugar Hill,” Louise Beavers also played a role in history.  Beavers’s neighbors included actors Hattie McDaniel, Ethel Waters, Joel Fluellen and Frances Williams; businessmen Norman O. Houston and Horace Clark;  musicians Ben Carter, Pearl Bailey and Juan Tizon.  When an association of white homeowners brought suit against black property owners in the area, claiming they were in violation of the city’s racially restrictive covenant system, and demanding that the city enforce the covenants, attorney Loren Miller led the class action suit against the whites.  The California Superior Court issued a judgment on December 6, 1945 stating that the black plaintiffs were accorded full rights guaranteed under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  This helped pave the way for Shelley v. Kramer, the 1948 Supreme Court decision that legally blocked enforcement of racial housing covenants.

Louise Beavers’s career culminated in the television roles “Beulah” (1952 –1953) and as the housekeeper on “The Danny Thomas Show” (1953-1954).  In 1976, she was inducted posthumously into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.