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Interview and Review Harry Belafonte Actor, singer, humanitarian. Born Harold George Belafonte, Jr. on March 1, 1927 in Harlem, New York. After spending much of his childhood in his mother’s native Jamaica, Belafonte returned to the U.S. and enlisted in the Navy. He then moved to New York City to become an actor, performing with the American Negro Theatre and studying drama at Erwin Piscator’s Dramatic Workshop.
Belafonte’s first opportunities to perform were in cabarets, which soon landed him in the recording studio where he produced pop and then folk and world music. Though he won a Tony Award in 1954 for his Broadway performance in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, it wasn’t until his lead role in the film Carmen Jones that Belafonte became a bona fide star. His musical efforts benefited from his celebrity, with subsequent albums Belafonte and Calypso leaping to number one, the latter launching a nationwide craze for a form of Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad.
Belafonte’s fame also enabled him to take on riskier roles on the big screen, including Island in the Sun and Odds Against Tomorrow, which explored racial boundaries. In addition, he became television’s first black producer, winning an Emmy for his special Tonight with Harry Belafonte.
Though he continued to record throughout the 1960s and 1970s, his commercial glow was diminishing, and Belafonte began to put more energy into civil rights and humanitarian work. He was a leader in the USA for Africa effort in 1985, singing on the hit 1985 single “We Are the World,” and he became UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador in 1986. Though frustrated with Hollywood, Belafonte continued to appear in films throughout the 1990s, including Kansas City and Swing Vote.
Belafonte was married to Marguerite Byrd until 1957; they have two daughters. He married Julie Robinson in 1957, they have a son, David, and a daughter, Gina.
REVIEW David Margolick is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he has worked since 1996. He covers culture and politics, and his recent subjects have included the retired generals who called for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation; profiles of both Jack Abramoff and Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case; and an examination of Hamas in Gaza. Prior to coming to Vanity Fair, he was the national Legal Affairs editor at the New York Times, where he wrote the weekly “At the Bar” column and covered the trials of O.J. Simpson, Lorena Bobbitt, and William Kennedy Smith.
Mr. Margolick, a graduate of the University of Michigan and Stanford Law School, is the author, most recently of Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and A World on the Brink, published by Knopf in 2005.