JOHN E. BYRD BIO
I began studying and acting in theater at the age of 20 in New York City, acppearing in numerous Off-Broadway plays, and in productions by such theater companies as The Theatre for the New City, The Cosmos Players and The Theater Communication Group.I was a founding member of the fledgling Roundabout Theatre Company, acting in productions of King Lear, The Miser, Pelléas and Mélisande and the ILGWU production of Pins and Needles. I toured as Merlin in the Young Audiences production of Young King Arthur, and also appeared on Broadway in The Great White Hope starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.
Film credits include Sidney Lumet’s Network and Family Business, Robert Wise’s, Audrey Rose, Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry and Rob Reiner’s, Rumor Has It, starring Jennifer Aniston.
My many writing credits include the screenplay, Café Society, which tells the story of the first integrated nightclub in America where the careers of Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and scores of other Jazz and Blues luminaries were nurtured. The club's egalitarian owner, Barney Josephson, would suffer persecution from J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and would become a target of the House Un-American Activities Commission.
Among my screenplays, The Independent, chronicles the career of pioneer black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, a seminal figure in the history of black film who wrote, produced, directed and distributed over forty feature films between 1918-1948.
My recently revised play, Poles Apart, tells the remarkable story of Matthew Henson, who accompanied the Arctic explorer, Robert Peary, on his several attempts to reach the North Pole. Henson, an African-American, encounters hostility and suspicion for being elevated to the coveted position as Peary’s indispensable assistant. His friendship with Peary would later become strained due in large part to the perception that Henson, and not Peary, may have actually been the first to reach the Pole. Several stagings of Poles Apart have been produced in California and New York, including a recent concert-reading at LaMama Experimental Theatre Company Currently, I am writing Purging Purvis - (J.Edgar Hoover's 'devotion,' then envy and 'demotion' of Melvin Purvis).
My recent YA Fantasy/Adventure novel, Shelby and the Lost Boy of Misbegot Island is inspired by James M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," but set in 1970's Brooklyn with a backstory of African youths who escape from a Colonial slave ship and end up on a mysterous isle...where they remain forever young. .
I was commissioned by producer John Williams (Shrek) to write, Let the Good Times Roll, a biopic about rock 'n' roll pioneer, Louis Jordan, whose chart-topping hits were celebrated in the Broadway musical, Five Guys Named Moe.