Lena Calhoun Horne was born June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. In her biography she stated that on the day she was born, her father was in the midst of a card game trying to get money to pay the hospital costs. Her parents divorced while she was still a toddler. Her mother left later in order to find work as an actress and Lena was left in the care of her grandparents. When she was seven her mother returned and the two traveled around the state, which meant that Lena was enrolled in numerous schools (for a time she also attended schools in Florida, Georgia and Ohio). Later she returned to Brooklyn. She quit school when she was 14 and got her first stage job at 16, dancing and later singing at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem (a renowned theater in which black performers played before white audiences. It was immortalized in The Cotton Club (1984)). She was in good hands at the club, especially when people such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington took her under their wings and helped her over the rough spots. Before long her talent resulted in her playing before packed houses. If she had never made a movie, her music career would have been enough to have ensured her legendary status in the entertainment industry, but films were icing on the cake. After she made an appearances on Broadway, Hollywood came calling. At 21 years of age Lena made her first film, The Duke Is Tops (1938). It would be four more years before she appeared in another, Panama Hattie (1942), playing a singer in a nightclub. By now Lena had signed with MGM but, unfortunately for her, the pictures were shot so that her scenes could be cut out when they were shown in the South, since most theaters in the South refused to show films that portrayed blacks in anything other than subservient roles to whites, and most movie studios did not want to take a chance on losing that particular source of revenue. Lena did not want to appear in those kinds of stereotyped roles (and who could blame her?). In 1943 MGM loaned her to 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black musical Stormy Weather (1943), which did extremely well at the box-office. Her rendition of the title song became a major hit on the musical charts. In 1943 she appeared in Cabin in the Sky (1943), regarded by many as one of the finest performances of her career. She played Georgia Brown opposite Ethel Waters and Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson in the all-black production. Rumors were rampant that she and Waters just did not get along well, although there was never any mention of the source of the alleged friction. That was not the only feud on that picture, however. Other cast members sniped at one another and it was a wonder the film was made at all. Regardless of the hostilities, the movie was released to very good reviews from the ever tough critics. It went a long way in showing the depth of the talent that existed among black performers in Hollywood, especially Lena. Lena's musical career flourished, but her movie career stagnated. Minor roles in films such as Boogie-Woogie Dream (1944), Words and Music (1948) and Mantan Messes Up (1946) did little to advance her film career, due mainly to the ingrained racist attitudes of the time (aven at the height of Lena's musical career, she was often denied rooms at the very hotels in which she performed, because they would not let blacks stay there). After Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), Lena left films to concentrate on music and the stage. She returned in 1969, as Claire Quintana in Death of a Gunfighter (1969). Nine years later she returned to the screen again in the all-black musical The Wiz (1978), where she played Glinda the Good Witch. Although that was her last big-screen appearance, she stayed busy in television, appearing in "A Century of Women" (1994) and That's Entertainment! III (1994).
Had it not been for the prevailing racial attitudes during the time when Lena was just starting her career, it's fair to say that it would have been much bigger, and come much sooner, than it was. Even taking those factors into account, Lena Horne is still one of the most respected, talented and beautiful performers of all time--and she's still singing!
|Lennie Hayton||(14 December 1947 - 24 April 1971) (his death)|
|Louis Jordan Jones||(13 January 1937 - 15 June 1944) (divorced) 2 children|
While at MGM, her appearances in movies were shot so that they could be cut easily from the film. This was because MGM feared audiences of the day--but especially in the South--would not accept a beautiful black woman in romantic, non-menial roles. Many in the business believed that this was the main reason she lost out on playing the mulatto "Julie" in MGM's remake of Show Boat (1951). Ironically, the role was played by one of Lena's close off-screen friends, Ava Gardner, who practiced for it by singing to Horne's recordings of the songs, and Lena had already appeared in the "Show Boat" segment of Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), in which she appeared as "Julie" singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (which was, as all her MGM appearances, shot in such a way that it could be easily edited out of the film). Another irony is that she had been invited by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II themselves to play "Julie" in the 1946 Broadway revival of "Show Boat", but had had to refuse because MGM would not release her from her contract.
