I didn’t have much computer access for the past few days so I couldn’t post on Lena Horne on Monday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of her films. I only saw her on Sanford and Son and The Cosby Show. However I did listen to her music as a child. The first song I recall is Where and When. I can even sing part of it. As a kid I thought it was about reincarnation.
Category Archives: African-American
Sorry guys. I know I’ve been a bit lazy with the blogging. I’ve worked some long hours. Anyway here’s a frivolous filler for the week. I think these are some of the most beautiful classic actresses from the silver screen. Talent is not necessarily included. I’m just commenting on facial beauty. The actresses below all made film debuts before 1950. I’ll put Natalie Wood in another category because she was still a kid before the 50s.
Oh gosh I hope these pictures don’t look messed up. I don’t know why this is happening. Hope you can figure out who is who.
1) Gene Tierney – my favorite since childhood. I love her cheekbones.
2) Ava Gardner - both a gorgeous face and amazing body. As much as Tierney is my favorite for the face, her figure wasn’t as good. Ava is the complete physical package.
3) Linda Darnell -almost forgotten actress but she ranks high amongst us film buffs
4) Ingrid Bergman – natural beauty
5) Madeleine Carroll – elegant British beauty. I like her a lot more than Grace Kelly. I know kill me for that comment.
6) June Haver-she is such an underrated beauty. Possibly the prettiest blonde in the 40s.
7) Elizabeth Taylor -overrated but she deserves it.
8) Dorothy Dandridge - she really blossomed in her 30s (the 1950s).
9) Dorothy Lamour - the Sarong girl- another forgotten one but we film buffs love her.
10) Dolores Del Rio- Marlene Dietrich thought she was the most beautiful woman. Marlene you didn’t make my list but at least Dolores did.
Jeni Le Gon is still alive in her early 90s. She too was in I Walked With a Zombie (1943), credited as a dancer. She is the young girl in the beginning of the clip below.
I first was introduced to her in the escapist Technicolor film, Arabian Nights (1942), portraying a slave girl. She was one of if not the first black woman to sign an extended contract with MGM that was later canceled. Her roles where minor but her resume includes good films like Broadway Melody of 1936, Sundown, I Walked with a Zombie, Arabian Nights, Easter Parade, and Somebody Loves Me. Many utilized her dancing talents. She also was in the Snoop Dogg film, Bones (2001).
Le Gon eventually settled in Vancouver to teach dance. Enjoy the videos of this living legend who deserves more recognition.
Still dancing at 92
Tapping w/Bojangles Robinson in Hooray For Love (1935)
Theresa Harris is at the beginning of this clip and also when you scroll to 4:00 min. Vivian Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge’s sister is the mother of the baby.
I Walked With a Zombie (1943) and King of the Zombies are 2 films that showcase forgotten black talent of yesteryear. I Walked with a Zombie is the more intelligent serious film. Theresa Harris has an ample role as a maid but gorgeous and well-spoken. Here she looks like a young Viveca Fox (before Fox’s alleged plastic surgery). Her resume also includes significant parts in Baby Face, Professional Sweetheart, and Jezebel. She could have been bigger than Dorothy Dandridge or Angela Bassett if it weren’t for the time period but she paved the way. I hope a film will be made on her to resurrect her memory.
King of the Zombies (1941) is a comedic spoof. It’s silly compared to the critically-acclaimed I Walked with a Zombie. Although 3rd billed, it stars Mantan Moreland, another forgotten black actor. He was a staple for Monogram films, one of the top low-budget studios of the era. He was one of their money-makers and studio stars. If not top billed he was at least 2 or 3rd billed. He was a big fish in a little pond so to speak.
Unfortunately in the 50s onward, he received backlash from the black community for his comic portrayals considered offensive and demeaning. Thankfully future generations are more considerate of the time period. This man broke barriers. He was funny and talented. He was a successful mainstream black actor in the Hollywood studio days. His humor is far more respectable than stars who glorify drugs, pimps, and guns.
King of the Zombies also displays the comic talents of the sexy Marguerite Whitten.
Mantan Moreland, Marguerite Whitten, and Leigh Whipper (gaunt butler) in King of the Zombies
Flying Down to Rio is a pleasant film. It’s legacy being the first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s no mystery as to why the audience took to them. They added comic relief with better screen chemistry than it’s leads, Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond. Del Rio is a better actor than Gene Raymond but her looks made an more an impression than her talent. Walter Plunkett and Irene designed beautiful revealing costumes for Del Rio. Her beauty and style captivated me. Strange because I found her celebrated beauty disappointing in Bird of Paradise.
There is a lot of “ethnic” Hollywood history in this film. Firstly for Del Rio, an aristocratic Mexican actress. Secondly for Brazilian Raul Roulien who played Del Rio’s fiancee. He had a short Hollywood career in the early 30s before returning to Brazil. In Hollywood he played mainly supporting roles in films with such legends as Spencer Tracy, Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Joan Bennett and Gloria Stuart.
There is a scene between Del Rio and Raymond on a deserted island (unbeknown to them they are in Haiti). Del Rio is frightened because she sees shirtless black “savages.” Surprising for the time period is that these “savages” turn out to be golfers on a resort speaking proper English instead of French. Law-school graduate Clarence Muse plays the golfer with a speaking part. Muse was a vocal proponent for the positive portrayal of black performers.
