Juan G. Hernández, most notably known as Juano Hernández in Hollywood, was an acting pioneer who paved the way for many of today’s actors. The San Juan, Puerto Rico, native passed away in July of 1970 leaving behind an incredible film legacy that broke barriers within the entertainment industry. With a career that spanned 50 years, Juano gave many indelible performances — his role in Intruder in the Dust earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Throughout his career, Juano went on to work with Hollywood heavyweights like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Sidney Poitier, Joel McCrea and Steve McQueen.
Prior to getting getting his start in Hollywood, he worked as a sailor and moved from his beautiful Puerto Rico to the vibrant Rio de Janeiro. While there he became a circus entertainer and made his debut in 1922. Sometime after that he moved back to the Caribbean to work as a pro boxer under the name Kid Curley. He then decided to set his eyes on another prize: the stage. Juano later moved to New York City where he found work in vaudeville and minstrel shows, sang in a church choir and worked as a radio script writer.
Because he knew that his Spanish accent would probably hinder him from finding more work, he would study Shakespeare during his free time in an effort to help improve his diction (something that helped him further his career in radio). He then went on to co-star in radio’s first all-black soap opera We Love and Learn, as well as other shows, becoming a household name in The Cavalcade of America. To round out his talents a bit further, he also appeared in Broadway shows like Strange Fruit and Set My People Free, but his official debut was in 1927’s Show Boat as a chorus singer.
Juano’s film career started in 1914 with first role, albeit uncredited, in the silent film The Life of General Villa where he brought to life the character of a revolutionary soldier. But it wasn’t until his role as Gomez in The Girl from Chicago made by African-American author, director and producer Oscar Micheaux in 1932 that he appeared in his first “talkie” film. In 1949, Juano landed his first mainstream film role as Lucas Beauchamp in Intruder in the Dust, based on William Faulkner’s book, opposite David Brian and Claude Jarman Jr. In the film that saw him land his only Golden Globe nomination, he portrays a Mississippi farmer who is unjustly accused of the murder of a white man. The New York Times named it one of the ten best films of the year and William (the author of the book) said, “That Juano Hernández is a fine actor—and man, too.”
Throughout his 50-year career, Juano racked up a total of 36 TV and film credits, two nominations and garnered the respect of actors both past and present. In the last three years of his lengthy career, Juano appeared in 1969’s The Extraordinary Seaman opposite David Niven; 1969’s The Reivers opposite Steve McQueen; and 1970’s They Call Me Mister Tibbs! opposite Sidney Poitier.
Toward the end of his career and life, he returned to his native Puerto Rico and began writing a script based on the life of the country’s first boxing champion, Sixto Escobar, alongside Julio Torregrosa. Although he wasn’t able to proceed with the film in Puerto Rico, he was able to switch gears (translate it) and began shopping around the script in Hollywood. The film was close to being sold to a studio at the time of his death on July 17, 1970, two days before his 74th birthday. On March 16, 2017, Juano’s grandchildren received the honoree star for their late grandfather at Paseo de la Fama (aka The Walk of Fame) in San Juan.