Sunday, February 23, 2020

Carl Anderson in The Color Purple

Today is the 16th anniversary of the passing of singer and actor Carl Anderson.

Throughout February – the month of both his birth (on February 27, 1945) and death – Carl is being celebrated here at The Wild Reed.

This celebration continues today with the highlighting of Carl's role as Samuel in Steven Speilberg's 1985 film The Color Purple, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name by Alice Walker.

The Color Purple was Carl's third and final feature film. It followed 1973's Jesus Christ Superstar and 1977's The Black Pearl. The Color Purple was released the same year as Carl's album, Protocol (1985), which contains his minor hit, "Can't Stop This Feeling," and one year before his self-titled album which contains his greatest commercial success, “Friends and Lovers,” a duet with Gloria Loring.

Gentle, wise, and spiritually-mature

In Walker's novel, Samuel is a Christian minister who, along with his wife, Corrine, adopts the book's main character Celie’s biological children, Olivia and Adam.

Samuel is a gentle, wise, and spiritually-mature black intellectual committed to “the uplift of black people everywhere.” In a major development in the story, he takes Corrine, Nettie (Celie's younger sister), and Olivia and Adam to Africa for missionary work.

Here he later tells Nettie a story that makes her realize that the man she had believed was her biological father is actually her stepfather. After Corrine’s death, Samuel marries Nettie and the family travels back to Georgia to reunite with Celie.

Although he is listed as a main character in many study guides to the novel (see for instance here), Samuel in Speilberg's film has no lines of dialogue. Still, when it comes to embodying Samuel's travails, Carl manages to convey a compelling depth of emotion through his facial expressions and body language, ensuring that his scenes, though relatively brief, are definitely memorable.

The following about Samuel is excerpted from the website.

Alone of all the novel’s major male characters, Samuel is from the start an intelligent and sensible man who has a positive attitude towards women. He is a minister, although Walker does not tell us to which denomination of Christianity Samuel belongs. He is a compassionate man, which motivates his desire to be a missionary as well as his adoption of Olivia and Adam at the request of his acquaintance Alphonso. Generally wise and mature, Samuel is an educated man who is committed to improving the lives of all black people. When he becomes aware of his errors, such as his refusal to ‘interfere’ in Albert and Celie’s home life, he apologizes and seeks forgiveness.

As Nettie spends time with Samuel, she realizes that not all black men are aggressive, lustful and bent on dominating women, which had been her experience with Alphonso and “Mr____.”

. . . Along with Corinne, Samuel represents the well-meaning but ineffectual efforts of Westerners to impose their values on other people. Their expectations are shown to be naive and often unrealistic. [That being said] Samuel is far more accepting of tribal customs than previous missionaries such as those who made African women wear ‘Mother Hubbards,’ but ends up in despair at the way in which the Olinka tie Christianity in with the wider Western culture of economic prosperity and colonial oppression.

In Letter 80 Samuel finally breaks down, unable to hold together the tension of the good things his faith has motivated him to do and the reality of failure in so many areas. It is this soul-sharing that breaks Nettie’s boundary of friendship and admiration so that love can flourish between them. [Although] Samuel and Corinne . . . lack the dynamism of characters who figure in the primary narrative story line, Samuel [nevertheless] provides a useful contrast in attitude to the novel’s other black males.

Following are excerpts from Nettie's letters to Celie in Alice Walker's The Color Purple. These excerpts make reference to the character of Samuel, played by Carl Anderson in Steven Speilberg's 1985 film adaptation of Walker's novel.

Dear Celie,

. . . The lady you met in town is name Corrine. The little girl's name is Olivia. The husband's name is Samuel. The little boy's name is Adam. They are sanctified religious and very good to me. They live in a nice house next to the church where Samuel preaches, and we spend a lot of time on church business. I say "we" because they always try to include me in everything they do, so I don't feel so left out and alone.

. . . Corrine and Samuel and the children are part of a group of people called Missionaries, of the American and African Missionary Society. They have ministered to the Indians out west and are ministering to the poor of this town. All in preparation for the work they feel they were born for, missionary work in Africa.

[In a later letter, Nettie writes:] Samuel was born in the North, in New York, and grew up and was educated there. He met Corrine through his aunt who had been a missionary, along with Corrine's aunt, in the Belgian Congo. Samuel frequently accompanied his aunt Althea to Atlanta, where Corrine's aunt Theodosia lived.

Dear Celie,

. . . The reason I am in Africa is because one of the missionaries that was supposed to go with Corrine and Samuel to help with the children and with setting up a school suddenly married a man who was afraid to let her go, and refused to come to Africa with her. So there they were, all set to go, with a ticket suddenly available and no missionary to give it to. At the same time, I wasn't able to find a job anywhere around town. But I never dreamed of going to Africa! I never even thought about it as a real place, though Samuel and Corrine and even the children talked about it all the time.

