Brock Peters (born George Fisher; July 2, 1927 – August 23, 2005) was an American actor and singer, best known for playing the role of Tom Robinson in the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird and for his role as the villainous "Crown" in the 1959 film version of Porgy and Bess. In later years, he gained recurring roles in the Star Trek franchise portraying Starfleet Admiral Cartwright in two of the Star Trek feature films and Joseph Sisko, father of Benjamin Sisko, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He also was known for his participation in the another media franchise, Star Wars, for playing the role of Darth Vader in the original trilogy radio drama adaptations. He also performed the role of Hatcher in Soylent Green.
Peters was born George Fisher in New York City, the son of Alma A. (née Norford) and Sonnie Fisher, a Senegalese sailor with the French Navy. Peters set his sights on a show business career early on, at the age of 10. Avidly encouraged by his mother Alma to pursue a musical career, he studied the violin from 10 to 14 years of age, but he found out that his singing talents were more prodigious and upon enrolling at New York's famed High School of Music & Art, he immediately signed up for several productions in its musical theatre program. Upon graduation, Peters initially fielded more odd jobs than acting jobs, often working as a hospital orderly at night while he worked his way through physical education studies at the City College of New York (CCNY), but he still stayed connected to the burgeoning theatre and creative community in New York, occasionally doing background parts in musical plays like "Black Aida".
After auditioning and landing a spot touring with the Leonard DePaur Infantry Chorus (of which he was a civilian member from 1945 to 1947), however, he officially quit CCNY. Peters often joked that he "grew up" in the chorus, because his vocal range changed from baritone to bass baritone during his years with them. DePaur subsequently gave him the lead in the Chorus' popular rendition of "John Henry" (which became a repertoire mainstay of Peters in later years, singing the work on one of his two solo albums which was produced by United Artists Records in the 1960s).
Peters at that time with the Chorus was still performing under the name of George Fisher, but he was encouraged to change it to something a bit more memorable by his agent. The future African American entrepreneur Peter Brock was a childhood friend and because he had always liked the name, Peters merely switched the order of it and presented the idea to his agent.
After auditioning and landing a stage role in the touring company of Porgy and Bess in 1949 on the great contralto Etta Moten's suggestion, he went on tour with the opera, where the opera's statesman as Porgy, William Warfield, commended his performances and requested that Peters be his understudy. It was during this time while he was touring in Europe with the opera that the celebrated African American actor-singer-activist Paul Robeson saw him in his career-defining role as "Crown" and purportedly declared that he was "a young Paul Robeson".
Peters made his film debut in Carmen Jones in 1954, but began to make a name for himself in such films as To Kill a Mockingbird and The L-Shaped Room. He received a Tony nomination for his starring stint in Broadway's Lost in the Stars.
Peters sang background vocals on the 1956 hit "Day-O" by Harry Belafonte, as well as on Belafonte's 1957 hit, "Mama Look at Bubu". He led the chorus at recording sessions for Belafonte's iconic 1956 album Calypso. He also sang on the song "Where" from Randy Weston's 1959 album Live at the Five Spot and shared vocal duties with Martha Flowers on Weston's album of the following year, Uhuru Afrika. During this time, Peters and Belafonte became close friends, sharing similar political views and approaches to their careers. In 1963, he played Matthew Robinson in Heavens Above!, a British satirical-comedy film starring Peter Sellers, directed by John and Roy Boulting. He played a supporting role as the gangster Rodriguez in the 1964 film, The Pawnbroker, one of the first confirmed homosexual characters in an American film. He played “Jesse” in a 1972 episode of Gunsmoke. He was a special guest star in the third season of The Streets of San Francisco, playing the character "Jacob" in the episode called "Jacob's Boy" (1974).
