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Hilda Simms

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Hilda Simms

Hilda Simms from Yank, February 1945

Hilda Simms (April 15, 1918 – February 6, 1994) was an African-American stage actress, best known for her starring role on Broadway in Anna Lucasta.

Early years

She was born as Hilda Moses in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of eleven siblings. When Hilda starred in the critically acclaimed Broadway hit, Anna Lucasta, her mother Lydia refused to attend the play on Broadway, stating that she would not watch her daughter play a prostitute, she didn't raise her that way. Simms and her siblings were raised devout Catholics in Minneapolis and walked several miles to school each morning to attend the Basilica of St. Mary on the outskirts of Minneapolis.

Second marriage

In 1947, Simms went with the play when it moved to London. While in the UK she married an American actor Richard Angarola. (Her first marriage, to William Simms in 1941, ended in divorce, although she retained her first husband's surname as her professional name.)

Prior to becoming an actress, Hilda planned to enter the teaching profession. Hilda and enrolled at the University of Minnesota and engaged in her studies until lack of funds forced her abandon them. She relocated to New York, acting in radio dramas and becoming a member of the American Negro Theater, where she gained professional acting experience. As a member of this noted ensemble, Hilda worked on sound effects, props and publicity while learning her new craft. It was in New York that she met and married William Simms and adopted his surname.

Her marriage to Simms was short-lived. In 1943, two years after divorcing him, Hilda made her debut in the title role of Philip Yordan's play, Anna Lucasta. Yordan had originally written the play for an all-white cast but the show made a huge splash when the American Negro Theater produced it. The production moved to Broadway in 1944 where it became an early drama featuring African American actors in work that explored themes un-related to race. When the play toured abroad, Hilda continued playing in Anna Lucasta while enjoying a singing career in Paris nightclubs under the name Julie Riccardo.

During the British tour of the play in 1947, Hilda met and married veteran actor Richard Angarola. The couple returned to the States in the 1950s and Simms embarked on a brief film career. Her first role was as co-star to heavy-weight boxing champion Joe Louis. She played the boxer's wife in The Joe Louis Story (1953). In the 1950s, Hilda became a victim of the Hollywood blacklist. The United States Department of Justice denied her passport in 1955 and canceled her scheduled 14-week USO tour of the Armed Forces in Europe, even though she had entertained troops and made War Bond tours during World War II. The Defense Department decision was based on speculation about her affiliation with the Communist Party in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The decision caused her dozens of lost opportunities and any chance of a film career evaporated. In 1960, she penned an article titled "I'm No Benedict Arnold", which told her side of the story.

Hilda continued her stage career in such productions as The Cool World, Tambourines to Glory, The Madwoman of Chaillot. She was a regular on the television series The Nurses and hosted her own radio show, Ladies Day, on New York's WOV. She also became an active participant in political movements and served as the Creative Arts Director for the New York State Human Rights Commission. She eventually fulfilled her original dream of becoming a teacher and earned a master's degree in education from the City College of New York. She died in Buffalo, New York age 75 from pancreatic cancer.

Death

Hilda Simms died in Buffalo, New York, aged 75, from pancreatic cancer. She was survived by five of her siblings and her second husband, Richard Angerola.

External links

  • Obituary
  • Obituary
  • Biodata
  • IBDb
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