BELL, NOLAN D. (7 July 1920-26 Feb. 1976), a veteran of the Karamu Theater, was one of the best nonprofessional actors/comedians in America. He worked full-time for the Cleveland Sanitation Dept. to support his wife, Viola, and their 7 children (Robert, Charles, Nolan, Russell, Rowena, Denise, and Caree), while acting in more than 200 plays. Born in Gary, Ind., to Edward and Marie (Westbrook) Bell, his family moved to Cleveland where Bell appeared in his first production with the Karamu Children's Theater in 1926. A graduate of CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL, in 1935, Bell and a friend, Joseph Singleton, won roles on radio station WGAR portraying "Pin and Willie." After 2 years at the City College of Indiana and 1 and 1/2 years at Indiana University, Bell served in the Army from 1940-1946, studying for a year at the University of Manila. In 1946, Bell resumed his acting career at KARAMU HOUSE, starring in many LANGSTON HUGHES productions, he also performed operatic roles, and appeared at the MUSICARNIVAL in Cleveland and Florida, the DOBAMA THEATER, and the Chagrin Valley Little Theater. Talent scouts from Hollywood and New York tried to lure him, but Bell preferred sharing his talents within his own community. In 1968 he became the first African-American to join the regular staff at the CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE and was honored with a listing in Who's Who in America; he was the only actor/garbage collector to be so listed. In 1972 he starred in an episode of the television series Maude. Bell died at his home in CLEVELAND HTS. and was buried in Highland Park Cemetery.

Cleveland Public Library Logo

View image at Cleveland Public Library

View photo gallery at Cleveland Public Library 


Article Categories