There is one dance number with Fred and Ginger along with Brazilian dancers. It appears there are 2 groups of dancers dancing separately, the white dancers and the black dancers. The white dancers are donned in contemporary Latin-inspired costumes while the black dancers were in working-class folkloric costumes. African-American singer Etta Moten sings during this dance number. Her other film credit includes Gold Diggers of 1933 and she performed on Broadway most notably Porgy and Bess. In 1933, she was the first black star to perform at the White House.
The end of this film is also noteworthy in a fantasy aerial dance number with scantily clad girls atop airplanes that can only be done in the movies.
Available on Netflix.
Before Rita Moreno or Jennifer Lopez, Universal Studios had a box-office Dominican Latina star by the name of Maria Montez. She was beautiful and content being glamorous in a mindless escapist film from the World War 2 era. During that era audiences sought fantasy and entertainment. Arabian Nights provided a release from reality.
Aside from characters named Sheherazade and Sinbad, the film is a far cry from the Arabian Nights tale. Montez is the star framed in gorgeous costumes and jewels against beautiful technicolor along with beautiful starlets, an attractive male lead, a torture scene, some duels, and comic relief from Shemp Howard.
Fantasy films like Arabian Nights afforded other exotics or racial minorities work. While it’s unfortunate their roles were limited, a film like Arabian Nights is a showcase of the minority talent in Hollywood at the time. Sabu (Ali Ben Ali) who co-starred in a few escapist films with Montez was probably the only popular Indian actor in Hollywood’s golden age. Thomas Gomez (Hakim), of Spanish background, only allowed himself to portray Latin characters with sympathy or humanity. Mixed Turkish-Czech Turhan Bey (Captain of the Guard) was popular in the 40s starring in other films with Montez or Sabu. Lastly the attractive black actress, Jeni Le Gon (Dancer’s Maid) had a steady career playing servants in mainstream films but leads or secondary leads in black-cast productions.
Arabian Nights is a juvenile film but it’s beautiful, fun, and great for those interested in “ethnic” actors from Hollywood’s golden age. It was even Oscar-nominated for Cinematography, Sound, and Music if that helps attract any snobby cinephiles.
Available on Netflix.
I’ve been watching too many movies these past 2 months but I love it!!! Baby Face stars one of my favorite actresses ever!!! Barbara Stanwyck. I love her in Ball of Fire and Double Indemnity not to mention I watched too many episodes of The Big Valley as a kid.
Baby Face is a pre-Hays code film. Before the Hays code Hollywood films pushed the envelope a bit eg. single motherhood, passing (racial), sex, nudity. The Hays code was created in part because if Hollywood didn’t censor, the government could or would have intervened. While censorship was inevitable, at least Hollywood would have more control.
Baby Face is basically about a woman who sleeps her way up the NYC corporate ladder after her father dies. Before his death, the film explicity states he had been pimping her since she was 14. Before heading to NYC, Stanwyck’s character has a black female friend/maid played by the beautiful actress Theresa Harris nicknamed “The Beautiful Maid .” It’s amazing that early 30s Hollywood showcased them as loyal friends. Stanwyck always includes Harris in her decisions. She never betrays her even though she uses everyone else. Of course Harris is stuck in a maid’s uniform waiting on Stanwyck even trying to get used to calling her Ma’am instead of “honey.” She played maids but always sexy and glamorous not a mammy-type. Harris even gets to sport fur. A sexy black maid is unique for the time period because the sexy and beautiful stars were white actresses along with the occasional off-white exotic Latina.
I highly recommend this movie. It’s a guilty pleasure but Stanwyck gives a great early performance. Harris is memorable and a joy with what little screen time she has. It shows a friendship between two sexy women, one white , the other black. This is something that would be rare to find, if ever, until decades later. Lastly you can even catch a glimpse of a young John Wayne in an early role.
Available on Netflix.
Finished this film last week. It’s an average soaper but filmed on location in Grenada and Barbados. I’ve been yearning to visit Grenada and this film certainly helps push that dream forward. Two years ago I almost went. I contacted a bed and breakfast in the capital St. George run by a former Miss Universe from Grenada. Instead I decided to use my air miles for Australia/New Zealand that I’ll write about later.
The other beauty of the film is Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Belafonte makes great eye candy but his acting isn’t on par with Dandridge’s in my opinion. Originally, I never understood the appeal of Dorothy Dandridge. She is pretty in photographs but I didn’t find her a great beauty like Gene Tierney or Ava Gardner. Furthermore the only film reels I’d seen of her were from the 1940s. To my delight, Ms. Dandridge’s beauty blossomed in her 30s. This was my first Dandridge feature film viewing. Now I understand the appeal. She not only was breathtaking but talented and charismatic. She stole the film in my opinion. Her love affair with actor John Justin’s character was the most touching out of the 4 main love stories. The other couples being Belafonte/Joan Fontaine, James Mason/Patricia Owens, and Joan Collins/Stephen Boyd.
The film’s story is weak but I highly recommend it for it’s lush color cinematography and the time period. Remember this was the 1950s so this film on interracial romances and the one-drop rule (in regards to Collin’s character) was a milestone for the time although no kissing between Dandridge and Justin or Belafonte and Fontaine.
Available on Netflix.