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Veteran star actor and panist Austin Stoker has passed

Alphonso Marshall aka Austin Stoker
Austin Stoker aka Alphonso Marshall

California, USA - Austin Stoker aka Alphonso Marshall, a veteran actor and panist passed away on his 92nd birthday on Friday October 7, 2022.  Born in Trinidad in 1930, Marshall died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from renal failure according to reports.

Before he was more notably known for his acting career, with roles in films such as 1973’s “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Sheba, Baby” with Pam Grier in 1975 - Marshall was one of three steelpan players in a musical on Broadway in 1954.

According to Omowale Richard Ahye, the late legendary pan maker and tuner Bertie Marshall is the uncle of Alphonso Marshall.

Although it’s been quite a while since he was called upon to dispense with his birth name [Alphonso Marshall], once he took up an acting career, Marshall’s years in the steelband world were much too special for him to shed those memories. Becoming involved with the Holder Dance Company led by Geoffrey Holder as a young man in Trinidad, Marshall soon found himself headed to New York after Holder was contracted for that Broadway musical, House of Flowers. Marshall was a member of the three-piece steel band booked for the show.

House of Flowers album cover image

After House of Flowers ended its run, the unique steel band innovation having earned its share of raves, Marshall was for two years part of a revue headed by fellow cast member Enid Mosier. Marshall’s touring with Mosier was interrupted by a stint in the military. Upon his discharge, he linked up with Mosier again. By this time, though, he was becoming more focused on acting. He would sharpen his dramatic skills, studying with the likes of Lee Grant and Uta Hagen. Firmly committed to the acting profession and moving to Hollywood, Marshall’s name was changed to Austin Stoker. Over the years his credits included the movies “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” “Airport 1975” and others, and on TV - the animated “Return to the Planet of the Apes” and “Six Million Dollar Man” among numerous others.

Austin Stoker in the movie "Battle for the Planet of the Apes"
Austin Stoker in the movie "Battle for the Planet of the Apes"

Austin Stoker began acting at age eleven. Born and raised in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Austin acquired his Cambridge University Senior Certificate with “Distinction in English.” He attributed his affinity for acting to having been a movie fan since age five and, moreover, since same age, a devoted participant, in the Trinidad Carnival – reportedly “The World’s Most Colorful Festival.”

At age 16 Austin joined a local acting group, The Whitehall Players. Four years later Austin was invited to join a local dance troupe, Holder Dance Company (H.D.C.) – which brought him to New York City.

As a percussionist/dancer with H.D.C., Austin was one of a special “Trio” of young Trinidadian musicians who – together with H.D.C. artistic founder, the legendary dancer, painter, photographer and “Seven-Up Un-cola” commercial pitchman, Geoffrey Holder – landed contract roles in the Truman Capote/Harold Arlen Broadway Musical “House Of Flowers,” choreographed originally by George Balanchine and directed by Herbert Ross.

House of Flowers
Michael Alexander, Roderick Clavery and Alfonso Marshall

From the very first day of rehearsal at the Alvin (now Neil Simon) Theater, the Trio was an immediate sensation. The musicians and cast could not resist this “new sound” produced on the Trio’s unusual instruments. Austin recalls the show’s writer, Mr. Truman Capote, so impressed, suggesting to the composer, Mr. Harold Arlen: “Harold, you have to write something for these boys to play on their lovely drums!” The result can be heard, with full orchestral accompaniment, in the recorded rendition of the full-cast’s show-stopping “Smellin’ of Vanilla” on the House Of Flowers LP, Columbia Masterworks ML4969.

The Broadway cast, headlined by the legendary Pearl Bailey, included singer/actress Diahann Carroll and Ray Walston, Tony Award winner for “Best Actor” for “Damn Yankees” and television’s “My Favorite Martian” star. Now, they were in a unique situation: As contract soloists/musicians in a Broadway production they were required to be members of the American Federation of Musicians. But only United States citizens could be granted membership in the A. F. of M. and they were “visitors” with temporary visas. How would a show solve such a problem?

The show’s producer arranged a demonstration of their performance at the union office. They left their “lovely drums” outside the office door. “What instruments do they play?” asked the union delegate when they were introduced. They simply stepped outside and returned immediately with their “instruments.” At the sight of the cut-off bottom-end of three empty 55-gallon metal oil barrels, the union delegate, totally puzzled, exclaimed: “They’re ash cans!...” Before they got through the first four measures of their audition tune — a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner — the delegate, his jaw almost “on the desk,” queried in total amazement: “What... you got strings under there?”

