George Jessel, Eddie Cantor, Lou Gehrig

Among the stars of stage, screen and radio who appeared in New York's Madison Square Garden in a benefit performance for the relief of persecuted European Jews who wish to settle in Palestine, were Eddie Cantor, left, George Jessel, in blackface makeup, Nov. 17, 1938. They are joined by New York Yankees "Ironman" Lou Gehrig, who scratches his head. (AP Photo/Harry Harris)

William Shakespeare's plays featured several minority characters but in the early days of their adaptions — and in the modern era — they were played by white male actors. These performers wore blackface or brownface to portray Othello, a Moor, in "Othello" and dark face makeup to depict the indigenous Caliban in "The Tempest."

In 19th century U.S., performer Thomas Dartmouth Rice popularized minstrel shows by wearing blackface and adopting what he thought was African American vernacular. Other performers mimicked Rice and used blackface and stereotypes of African Americans to create one of the most popular forms of art in the nation's history despite protests from black intellectuals and activists. Blackface would influence how white people would depict other ethnic groups in the U.S.

Hollywood would continue to allow white actors to wear racist makeup to portray black, Latino and Asian American characters through the 20th century instead of using actors of color. In the 1951 film adaption of "Othello," white actor-director Orson Welles donned bronze makeup in his portrayal of Othello. Charlton Heston wore brownface to portray Mexican law enforcement officer Ramon Vargas in the 1958 movie "Touch of Evil."

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