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Born in Monroe, Louisiana to Frank, an old-time Dixie band leader, and Marcella Moreland began acting by the time he was an adolescent, running away to join a minstrel show in 1910. By the late 1920s, he had made his way through vaudeville, working with various shows and revues, performing on Broadway and touring Europe. Initially, Moreland appeared in low-budget “race movies” aimed at African-American audiences, but as his comedic talents came to be recognized, he received roles in larger productions.