Born in Kentucky in 1877, Lawrence Chenault already was a veteran Vaudevillian performer and actor who had toured Australia and the United States, and worked with the famed Lafayette Players when he landed the role of hero Bob Calem in Richard Norman’s The Crimson Skull in 1922.
His character, a cowhand in love with his wealthy rancher boss’s daughter, dons a skeleton costume and goes undercover to unnerve a ruthless gang’s leader and ensure the safe return of his love interest, Anita. While a hero on screen, Chenault reportedly was a bit less chivalrous off-screen. It’s been said that he was illiterate, relying on co-star Anita Bush to help negotiate his contract with Norman. And, Norman reportedly complained that Chenault “wouldn’t keep sober” during filming of The Crimson Skull.
The troubles apparently did little to curb Chenault’s success as an actor. He appeared in in 24 films, including multiple Oscar Micheaux films, between years 1920 and 1934 – more than any other African American actor of his time.