The Trio was instantly enrolled, on the spot, in A.F.M., Local 802 of New York, setting an unprecedented exception to the U.S.-citizens-only rule. Internationally known today for its extensive use world-wide, the [steelpan] instrument was invented in Trinidad and first introduced professionally to American audiences via the Broadway stage by H.D.C.’s Trio of steel drums– the only new instrument of the twentieth century .

House of Flowers closed after 165 performances. A “Review” called Enid Mosier & Her Trinidad Steel Band was formed – an idea conceived, staged and financed by director Herbert Ross. For the next two years they traveled abroad, performed in clubs, concerts and made two LP recordings: Hi Fi Calypso, Etc. & No Cover, No Minimum. They toured throughout the United States and Canada until Austin was drafted – unexpectedly – into the U.S. Army.

Upon Austin’s honorable discharge from the army he focused on his dramatic training at HB STUDIO in New York under the direction of academy award-winning actress Ms. LEE GRANT and Mr. WILLIAM HICKEY. Austin was further trained at the HB Studio under Ms. UTA HAGEN, author of Respect For Acting. Later, PAUL MANN’S ACTORS WORKSHOP, N.Y.; the L.A. SHAKESPEARE WORKSHOP of Mr. JOSEPH MARCELL (Royal Shakespeare Company); Chekhovian Technique with Mr. JACK COLVIN; Meisner Technique with Mr. RICHARD EDELSTEIN and “advanced” (TRUE ACTING INSTITUTE, ECKERD COLLEGE) under Mr. LARRY SILVERBERG. Austin moved to California and worked in numerous television shows, theater productions and feature films. During the period referred to as the “Blaxploitation Era,” Austin starred in “Sheba, Baby” and “Abby”.

Besides performing, Austin periodically conducted an acting workshop which included attention to Speech & Voice. As a trained movie scriptwriter Austin coached many others. He was a member/dramaturge of CART, West (Caribbean-American Repertory Theatre, West) and worked on developing “WHAT’S THAT SOUND?,” a definitive documentary on the history of the Trinidadian Steelpan.
Partial listing of Credits:

Motion Picture Starring Roles: “Assault On Precinct 13,” directed by John Carpenter; “Battle For The Planet Of The Apes” with Roddy McDowall, John Huston, Claude Akins, directed by J. Lee Thompson, “Airport ‘75” with Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy, Gloria Swanson, Linda Blair, directed by Jack Smight; “Sheba, Baby” with Pam Grier, directed by William Girdler. Other starring film roles include: “Abby,” “Time Walker,” “The Zebra Killer,” “Combat Cops,” “Uninvited,” “Horror High,” “A Girl To Kill For,” “Hour Of Valor,” “Mach II,” “Two Shades Of Blue” “Machete Joe” (cameo) and “Twixter.”

Television Guest Star & Recurring Roles: “Victory At Entebbe” with Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hayes and Richard Dreyfuss, directed by Marvin L. Chomsky; “Airwolf” with Ernest Borgnine and Alex Cord, directed by Sutton Roley; “Murder She Wrote” with Angela Lansbury, directed by Walter Grauman; “Roots,” Alex Haley’s “American Family” Saga, directed by Marvin L. Chomsky; recurring series-regular on CBS’s “The Bold & The Beautiful,” directed by Deveney Marking. Other guest star TV appearances include: “The District,” “Arliss,” “Sleeper Cell,” “Generations,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “Robert Kennedy & His Times,” “Terror Among Us,” “The Gemini Man,” among others, as well as commercials, narrations and voice-overs.

Theatre: “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” (Justice Shallow); “Moon On A Rainbow Shawl” (Charlie); “Black Leather Soles” (Mr. Rawlings); “Split Second” (Capt. Parker) which earned Austin the DramaLogue Critics’ Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Theatre;” “Julius Caesar” (Cassius); Derek Walcott’s “Beef, No Chicken” (Mr. Mongroo); “Macbeth” (King Duncan); “The Visit” (Henry); “The Boys In The Band” (Bernard) plus the National Tour; “Orpheus Descending” (Val); “Othello” (Iago); “The Kitchen” (Gaston); “Yerma” (Victor); “Iphiginia In Tauris” (Pylades); “The Glass Menagerie” (Tom); “Birdbirth” (Frankie)... and House Of Flowers.

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