ava gardner

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”

YMRT #23: Mia Farrow in the 1960s, part 1: Mia & Frank by Karina Longworth

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Before MiaFarrow was an outspoken activist, devoted mother to 14 children, and the famously jilted partner of Woody Allen, she was … a lotof other things. Today in the first of a two parter, we’ll begin to explore MiaFarrow’s life and career from 1960-1970 — a time period during which she lived in both a Catholic convent and an Indian ashram; married and divorced Frank Sinatra and became pregnant by Andre Previn, who was still married at the time to the songwriter Dory Previn. Farrow also starred in Peyton Place, the first prime time soap sensation;Rosemary’s Baby, one of the key films of the “new Hollywood” of the 1960s-1970s; and a couple of nearly forgotten but really interesting smaller films which are just as much of their era. Today we’ll cover Mia’s life up to early 1968, tracing her emergence as a star and her relationship with Sinatra. Also: Salvador Dali, Ava Gardner, Roman Polanski, Dean Martin and more.

Show notes!

This episode was inspired by two things which came to my attention over the past year. The first was Maureen Orth’s October 2013 Vanity Fair profile of Mia, which began the recent wave of attention to the paternity of Ronan Farrow and the long-dormant allegations that Woody Allen molested his and Mia’s adopted daughter, Dylan. The second was a film called John and Mary, which I had never heard of, but needed to research in a hurry when we found contact sheets from the set of the film, contact sheets that were too beautiful to not include in my book, Hollywood Frame by Frame. That movie stars Farrow and Dustin Hoffman right at the moment when the two were the hottest, newest young stars around — to put it in completely reductive, contemporary terms, this would be like if Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart made an arty, one-night-stand movie at the peak of Twilight — but it’s basically been forgotten, and I couldn’t find much information about its production. In attempting to research it, I came across MiaFarrow’s autobiography, What Falls Away, published in 1997, which wasn’t much help on John and Mary, but which was full of other stories that I wanted to explore. 

The primary sources for this episode in addition to What Falls Away were Roman Polanski’s autobiography Roman; Robert Evans’ autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture(and the audiobook version, which I excerpt in the episode); and Sinatra: The Life by Anthony Summers and Robyn Swan, published in 2005. There are many Sinatra biographies; I picked up this one this time because I had never looked at it before, and it had a substantial amount about Mia. I also read this 2006 interview with Mia by Gaby Wood in The Guardian.

Discography:

"Moonlight Saving Me" performed by Blossom Dearie

"Flying" by The Beatles

"Come Rain or Come Shine" performed by Frank Sinatra

"I’ll Be Your Mirror" by The Velvet Underground and Nico

"The Beat Goes On" by Buddy Rich

"Au coin de la rue" by Marco Raaphorst

"Out of the Skies, Under the Earth" by Chris Zabriskie

"Something" by The Beatles, performed by Frank Sinatra

"With Plenty of Money and You" performed by Tony Bennett

"Tikopia" by Kevin MacLeod

"Melody" by Serge Gainsbourg

"Melancholy Aftersounds" by Kai Engel

"Private Hurricane (Instrumental version)" by Josh Woodward

"Divider" by Chris Zabriskie

"Main Title Theme to Rosemary’s Baby" by MiaFarrow and Dick Hazzard

"Laserdisc" by Chris Zabriskie

"I Am a Man Who Will Fight For Your Honor" by  Chris Zabriskie

"Tinkerwench" by Loveliescrushing

"Undercover Vampire Policeman" by  Chris Zabriskie

"Runaway" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

YMRT #18: The Many Loves of Howard Hughes, Chapter 4: Jane Russell by Karina Longworth

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Our long-running series on the women in the life of the infamous aviator/filmmaker continues with a look at Hughes’ professional and personal relationship with Jane Russell, which began in 1940 when Hughes randomly pulled a photograph of the 19 year-old out of a pile, and lasted for most of her film career. As the center of the ingenious five-year pre-release publicity campaign for The Outlaw — Hughes’ proto-exploitation Western, whose censorship struggles with the Hays Office would help to loosen the strictures of the Production Code — Jane Russell became mega-famous, one of the top pin-ups of World War II, through still photos alone, long before anyone ever saw her in a movie. She was a fascinating bundle of contradictions — a born-again Christian conservative who cheerfully became the pre-sexual revolution’s icon of a fantasy of freedom through sex, if not exactly sexual freedom — and her relationship with Hughes was unlike any other in the billionaire’s increasingly troubled life. Also in this episode: Hughes’ tortured affair with 15 year-old Faith Domergue, on whom he cheated with Ava Gardner; his aviation disappointments of the 1940s, exemplified by the Spruce Goose; the undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder which would emerge during — and complicate — the extended production, post-production, censorship battles and delayed release of The Outlaw; and the four page memo Hughes wrote and sent to Josef Von Sternberg in regards to Russell’s boobs. 

Show Notes!!!

If you’re new to the podcast, here’s a brief guide to our previous Howard Hughes episodes. In Chapter One, we detailed the arranged marriage that got Hughes to Hollywood, the affair with the silent film star that broke that marriage up, Hughes’ discovery of Jean Harlow and the movie, Hell’s Angels, that transformed Hughes from a rich hick into a major Hollywood player. In Chapter Two, we talked about Ida Lupino, who dated Hughes when she was a teenage starlet in the 1930s, and then directed films for his RKO Studios nearly 20 years later. Chapter 3 outlined Hughes romance with Katharine Hepburn, the deterioration of which sent Hughes into the arms/beds of Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and basically every and any famous actress he could find. This episode picks up in 1939, more or less where Chapter 3 ended. I’m planning at least one more episode about Hughes after this, but I will probably not get to it for awhile, definitely not this season. 

Jane Russell’s autobiography My Path and My Detours is fun, funny, relatively frank — and out of print. It was a valuable resource for me, as were a number of obituaries/articles published around the time of Russell’s 2011 death. This is also a great, late interview with Russell, by Lynda Lee-Potter, published in the Daily Mail in 2003.

Howard Hughes: The Untold Story continues to be the richest resource I can find when it comes to stories about his relationships with women/in Hollywood, although it seems like Russell’s book was the main source for its sections regarding her. 

Special thanks to Noah Segan, for reprising his role as Howard Hughes. 

Discography:

Preludes for Piano @ by George Gershwin

“Make a Wish (For Christmas) by Lee Rosevere

“Dances and Dames” by Kevin MacLeod

“The Wrong Way” by Jahzzar

“Phase IV” by lo-fi sci-fi

“Gagool” by Kevin MacLeod

“I’m Not Dreaming” by Josh Woodward

“Fiery Yellow” by Stereolab

“Cylinder One” by Chris Zabriskie

“All of the Lights (Interlude)” by Kanye West

“All of the Lights” by Kanye West

“Love Lockdown” by Kanye West

“Welcome to Heartbreak” by Kanye West

“Moonlight Saving Me” by Blossom Dearie

“There’s Probably No Time” by Chris Zabriskie

“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie 

“Exlibris” by Kosta T

“Rite of Passage” by Kevin MacLeod

“Vivre Sans Temps Mort” by Double Dagger

“Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” performed by Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

“Ghost Dance” by Kevin MacLeod

“Monte” by comounjardin

“Gymnopedie No. 2” by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

“I Can’t Get Started,” performed by Jane Russell