Lena Horne

Lena Horne + Paul Robeson (Blacklist Episode #12) by Karina Longworth

Horne and Paul Robeson look over plans for a June 1946 rally at Madison Square Garden, hosted by the Council on African Affairs.

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Horne's last years at MGM overlapped with the first HUAC hearings. Horne, an outspoken proponent of equal rights, who from the beginning of her career had associated with leftists and “agitators,” got caught up in the anti-communist insanity. One of those agitators was Paul Robeson, a singer, actor and political firebrand who was a mentor and friend to Horne. But once the red panic began to heat up, that friendship became problematic for Lena, and like so many others, she was forced to choose between her career and her friendships.  

Lena Horne and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a party Ms. Horne gave in Dr. King's honor in 1963.

Show notes:

Here is a list of published sources that the entire season draws from:

The Red and the Blacklist: An Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate by Norma Barzman

Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo

Trumbo: A biography of the Oscar-winning screenwriter who broke the Hollywood blacklist by Bruce Cook

When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics by Donald T. Critchlow

Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten by Edward Dmytryk

City of Nets by Otto Friedrich

Hollywood Radical, Or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist by Bernard Gordon

I Said Yes to Everything by Lee Grant

Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War by J. Hoberman

Naming Names by Victor S. Navasky

West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein

The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-60 by Larry Ceplair
 

Sources specific to this episode:

The Hornes: An American Family, by Gail Lumet Buckley

The Undiscovered Paul Robeson: An Artist’s Journey, 1898 – 1939 by Paul Robeson Jr.

Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin

Lena by Lena Horne and Richard Schickel

“The Politics of Cafe Society” by David W. Stowe The Journal of American History Vol. 84, No. 4 (Mar., 1998)    

Lena Horne, interviewed by Gene De Alessi, April 12, 1966, Pacifica Radio Archives

Ed Sullivan, “Ed Sullivan’s Little Old New York,” The Pittsburgh Press, Oct. 11, 1951.

“Negroes Won’t Fight Russia, Robeson Says,” Los Angeles Times, Apr. 21, 1949.

Paul Pushkin, “Robeson Pleased With the Soviet Social Scheme,” Baltimore Afro-American, Jan. 19, 1935.

John Meroney, “The Red-Baiting of Lena Horne,” The Atlantic, Aug. 27, 2015,

“Negro Leader Takes Issue With Robeson,” Los Angeles Times, Apr. 21, 1949.
 

This episode includes excerpts from the following:

Clip from Show Boat of Robeson singing "Ol' Man River."

Robeson's post-1938 version of the lyrics:

Lena Horne interviewed on KPFA radio, 1966:

Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music:

Lena Horne talking to Shirley Eder in 1969:

Credits:

This episode was written by Karina Longworth and Matthew Dessem, and edited by Sam Dingman. Our production and research assistant is Lindsey D. Schoenholtz. Our logo was designed by Teddy Blanks.

Blacklist Flashback: Lena Horne During WWII by Karina Longworth

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Stunning singer/actress Lena Horne was the first black performer to be given the full glamour girl star-making treatment. But as the years went on and her studio failed to make much use of her, Horne started feeling like a token — and she wasn’t wrong. Today we’ll detail Horne’s experiences rising through the ranks of the black nightclub world to MGM, where she remained under contract through the 1940s, and found herself competing with Ava Gardner for parts. Next week, we’ll talk about Horne’s post-MGM career and her struggle to stay off the blacklist.

This episode originally debuted in February 2015

There are several excerpts in this episode from the autobiographical stage show Lena mounted in the early 1980s, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.” Some of these excerpts come from a television version of the show that’s been posted on YouTube; others are from the official soundtrack album.

Other audio-video sources used in this episode, not including music:

Lena Horne on the Tonight Show 

Lena Horne on Good Morning America, 1981

Clip from Cabin in the Sky

Jubilee! Episode #89, from Armed Forces Radio Service, July 24, 1944

EMPIRE, "Fake Ass Lena Horne" and the Real Lena Horne by Karina Longworth

Like, apparently, most Americans, my favorite thing on television right now is Empire, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong's nutty prime time soap about Lucious Lyon, a gangster rapper-turned-multimedia mogul who finds out he has ALS at the exact moment that Cookie -- his ex-wife/mother of his three sons/mastermind of his empire -- is released from prison after 17 years. Cookie, played by the incredible Taraji P. Henson, blasts into rooms like a hurricane; pretty much everything that happens on the show, she makes happen, and she gets most of the best lines. A major plot this season has been Cookie's rivalry with Anika, Empire Entertainment's new head of A & R and Lucious' new fiancee.

Played by the stunning Grace Gealey, Anika is very light-skinned (the show has introduced us to her black mother and white father), and is a self-proclaimed "debutante." The street-smart Cookie, who still loves Lucious and has given Anika the derogatory nickname Boo Boo Kitty, firmly believes that Anika is too polished and naive to interface with Empire's artists, who have a host of issues ranging from drug addiction (what's up, guest star Courtney Love) to ongoing criminal activity to, in the case of Lucious' own sons, homosexuality, baby mama drama and potentially violent misogyny. Where Cookie can put on a head scarf and manipulate the devoutly Nation of Islam mother of a rapper, Lucious had to protect Anika when her meeting with the same rapper is interrupted by a drive-by. In a variety of different ways, Cookie tells us and the other characters on the show over and over again that Anika isn't able to get her hands dirty, that she isn't street, that she isn't black enough.

