Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

James Tolbert, pioneering Hollywood lawyer and civil rights activist, dies at 86

by Take Two®

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Lawyer James Tolbert, shown in the 1960s, helped push Hollywood to integrate productions in the 1960s.

This morning, we're marking the passing of a Hollywood pioneer, whose name you've probably never heard. James Tolbert was an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles who called Red Fox, Lou Rawls and the Tuskegee Airmen were among his clients.

In the civil rights era, he set out to help integrate Hollywood behind the scenes. It was the summer of 1963 and Tolbert was the president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP. The organization chose a TV series, "Hazel" starring Shirley Booth as a rowdy, live-in maid, as a target to break the color barrier. 

For "Hazel," James Tolbert and the NAACP demanded that producers hire at least one black member of the technical staff, threatening sanctions against the show's sponsor, the Ford Motor Company. The campaign worked. 

At the same time, Tolbert also campaigned in the world of advertising, trying to convince Madison Avenue to stop ignoring African-Americans. James Tolbert founded a law firm, raised three children with his wife of 57 years, Marie. 

In later life, he suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and died last month at the age of 86.

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