Reprinted form yesterday's late editions.
Seven years ago actor-director Robert Hooks returned to Washington, which was his home, to establish an ambitious, idealistic enterprise that ultimately failed, the D.C. Black Repertory. Now, a year after the Rep was dissolved. Hooks is taking on another daring challenge that will take him to the West Coast. A group of his friends and admires gathered Monday night to pay homage and say goodbye.
Oddly, for a man of the theater and of the film, the testimonials were mostly from sports and media personalities. The theater crowd had earlier given a private farewell at the Rep., Inc., the successor to Hook's organization. Among those who Monday night praised Hook's work were boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, former basketball star Sonny Hill and former Redskins wide receiver Roy Jefferson, now with CBS television.
Though getting only passing mention in the ceremony. Hook's private conversation focused on his new project, an independent production unit run by blacks that would produce plays, films, television series, TV specials and syndicated radio programs for stations aimed at black audiences.
To be called North Star Enterprises (after Frederick Douglass' paper), what Hooks has in mind he describes as "a kind of black United Artists." To get going on that scale, North Star would have to "go after about $10 million to $15 million," and Hooks is just at the beginning.
But he is hardly at the beginning in attracting personal support. He is the president, and the board consists of Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Roscoe Lee Brown, writer Maya Angelou, play-wright Lonnie Elder, composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and Douglas Turner Ward, Hooks' partner in New York's Negro Ensemble Company.
A Washington investment broker has been brought in, Hooks says, to protect North Star from floundering on the financial inexperience that has undercut many black cultural projects, including D.C. Rep.
A recurrent theme is Monday night's testimonials was that Hooks had been denied the support from the community that he deserved. After Hooks had expressed doubts to him privately that the District will ever have a secure black cultural institution, Channel 7's Paul Berry took issue in his testimonial and said to Hooks, "There will be a time when people will appreciate what you did here."
Earlier in the day, Hooks expressed the frustrations he encountered in trying to run the Rep. "The priorities in black culture here are all mixed up. It's a black city, but the black community does very little. Not once in those years did the mayor ever visit our theater. ANd when blacks go out, they want to go downtown, not uptown (where the Rep was located)."