Graham Greene Facts
A film actor who has found success in both Canada and the United States, Graham Greene (born 1952) is a full-blood Oneida, born on the Six Nations Reserve in southwestern Ontario in the early 1950s.
Graham Greene, one of the most visible Native American actors working on the stage and in film today, is probably best known for his roles in the popular films Dances with Wolves and Thunderheart. Greene was the second of six children born on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario, to John, an ambulance driver and maintenance man, and Lillian Greene. At the age of 16, Greene dropped out of school and went to Rochester, New York, where he worked at a carpet warehouse. Two years later he studied welding at George Brown College in Toronto, then worked at a Hamilton factory, building railway cars. In the 1970s Greene worked as a roadie and sound man for Toronto rock bands and ran a recording studio in Ancaster, Ontario. He has also worked as a high-steelworker, landscape gardener, factory laborer, carpenter, and bartender.
Greene took his first acting role (a Native American) in 1974 as part of the now-defunct Toronto theater company, Ne'er-Do-Well Thespians. In 1980 he played a Native American alcoholic in The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson, and in the 1982 theater production of Jessica, co-authored by Linda Griffiths, he played the role of The Crow. In the 1980s Greene worked with the Theatre Passe Muraille, acting in an "irreverent set of plays, The History of the Village of the Small Huts." When not acting, he welded sets and worked lights.
The first film role Greene took came in 1982 in the movie Running Brave; he played a friend of Native American track star Billy Mills. Two years later, in 1984, Greene played a Huron extra in Revolution, a movie about the U.S. War of Independence which was shot in England and starred Al Pacino. In the meantime, Greene had a daughter by Toronto actress Carol Lazare in 1981. The death of his father in 1984, however, started what Greene described in a Maclean's interview with Brian D. Johnson as a "period of fast cars and guns." Moving to the country around the same time, Greene found himself out of work and selling hand-painted t-shirts in Toronto by 1988.
Events took another upward turn in 1989 when Greene played a cameo role as Jimmy, an emotionally disturbed Lakota Vietnam veteran, in PowWow Highway. That same year he received the Dora Mavor Moore Award of Toronto for Best Actor in his role as Pierre St. Pierre in Cree author Tomson Highway's play Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.
Lands Key Role in Dances with Wolves
Greene's largest film success came with the 1990 production of Dances with Wolves; the role of Kicking Bird, a Lakota holy man who befriends Kevin Costner, brought Greene an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1991. And Greene's personal life moved forward at the same time. While shooting Dances with Wolves, he married Hilary Blackmore, a Toronto stage manager. As his film career took off, Greene continued his theater work, playing "a toothless, beer-guzzling Indian buffoon" in an all-native cast of Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. Television also came into the picture in 1990 when Greene played a Navajo lawyer in "L.A. Law," and Leonard, a Native American shaman, on the series "Northern Exposure."
Apart from his supporting role in Dances with Wolves, and his brief cameo appearance in PowWow Highway, Greene is probably most popular for his role as the mystical, murderous, Native activist Arthur in the 1991 Canadian movie Clearcut, based on Toronto writer M. T. Kelly's novel A Dream Like Mine. Two other movie roles that display Greene's acting talents were undertaken by the actor in 1992: the role of Ishi, the last Native American in California to live completely apart from U.S.-Anglo culture, in the made-for-television movie The Last of His Tribe; and the role of Lakota tribal policeman Walter Crow Horse in Thunderheart, a drama loosely based on events in Oglala, South Dakota, in which two FBI agents were shot and killed.
Also among Greene's more recent works is the 1991 adventure movie Lost in the Barrens; the role of a baseball catcher in the 1992 TNT movie Cooperstown with Alan Arkin; the role of an Anishinabe/Ojibway grandfather living on the reservation in the made-for-television children's movie Wonder Works Spirit Rider; the Native mentor in Huck and the King of Hearts-a loose and modern adaptation of the adventures of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn; a local sheriff in the movie Benefit of the Doubt with Donald Sutherland; and a role in the film Maverick with Mel Gibson, Jody Foster, and James Garner.
Greene's future is also full. He appears in the movie of Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water, and in the television movie The Broken Chain with other Native actors Wes Studi, Eric Schweig, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman. Overall, Greene has had roles in over 13 stage performances and more than 30 movie and television productions.
