Pete is known for his astonishing collection of African American films covering the period of 1902 to1951 which marked the end of the Oscar Micheaux era – the African American author, film director and independent producer of a number of popular silent films. Among Pete’s most cherished films are the 1902 version of “Cabin in the Sky” and a rare silent film “Hearts in Dixie” which was made in Hollywood. He owns 72 half hour episodes of “Amos and Andy” as well as films of Black casts made all over the world from Africa to South America.
His penchant for collecting began when he was 5 years old after receiving a copy of a Billy Eckstine record called ”Jelly Jelly” from his sister. This was not considered an unusual gift from a family of jazz and film buffs. In 1908 his father opened a restaurant and hired a bus boy named Paul Robeson, who would pat Pete on the head and called him by the nickname his father had given him – “Petey Dink”. the name of a popular comic strip character. By the time Pete was in high school he learned who Paul Robeson had become when Paul would stop by the restaurant at least once a year. This new knowledge created curiosity and interest in movies with Black casts even though Paul Robeson’s movies were made in England. From that point on, Pete started going to see movies with Black casts.
In college Pete studied to become an historian and collecting allowed him to become a part of history. He knew he could not afford to acquire 70mm print films so when VHS and BETA came out he started looking for Black films in those formats and soon became obsessed. Like most scholarly collectors he was inspired by the need to document art, history and culture. He now owns films in every format; 8mm, video tapes, BETA, blue-ray, etc.
In 2001 Pete suffered a stroke that affected his speech and mobility. One night, while lying in bed, he started thinking about what he could do to take his mind off of his health issues. The thought came to him to find a way to share his film collection. The next morning he discussed the idea with Janice, his lovely wife of 37 years. Janice who is a member of the Wilfandel Club of the famed Wilfandel House, the historic mansion on West Adams, said she would talk it over with the other members and perhaps he could use the venue. Thus began the screening series of these rare Black films, shown the last Friday of every month at 12 o’clock noon. This event has become one of the community outreach programs for the Wilfandel House and a way for Pete to share this rich film history. “It gave me incentive to push myself.”
But Pete’s historical interest doesn’t stop there. He now holds the esteemed position of President of the Duke Ellington Society here in Los Angeles, which is dedicated to the preservation of his music. The Duke Ellington Society has branches in the U.S., Canada, Sweden and England to name a few. The group meets every 3rd Sunday at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center located at 4305 Degnan Blvd. in Leimert Park. Pete is hopeful the new venue will help draw more people and especially younger people to become members. He speaks very proudly of his teenage granddaughters who not only assist him with the screenings of the historical vintage movies when they’re not busy with school, but who also delight in the music of Duke Ellington preferring jazz over rap and hip-hop.
Pete’s goal for his tenure as President is to keep Duke Ellington’s music fresh, to share and educate people about the historical nature of the man and the music.His knowledge of Black film and the music of Duke Ellington have made him recognized as the resident expert of this era and he is sought out as a resource on production projects that require authentic settings and music for the early period of Black films.