Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lena Horne; TMI; California

The Daily Beast published this except from James Gavin's biography of Lena Horne:

Leno Horne's Horne's Stormy Past
by James Gavin

The legendary singer, who died Sunday, was no wallflower when it came to defending herself against racial slurs. In an exclusive excerpt from Stormy Weather, James Gavin tells the story of when she attacked a racist man at a Beverly Hills restaurant.

Monday, February 15, 1960, was Lena Horne’s day off in a two-week engagement at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. Around midnight, she and her husband Lennie Hayton dropped by the Luau, a faux-Polynesian restaurant in Beverly Hills. Playwright Mart Crowley, who wrote The Boys in the Band, recalled the place “kitsch and camp—all these blue strobe lights and fake rain that came down over the bar.” But it gained a touch of Hollywood cachet from its owner Stephen Crane, one of Lana Turner’s ex-husbands; and a show-bizzy crowd found it an amusingly unfashionable place to hang out. The Haytons were shown to a corner table, then Lennie went to phone their friend Kay Thompson from a booth to see if she were free. Horne waited alone, amid a soft murmur of conversation.

“I’m sorry he had to learn in such a violent manner that people don’t like to be insulted. But I don’t go for that stuff.”

From the lower level, just a few feet away, a drunken voice cut through the quiet. It belonged to Harvey St. Vincent, the 30-year-old vice president of an upscale engineering firm. He sat with a friend, Norman Wynne. St. Vincent shouted for a waiter.

One of them promised to come soon; first, he said, he had to serve “Miss Horne’s table.” Wynne looked up. “There’s Lena Horne,” he told St. Vincent, who glared in her direction. He raised his voice for all to hear.
“So that’s Lena Horne, huh? Well, she’s just another black nigger … there ain’t nothing they can do for me.”

Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne. By James Gavin. 608 pages. Atria. $16. According to some reports, Horne leaned over the partition and responded with dignity: “I can hear you, and I want you to stop making those insulting remarks.” Other versions had her answering much more bluntly.

“Well,” he barked, “all niggers look alike to me and that includes you.”

for the rest go here:


When Newsweek published Ramin Setoodeh's piece claiming that gay actors are pretty much limited to certain (i.e. non-leading romantic roles that requite straight actors) I agreed with most people that he was a bit balmy. Apparently Setoodeh, who says he's gay, discounts the number of gay actors who've played straight romantic leads since the time of silent movies. He also said some other stupid things not worth mentioning here. I saw him on TV after the push back began and the guy looked like all three of the Stooges had worked him over with frying pans.

But in the course of his piece he did make a point of how we have Too Much Information about our stars. We've gone from the days of studio controlled puff press releases to starlets flashing their beavers when they're exiting cars to male stars throwing up as they leave night clubs.

And man the confessions. I used to admire actors who came forward and talked about their drug problems and health problems and even romantic problems. Back when this sort of thing was new it seemed refreshing. And maybe even instructive. But now, no matter how truthful it might be, the tell-all, whether in print or on the tube, is a cliche. It's like John D. MacDonald said about pornography--when you start to write it you realize how limited the human body is. Very soon you're repeating yourself, even after including all the bizarre configurations you lifted from the Kama Sutra. Speaking of which even sex tapes are now passe. Really? Another one? An of course the vultures have moved in to exploit all this, including Dr. Phil, who has always reminded me of Hannibal Lechter.

Setoodeh's point--I'm really asking your opinion here--is that TMI gets in the way the audience looks at the actors when they're acting. A good current example is Lindsey Lohan. I caught her Disney stuff when she was younger because in those days I babysat my oldest granddaughter. She was--like her brother and two other sisters--a Disney child, no substitutes allowed. Lohan is a good actress. Sometimes damned good. But I can't imagine the role that would help us forget her recent and sad demise as both an actress and a human being (at this point she'd probably be better off in county jail for her own sake). Linda Lovelace just confirms the very image she needs to shed (unless the script turns out to be Oscar worthy).

Even one of our Official Sweethearts such as Jennifer Aniston has created a subtext for herself that seems to be catching up to her. Looking For Love; The Loser at Love. Her movies are usually inane romantic comedies but maybe they fail because in life she's always portrayed as as adrift on the chilly seas of despond.

I've never been a big Russell Crowe fan so I'm going in with a bias. But every time I see him on screen an image of him hurling a telephone at some poor hotel clerk crosses my mind. As Richard Pryor remarked comedy--the form used to be about the poor and powerless attacking the rich and powerful. But today we see a lot of meanness aimed at people and groups that can't defend themselves. Crowe is an asshole and it's hard for me to forget that when I watch his performamces.

Do any of you have actors whose lives get in the way of their craft?

--------------------------------- You Play The Black and The Red Comes Up

While the author of this famous cult novel is officially Richard Hallas, it was of course written by the Brit Eric Knight, who came to Hwood and did well for himself, creating, among other successful properties, Lassie. It's often said that You Play The Black is a parody of the noir novel. I dunno. For one thing, as Stephen Crane always argued, parody can be taken up and as well as down. In other words you can lift a form from the popular books or movies and deal with the form seriously. Mostly I don't give a damn. I think it's a hell of a good book and the recent entertaining and spot-on review in Mystery-File bears me out. Her's one of the many memorable passages:

""I think it was true what Genter once said: that the minute you crossed into California you went crazy. And I think the minute you cross the mountains coming back, you change again… I remember him saying that some lands were father to a man; and some were mother to him, and loved him; and some were a wife, and had to be loved; but California was just a whore who dropped her pants to the first man who came along with a watering-pot."


Cap'n Bob said...

In won't watch anything with a $cientologist in it. There are many actors and actresses I can't abide, but that's based on them, not their politics or private lives. The exception is Jane Fonda. She can go to hell.

Anonymous said...

Seconded: Russell Crowe is an asshole.

Jeff P.

Anonymous said...

I will not watch any movie that features Mel Gibson (guess why?)...

Todd Mason said...

I try to separate the performers from their private lives, when I know of them...but when the performer is being deified for his asinine or worse trans-performance behavior (most enervatingly for me, Miles Davis, though the likes of Jack Kerouac or Barbra Streisand can also be offputting), that does tend to get in the way of enjoyment (of course, all three of those folks, and perhaps many like them, went through or continue to go through precipitous declines of their abilities. Karma? Something like it?)

Todd Mason said...

Michael Jackson and some others were always a bit creepy. In his case, always. Poor kid, unforgivable man.