Arthur French, Original Negro Ensemble Company Member, Dies at 89

Obituaries   Arthur French, Original Negro Ensemble Company Member, Dies at 89
 
The performer appeared on Broadway in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Iceman Cometh, and more.
Arthur French_Obit Graphic_HR

Arthur French, the acclaimed actor who was one of the original members of Negro Ensemble Company, died July 24. He was 89.

Mr. French made his Broadway debut in Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death in 1971 (a revival is currently in the works) and remained a strong supporting player in productions up through A Trip to Bountiful in 2013. He was also the understudy for the role of Charley in the 1975 revival of Death of a Salesman, eventually stepping into the role full-time. He also appeared in The Iceman Cometh, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, You Can't Take It With You, and more.

Arthur French in <i>Driving Miss Daisy</i>
Arthur French in Driving Miss Daisy Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

In addition to his Main Stem credits, Mr. French was a frequent presence Off-Broadway, beginning in 1962 with Raisin’ Hell in the Son at Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village, followed by Day of Absence. The latter was the first production of the Negro Ensemble Company. Throughout this career, he starred in Driving Miss Daisy, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and Checkmates. The performer also directed and taught when not on stage.

In 2015, he received the Actors' Equity Foundation Paul Robeson Citation Award. Other accolades included an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance in 1997 and a Lucille Lortel Award in 2007 for his work in August Wilson's Two Trains Running.

Born November 6, 1931, in New York City, Arthur French graduated from Bronx High School of Science. As a student, he performed a piano recital at Carnegie Hall. He subsequently attended Brooklyn College.

After hoping to be a preacher, then a D.J., his start in the industry was a bit of a fluke—Mr. French found himself in the same building as the Dramatic Workshop and signed up for acting classes. Among his teachers were Peggy Feury, according to The New York Times.

Mr. French is survived by his son, Arthur W. French III, his daughter, Antonia Willow French, and two grandchildren.