Harold Bradley was a familiar face in Italian films from the early sixties, appearing in a number of them uncredited. He was also a mainstay of the Roman scene; a former footballer, singer and club manager who drifted into acting for the amusement of it… and because it was a good way of earnign a bit of easy cash. He started off playing assorted servants and slaves, often uncredited, before moving on to more substantial parts, such as one of The Seven Rebel Gladiators. One of the most interesting films in his cv was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a German / Austrian / Italian adaptation of the classic novel which featured many expat American performers (Johnny Kitzmiller was the star). He also had a substantial part in Alfonso Brescia’s Days of Violence, but his appearences outside of the peplum genre were rather restricted and he returned to America in the late 60s. In recent years, he’s turned up in the occassional Italian production, as well as having a small role in the cinecitta shot Sylvester Stallone film Daylight. I actually interviewed Harold a couple of years ago, and he’s an extremely nice chap!
Here’s a brief profile I found online:
The home of art
Harold Bradley arrived in Italy in January 1959, aged 29, to study art. Just retired from a career at the heights of American football, and with a previous degree in fine arts from the University of Iowa under the belt, he chose the Università per Stanieri di Perugia for his personal re-launch, thanks to a grant awarded for his service with the US Marines.
The young American was interested in drawing, portraiture, graphic art, collage, and other techniques. But besides attending classes and arranging exhibitions in Perugia and Rome, he quickly got the chance to sing in public. “I had almost no experience singing in public, but everyone can sing, you learn that in folk music,” he says. At his first public performance in a Perugia bar he sang ‘Old Man River’, the theme of his “hero”: singer, actor and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson. “With those words I could always communicate who I was,” says Bradley, the son of a black post deliveryman and a half-cast mother who grew up in West Woodlawn, Chicago.
The Folkstudio days
In 1960 Bradley moved to Rome and opened a studio in Trastevere, the local version of New York’s Greenwich Village, with the Canadian sculptor Bob Cowgill. After finishing painting every evening, he would sing folk music and spirituals with a few friends. By word of mouth the studio located at 58 Via Garibaldi became more and more crowded and turned into an open stage for international folk music. It was called the ‘Folkstudio’, a name which would become a legend on the Italian music scene.
“The Folkstudio became the ‘mysterious, wonderful place in Trastevere where this black guy does things with friends’,” says Bradley. “As the crowds got bigger, I borrowed benches from the local church. I would say we did spirituals so they would agree to lend them,” he recalls. “I would try to make the audience participate in call-and-response type compositions and the stage was open to all.” Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and the Trinidad Steel Band were among those who played there, as well as many Italians, including the famed singer and ethnologist Giovanna Marini.
In parallel the Chicagoan continued his artwork, founded the group ‘Folkstudio Singers’ and pursued a career in acting, which allowed him to support himself. Bradley was not a trained actor but, as with singing, he stayed open to the possibilities which presented themselves. He got his first part in ‘Tragica notte di Assissi’ while accompanying friends to the sets even though he had never read a script before. “Give me a chance and I’ll prove myself”, was his approach, helped by a sense of invincibility gained from playing in the NFL – including winning two Superbowl titles with the Cleveland Browns – and by his spiritual upbringing. “I always leaned on the spiritual thing, not the material thing. You can overcome everything with your mind, you can be invincible,” says Bradley, who was nurtured on Christian Science, a religious movement founded in the US in the 1870s.
Bradley was making Italy his new home. “Italy inspired me style-wise. I liked it because of its warm people. I liked the way Italian women look. People made me members of social clubs, something which never would have happened in the US,” he explains. He married a German girl he met at Italian language classes, with whom he had children, deepening his roots in Italy.
Then in 1968 he went back to the US for what was intended as a short visit. But he was given “an offer too big to refuse” as curator for the Illinois Arts Council and ended up staying in the state for 19 years. During this period he also worked as a teacher at the University of Illinois, as an art consultant for a State-run programme, doing and hosting television shows with CBS and NBC affiliates in his free time, teaching in prisons, and even finding time for some acting. “I was burning the candle at both ends,” says Bradley, who admits he only needs a few hours sleep every night. Then at Christmas 1987, the all-round artist, teacher and musician went back to Europe to see family in Germany, planning a stop in Rome, and ended up settling by the Tiber again.
