Melvin Van Peebles

Melvin "Block" Van Peebles (born August 21, 1932) is an American actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, novelist and composer. He is most famous for creating the acclaimed film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which heralded a new era of African-American focused films. He is the father of actor and director Mario Van Peebles. Van Peebles was born in Chicago, Illinois to a black tailor. He joined the Air Force in 1954, thirteen days after graduating (B.A., 1953) from Ohio Wesleyan University, staying for three and a half years. He married a German woman, Maria Marx. They lived in Mexico for a brief period, where he painted portraits, before coming back to the United States, where he started driving cable cars in San Francisco. Van Peebles began writing about his experiences as a cable car driver. What evolved from an initially small article and a series of photographs was Van Peebles' first book, The Big Heart. One day, a passenger suggested that Van Peebles should become a filmmaker. He shot his first short film, Pickup Men for Herrick, in 1957. He made two more short films during the same period. According to Van Peebles, "I thought they were features.

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