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Greg Nwoko Historic Blog

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Orlando Martins (1899–1985) was a pioneering black actor in film and on stage

Orlando Martins (1899–1985) was a pioneering black actor in film and on stage. In the late 1940s, he was one of England's most prominent and leading black actors,[1] and in a poll conducted in 1947, he was listed among England's top 15 favorite actors.




Martins was born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a civil servant Brazilian father. He was related to the Benjamin Epega family. During World War I he served as a stoker on the RMS Mauretania to avenge German cruelty to his family.

Following the end of the war, he moved to England: on arrival in 1919 he joined Sanger's Circus and started his performing career in the chorus. He also worked as a wrestler (known as "Black Butcher Johnson")

In 1920, Martins was an extra acting with the Diaghilev ballet company, and was on the tour with the British company of Show Boat as a professional singer. He was an extra in silent films, having made his debut in If Youth But Knew. In the 1930s he went into acting on the London stage, starring in among other things, Toussaint L'Ouverture, a 1936 play by C.L.R. James that starred the legendary Paul Robeson. Martins also featured with Robeson in the 1935 film Sanders of the River and Men of Two Worlds (1946) alongside Robert Adams.

Martins died at the age of 85 in Lagos,Nigeria and was buried at Ikoyi cemetery.

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