At the end of this week's episode, Fox showed a preview of the remaining four episodes of the season, in which Cookie refers to Anika as "fake-ass Lena Horne." This was interesting to me for a number of reasons, not least because this week I published a very special, very long episode of the podcast about Lena Horne. As the podcast details, Lena Horne -- whose skin tone was similar to Grace Gealey's) was signed by MGM in 1942 to represent the hopes and dreams of entire black community. They hired her and agreed, for the first time, never to cast this black actress as a servant or maid, and they did this so that Hollywood on the whole wouldn't have to make any significant changes in its depictions and attitudes towards race -- they could always point to Lena Horne and say, "See?" 

But as my episode explains, this "special treatment" made Lena Horne a pariah within the black Hollywood community, because everybody else was still playing maids, and still being forced to feed into white people's stereotypes about how black people should look and act, in order to get a paycheck. Lena Horne was used to this reaction from fellow black people; as far back as kindergarten, she was taunted on the playground for being "too white," and when her caucasian-style beauty helped her get a promotion at the Cotton Club, the other girls working at the club saw it as a signifier of the racism operating within an establishment that only hired black performers. In Hollywood, Lena wasn't "black enough" to fit in with the black community, but she wasn't white. She was, as she put it, "suspended in midair" between the two communities, and this was a terrible place to be. She became a symbol not of black advancement in Hollywood, as she was groomed to be, but of the double standards that allow people of color who can "pass" between worlds. Because her "special treatment" was still horribly racist and demeaning, Lena Horne eventually told Hollywood they could take their special treatment and shove it, and she became a passionate civil rights activist.

Anika is the least sympathetic character on Empire, and Cookie is pretty much everyone's favorite, and given that, it's pretty remarkable how far the show is willing to go in showing Cookie's frustrations at being surpassed by this lighter-skinned beauty, and how much she expresses that frustration in racial terms (she also has a problem with her son Andre's white wife, who is also pretty much evil, but that's a topic for another day).

There is a lot more I could say about this, but it's also all in the episode. Bottom line: when Cookie compares Anika to Lena Horne, it's a lot more than a wisecrack.

Star Wars Episode VII: Lena Horne by Karina Longworth

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Signed to a contract by MGM in 1942, stunning singer/actress Lena Horne was the first black performer to be given the full glamour girl star-making treatment. But as the years went on and her studio failed to make much use of her, Horne started feeling like a token — and she wasn’t just being paranoid. A tireless USO performer during World War II, Horne and MGM were deluged with fan mail from African-American soldiers, an outpouring of support which still didn’t change the fundamentally racist institutional attitudes holding Horne back. We’ll trace her journey from the stage of The Cotton Club to the Hollywood Hills; her two marriages and her relationships with Vincente Minnelli, Orson Welles and Ava Gardner; her triumphs and disappointments on screen and off throughout the war era; the final insult which soured LenaHorne on Hollywood for good, and her remarkable late-in-life comeback.

Show Notes:

Before even listening to this episode, you might have noticed that there’s something a little different about it: it’s loooonnnng. This is not because I’ve suddenly fallen in love with the sound of my voice; it’s because I’ve fallen in love with the sound of LenaHorne’s voice. In the middle of my research for this episode, I discovered this public radio interview with Horne originally broadcast in 1966 and distributed by the Black Media Archive, and I thought it was so great that I immediately devoted the next couple of days to listening to all of the LenaHorne interview audio I could find. The episode is long because I included Lena’s version of her own story whenever possible, whether spoken or sung. 

There are several excerpts in this episode from the autobiographical stage show Lena mounted in the early 1980s, “LenaHorne: The Lady and Her Music.” Some of these excerpts come from a television version of the show that’s been posted on YouTube; others are from the official soundtrack album.

Other audio-video sources used in this episode, not including music:

LenaHorne on the Tonight Show

LenaHorne on Good Morning America, 1981

Clip from Cabin in the Sky

Jubilee! Episode #89, from Armed Forces Radio Service, July 24, 1944

Other sources include Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James GavinBright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood by Donald Bogle; A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli by Mark Griffin; and the book that got me started on the idea of including an episode on Lena into our Star Wars series, Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen by Sherrie Tucker.

Discography:

Stormy Weather instrumental, from a compilation called “Relaxing Jazz Instrumental 1940s Music”

Passing Fields by Quantum Jazz

Money by Jahzzar 

Dances and Dames by Kevin MacLeod

Make a Wish (For Christmas) by Lee Rosevere

Laserdisc by Chris Zabriskie

I Knew a Guy by Kevin MacLeod

Stormy Weather part 1, performed by LenaHorne in “LenaHorne: The Lady and Her Music”

Derelict by Beck

Main Stem performed by US Army Blues

Dagger by Slowdive

Gnossiennes No. 1 by Eric Satie

Can’t Stop Loving Dat Man performed by LenaHorne in ’Til The Clouds Roll By

There’s Probably No Time by Chris Zabriskie

Stormy Weather part 2, performed by LenaHorne in “LenaHorne: The Lady and Her Music”