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Mr. Movie: Louis Gossett Jr.

Louis Gossett Jr. Part One


Louis Gossett Jr. left us recently at 85. The guy was everywhere. He had over 200 acting credits and had 12 projects going when he died. But like Louise Fletcher or Mary Badham, he had one shining performance that defined his talent. The difference is that he had many other important roles.


An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) is the place of that peak performance. Gossett won the Best Supporting Oscar as Sgt. Emil Foley, the Drill Instructor from Hell. Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) is the focus of Foley’s determination. Mayo is caught selling contraband goods to other officer candidates and Foley decides he has to go. His aim is to break Mayo and cure him forever of his arrogance and flippancy. Mayo turns out to be tougher than anyone (including he) thought. He perseveres through this trial and others and winds up thanking Foley for being tough on him and for not giving up on him.


Gossett’s first appearance of note is in Loraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1961). He appears as George Murchison, the Younger family’s daughter’s boyfriend. She dumps him because of his views on racism. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him.


His true break-out role was in Skin Game (1971). Though Jason was born a free man and still is, he and Quincy O’Rourke (James Garner) travel the country as owner and slave. Quincy continuously “sells” Jason to willing bidders. Then he and Jason split the profits and move on. There is, of course, a catch. It’s when a very savvy old slave trader realizes what they’re up to, and buys Jason, intending to take him south and make a profit.


In Travels With My Aunt (1972), Gossett has a ball playing Zachary Wordsworth, an African fortune teller. The aunt of the title is the legendary Maggie Smith. She may or may not be the legitimate aunt, and her message to her “nephew” that the woman he thinks was his mother is not, is deeply suspicious. This hectic film winds up in a fishing boat off the African coast piloted by none other than Wordsworth. A coin flip to decide the final outcome is freeze-framed as the major players watch after Wordsworth flips it into the air.


Roots (1977) is not actually a movie. It is a TV mini-series based upon Alex Haley’s historical book about the life of Kunta Kinte, an ancestor of the author. The series was a sensation and at one time garnered the most viewers of any program on TV. Kunta is sold into slavery by African turncoats and lands in Colonial Virginia as a plantation slave. Gossett portrays Fiddler, an elderly slave who mentors Kunta and tries to soften his now-tragic life change. Both are sold to another slave owner, and Fiddler continues to help Kunta until Fiddler’s death of natural causes. This is fairly early in the series, which continues on for many years.


All of the movies in this article are available (perhaps for a price). All are for adults. (And I am not done with Gossett.)