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Ena Hartman is an unsung trailblazer of Hollywood whose smaller roles in 1960s media productions helped create a path for African Americans in film and television. African-American actresses working in the 1970s benefited from the trail Hartman helped blaze.
Ena Hartman was born on April 1, 1935, in Moscow (Jefferson County). The daughter of sharecroppers, she was raised by her grandparents. At age thirteen, she moved to Buffalo, New York, to live with her mother. She dropped out of high school to open a restaurant, handling the duties of cook and waitress as she tried to earn money to go to New York City to become a model. She was discovered by a photographer in the lobby of a modeling agency that had just rejected her. She soon landed other modeling jobs, and she studied drama with Josh Shelley and Lloyd Richards.
In the early 1960s, NBC television sponsored a talent competition for young actors and actresses, and her talents were brought to the attention of the vice president of talent relations for NBC. The network extended her a talent contract, which meant that she would be trained and developed as an actress to appear in NBC programming. She thus became the first African American to have such a contract with a major television network and also the first African-American woman to sign a contract with NBC.
Her roles were small at first, as she appeared in the series Bonanza (1964) and Profiles in Courage (1965), and then in the spy spoof Our Man Flint (1966). In 1966, she left NBC and appeared in the television movie Fame Is the Name of the Game and made a brief appearance as a member of the Enterprise crew in the Star Trek episode “The Corbomite Maneuver.” Other appearances included Tarzan (1966) and the popular television series Ironside (1967–1969), starring Raymond Burr.
She finished the 1960s with appearances in the psychological thriller Games (1967) and the television movie Prescription Murder (1968), starring Peter Falk in his debut as Columbo. In 1968, Hartman also appeared in a number of other television shows such as Adam 12 and It Takes a Thief. She almost landed a role costarring with Elvis Presley in Change of Habit but lost out to actress Barbara McNair.
Her break-out role might have been in a proposed movie costarring Sidney Poitier about the life of actress Dorothy Dandridge (with Dandridge having personally approved Hartman to play her). But after Hartman and film officials negotiated details, Poitier—who was one of Hollywood’s most popular actors at the time—decided in the final stages to pass on the project.
In 1970, she had a small role as a flight attendant in the box-office hit Airport. Hartman then became a regular as police dispatcher Katy Grant for two seasons on the television series Dan August (1970–71), starring Burt Reynolds. After the series ended, she played Carmen Simms in the movie Terminal Island (1973), with Tom Selleck.
Three television movies created by editing together episodes of Dan August were broadcast in 1980. By that time, Hartman had retired from the movie industry.
For additional information:“Ena Hartman.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0366948/?ref_=nv_sr_1 (accessed September 12, 2014).
Lisanti, Tom. Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood: Seventy-Five Profiles. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2008.
McCann, Bob. Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010.
Jimmy Cunningham Nashville, Tennessee
Last Updated 9/30/2014
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