. . . Corrine and Samuel have a wonderful marriage. Their only sorrow in the beginning was that they could not have children. And then, they say, "God" sent them Olivia and Adam.

I wanted to say, "God" has sent you their sister and aunt, but I didn't. Yes, their children, sent by "God" are your children, Celie. And they are being brought up in love, Christian charity and awareness of God. And now "God" has sent me to watch over them, to protest and cherish them. It is a miracle, isn't it? And no doubt impossible for you to believe.

But on the other hand, if you can believe I am in Africa, and I am, you can believe anything.

Dear Celie,

At first there was the faintest sound of movement in the forest. A kind of low humming. Then there was chopping and the sound of dragging. Then a scent, some days, of smoke. But now, after two months, during which I or the children or Corrine has been sick, all we hear is chopping and scraping and dragging. And every day we smell smoke.

Today one of the boys in my afternoon class burst out, as he entered, The road approaches! The road approaches! He had been hunting in the forest with his father and seen it.

Dear Celie,

. . . Well, the morning after the road was "finished" as far as the Olinka were concerned (after all, it had reached their village), what should we discover but that the roadbuilders were back at work. They have instructions to continue the road for another thirty miles! And to continue it on its present course right through the village of Olinka. By the time we were out of bed, the road was already being dug through Catherine's newly planted yam field. Of course the Olinka were up in arms. But the roadbuilders were literally up in arms. They had guns, Celie, with orders to shoot!

It was pitiful, Celie. The people felt so betrayed! They stood by helplessly – they really don't know how to fight, and rarely think of it since the old days of tribal wars – as their crops and their homes were destroyed. Yes. The roadbuilders didn't deviate an inch from the plan the headman was following. Every hut that lay in the proposed roadpath was leveled

And, Celie, our church, our school, my hut, all went down in a matter of hours.

Dearest Celie,

By now I expected to be home. Looking into your face and saying Celie, is it really you? I try to picture what the years have brought you in the way of weight and wrinkles – or how you fix your hair. From a skinny, hard little something I've become quite plump. And some of my hair is gray!

But Samuel tells me he loves me plump and graying.

Does this surprise you?

We were married last Fall in England where we tried to get relief for the Olinka from the churches and the Missionary Society.

. . . It did not seem hard for Samuel to talk about Corrine while we were in England. It wasn't hard for me to listen.

It all seems so improbable, he said. Here I am, an aging man whose dreams of helping people have been just that, dreams. How Corrine and I as children would have laughed at ourselves. TWENTY YEARS A FOOL OF THE WEST, OR MOUTH AND ROOFLEAF DISEASE: A TREATISE ON FUTILITY IN THE TROPICS, Etc. Etc. We failed so utterly, he said. We became as comical as Althea and Theodosia. I think her awareness of this fueled Corrine's sickness. She was far more intuitive than I. Her gifts for understanding people much greater. She used to say the Olinka resented us, but I wouldn't see it. But they do, you know.

No, I said, it isn't resentment, exactly. It really is indifference. Sometimes I feel our position is like that of flies on an elephant's hide.

I remember once, before Corrine and I were married, Samuel continued, Aunt Theodosia had one pf her at-homes. She had them every Thursday. She'd invited a lot of "serious young people" as she called them, and one of them was a young Harvard scholar named Edward. DuBoyce* was his last name, I think. Anyhow, Aunt Theodosia was going on about her African adventures, leading up to the time King Leopold of Belgium presented her with a medal. Well, Edward, or perhaps his name was Bill, was a very impatient sort. You saw it in his eyes, you could see it in the way he moved his body. He was never still. As Aunt Theodosia got closer to the part about her surprise and joy over receiving this medal – which validated her service as an exemplary missionary in the King's colony – DuBoyce's foot began to pat the floor rapidly and uncontrollably. Corrine and I looked at each other in alarm. Clearly this man had heard this tale before and was not prepared to endure it a second time.

Madame, he said, when Aunt Theodosia finished her story and flashed her famous medal around the room, do you realize King Leopold cut the hands off workers who, in the opinion of his plantation overseers, did not fulfill their rubber quota? Rather than cherish that medal, Madame, you should regard it as a symbol of your unwitting complicity with this despot who worked to death and brutalized and eventually exterminated thousands and thousands of African peoples.

Well, said Samuel, silence struck the gathering like a blight. Poor Aunt Theodosia! There's something in all of us that wants a medal for what we have done. That wants to be appreciated. And Africans certainly don't deal in medals. They hardly seem to care whether missionaries exist.

Don't be bitter, I said.

