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Claudia McNeil (August 13, 1917 – November 25, 1993) was an actress best known for premiering the role of matriarch Lena Younger in both the stage and screen productions of A Raisin in the Sun. She later appeared in a 1981 production of the musical version of the play, Raisin presented by Equity Library Theater.

She was twice nominated for a Tony Award, first for A Raisin in the Sun in 1959, and again for the play Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright in 1962. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the screen version of "A Raisin in the Sun" in 1961.

McNeil was born in Baltimoremarker, MD to Marvin Spencer McNeil and Annie Mae Anderson McNeil, an Apache Indian. The family moved to New York City soon after her birth. She was raised by her mother after her father left the family. At the age of twelve, McNeil began working for the Heckscher Foundation. There she met a Jewish couple who later adopted her, and McNeil became fluent in Yiddish.

She became a licensed librarian, but soon began singing in vaudeville theaters, and performing in nightclubs in Harlemmarker, Greenwich Villagemarker and on 52nd Street. McNeil also sang for the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe on its South American tour.

She was advised by Ethel Waters to began acting, and made her New York stage debut in 1953, playing Tituba in The Crucible at the Martin Beck Theater.

Four years later, Langston Hughes chose her to sing in his musical play Simply Heavenly. She won critical acclaim for this role.

In 1961, she was featured in "A Raisin in the Sun" and became so identified with the part of the matriarch that she said, “There was a time when I acted the role…Now I live it.” [647340]

She also starred in the plays Tiger Tiger Burning Bright (1962), James Baldwin's The Amen Corner (1965), Something Different (1967), Her First Roman (1968), Wrong Way Light-Bulb (1969) and "Contributions" (1970).

McNeil acted in films, including: The Last Angry Man (1959) and A Raisin in the Sun (1961), There Was a Crooked Man... (1970), and Black Girl (1972).

She also appeared in many TV series, including: The DuPont Show of the Month (1957), The Nurses (1962), Profiles in Courage (1965), Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), and Roots: The Next Generations (1979).

By the time she appeared in the 1959 film The Last Angry Man, she weighed nearly 300 pounds. But in 1978, when she sang at Michael's Pub in Manhattan, she had slimmed down to 159 pounds and commented, "I lost a whole person."

McNeil was married when she was 18 to a man who died in World War II. Her second marriage ended in divorce after two years.

She retired in 1983 and two years later moved into the Actors’ Fund Nursing Home in Englewood Bergen County New Jersey. McNeil died there on Nov. 25, 1993 from complications related to diabetes.


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