William Marshall has many claims to fame. A stage actor and opera singer with the bearing and gravitas to play Othello several times, he matters to us for three specific genre roles in TV and film. In the 1960s, Marshall starred in a timely Civil Rights era Star Trek: The Original Series episode as a gifted and controversial scientist. In the 1970s, he added Blaxploitation to the Dracula mythos with the memorable creation of Blacula. And in the 1980s he reached out to a new generation as the suave and benevolent King of Cartoons on Peewee’s Playhouse. The Star Trek episode was “The Ultimate Computer” (from Season 2 in 1968), and Marshall played inventor Richard Daystrom. Daystrom’s creation, the M-5, is being tested in a series of war games between Starfleet ships. Kirk has to cede control of his ship to the artificial intelligence of the future. And, yes, something goes wrong and M-5 starts firing with real weapons. Daystrom becomes defensive and agitated and has to be subdued and taken to sickbay. But we don’t necessarily remember what went awry, or that Daystrom’s creation possessed all the flaws of his own all-too-human mind (pretty much par for the course in the ongoing meta-theme of logic vs. emotion characteristic of the show). We remember instead the high status of the dedicated and serious scientist within Starfleet, and how the show’s commitment to diversity as part of its utopian vision of the future meant the issues at hand did not overtly concern race. What the role required was an authoritative actor capable of compellingly portraying genius, and casting succeeded with Marshall’s charismatic poise. Blacula (1972) and Scream Blacula Scream (1973) add African American culture, including voodoo and soul music, to the Dracula myth. In fact, African Prince Mamuwalde was turned by Dracula himself in the first film, which was a hit. The Prince had been seeking an end to slavery but was himself enslaved by the supernatural European (a story approach suggested by Marshall after reading the initial script). Marshall was one of the few actors singled out for praise in the films (the second of which also featured a young Pam Grier), and with his regal bearing and resonant baritone voice he more makes a compelling case for the inclusion of his defiantly patriarchal vampire among the likes of Christopher Lee, Jack Palance and Bela Lugosi. Like those greats, Marshall makes the terrifying powers of the undead (transformation, hypnosis, great strength) believable, even seductive. Finally, we look at the much more benevolent King of Cartoons, a royal acquaintance of Peewee’s Playhouse. As the King in later seasons, Marshall served as a gateway to classic cartoons. His effortless noblesse oblige, his crown and cape, and his occasional air of befuddled composure, added up to a kind and indulgent postcard from a previous generation to the next. Array Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related LauraAkers I actually lived in the house that they used as Blakula’s castle in the first film. Which means I must have met Marshall. Of course, I was five at the time, so I don;t remember. Wish I did, for the Star Trek reference if nothing else.