In the film Abe Lincoln, Freedom Fighter (1978), Peters plays Henry, a freed black slave who is falsely accused of robbery but, defended by Abraham Lincoln, is found not guilty due to the fact he has a damaged hand and could not have committed the crime. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Peters plays Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white girl, a crime Atticus Finch shows he could not have committed because his left hand (and arm) were damaged. In 1970 Peters portrayed the voice of African-American boxer Jack Johnson in Bill Cayton's film of the same name, and it is in this role that he can be heard at the end of Miles Davis' soundtrack album, Jack Johnson, saying: "I'm Jack Johnson. Heavyweight champion of the world. I'm black. They never let me forget it. I'm black, all right. I'll never let them forget it."
Between 1981 and 1996, Peters lent his bass voice of Darth Vader for the radio adaptations of the first three Star Wars films for National Public Radio. He also played the role of a Colonial prosecutor trying to make a murder case against Starbuck in an episode of the original Battlestar Galactica.
He appeared in the films Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as Fleet Admiral Cartwright of Starfleet Command. Peters portrayed Joseph Sisko, father of Deep Space Nine's commanding officer, Benjamin Sisko, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In 1993, he was a member of the jury at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival. In early 2005, six months before his death, Peters guest-starred in an episode of JAG during its final season, "Bridging the Gulf", season 10 episode 15. Peters worked with Charlton Heston on several theater productions in the 1940s and 1950s. The two became friends and subsequently worked together on several films, including Major Dundee, Soylent Green, and Two-Minute Warning. He voiced Lucius Fox in several episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and Morris Grant/Soul Power in the animated series Static Shock (2000–2004).
Personal life and death
Peters was once romantically involved with actress Ja'net Dubois. Peters was married to Dolores 'DiDi' Daniels from 1961 until her death in 1989. Their daughter Lisa Jo Peters was born November 3, 1962. Peters delivered the eulogy at Gregory Peck's funeral in 2003. His character, Tom Robinson, was defended by Peck's Atticus Finch in 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird. He died in Los Angeles from complications from pancreatic cancer on August 23, 2005, at the age of 78. Peters is buried in the Revelation section at Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn Cemetery, in Los Angeles, CA.
- Carmen Jones (1954) – Sergeant Brown
- Porgy and Bess (1959) – Crown
- The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1960, TV Movie)
- The L-Shaped Room (1962) – Johnny
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Tom Robinson
- Heavens Above! (1963) – Matthew Robinson
- The Pawnbroker (1964) – Rodriguez
- Major Dundee (1965) – Aesop
- The Incident (1967) – Arnold Robinson
- PJ (1968) – Waterpark
- Daring Game (1968) – Jonah
- Ace High (1968) – Thomas
- Mannix (1970) - Sonny Carter
- The McMasters (1970) – Benjie
- Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol (1972, TV Movie) – Berdahl
- Black Girl (1972) – Earl
- Soylent Green (1973) – Lieutenant Hatcher
- Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973) – Reynolds
- Pomroy's People (1973, TV Movie) – Rev. Pomroy
- Lost in the Stars (1974) – Reverend Stephen Kumalo
- Framed (1975) – Sam Perry
- Two-Minute Warning (1976) – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum security chief Paul
- SST: Death Flight (1977, TV Movie) – Dr. Therman
- The Million Dollar Dixie Deliverance (1978, TV Movie) – Zechariah
- Abe Lincoln: Freedom Fighter (1978) – Henry
- The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel (1979, TV Movie) – Joe
- A Bond of Iron (1979, TV Movie)
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1981, TV Movie) – Jim
- A House Divided: Denmark Vessey's Rebellion (1982, TV Movie)
- A Caribbean Mystery (1983, TV Movie) – Dr. Graham
- Samson and Delilah (1986, animated short) – (voice)
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) – Fleet Admiral Cartwright
- Broken Angel (1988, TV Movie) – Sgt. Mercurio