The works of the English novelist and dramatist Graham Greene (1904-1991) explore different permutations of morality and amorality in modern society, and often feature exotic settings in different parts of the world. A storyteller with a spare and elegant style, he divided his literary output into two categories. The first identified his long, serious works as "novels", while the second, which he called "entertainments", were shorter, taut-paced political thrillers with boldly-defined characters designed to satisfy the reader whose main concern is plot rather than theme. He also wrote screenplays and dramas, but they have not stood the test of time as steadfastly as his fiction, which has been translated into 27 languages.
Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, in England. He was one of six children born to Charles Henry Greene, headmaster of Berkhamsted School, and Marion R. Greene. He did not enjoy his childhood, often preferring to skip classes rather than endure the baiting of his fellow students. When Greene suffered a mental collapse, his parents sent him to London for psychotherapy administered by a student of the famous Sigmund Freud. While he was living there, he became a voracious reader and began to write poetry. Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein became lifelong mentors to him before he returned to high school.
After graduating in 1922, Greene went on to Oxford University's Balliol College. When he was a junior in 1924, he contacted the German embassy and offered to write some pro-German articles for an Oxford paper. Intrigued, an embassy official accepted his offer, and sent him on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Rhineland, where Germany and France were vying for superiority in the creation of a separatist republic. As promised, Greene returned from Germany and wrote an article favoring Germany in the Oxford Chronicle of May 9, 1924.
His next attempt to enliven his studies brought him to a flirtation with the Communist party, which he abandoned after a mere six weeks, though he later wrote sympathetic profiles of Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh. Otherwise, Greene spent his vacations at Oxford roaming the English countryside. Despite all these efforts to distract himself from his studies, he graduated from Oxford in 1925 with a second-class pass in history, and a slender, badly-received volume of poetry with the effusive title Babbling April.
The following year Greene decided to convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, the religion of his fiancee. The shift brought him a new perspective in his search for the origins of human morality and amorality.
The same year he began his professional writing career as an unpaid apprentice for the Nottingham Journal, moving on later to become a subeditor for the London Times. The experience was a positive one for him, and he held this position until the publication of his first novel, The Man Within (1929). Here he began to develop the characteristic themes he later pursued so effectively: betrayal, pursuit, and the yearning for death.
His next works, Name of Action (1931) and Rumour at Nightfall (1931), were not well-received by critics, but Greene regained their respect with the first book he classed as an entertainment. Called Stamboul Train in England, it was published in 1932 in the United States as Orient Express. The story revolves around a group of travelers on the Orient Express, a setting mysterious enough to permit a large helping of melodrama and grotesque character-building. Journey without Maps, published in 1936, was a travelogue, detailing Greene's fascination with the lush and decadent outposts of colonization.
Twelve years after his conversion, Greene published Brighton Rock (1938), a novel with a highly melodramatic plot full of sexual and violent imagery that explored the interplay between abnormal behavior and morality.
The entertainment The Confidential Agent was published in 1939, as was the work The Lawless Roads, a journal of Greene's travels in Mexico in 1938. Here he had seen widespread persecution of Catholic priests, which he documented in his journal along with a description of a drunken priest's execution. The incident made such an impression upon him that this victim became the hero of The Power and the Glory, the novel considered by Greene to be his best.
During the years of World War II Greene slipped out of England and went to West Africa to do some clandestine intelligence work for the British Government. The result, a novel called The Heart of the Matter appeared in 1948, and greatly appealed to American readers.
Steadily, Greene produced a succession of works that received both praise and crtiticism. He was considered for the Nobel Prize but failed to become a candidate. Still, many other honors were bestowed upon him, including a 1966 accolade from Queen Elizabeth as a Companion of Honor, and the Order of Merit, a much higher honor, in 1986.
In 1979 Greene underwent surgery for intestinal cancer, but had no lasting ill-effects. However, in 1990, he was stricken with an unspecified blood disease so debilitating that he decided to move from his home in Antibes, the South of France, to Vevey, Switzerland, so that he could be closer to his daughter. He lingered until the beginning of spring, then died on April 3rd, 1991, in La Povidence Hospital.
Further Reading on Graham Greene
Full-length studies of Greene include John A. Atkins, Graham Greene (1957; rev. ed. 1966); Francis L. Kunkel, The Labyrinthine Ways of Graham Greene (1959); Lynette Kohn, Graham Greene, The Major Novels (1961); A. A. De Vitis, Graham Greene (1964); and David Lodge, Graham Greene (1966). For a variety of opinions on Greene's work see Robert O. Evans, ed., Graham Greene: Some Critical Considerations (1963). François Mauriac, Men I Hold Great (1951), discusses Greene.
Additional Biography Sources
Shelden, Michael, Graham Greene: The Enemy Within, Random House, 1994.
New York Times, (April 4, 1991).