Juano Hernández (July 19, 1896 – July 17, 1970) was a Puerto Rican stage and film actor of African descent who was a pioneer in the African American film industry. He made his debut in an Oscar Micheaux film, The Girl from Chicago, which was directed at black audiences. Hernández also performed in a series of dramatic roles in mainstream Hollywood movies. His participation in the film Intruder in the Dust earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination for "New Star of the Year". Upon his semi-retirement, he returned to Puerto Rico, his homeland, where he intended to make a film based on the life of Sixto Escobar.
Hernández (birth name: Juan G. Hernández) was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico to a Puerto Rican father and a Brazilian mother. With no formal education, he worked as a sailor and settled in Rio de Janeiro. He was hired by a circus and become an entertainer, making his first appearance as an acrobat in Rio de Janeiro in 1922. He later lived in the Caribbean and made his living as a professional boxer, fighting under the name Kid Curley.
Vaudeville and the stage
In New York City, he worked in vaudeville and minstrel shows, sang in a church choir and was a radio script writer. During his spare time he perfected his diction by studying Shakespeare thus, enabling himself to work in the radio. He co-starred in radio's first all-black soap opera We Love and Learn. He also participated in the following radio shows: Mandrake the Magician (opposite Raymond Edward Johnson and Jessica Tandy), The Shadow, Tennessee Jed, and Against the Storm. He became a household name after his participation in The Cavalcade of America, a series which promoted American history and inventiveness. He appeared in the Broadway shows Strange Fruit and Set My People Free. His Broadway debut was in the chorus of the 1927 musical production Showboat.
Juano Hernández as Uncle Famous Prill in Stars in My Crown
Hernández appeared in 23 films throughout his career. His first films were small roles in films produced by Oscar Micheaux, who made race films for black audiences. His film debut was a Micheaux film, The Girl from Chicago (1932), in which he was cast as a Cuban racketeer.
In 1949, he acted in his first mainstream film, based on William Faulkner's novel, Intruder in the Dust, in which he played the role of "Lucas Beauchamp", a poor Southern sharecropper unjustly accused of murder. The film earned him a Golden Globe nomination for "New Star of the Year". The film was listed as one of the ten best of the year by the New York Times. Faulkner said of the film: "I'm not much of a moviegoer, but I did see that one. I thought it was a fine job. That Juano Hernandez is a fine actor--and man, too."
Film historian Donald Bogle said that Intruder in the Dust broke new ground in the cinematic portrayal of blacks, and Hernandez's "performance and extraordinary presence still rank above that of almost any other black actor to appear in an American movie."
In the 1950 western Stars In My Crown, directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Joel McCrea, Hernández plays a freed slave who refuses to sell his land and faces an angry lynch mob.
He was singled out for praise for his performance in the 1950 film The Breaking Point with John Garfield. The New York Times called his performance "quietly magnificent."
He also received favorable notices for his performances in Trial (1955), about a politically charged court case, in which he played the judge, and Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker (1965).
Over the years, Hernández made guest appearances on a dozen U.S. network television programs, appearing three times in 1960 and 1961 on the ABC series, Adventures in Paradise, starringGardner McKay. In 1959, he starred in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents production of the Ambrose Bierce short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge".
Other television shows in which Hernandez appeared were Naked City, The Defenders, The Dick Powell Show and Studio One.
Hernández returned to Puerto Rico late in his life. Together with Julio Torregrosa he wrote a script for a movie about the life of Puerto Rico's first boxing champion, Sixto Escobar. He was unable to get funding in Puerto Rico and therefore he translated the script into English. He sent it to several companies in Hollywood and had it almost sold at the time of his death. In the last two years of his life he appeared in three films, The Extraordinary Seaman (1969) with David Niven, The Reivers (1969) with Steve McQueen, and They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970) with Sidney Poitier.
He died in San Juan on July 17, 1970 of a cerebral hemorrhage and was interred at Cementerio Buxeda Memorial Park, Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.