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December 23, 2022

Portrait Photos of Billy Dee Williams Taken by Carl Van Vechten in 1963

Born 1937 in New York City, American actor Billy Dee Williams made his Broadway theatre debut at age seven in The Firebrand of Florence. He later graduated from The High School of Music & Art, then won a painting scholarship to the National Academy of Fine Arts and Design, where he won a Hallgarten Prize for painting in the mid-1950s. To fund his art supplies he returned to acting, including stage, films, and television. He continued painting; his work has since been shown in galleries and collections worldwide.

Williams’ film debut was in The Last Angry Man (1959), but he came to national attention in the television movie Brian’s Song (1971), which earned him an Emmy nomination for Best Actor. He has appeared in at least 70 films over six decades including critically acclaimed and popular movies such as Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and Mahogany (1975), both starring Williams paired with Diana Ross, and Nighthawks (1981).

In the 1980s, Williams was cast in his most enduring role as Lando Calrissian, becoming the first actor of black/African descent with a major on-screen role in the Star Wars franchise, in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). He was inducted into the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame in 1984, and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1985.

These vintage photos were taken by Carl Van Vechten that show portraits of a young Billy Dee Williams as The Boy in the Broadway play A Taste of Honey on January 29, 1963.


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