How can I not? he said.

The Africans never asked us to come, you know. There's no use blaming them if we feel unwelcome.

It's worse than unwelcome, said Samuel. The Africans don't even see us. They don't recognize us as the brothers and sisters they sold.

Oh, Samuel, I said. Don't.

But you know, he had started to cry. Oh, Nettie, he said. That's the heart of it, don't you see. We love them. We try every way we can to show that love. But they reject us. They never even listen to how we've suffered. And if they listen they say stupid things. Why don't you speak our language? they ask. Why can't you remember the old ways? Why aren't you happy in America, if everyone there drives motorcars?

Celie, it seemed as good a time as any to put my arms around him. Which I did. And words long buried in my heart crept to my lips. I stroked his dear head and face and I called him darling and dear. And I'm afraid, dear, dear Celie, that concern and passion soon ran away with us.

I hope when you receive this news of your sister's forward behavior you will not be shocked or inclined to judge me harshly. Especially when I tell you what a total joy it was. I was transported by ecstasy in Samuel's arms.

You may have guess that I loved him all along; but I did not know it. Oh, I loved him as a brother and respected him as a friend, but Celie, I love him bodily, as a man! I love his walk, his size, his shape, his smell,the kinkiness of his hair. I love the very texture of his palms. The pink of his inner lip. I love his big nose. I love his brows. I love his feet. And I love his dear eyes in which the vulnerability and beauty of his soul can be plainly read.

I think it's a pity that none of the beauty and passion of Nettie and Samuel's relationship ended up being depicted in Speilberg's adaptation of The Color Purple. Indeed, even with Samuel's inclusion in the film's final scene of Celie and Nettie's reunion, there is actually nothing that indicates that he is now Nettie's husband. Still, I'm glad that he (and thus Carl) is part of this powerful scene.

Dear Celie,

God is different to us now, after all these years in Africa. More spirit than ever before, and more internal. Most people think he has to look like something or someone – a roofleaf or Christ – but we don't. And not being tied to what God looks like, frees us.

When we return to America we must have long talks about this, Celie. And perhaps Samuel and I will found a new church in our community that has no idols in it whatsoever, in which each person's spirit is encouraged to seek God directly, his belief that this is possible strengthened by us as people who also believe.


* The following analysis of the man named "DuBoyce" in The Color Purple is from commentary of Letters 80-81.

The mention of "DuBoyce" in this letter is important. Nettie is actually discussing the great black American sociologist, philosopher, and civil rights leader, W. E. B. Du Bois, who was born in 1868 and died in 1963 in Ghana, West Africa. As a noted scholar, he tried to create an appreciation of black Americans, and he was instrumental in founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He and Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, had a heated debate over the method by which blacks should advance. Washington stressed a practical economic freedom that would in time lead to a political and cultural freedom. Washington wanted blacks to get jobs as postal workers, carpenters, and repairmen. On the other hand, Du Bois wanted blacks to aspire to become professionals. His Harvard education made him fiercely defend the position that knowledge was the most important thing a man could acquire.

Walker presents Du Bois accurately in The Color Purple because he certainly would have been appalled at Aunt Theodosia's ignorance. He was a very austere, serious, and self-righteous man.

NEXT: Carl Anderson: “Let the Music Play!”

For previous installments in The Wild Reed's February 2020 Celebration of Carl Anderson, see:
Carl Anderson: On and On
Carl Anderson and The Black Pearl

The Wild Reed's February 2019 Celebration of Carl Anderson:
Remembering and Celebrating Carl Anderson
Carl Anderson: “Pure Quality”
Carl Anderson's Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar: “The Gold Standard”
Carl Anderson's Judas: “A Two-Dimensional Popular Villain Turned Into a Complex Human Being”
Carl Anderson: “Artist and Vocalist Extraordinaire”
Playbill Remembers Carl
Remembering the Life of Carl Anderson: “There Was So Much Love”

For more of Carl at The Wild Reed, see:
Carl Anderson: “Like a Song in the Night”
Carl Anderson: “One of the Most Enjoyable Male Vocalists of His Era”
With Love Inside
Carl Anderson
Acts of Love . . . Carl's and Mine
Introducing . . . the Carl Anderson Appreciation Group
Forbidden Lover
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)

Related Off-site Links:
A Profile of Carl Anderson – Part I: A Broadway Legend with Lynchburg Roots – Holly Phelps (, May 12, 2015)
A Profile of Carl Anderson – Part II: The Legend Lives On – Holly Phelps (,June 10, 2015)
Carl Anderson – Jazz Legend: The Official Website
Carl Anderson Memorial Page
Carl Anderson at – Ron Wynn (
Carl Anderson Biography – Chris Rizik (Soul Tracks)

No comments: