The Little Theatre Movement (LTM), producers of the annual LTM National Pantomime, in cooperation with the family of the late, great comedian, actor, broadcaster, playwright, cultural activist, Randolph 'Ranny' Williams will mark the centenary of his birth this week.
'Maas Ran', as he was popularly known, was born October 26, 1912 and died August 10, 1980. Born in Panama, he was brought to Jamaica at an early age and after schooling, began a career in entertainment, which lasted well over three decades. He was one of the early members of a troupe of performers who became followers of nationalist Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who operated a cultural centre on Slipe Road, below Cross Roads, in Kingston.
Williams began as "a hoofer", a dancer in the back row. He steadily moved to the front and in time contributed more than dance, to the programmes which Garvey (later to become Jamaica's first National Hero) produced.
In 1942, Williams became a member of the ensemble performing in the LTM Pantomime. He was one of the first persons of colour to be admitted to the cast and he contributed much in helping to move the show from its English-centred origins to a unique form, blending Jamaican folk culture with the standard English-originated format.
He partnered Louise Bennett (later Coverley) in performing and scripting several of the productions. He wrote two Pantomimes on his own and collaborated in creating several others.
He performed in 29 of the annual shows, his last being The Hon All Purpus and the Dancing Princesses in 1979.
In between all of that he became one of the pioneers of radio drama and comedy, partnering with Alma Hylton (Morgie and Putus) and Louise Bennett (The Lou and Ranny Show).
He found time to be involved in other areas of the arts, especially in keeping alive the tradition of Jonkunno. He founded the Ranny Williams Youth Club and recorded some of the songs which he created.
Williams found time to act in movies filmed in Jamaica and was much in demand to contribute to other endeavours which helped to develop Jamaican popular culture.
In the summer of 1980, he went to Canada for performances of the popular comedy Operation P, produced by Ed Wallace. He had been suffering from diabetes, which resulted in the amputation of a foot some time earlier. Despite that, he continued with his work onstage. He fell ill while in Toronto, was taken to hospital where he died.
Williams' remains were brought back to Jamaica for burial. It is ironic that his long-time stage partner Miss Lou also died in Toronto where she had migrated. Her remains too were returned home for interment.
It is felt in some quarters that Williams' contribution has never received the full recognition it should.
He did not go unnoticed, however, the entertainment centre on grounds adjoining Jamaica House was named in his honour and is much-used especially for activities produced by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission. He received many honours and awards in his lifetime, including the Order of Distinction (Commander Class).
The salute to Ranny 100, will take the form of a three-day commemorative exhibition, highlighting his history in theatre and other endeavours. The exhibition will be mounted at the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Library. Tom Redcam Drive, where it will be on display from tomorrow through to Wednesday and then moved to the Little Theatre.Recordings
The LTM expresses its thanks to members of Ranny Williams family who live in Jamaica as well as in Canada and the United States, who have assisted in providing material, some of which is unknown to many persons. These include recordings of songs he wrote and performed himself. Photo albums have been searched to find images of Maas Ran, not known to a new generation.
Many of Williams' colleagues have passed on, but there are still enough left with memories of one of the multi-talented cultural activists of Jamaica.
Members of the theatre fraternity and others are being invited to a session remembering Maas Ran on the evening of his birthday October 26, on the grounds of the Little Theatre, beginning at 6 p.m.