Sam Greenlee Dies at 83 |

Sam Greenlee, a novelist and poet best known for a low-budget 1973 movie made from his novel “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” which envisioned a black power revolution led by a militant black ex-C.I.A. agent — it was pulled from theaters after a brief box office success — died on May 19 in Chicago. He was 83.

The cause was heart failure, said Pemon Rami, a family spokesman.

spook_who_sat_by_the_door-alt-620x826The film, with the same title as the novel, achieved cult status as one of the few to portray the black power movement of the 1960s and ’70s from a militant’s point of view. Mr. Greenlee helped write the script, which, like the book, drew on his experiences working abroad for the State Department.

In the story, Mr. Greenlee’s protagonist, Dan Freeman, endures a brief, demeaning career as the first African-American C.I.A. officer, a token position, just so he can learn the art of fomenting revolution from foreign rebellions and then bring the revolution home to Chicago.

The portrayal was criticized by some as a revolutionary’s handbook, complete with detailed accounts of making Molotov cocktails, robbing banks and taking firearms from a National Guard armory. Mr. Greenlee said his purpose had never been to advocate those actions, but rather to explore what he considered a fantasy of many young black men at the time: turning the tables on the white establishment by using its power against it.

“The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” directed by Ivan Dixon and starring Lawrence Cook — with a score by Herbie Hancock, an old Chicago friend of Mr. Greenlee — was selected in 2012 for inclusion in the National Film Registry, a catalog of American movies of “enduring cultural or historical significance.” In a citation accompanying the announcement, the Library said that the film reflected a dimension of “who we are as a nation.”

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