Oscar Polk (1900-1949)

Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Photo Courtesy of
the Library of Congress,
Prints & Photographs
Division, Carl Van
Vechten Collection

Actor Oscar Polk began his career in the early 1930s as a stage performer in the musical production of Swingin’ the Dream, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream. The Arizona native studied dancing at Jack Blue’s Dance Studio and later became a tap dance instructor. He made his film debut in 1936 as Gabriel the Angel in The Green Pastures, an adaptation of the play by Marc Connelly. The Green Pastures was perhaps Polk’s most pivotal film role.

Subsequently, he appeared in the film It’s a Great Life (1936), Oscar Micheaux’s 1937 film Underworld, and primarily race (all-black cast) films until actor turned casting agent Ben Carter arranged for Polk the substantial role of the house servant, Pork, in the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind.  Polk co-starred with Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen.

Though Polk never reached the fame of many of his contemporaries, he continued to play minor roles in major Hollywood films during the 1940s. His final film role was that of the dual characters, Deacon and Fleetwood, in a small segment of the big budget all-black cast folk musical Cabin in the Sky (1943) opposite Lena Horne and Ethel Waters.

Polk continued his career in the theater after World War II, appearing in such plays as You Can’t Take it With You, until his untimely death in 1949.  In January of that year Polk was fatally injured after being hit by a taxicab as he stepped off a curb in New York’s Time Square. Just prior to his death, he was scheduled to appear in a major role of the play Leading Lady.