11 April 1893
United States of America
25 February 1939|
Los Angeles, California,
United States of America
(heart disease/pneumonia, age 45)
Black American actor, previously misidentified both on this website and elsewhere as "Spencer Williams" and "Matthew 'Tijuana' Jones". Some articles and documents spell his surname "Robinson," and give him the nickname "Fat."|
In July/August 2019, respected film historian Richard W. Bann went to great lengths for me in establishing the identify of this actor...
Of course Spencer Williams is principally famous for portraying Andy Brown on TV in AMOS 'N' ANDY. The character was created and voiced on radio by Charles Correll. His son, Rich, big shot TV director, former kid actor on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, and who was to Harold Lloyd what I was to Hal Roach, is a close friend of mine. So in performing proper due diligence, for the record I phoned and sent Rich three frame enlargements from films in which the man Richard M. Roberts believes is Spencer Williams appears, for Rich's comments. They are: "It's not Spencer. At the time these photos were made, he was directing 'black Westerns.'"
So it's not Spencer Williams. But then, who is it? I hear you asking. I consulted my files. Pulled out boxes of research material. Then I visited, and revisited research libraries at UCLA, USC, and the Motion Picture Academy. This work provided two additional mutually exclusive proofs.
First, I reviewed the extant Hal Roach Studios payroll ledgers. While weekly payroll disbursements for contract players alone were allocated and charged to individual pictures, payments to all others appearing in pictures were not. Meaning that everyone else passing before the cameras was treated as an "extra" for accounting purposes, even though many are more than that, having small parts with dialogue. Disbursements to these extras were treated as overhead and not individually debited to individual pictures. So for any week's payroll accounting, one can only learn how much any so-called extra was paid, and not which productions he or she appeared in. In any given week, there could be 2-4 huge pages listing hundreds of names, with no connection to any specific film.
So what I did was take a sample of films I knew this mystery actor appeared in from memory: PASS THE GRAVY, BATTLE OF THE CENTURY, BOYS WILL BE JOYS, HIS SILENT RACKET, A LAD AN' A LAMP, SHOW BUSINESS, ONE OF THE SMITHS, BERTH MARKS, THE BIG TOWN, THE SECOND 100 YEARS, CHOO-CHOO! and SNAPPY SNEEZER. Those were the only films I could think of. 40-50 years ago, I had a rigorous list of all of this man's appearances. I can no longer find it.
Then I had as many of the gigantic payroll ledgers that still exist pulled for examination. These things are the size of a desk top. Even though I knew I would have to be pouring over literally thousands of names on these huge ledger pages, I did so trusting it was not likely that there would be more than one name, which I did not recognize, and which appeared in association with every one of these films during the weeks when they were being shot. Of course I knew the weeks each film was shooting.
And, I was right in this supposition. There was but a single such person. From among thousands, there was only one individual who was both unknown to me, and who appeared in association with every week in which these films were being produced. The payroll records no longer exist for all of these films, but they do for most of them. Actually, there were two such names, similar and quite obviously for the same man, which on occasion had been misheard and mis-recorded in the payroll records.
That name? Those names? Hays Robinson or Hays Robertson. His is the only name that I'd never heard of before, which was common to and associated with payroll for all the weeks in which all these films were being made. And nowhere, among the many thousands reviewed, will one find the name of either Matthew "Tijuana" Jones, or Spencer Williams. Nowhere. Not there.
Second proof, found subsequently and elsewhere, equally decisive, equally dispositive, equally conclusive: I located an original studio Daily Production Sheet from February 18, 1931 for ONE OF THE SMITHS, where the porter incorrectly named by Richard M. Roberts as Spencer Williams, is correctly identified, in print, on hard copy, as Hays Robinson/Robertson. I can furnish a copy if necessary.
But which surname is correct? Again, the web of evidence tightens. I asked my smartest sister to review the familysearch.com website. We managed to find a Hayes Robertson (first name spelled with an "e" in his own handwriting), with a 1917-18 period registration card, declaring, "race: colored," born April 11, 1893, in Galveston, Texas, living in Edendale, working as a "motion picture sub," for the Keystone Comedy Company, Edendale, California.
I then went to the comprehensive, last word on all things relating to Mack Sennett, the fine phone book-size tome by Brent Walker, and even there, no mention, anywhere, of Hayes Robertson. That's how obscure this man is.
~ Richard W. Bann, August 2019.
Real name: Hayes E. Robertson
|Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography.|
Acknowledgements & sources:
Richard W. Bann (correct identification and research)
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KZVF-6B2 (WWI draft reg. card)
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MH7S-3P8 (1920 Census)
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKS9-6RPY (CA Death Index)
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QP79-TNLF (death certificate)
https://archive.org/stream/la_caleagle_reel6#page/n159/mode/1up/search/%22hayes+robinson%22 (California Eagle, Mar 1924–May 1925)
https://archive.org/stream/la_caleagle_reel6#page/n219/mode/1up/search/%22fat+robinson%22 (California Eagle, Mar 1924–May 1925)
LampyMeier2007 (date of death)
Jesse Brisson (information)
This page was last updated on: 10 August 2019