Transcript:

Speaker Cafe Society was certainly a breakthrough in the nightclub business in New York City because of the the character of the owner, Bernie Josefsson, he just didn't believe that it was right that there should be entertainment and by black and white entertainers and that black and white audiences shouldn't be equally welcome. And it was a very new idea. It was very novel. And he used to love to tell the stories. I mean, in his later years, it was all reminiscent because it was it was so satisfying to him to have this this victory to look back on how some redneck Southerner would come in and make some crack and then he'd usher the guy out or pay his tab and say he wasn't welcome anymore. I mean, he enjoyed doing that kind of straightening people out. And of course, the entertainers loved it. I mean, it was just it was heavenly to be able to play to black and white audiences. He had a lot of anecdotes about incidents where there was a crisis and then he would he would reign supreme, very attractive, both of his places. He started downtown and he had wonderful, very chic murals.

Speaker Sorry. Yeah. Yeah. I want you to see the light here. Yeah. Not this.

Speaker Yeah, the one. Oh. Are we on a new one. Not the one next to Yvonne. Right.

Speaker That's better. And just explain to Jean.

Speaker If we can, instead of a lot of he's just warning the financial system to cut. Oh, yes. All right.

Speaker Both cafe societies there began downtown and then there was a second one uptown reflected, I think, Bernie's taste. Bernie Josefsson, he had gotten some marvelous murals for the one downtown, and they were, I think, by Richard Gere, who was, I think, an artist that drew for The New Yorker magazine. And they were absolutely stunning. And then the place uptown was quite, quite posh and grand. It was on 58 Street, I think. I can't remember the address, but it was a very snappy neighborhood. So they were they were elegant clubs, even though, as I say, there was this kind of a democratic overtone to this new thinking of Bernie Josephson.

Speaker Do you remember the slogan, I think that was on the matchbooks. The wrong place with the right people.

Speaker I don't I've read about it since my memory of all kind of is fuzzy. I know that it happened because I'm in touch with Bernie Josephson's widow. She's been working on something about his life. I think she'll probably have it in there. But there were very fashionable people that went particularly to the one uptown. I remember my my late husband, Bob Barker, used to go there and he said he'd see you'd see young FDR Junior and all kinds of Cafe Society crowd. Shall I go on about Lena?

Speaker Yes. I just want to ask one of the things you were telling me, because Lena wasn't the only one who performed there was Hazel's got Scott. All the things were up there romancing Hazel Scott. Could you tell me about that?

Speaker Oh, sure. Lena Horne. It was a perfect setting for her to be playing at Cafe Society because she did have these strong political feelings. But I think most of the performers did or they wouldn't have been attractive to Barney. And another active, politically active person was Hazel Scott, and she worked at the Uptown Cafe Society. She may have worked downtown, too, I can't remember now. And she had a lot of admirers who came in. I'm sure the business would grow immeasurably when these beautiful women work there. The comedians all had kind of a little lefty overtone to their material. It was very suitable. And as I say, it was it was very appropriate for Lena to be working in a place like that because she had strong feelings right from the start. I think about injustice. And, you know, they do say I think it's true that this the strong feeling of of justice informed all her her her performance because she would get very, very emotional when she'd sing and and throw caution to the winds and make growling sound and really get into a song. And it probably had to do with this anger that she felt about the injustice of the world.

Speaker Oh, this was a time when there was a lot of political activity, a lot of leftist political activity. Could you just tell me a little bit about those times?

Speaker Yes, the the policy, which I think probably was political action committee, was an outfit that made great inroads in the jazz world because there were a few people who really were on fire about civil rights at that time. Frankie Newton, I think, was one of the major movers of this out of this particular wing of the pack. And I think he enlisted Mary Lou Williams. I don't know who all was part of that group, but you tend to think of jazz musicians as being kind of apolitical. But there was a great, great strain of reaction in those days among a lot of the musicians.

Speaker And then when you saw Lena there, what was her act like?

Speaker Well, to me, I think it was perfection right from the start. It's amazing. I think her singing was exquisite right from the start. I know she claims to have had coaching along the way, but it the voice was so perfect and her interpretation of songs was so really heartfelt and full of passion. It was a marvelous performance and as I say, simply beautiful. I had records of hers right from the beginning and that the voice, it's a pretty voice, except when she chose to make it, you know, kind of strident and express strong feelings. And of course, she she was the best. She's about the only real beauty that I know that all women admire. I mean, usually women are kind of catty about somebody. Oh, I don't think she's all that gorgeous. You know, people will say about famous beauties. But in Lena's case, I mean, everybody just acknowledges, yes, she's just perfection.

Speaker What was the next when did you get to know her social?

Speaker I remember the first time I met her, I'd seen her perform, and heaven knows I had had her records must have been in the mid 40s, was in California, and I was lucky enough to be taken to her house on Hawthorne Avenue. And I don't remember the cast of characters too well, but I remember meeting her mother, Mrs. Rodriguez, and she had a very pretty face.