- To Heal a Nation (1988, TV Movie) – Paul Turner
- Polly (1989, TV Movie) – Mr. Pendergast
- The Great Los Angeles Earthquake (1990, TV Movie) – David Motubu
- Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) – Chief Speed
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) – Fleet Admiral Cartwright
- Highway Heartbreaker (1992, TV Movie) – Bert Quinn
- The Secret (1992, TV Movie) – Thurgood "Uncle T." Carver III
- The Importance of Being Earnest (1992) – Doctor Chasuble
- You Must Remember This (1992, TV Movie) – Gus
- Cosmic Slop (1994, TV Movie) – Minister Coombs
- An Element of Truth (1995, TV Movie)
- Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) – Walter Williams
- Believe (1996, Short)
- Two Weeks from Sunday (1997, Short)
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1995-1998, TVshow) - Joseph Sisko
- Park Day (1998) – Heseeit Turner
- Samurai Jack -Jack, the Woolies and the Chritchellites (2001) - Lazzor (voice)
- The Last Place on Earth (2002) – Jack Field
- 10,000 Black Men Named George (2002, TV Movie) – Leon Frey
- No Prom for Cindy (2002, Short) – Doctor
- The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002) – Jomo (voice)
- The Locket (2002, TV Movie) – Henry McCord
Other notable performances
- Runaway slave Pompey in "Daniel Boone" episode "Pompey" (12-10-64)
- Nat Turner in The Original Confessions of Nat Turner As Made to T.R. Gray, November 1, 1831, LP, CMS Records (1968)
- Phinn Harper in Rawhide episode "The Spanish Camp" (5-7-65)
- Stephen Kumalo in Kurt Weill & Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars (stage revival and 1974 film version) – nominated for a Tony Award
- Sergeant Rollins in the TV miniseries Seventh Avenue
- The Reverend Canon Frederick Chasuble, DD in an all-black film version of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1992)
- Darth Vader in the Star Wars radio series
- The Ogre in the Faerie Tale Theatre episode "Puss in Boots"
- Detective Frank Lewis in The Young and the Restless
- Lucius Fox in Batman: The Animated Series
- Joseph Sisko, Benjamin Sisko's father, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
- Dark Kat in SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron
- Bloth in The Pirates of Dark Water
- Tormack in Galtar and the Golden Lance
- Boneyard in Gravedale High
- Voice-acting performance as the boxer Jack Johnson on the Miles Davis album A Tribute to Jack Johnson
- Ex-Union soldier Lemuel Stove in The Loner episode "The Homecoming of Lemuel Stove"
- Mel Watkins (August 24, 2005). "Brock Peters of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Is Dead at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
Brock Peters, the versatile film and stage actor, singer and producer who first rose to prominence in the [1960s and 1970s] with his powerful singing voice and poignant screen portrayals of angry, belligerent black men, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 78. The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, his companion, Marilyn Darby, told The Associated Press. ...
- "Brock Peters Biography (1927–2005)". Filmreference.com.
- Byron, Stuart (August 9, 1967). "Homo Theme 'Breakthrough'". Variety. p. 7.
- Robb, Brian J. (2012). A Brief Guide to Star Wars. London: Hachette. ISBN 9781780335834. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
- "Brock Peters Biography". StarTrek.com. CBS Studios. Retrieved October 8, 2008.
- "Berlinale: 1993 Juries". berlinale.de. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
- "Brock Peters". August 24, 2005 – via Los Angeles Times.
- "Brock Peters Performer". Los Angeles Philharmonic. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
- "Anni SAG Award To Brock Peters". Daily Variety. November 1, 1990. p. 1.
- "NOMINEES & RECIPIENTS". Screen Actors Guild Awards. Retrieved November 20, 2021.
- JET Magazine – November 12, 1959
- Rubin, Joel; Hoffman, Alice (June 17, 2003). "Peck Memorial Honors Beloved Actor and Man". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
- McLaughlin, Katie (February 3, 2012). "'Mockingbird' film at 50: Lessons on tolerance, justice, fatherhood hold true". CNN. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
- "Brock Peters Is Chosen For Role in 'Pawnbroker'". The New York Times. September 24, 1963. Retrieved January 29, 2015.