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Paul Winfield

Paul Winfield

64 (passed away Mar. 7th, 2004)
May. 22nd, 1939
Born in
Los Angeles, California, USA
6' 1 1/2"

Paul Winfield's Main TV Roles

Show Character(s)
The Magic School Bus TV Show
The Magic School Bus
Wiseguy TV Show
227 TV Show
City Confidential TV Show
City Confidential
The Charmings TV Show
The Charmings
Backstairs at the White House TV Show
Backstairs at the White House
Built to Last TV Show
Built to Last

Main Movie Roles

Guest TV Roles

[none found]


Signifying intelligence, eloquence, versatility and quiet intensity, one of the more important, critically-acclaimed black actors to gain a Hollywood foothold in the 1970s was Paul Winfield. Born in 1941 in Portland, Oregon, he lived there in his early years before moving with his family to Los Angeles' Watts district. He showed early promise as a student at Manual Arts High School, earning distinction with several performance awards. As a senior, he earned his first professional acting job and extended his theatrical education with a two-year scholarship to the University of Portland in Oregon. Subsequent scholarships led to his studies at Stanford and Los Angeles City College, among other colleges. He left UCLA just six credits short of his BA degree.

Paul's first big break came in 1964 when actor/director Burgess Meredith gave him a role in Le Roi Jones' controversial one-act play "The Dutchman and the Toilet." Director Meredith cast him again four years in "The Latent Heterosexual" with Zero Mostel. Although he won a contract at Columbia Pictures in 1966 and built up his on-camera career with a succession of TV credits, he continued to focus on the legitimate stage. A member of the Stanford Repertory Theatre, he concentrated on both classic and contemporary plays. In 1969 Paul joined the Inner City Cultural Center Theatre in Los Angeles for two years, which offered a drama program for high school students.

In the late 60s Paul redirected himself back to performing on TV and in films with guest work in more than 40 shows on the small screen, including a boyfriend role on the first season of the landmark black sitcom "Julia" (1968) starring Diahann Carroll. In films he was given a featured part in the Sidney Poitier starrer The Lost Man (1969), and earned comparable roles in R.P.M. (1970) and Brother John (1971) before major stardom occurred. 1972 proved to be a banner year for Paul after winning the male lead opposite Cicely Tyson in the touching classic film Sounder (1972). His towering performance as a sharecropper who is imprisoned and tortured for stealing a ham for his impoverished family earned him an Oscar nomination for "Best Actor" -- the third black actor (Sidney Poitier and James Earl Jones preceded him) to receive such an honor at the time.

From there a host of films and quality TV picture roles began arriving on his doorstep. In minimovies, Paul portrayed various historical/entertainment giants including Thurgood Marshall, Don King and baseball's Roy Campanella, and was Emmy-nominated for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in "King" (1978) with "Sounder" co-star Cicely Tyson as wife Coretta. Throughout the 70s and 80s he earned solid distinction in such prestige projects as "Backstairs at the White House" (1979), "Roots: The Next Generations" (1979) (another Emmy nomination), The Sophisticated Gents (1981) (TV), "The Blue and the Gray" (1982), Sister, Sister (1982) (TV), James Baldwin (I)'s Go Tell It on the Mountain (1985) (TV), Under Siege (1986) (TV) and The Women of Brewster Place (1989) (TV). Although the big screen did not offer the same consistent quality following his breakthrough with "Sounder," he nevertheless turned in strong roles in Conrack (1974), Huckleberry Finn (1974), A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich (1978) (again with Ms. Tyson), Damnation Alley (1977), Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and White Dog (1982).

Paul never achieved the promise of a Sidney Poitier-like stardom and his roles diminished in size. Relegated to character roles, he still appeared in such quality TV as Breathing Lessons (1994) (TV), although he was not the major focus. After two nominations, he finally won the Emmy for a guest performance as a judge on "Picket Fences." Paul's showier work at this period of time included the film Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999) and a surprise cross-dressing cameo as Aunt Matilda in Relax... It's Just Sex (1998). On stage he graced such productions as "Richard III" (at New York's Lincoln Center Theatre), "Othello," "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "The Seagull," "A Few Good Men," "Happy Endings" and "Checkmates," which became his sole Broadway credit. Paul also served as Artist in Residence at the University of Hawaii and subsequently at the University of California at Santa Barbara. In his final years he narrated the A&E crime series "City Confidential" (1998), appeared as a teacher in a TV adaptation of his earlier success Sounder (2003) (TV), and enjoyed a recurring role as Sam for many years on the series "Touched by an Angel" (1994).

Suffering from obesity and diabetes in later life, Paul passed away from a heart attack at age 62 in 2004, and was survived by a sister, Patricia. His longtime companion of 30 years, set designer and architect Charles Gillan Jr. predeceased him by two years.

  • Was first impacted by the film _Home of the Brave (1949)_ (qv), which starred African-American actor 'James Edwards (I)' (qv) in a leading role, not a typical supporting role as a servant.
  • (5 March 2002): His companion of 30 years, set designer and architect Charles Gillan Jr., has died of a rare bone disease in Los Angeles, California.
  • Was a dog breeder in California. Bred pugs at his home.
  • Survived by cousins Tariq Marshall, 'Gina Loring' (qv), and Claude Marshall.
  • He received the NAACP Image Award for Best Actor and has been inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
  • There were originally more scenes of his character, Lt. Traxler, in _The Terminator (1984)_ (qv) that were cut to keep the film's pace moving but are now available on the special edition DVD from MGM. There were scenes that showed him and his partner in crime, played by 'Lance Henriksen' (qv), taking part in the chase sequence that ensues after the Tech Noir shoot out. The last two scenes took place in the police station that revealed that Traxler believed Reese, played by 'Michael Biehn' (qv), to be telling the truth--one taking place after the questioning of Reese and one where Reese and Sarah Connor, played by 'Linda Hamilton (I)' (qv) are about to escape from the police station during the Terminator's, played by 'Arnold Schwarzenegger' (qv)_ siege where Traxler gave Reese his gun and car keys.
  • He won an Emmy in 1995 for his portrayal of Judge Harold Nance on _"Picket Fences" (1992)_ (qv) (shown on October 7 & 14, 1994).
  • Bred and showed black pug dogs for several decades until his diabetes forced him to stop.

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