Melvin Van Peebles Biography, Age, Family, Education, Career, Net Worth, Marriage

Who is Melvin Van Peebles?

Melvin Van Peebles was an American actor, filmmaker, novelist, playwright, and composer. He is widely recognized for creating and starring in the film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Actor and director Mario Van Peebles is his son. Melvin was an active filmmaker in the 2000s.

melvin van peebles

His feature movie Breakout, The Story of a Three-Day Pass (1967), was basically based on his own French-language novel La Permission. The movie was filmed in France, due to the fact that it was hard for a black American director to get work during that time. At the San Francisco International Film Festival the movie won an award. Melvin gained interest of Hollywood studios thus leading to his American feature breakthrough Watermelon Man, in 1970. He used the successes he had so far to finance his work as an independent filmmaker.

Initially, Peebles was a cable car gripman in San Francisco, before writing about these experiences. His first book, The Big Heart credited to Melvin Van, transformed from a small article and a series of Photographs taken by Ruth Bernhard. Van Peebles mentioned that it was a passenger that suggested that he should become a filmmaker. He filmed his initial short movie Pickup Men for Herrick in 1957 and two more short films in the same period.

Peebles stated that he thought the films were features only to turn out to be eleven minutes long as he knew nothing about films. Later finding out that a movie of 90 minutes would only cost him 500 dollars. He didn’t realize that to develop a film, he required a workprint, and putting sound on it. After the short movies were completed, Melvin took them to Hollywood trying to find work. However, he did not find anyone ready to hire him as a director.

How old is Melvin Van Peebles?

Born in Chicago, Illinois, the U.S. on August 21, 1932, Melvin Peebles was aged 89 as of 2021. He died on September 21, 2021, in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. He shares his birthday with many famous people such as Piper Rockelle, Cole LaBrant, Guava Juice Usain Bolt, Hayden Panettiere, Wilt Chamberlain (1936 – 1999), among others.

Melvin Van Peebles Family

Who are Van Peebles’s parents?

Van Peebles was born in Chicago, Illinois to Edwin Griffin. His father was a tailor. His parent’s names are not known to the public as he has kept it a secret.

Does Van Peebles have siblings?

Van Peebles’s family information was classified and kept away from public attention thus his siblings are not known.

Melvin Van Peebles Education

Van Peebles attended Ohio Wesleyan University graduating with a B.A, in literature in 1954.

Melvin Van Peebles Interests

Peebles joined the Air Force Thirty days after graduating from university and served for three and a half years.

Melvin Van Peebles Spouse

Van Peebles married Maria Marx in Mexico on 31 May 1956 and divorced years later having three children together.

Melvin Van Peebles Children

Peebles and his spouse have four children, two sons Mario Van Peebles and Max Van Peebles, and two daughters, Megan Van Peebles and Marguerite Van Peebles.

He is also a grandfather to Mandela Van Peebles, Morgana Van Peebles, Marley Van Peebles, Maya Van Peebles, Makaylo Van Peebles, through Mario Van Peebles, and Roman Van and Jonah Van through Megan Van Peebles.

Where did Melvin Van Peebles reside?

Peebles previously lived in Mexico for some time in the late 1950s and they later returned to the United States. Van Peebles currently lived in his home in Manhattan, where he died on September 21, 2021.

Melvin Van Peebles Height

Van Peebles had a physically fit body with a height of 5 ft 10 in.

Melvin Van Peebles Career

Van Peebles resolved to move his family to the Netherlands planning to study astronomy. He met Amos Vogel, the founder of the avant-garde Cinema 16, on the way to Europe, In New York City. Amos accepted to place two of Van Peebles’s shorts in his catalog of rentals. He screened Van Peeble’s Three Pickup Men for Herrick at Cinema 16 on a show with City of Jazz in the spring of 1960 with Ralph Ellison. After the film, there was a discussion about the film.Shortly after as Vogel went to Paris, he took Van Peebles’s movies to show Henri Langlois and Mary Meerson at the Cinémathèque Française.

Back in the Netherlands, during that time, Melvin’s marriage ended and his wife and children went back to Paris. He was invited to Paris probably by Mary Meerson and/or Lotte Eisner, the founders of the Cinémathèque Française, due to his short film’s strength shortly after. He created a short movie Les Cinq Cent Balles (500 Francs) (1961) and later established himself as an author in France. During 1963-64, he did investigative reporting for France Observateur, which he profiled. Peebles later became friends with Chester Himes who found him a job at the anti-authoritarian humor magazine Hara-kiri. Here he wrote a monthly column eventually joining the editorial board.


