Matt Schudel of The Washington Post is reporting that poet, novelist and filmmaker Sam Greenlee has died. Greenlee, who once served as a Foreign Service officer, wrote the cult classic 1969 novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Subsequently Greenlee and iconic actor/director Ivan Dixon collaborated on a film of the same name which became an underground hit. The film was a major cultural symbol during the black nationalist movement and was banned by the FBI in 1973 because of fear that the film might incite riots. The film was banned from distribution for more than 30 years, but found new fame in the last decade. In 2011, a documentary that examined the fate of Mr. Greenlee’s film, Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of ‘The Spook Who Sat by the Door was released.
In the novel, the main character of Dan Freeman, is the first black American to become a member of the CIA. He appears to be an upwardly mobile, educated black man who toes the line and avoids trouble at all costs. In reality, Freeman uses what he learns in the CIA to teach a Chicago street gang to become a rebel group and wage war against the U.S. government. The crew known as the Cobras, uses the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house starting a revolution that will change society as they know it.
The film was funded independently, mostly by black Americans, and featured a soundtrack composed by jazz legend Herbie Hancock.
“Samuel Elder Greenlee Jr. was born July 13, 1930, in Chicago. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1952, served as an Army officer and studied international relations at the University of Chicago before joining USIA. Mr. Greenlee published a second novel, “Baghdad Blues,” in 1976, drawn from his experiences in Iraq during the late 1950s.”
Greenlee, who was married and divorced from Nienke Greenlee. He is survived by a daughter from a longtime relationship with Maxine McCrey, Natiki Montano of New York; and a granddaughter. He was 83.
Read more at The Washington Post.