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Belafonte's associates credit him with an uncanny instinct for avoiding overexposure and repetition. He has been going light on the nightclub circuit in favor of more cross-country tours to college campuses and small-town auditoriums. He feels that direct contact with such audiences revitalizes his performances. As a shrewd showman, he refuses to appear regularly on television because he dislikes both the overexposure of TV and the fact that it can rarely offer him the time to develop a finished show. He also refuses to plug his own hits indiscriminately. Having kicked off the calypso boom in the U.S. three years ago, he abruptly refused to have anything further to do with it on the grounds that it limited him artistically.
As a straight actor. Belafonte has a long way to go, and he knows it. In his latest picture. The World, the Flesh and the Devil, to be released in April, he is co-starred with Mel Ferrer and Inger Stevens as one of the three survivors of an earth-shattering atomic disaster (the script is based roughly on a prophetic 1902 novel entitled The Purple Cloud). By all reports, despite a clumsy story it is Belafonte's best acting job to date. Writer-Director Ranald MacDougall was surprised by Belafonte's chameleon ability to take on the emotional coloration of almost any scene he was playing. At one point Belafonte was required to go into a wrecked church, sit down in a pew and cry. "I didn't give him any direction on this," says MacDougall, "but he cried. Oh, God, how he cried!" On screen or off, Belafonte has a kind of visual magnetism that emerges whenever he moves. Says MacDougall: "People can recognize Harry Belafonte even when he's walking across an 80-foot screen looking about one and a half inches tall."
Belafonte worries constantly about how to establish longevity, but he knows that as long as the Lead Man keeps moving, there will be an audience at his heels. As his own variation of an old West Indian chant has it:
Lead man holler
Yo oh oh
All men foller
Down you go for a workin' dollar.
I want the men, the women and the
children, too. It's a long day out, got a lot to do.