The Mad magazine tried a French edition and employed Van Peebles as editor-in-chief during its operation of only five issues. Peebles started to write plays in French, using the sprechgesang form of songwriting. This form is where the lyrics were spoken over the music and the style was used in his debut album. Brer Soul. He became a prolific writer in France and published four novels and a series of short stories. Peebles was able to finish one play, La Fête à Harlem, which additionally launched as a novel, later to be made into the musical Don’t Play Us Cheap. On September 1964, Roger Blin directed La Fête à Harlem together with the Les Griots theatrical troop for the Festival du juene théâtre in Leige, Belgium.

Peebles created his first feature-length movie, The Story of a Three-Day Pass (La Permission) (1968) based basically on a book of the same title. After the film won an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival as the French entry, it caught the attention of Hollywood producers who mistook Peebles for a French auteur. His initial Hollywood movie was the 1970 Columbia Pictures comedy Watermelon Man, written by Herman Raucher. The film played by Godfrey Cambridge narrates the story of a casually racist white man who wakes up black suddenly and finds himself estranged from his friends, family, and job.


Van Peebles was also drafted to direct the filming of the Powder Ridge Rock Festival, in 1970, but it was banned by a court injunction. He was determined to have whole control over his following production after Watermelon Man. It was the groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), it was privately funded with his own money and partly by a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby. Peebles did not only direct but also scripted and edited the movie and wrote the score and directed the marketing campaign. Totally the movie grossed $10 million and was among many others, acclaimed by the Black Panthers for its political resonance with the black struggle.

Melvin’s son Mario’s 2003 movie BAADASSSSS! narrates the story behind the creation of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Mario and his father both presented the movie as the Closing Night choice for Maryland Film Festival 2004. Van Peebles was an options trader on the American Stock Exchange in the 1980s as he continued to work in theater and movies. He co-starred in the Tony Randel American live-action adaptation of Japanese manga Fist of the North Star in 1995. Peebles starred opposite Costas Mandylor, Downtown Julie Brown, Gary Daniels, Chris Penn, Dante Basco, Clint Howard, Big Van Vader, Tracey Walter, Isako Washio, Malcolm McDowell, and Tony Halme.


In The documentary named How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company ( and Enjoy It), in 2005, Melvin was the subject. He was also the subject in 2005, in the documentary Unstoppable; Conversation with Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks, and Ossie Davis. It additionally featured Gordon Parks and Ossie Davis in the same room and was moderated by Warrington Hudlin. It was announced that Melvin would collaborate with Madlib for a proposed double film named Brer Soul Meets Quasimoto in 2015. However, there was nothing more was issued about this project since its first announcement.

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Van Peebles finished the movie Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha in 2008 and it was the Closing Night choice for Maryland Film Festival 2008. He also performed on All My Children as Melvin Woods, the father of Samuel Woods, a role played by his son Mario. In 2009, he was linked with a project to adapt Sweet Sweetback into a musical. On April 25-26, 2009, the preliminary version of it was staged at the Apollo Theater. Additionally, he authored and performed in a stage musical, Unmitigated Truth: Life, Loves, a Lavatory, and Ladies. They featured a number of his previous tracks and also some new material.

melvin van peebles

2011- 2019

Melvin began doing shows in NYC along with members of Burnt Sugar, under the name Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative in 2011. He performed his track ”Love, That’s America” in November 2011, at the Zebulon Cafe Concert. This was two weeks after the venue showed the original video for this track involving Occupy Wall Street footage. It was then uploaded on Youtube in October 2011. Melvin distributed a new album, only on vinyl, titled Nahh…Nahh Mofo on August 21, 2012. The album was distributed during his birthday celebration at Film Forum.

He later launched a video for the track ”Lilly Done the Zampoughi Every Time I Pulled Her Coattail” to go along with the album. The track was announced on his Facebook page. Van Peebles returned on May 5, 2013, to the Film Forum for a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921). He was also a judge at the Charlie Chaplin Dress-Alike Contest held after the screening. In honor of Chaplin, he wore a bowler hat and baggy pants. He made his public debut as a visual artist, as a section of a gallery featured titled ”eMerge 2.0: Melvin Van Peebles & Artists on the Cusp” in September 2013. It comprises ”Ex-Voto Monochrome (A Ghetto Mother’s Prayer)”, one among the plenty pieces of art he made to be on display in his home.

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Melvin along with his narration of poetic work with the accompaniment of music by The Heliocentrics was featured in Methane Momma, a brief movie directed by Alain Rimbert in 2017. Burnt Sugar presented the movie Sweetback in Brooklyn in 2019, as they played their own interpretation of the soundtrack. Melvin also appeared at the presentation.

Melvin Van Peebles Net Worth

Pursuing many careers consisting of an actor, screenwriter, director, composer, and playwright, Van Peebles. He has been active from 1955 to 2021 and had accumulated a net worth of $3 million as of 2021 at the time of his demise.

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