Her signature song is "Stormy Weather."
Lost her father, husband and son in one year.
She is the mother of journalist and author Gail Lumet Buckley, whose articles have appeared in Vogue Magazine (USA) and The Los Angeles Times (CA, USA); Buckley has researched and authored two books "The Hornes: An American Family" (New American Library, 1986) and "American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm" (Random House, 2001).
Inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991.
She was branded a "Communist sympathizer" by many right-wing conservatives because of her association with Paul Robeson and her progressive political beliefs (which led her to be blacklisted in the 1950s).
According to her autobiography, she photographed so light in her initial screen tests that MGM was afraid people would mistake her for a white woman, so they had makeup legend Max Factor create a make-up line for her called "Dark Egyptian", so she could appear as a "Negro" onscreen. Ironically, Hedy Lamarr used this same makeup in White Cargo (1942) when she played a half-caste African native.
Sought the lead role in the controversial film Pinky (1949), about a black girl who passes for white. 20th Century-Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck decided to take the safe road and choose a white star who had box-office appeal and picked Jeanne Crain. "Pinky," which was a slang term for a light-skinned black, won Crain her only Oscar nomination.
Ranked #62 on VH1's 100 Greatest Women in Rock N Roll
She has a weakness for Godiva chocolate.
She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Received a Special Tony Award in 1982 for "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music." She had previously been nominated for Broadway's 1958 Tony Award as Best Actress (Musical) for "Jamaica."
In Charles Whiting's book "The Long March On Rome", he reports that she refused to appear before racially segregated US Army audiences in WW2 Italy--since the army was officially segregated, the policy was to have one show solely for white troops and another show solely for black troops. Horne insisted on performing for mixed audiences, and since the US Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she wound up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black US soldiers and white German POWs.
Leslie Uggams is scheduled to portray her in a musical production "Stormy Weather" at the Pasadena Playhouse (California) starting January 2009.
Her father's name was Edwin F. Horne. Her mother was an actress, Edna Louise Calhoun Scottron.
Children from first marriage to Louis Jones: Gail Jones (b. 1938), aka Gail Lumet Buckley, and Terry Jones (b. 1939).
She was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6282 Hollywood Boulevard and for Motion Pictures at 6250 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Made her last public appearance in 1999.
Was born on the same day, and same place (Brooklyn N.Y) as actress Susan Hayward .
Received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1989.
Received a honorary doctorate from Howard University in 1980.
Her favorite actor was John Garfield.
She was a lifelong liberal Democrat who was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. She worked with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on anti-lynching laws and during the John F. Kennedy administration she was a frequent guest at the White House.
I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.
[quoted in Brian Lanker's book "I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America", New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1986)] My own people didn't see me as a performer because they were busy trying to make a living and feed themselves. Until I got to café society in the '40s, I didn't even have a black audience and then it was mixed. I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn't work for places that kept us out . . . it was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world.
You have to be taught to be second class; you're not born that way.
It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it.
Always be smarter than the people who hire you.
A little nepotism never hurt nobody, honey. If you got it, use it. Press on with it. Remind them of it.
In my early days I was a sepia Hedy Lamarr. Now I'm black and a woman, singing my own way.
On love: Don't be afraid to feel as angry or as loving as you can.
My identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman, I'm not alone, I'm free. I say I'm free because I no longer have to be a credit, I don't have to be a symbol to anybody; I don't have to be a first to anybody. I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become. I'm me, and I'm like nobody else.
[on Myrna Loy] A great star and a woman of accomplishment who is angry about all the right things.
(1986) Release of her autobiography, "Lena" by Lena with Richard Schickel.
(1986) Release of the book, "The Hornes: An American Family" by Gail Lumet Buckley.
(2009) Release of her biography, "Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne" by James Gavin.
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