Blues, gospel and jazz
On his return Harold declined an offer to manage the Folkstudio, which had kept going all those years albeit in different locations. But he did get back into music. A few concerts at Folkstudio led to a relationship with the Alexanderplatz, one of Rome’s historic jazz clubs, and the art direction fell into his hands for a few months. Around this time Bradley was also approached by a group of young musicians, Jona’s Blues Band, who asked him to be their frontman. “Blues wasn’t exactly his thing” but he gave it a try. The band would be a great success and toured all around Italy, performing some 120 concerts a year.
“I was more open when I came back to Italy,” recounts the Roman-Chicagoan. “I spread out a lot. I did these innovative things nobody else was doing.” For example, although he didn’t have a background in Gospel, he liked the music, and he believed there was a possibility to introduce it to Italy. He co-founded several spirituals groups: the St John’s Singers of Manziana, Voices of Glory, with Masa Opasha and Annette Meriweather, and its spin-off, the Bronzeville American Gospel, with Meriweather and Jho Jhenkins [another singer / actor]. Voices of Glory, active since the early 90s, sang for five years at the Valdese Church and later at the Church of Saint Paul Within-The-Walls.
Other groups that Bradley performed with after his return to Italy include a jazz-focused quartet named after its great blind pianist, Toto Torquati. He also played with various other musicians for short-term collaborations, including the late Tony Scott, the eccentric and legendary Italian-American jazz clarinettist who died in Rome in March last year (see June 2007 issue of TRF). And on top of this he had his MC job at Palazzo Brancaccio since 1988, with a brief interruption after the 9/11 attacks.
These days the local jazz scene is at a low and work in the film industry is very rare, but Harold Bradley is never short of projects. He is collecting material to write a book about the Folkstudio, while planning to put some order into his artwork, at present stored in his Monteverde studio apartment. He dreams of travelling to Africa to find his ‘African roots’ and also playing Shakespeare’s Othello.
Surprisingly for a man with such a prolific career in music, Bradley has only rarely recorded (he did two CDs with Voices of Glory and the single-CD ‘Kumbayah’ with the ‘Matite colorate’ choir as a fundraiser for Darfur children). “I always preferred live to studio techniques. But now I want like to record and I hope to satisfy that in the near future,” he says, citing several works in progress with Bronzeville American Gospel and the Harold Bradley Blues Band. In the meantime Bradley is still a regular on Rome’s music scene, and for those who want to hear him sing, this is probably the only way.
- Io Semiramide (1962) aka I Am Semiramis …. Semiramide’s coloured Slave
- Maciste, il gladiatore più forte del mondo (1962) aka Colossus of the Arena …. Tucos
- Maciste, l’eroe più grande del mondo (1963) aka Goliath and the Sins of Babylon …. Regia’s Servant
- Eroe di Babilonia, L’ (1963) aka The Beast of Babylon Against the Son of Hercules …. Mursuk
- Tarzak contro gli uomini leopardo (1964) aka Tarzak Against the Leopard Men (USA)
- Maciste nell’inferno di Gengis Khan (1964) aka Hercules Against the Barbarians
- Onkel Toms Hütte (1965) aka Uncle Tom’s Cabin …. Harris
- Sette contro tutti (1965) aka Seven Rebel Gladiators …. Tucos
- Missione apocalisse (1966) (as Harold W. Bradley) aka Operation Apocalypse …. King Joe
- Per amore… per magia… (1967) aka For Love… for Magic
- Troppo per vivere… poco per morire (1967) aka Your Turn to Die
- Giorni della violenza, I (1967) aka Days of Violence …. Nathan
- Daylight (1996) …. Police Chief
- Memsaab (1996)
- Pacco, doppio pacco e contropaccotto (1993) aka Package, Double Package and Counterpackage
- Solo x te (1999) … Angel of the Supermarket
- “Donna di fiori, La” (1965) TV mini-series …. Il barman
- “Valeria medico legale” (1 episode) – Bentornata Valeria (????) TV episode