D’Urville Martin was an American actor and director in both film and television. He appeared in numerous 1970s movies in the blaxploitation genre. He also appeared in two unaired pilots of what would become All in the Family as Lionel Jefferson, the role which was eventually played by Mike Evans. Born in New York City, Martin began his career in the mid-1960s and soon appeared in prominent films such as Black Like Me and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Martin also directed films in his career, including Dolemite, starring Rudy Ray Moore.
Martin’s first film role was as a speaking-line extra in Black Like Me (1964). He then had small roles in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) (as “Frankie”, whose car is accidentally struck by Tracy) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) (as Diego, the elevator operator).
Later movies of D’Urville Martin are of the blaxploitation genre, starting with The Legend of Nigger Charley in 1972 and continuing throughout the decade until he appeared in The Bear in 1983. In The Legend of Nigger Charley, Martin played Toby, a fellow fugitive of the title character. He reprised his role in the film’s two sequels, The Soul of Nigger Charley (1973) and Boss Nigger (1975).
He played Sonny in the film Hammer (1972), Reverend Rufus in Black Caesar (1973) and its sequel, Hell Up in Harlem (also 1973), and the pimp in The Get-Man (aka Combat Cops) (1974).
Martin directed the 1975 Rudy Ray Moore movie Dolemite. In addition to directing the film, Martin plays the villain, Willie Green. The movie inspired a sequel, The Human Tornado, in 1976 that was not directed by Martin. In the 2019 film about Moore and the making of Dolemite, Dolemite Is My Name, Martin is played by Wesley Snipes, and is portrayed as a reluctant participant in the film, with his role as director regularly usurped by Moore.
D’Urville Martin was born in New York City in 1939. He had a daughter, Debra, with his first wife, Frances L. Johnson. After their divorce he married Lillian Ferguson in 1966 and had two more children. Martin died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of 45.
Directing Dolemite, Martin directed a film that proved to be a good example of the era’s blaxploitation movies and to this day remains one of the most popular, still inspiring spoofs today such as Black Dynamite (2009). Cultural historian Todd Boyd finds that Rudy Ray Moore’s depiction of Dolemite is linked to rappers like Snoop Dogg and The Notorious B.I.G., pointing out Moore came up with the pronunciation “Biotch!”, which later became ubiquitous. Boyd notes the humor in Moore carrying himself off as a sex symbol “to bed the fine-ass women who can’t keep their hands off him.”