Stephen Black

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Stephen Black (1879-1931) was a South African playwright, actor, director-producer, satirist, journalist and novelist. He is also known as "South Africa's first professional dramatist".

Also known as Edward Radlowe (as actor), T. Werner Laurie (as novelist).

Biography

Youth

He was born Stephen William Black in September 1879 in Claremont, Cape Town and was brought up and educated under extremely poor circumstances. He left school in standard six, but later returned and completed his schooling at Diocesan College ("Bishops") at the age of 23.

Career

He started out as an amateur boxer, boxing writer and manager of heavyweight boxer Mike Williams. In 1902, he was engaged by George Kingswell who was owner and editor of The Owl, to write articles on boxing for the weekly paper. After working as sports editor for some time, he left The Owl and joined The Cape Argus in 1904 as a sports writer - in that year he also wrote a series of articles for The Argus about the plight of the so-called "Cape Coloureds". This is when the English author and journalist Rudyard Kipling [1], on a visit to Cape Town, advised him to keep writing, but to concentrate on his stories of the Cape characters and dialect. This led to him writing his first stage play. He also wrote three novels, two published under the pen name T. Werner Laurie and the third unpublished, and the screenplay for the film The Life of Rhodes. He staged his plays with his own theatre company and they toured the country for fifteen years. After this he went to London as the representative of I.W. Schlesinger, and then retired to a farm near Nice, France. After tiring of this, he left his wife Andree (née Judin) there, went to Rhodesia for a while, and then returned to the Cape in 1928 as freelance journalist for the Argus. He created a new theatre company which took the road with reworked versions of his plays.

After touring for two years, he was brought out by the Schlesinger Organisation to edit The Sjambok, a weekly critical paper they were bringing out. This was forced to close because of the many libel suits. In July 1931 he started a New Sjambok, but fell ill and died shortly afterwards in Johannesburg on the 8th August 1931 of lung cancer.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

While working as a part-time journalist in Cape Town he wrote his first stage play, the immensely popular farce Love and the Hyphen (staged by De Jongh in 1908). This was not only the first English play written by a born and bred South African, but also the first really to deal openly with the complex and humourous implications of colour in South Africa. He followed this with Helena’s Hope, Ltd, (1910), based on his experiences of mining in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and (after a stint as reporter for the London Daily Mail), Van Kalabas Does His Bit (1916). These were his most successful plays, a trilogy of plays all using the same wide range of South African characters, produced by his own theatrical company over the course of about fifteen years.

He also made his first appearance as an actor for the De Jong-Black Company, taking the role of "Jeremiah Luke M'bene" in Helena's Hope, Ltd, under the nom de theatre Edward Radlowe. When his company folded due to the flu epidemic and the workers strikes in the early twenties, he became an actor in Leonard Rayne's company and for a while published and edited a journal known as LSD (Life, Sports and Drama). After a time in Europe he returned to the Cape and set up a new company which took the road with reworked versions of his plays.

His plays were never published during his life-time, but only re-discovered in the seventies when there was an upsurge of interest in early South African writing in English and the three major plays were collected and edited by Stephen Gray and published by Ad Donker in 1984, with the assistance of the Centre for South African Theatre Research at the Human Sciences Research Council.

Works

Plays

Love and the Hyphen (premiered 16 November 1908)

Helena's Hope, Ltd (premiered 1910)

The Uitlanders (1911)

A Boer's Honour (1912)

The Flapper (1912) (adapted from the French farce La Gamine, written by ***)

I.D.B. (1912)

Van Kalabas Does His Bit (1916)

Novels

The Dorp (under the pen name T. Werner Laurie, 1920)

The Golden Calf: A Story of the Diamond Fields (under the pen name T. Werner Laurie, London, 1925)

Limelight (unpublished)

Sources

Bosman, 1981;

Fletcher, 1994;

Gray, 1984;

Joyce, 1999

Wikipedia [2]

SA History Online [3]

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