Frank Alvin Silvera (July 24, 1914 – June 11, 1970) was a Jamaican-born American character actor and theatrical director. Silvera was known as "the man with a thousand faces" because of his ability to play a wide array of roles.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Boston, Silvera dropped out of law school in 1934 after winning his first stage role. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was active in numerous stage productions on and off Broadway and appeared in radio shows. Silvera made his film debut in 1952. Over the course of his 36-year career, he was cast in a wide variety of ethnic roles in film and television. Silvera also remained active in theatre. Silvera was nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award in 1963 for his role in The Lady of the Camellias. He founded The Theatre of Being, a Los Angeles theatre for black actors, in 1965. At the time of his death he had a recurring role in theNBC Western series The High Chaparral.
Silvera had been married to Anna Lillian Quarles with whom he had two children; they divorced in 1963. Silvera died June 11, 1970, after being electrocuted while he was attempting to fix the garbage disposal in his Pasadena home.
Silvera was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a Spanish Jewish father and Jamaican mother. His family emigrated to the United States when he was six-years old, settling inBoston. In his youth, Silvera became interested in acting and began performing in amateur groups and at church.
He attended English High School of Boston. Upon graduation, Silvera studied at Boston University and Northeastern Law School.
Silvera left Northeastern Law School in 1934 when he was cast in Paul Green's production of Roll Sweet Chariot. He joined the New England Repertory Theatre where he appeared in productions of MacBeth, Othello, and The Emperor Jones. He also worked at Federal Theatre and with the New Hampshire Repertory Theatre. In 1940, Silvera made hisBroadway debut in a small role in Big White Fog. His career was briefly interrupted when he joined the United States Navy in 1942 during World War II. Silvera was assigned toCamp Robert Smalls where he and Owen Dodson were put in charge of the entertainment. He also directed and acted in radio programs and appeared in USO shows. Silvera washonorably discharged in 1945. That same year, he joined the cast of Anna Lucasta. He also became a member of the Actors Studio.
In 1952, Silvera made his film debut in the western, The Cimarron Kid. Because of his light complexion, he was cast in a wide variety of ethnic roles in films and television. Later that same year, he was cast as Mexican General Victoriano Huerta in Viva Zapata!, starring Marlon Brando. The role marked the first time a major motion picture studio cast a non-white actor in the role of a non-white character. Silvera also portrayed the role in the stage production which opened at the Regent Theatre in New York City on February 28, 1952. He appeared in two films directed by Stanley Kubrick, Fear and Desire (1953) and Killer's Kiss (1955). In August 1955, he appeared on Broadway with Helen Hayes in the revival of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, which earned him favorable reviews. In November 1955, Silvera played John Pope, Sr., the Italian father of Ben Gazzara andAnthony Franciosa's characters on Broadway in Michael V. Gazzo's A Hatful of Rain (a role portrayed by Lloyd Nolan on screen). His performance was also praised by critics.
Silvera made guest appearances in numerous television series, mainly dramas and westerns, including Studio One in Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bat Masterson,Thriller, Riverboat, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, The Untouchables, and Bonanza. In 1962, he portrayed the role of Dr. Koslenko in The Twilight Zone episode "Person or Persons Unknown", opposite Richard Long. That same year, he played Minarii, a Polynesian man in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando. In 1963, Silvera was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance as Monsieur Duval in The Lady of the Camellias.
In 1964, Silvera and Vantile Whitfield founded The Theatre of Being, a Los Angeles-based theater dedicated to providing black actors with non-stereotypical roles. One of the theater's first projects was the production of The Amen Corner by the African-American writer James Baldwin. Silvera and Whitfield financed the play with their own money and donations from friends. It opened on March 4, 1964 and went on to gross $200,000 within a year. The play moved to Broadway in April 1965. The play's star, Bea Richards, won critical acclaim for her role.
For the remainder of the 1960s, Silvera continued his career in film and guest starring roles on television. In 1965, he appeared as the Biblical Magi Caspar in the epic film The Greatest Story Ever Told, In 1966, re-teamed with Marlon Brando for a third time in the Western The Appaloosa. The following year, he portrayed Nick Sorello in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, followed by guest roles on Dundee and the Culhane and The Wild Wild West. He also appeared as a Mexican bandit in the 1967 Martin Ritt Western classic,Hombre, based on the Elmore Leonard novel. In 1969, Silvera had a supporting role as Goatherd in Che!, and as Lobero in the Zapata Western Guns of the Magnificent Seven.
At the time of his death, he had a recurring role on the NBC western series The High Chaparral as the Mexican squire, Don Sebastian Montoya. Silvera's final film, Valdez Is Coming, was released posthumously in 1971.
Silvera married actress Anna Lillian Quarles in 1942. They met while appearing in a stage production of Stevedore. Quarles was the sister of historian and educator Benjamin Arthur Quarles. They had two children, Frank, Jr. and Linda, before divorcing in 1963.
On June 11, 1970, Silvera was electrocuted while attempting to repair the garbage disposal unit in his kitchen sink. Silvera was buried with military honors at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.
In 1973, Morgan Freeman, director/actress Billie Allen, and journalist Clayton Riley honored Silvera and his efforts to support African-American actors and playwrights by co-founding the Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop Foundation, Inc.
The organization still sponsors promising African-American playwrights. In 2005, the workshop was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg.