Rockne Tarkington: Mormon Actor
Rockne Tarkington was an actor of television and film and the only African American to ever have a speaking part on The Andy Griffith Show in “Opie’s Piano Lesson,” an episode with Opie deciding between piano lessons and football practice. He is also believed to be the first African American to appear in a recurring role in a television series (Daktari).
Tarkington was born on July 15, 1931, in Junction City, Kansas. He began acting on stage, then moved into guest appearances on TV series such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ben Casey, Mission Impossible, and Bewitched. He had recurring roles in Matt Houston, Tarzan, and Hanna-Barbera’s The Banana Splits Adventure Hour in the "Danger Island" segment.
His film credits include Major Dundee, The Great White Hope, Beware the Blob, National Lampoon's Movie Madness, The Ice Pirates, and Wyatt Earp. He played the title role in Black Samson (1974), and costarred in The No Mercy Man and Zebra Force. Some of his last roles were in The Desperate Trail (1995) and Wyatt Earp (1994)
Tarkington was married briefly to Joan Blackman and they had two children. He lived most of his life in the Los Angeles area. On a trip back home to visit and care for his ailing mother, he began praying, which he hadn’t done for many years. He recommitted to his desire to find the true church. He visited various churches in the area, and then one afternoon he watched a television commercial from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraging viewers to call. He didn’t catch the phone number until he saw the commercial again a few months later. After being taught by the missionaries, he was baptized on June 4, 1997. Tarkington’s mother became interested in the Church and was baptized about three weeks before she passed away in September 1998.
He stayed in Kansas and worked on a documentary project about the geographical history of each of the fifty United States. He passed away on April 5, 2015.