Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA (1946)

Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA (1946), starring actress and singer, Francine Everett (1915-1999) is a race film directed by the pioneering African American producer and director Spencer Williams and produced by Sack Amusement Enterprises. The press called Everett the most beautiful woman in Harlem and she became a familiar face in Black Cinema. She appeared in Paradise in Harlem (1939), Keep Punching (1939), and Big Timers (1945) among other films..  After starring in Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A., she had bit parts in two Hollywood films: Lost Boundaries (1949) and Sidney Poitier’s first film, No Way Out (1950).  Even though Hollywood wanted to cast her in various maid roles, she refused to play stereotypes when she could play leading character roles in Black Cinema.

During the 1930s, Williams secured small roles in race films, a genre of low-budget, independently-produced films with all-black casts that were created solely for exhibition in racially segregated theaters. Williams also created two screenplays for race film production: the Western film Harlem Rides the Range and the horror-comedy Son of Ingagi, both released in 1939.

Alfred N. Sack, whose San Antonio, later Dallas, Texas based company Sack Amusement Enterprises produced and distributed race films, was impressed with Williams’ screenplay for Son of Ingagi and offered him the opportunity to write and direct a feature film. At that time, the only African American filmmaker was the self-financing writer/director/producer Oscar Micheaux. Besides being a film production company, Sack also had interests in movie theaters. He had more than one name for his ventures; they were also known as Sack Attractions and Harlemwood Studios. Sack produced films under all of his company’s various names.

With his own film projector, Williams began traveling in the southern US, showing his films to audiences there. During this time, he met William H. Kier, who was also traveling the same circuit showing films. The two formed a partnership and produced some motion pictures, training films for the Army Air Forces, as well as a film for the Catholic diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Williams’ resulting film, The Blood of Jesus (1941), was produced by his own company, Amnegro, on a $5,000 budget using non-professional actors for his cast. The film, a religious fantasy about the struggle for a dying’ Christian woman’s soul, was a major commercial success.Sack declared The Blood of Jesus was “possibly the most successful” race film ever made, and Williams was invited to direct additional films for Sack Amusement Enterprises. In the next six years, Williams directed Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus (1942),Marching On! (1943), Go Down Death (1944), Of One Blood (1944), Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946), The Girl in Room 20 (1946), Beale Street Mama (1947) and Juke Joint (1947). After working ten years in Dallas, Williams returned to Hollywood in 1950.

Following the production of Juke Joint, Williams relocated to Tulsa,Oklahoma, where he joined Amos T. Hall in founding the American Business and Industrial College.