on July 16, 2013 - 7:53 PM
Jan. 11, 1938 – July 5, 2013
Walter Cotton (Harris), a Buffalo native who enjoyed a long acting career in New York City before his recent return to this area, died July 5 in Roswell Park Cancer Institute after a long illness. He was 75.
Mr. Cotton, who was known principally by his stage name, was born in Buffalo and was a member of the Harris family here. His family’s roots in the city go back to the 1820s, and they were founding members of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in the 1860s.
As a youth, he was a member of the Singing Boys of Buffalo, a choir composed of public school students, and he fondly recalled his time growing up in the Cold Spring neighborhood of the city.
Mr. Cotton was a member of the National Guard before he joined the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command and served in Korea as a bombing navigation computer technician.
When he left the Air Force, Mr. Cotton settled in Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side of New York City to pursue an acting career. He was among the original cast members of Roger Furman’s New Heritage Theater Company in Harlem and performed with Sun Ra at the opening of the Fillmore East in the East Village in 1968.
It was also in New York that he met his wife, the former Marsha Schwam, 45 years ago.
As an actor, writer, producer and director, Mr. Cotton’s career expanded in theater and film. He appeared in many productions at New Heritage, Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and Actors Studio, and was in the film “Cotton Comes to Harlem.”
Mr. Cotton co-wrote, produced and starred in the 1980 film “Personal Problems,” now in the permanent collection of the Schomburg Center in New York. Executive producer of the film was Mr. Cotton’s lifelong friend, Buffalo native and award-winning poet Ishmael Reed.
Mr. Cotton’s plays that were performed in New York include “Candyman’s Dance,” “New York City Is Closed,” which is included in Guernsey’s Best Plays series, the Audelco-nominated “Melting” and “Yeoman of Yesod.”
Besides his wife, Mr. Cotton is survived by a son, Blaine Harris; three daughters, Christy Wormley, Stacey Newman and Yolanda Sayre; two sisters, Sheila Nickson and Anne Harris; and two brothers, Brian Harris and Michael Harris.
A memorial service will be at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 10 in St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, 18 Sussex St. Reed will be among the speakers at a memorial tribute to be held at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 12 in Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1334 Jefferson Ave.