Speaker She was short and very round and she was like a little little bowling ball. She had rather pale complexion with a lot of freckles. That's as much as I remember about her. And I don't know if Lena and Lenny were married. I think they hadn't gotten married yet. But I think Lenny told somebody that I was with it. It was very dicey living there, that Hollywood was giving them a rough time and that there were moments when he would sit there with a rifle across his knees. I guess there were threats in the neighborhood. Seems shocking to think of that now. But that was that's my memory of it anyway. And I'm not sure when we really came into each other's orbit. I do recall going to see her a lot in clubs and then going backstage and getting her reaction all during this terrible period of segregation when the entertainers couldn't stay in the hotel they were performing. And I remember going to see her in Miami and all the black people had to stay in in Miami proper. The the big hotels that had the the floor shows were in Miami Beach. But then the black people had to go across the causeway to Miami proper and the hotels were named after whiskey companies. I think there was the the something Carstairs and the something something else. They were all these hotels were just catering, I guess, to the black entertainers. And she was not enjoying this at all. And somebody came into the dressing room with a note from some man requesting some song. And she really sneered. She she said, oh, boy, here it goes again. She said, oh, they want to hear is stormy weather. And so just for meanness, she wouldn't sing it and she wouldn't sing it. And then she said finally, occasionally, to quote her for a sop, she would throw it in at the end. But she knew that that was the one song they associated with her. And it kind of amused her to tease these people. Yeah, but for a moment, well, the CAFE gala was on Hawthorne Avenue, that same street and Sunset Strip, but I don't recall seeing the two of them together. I mean, they probably knew each other from that period, too. But my friendship with Bobby was something separate. I don't know. Maybe I had. Oh, yes, I must have met him by then. Now, actually, that you'll have to eliminate that whole thing because I don't remember them together in California.

Speaker Now, tell me about your priorities.

Speaker Well, one party that I have preserved, luckily, I mean, I'm sorry.

Speaker Yeah, I could you just give me a little bit about the party? Sure. Throw good. OK.

Speaker Back in the early 50s, the late Burbach, my late husband and I used to give parties in, can I start over because I'm trying to put this in, you know, put it together.

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker My late husband, Bob Buck, thought up a program that was on television forever, it was called What's My Line? And they had a mystery guest every Sunday night and the panelists had blindfolds and they had to guess who was the mystery guest was. One night he said James Mason is going to be the mystery guest this week and he likes jazz and he likes cats. And I thought, well, shoot, we've got him covered. I said, let's have him over and we'll have a little music and we'll have and I have one cat. So I figured that would take care of the cat end of it. And so we got together some musicians and the party went very nicely. And the following week he mentioned some more people and the first thing we knew we were living in this is extremely modest little place it was. You had to climb over garbage cans practically to get in. But once you got in, it was quite lively and there was a huge terrace out and back and it was very pleasant. So one of the most memorable parties memorable, particularly because of the guest list and also because somebody had thought to turn on a real to reel tape. Now, this is back in the very early 50s. So I guess they hadn't hadn't progressed any farther than reel to reel. The piano was truncated. It was a little nightclub piano. It didn't have all the notes on it. I think half an octave was chopped off of either end. And yet at that tiny keyboard, said Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and they alternated with Lennie Hayton, who played for Lena. And then sometimes Billy Strayhorn would play for Lena. And that was the cast. I think Harold Arlen was there and a bunch of musicians, Mundial Low. But mainly you hear Lena through this whole tape because she's reacting so to the music and she's sitting over the side and humming away. And then occasionally somebody gets up and plays a song that she knows and she starts singing and among the marvelous songs and of course, much laughter and clapping at the end because a lot of them were sort of comedy songs. One that she sang was a big hit by a fellow named Said Sidney. Sure, it was called evil spelled backwards is live. And it's just a whole bunch of words used forward and backward, and it's very entertaining. So then I guess it was Lenny at the keyboard suddenly swept into this next tune and she started singing I love the govt, the governor of Illinois. And of course, it was a campaign song for Adlai Stevenson. And of course, that just knocked everybody's hat off. It was so attractive and so lively and clever. And suddenly she got to the end of the song and she looked down at her feet. And there was sitting Dorothy Kilgallen with a glass of champagne and rather far into the champagne at this point and smiling happily. And Lena said, Oh, Dorothy, how tactless of me you're a Republican, aren't you? And Dorothy said, That's all right. She said, It's a better song than I like Ike. And so I think I have on my recording it was adorable. And then throughout the evening, Billy Strayhorn would play stuff and then you hear Lena kind of singing obbligato in the background. So that's that was a very happy occasion.

Speaker And Billy Strayhorn, what was their chemistry like? It was just the sweetest.

Speaker I mean, he was known as Sweet Pea and he was so cute when he was young. He was just adorable. So, I mean, anybody would would be nuts about him, but they did stuff.

Speaker Yeah. I need you to say his name. Oh, I beg your pardon. And just say that. Yeah. Mm hmm.

Speaker Billy Strayhorn was Duke's right hand man, and they you couldn't tell them apart. I mean, I play this recording made in my living room and they did play the piano quite similarly. I think experts can tell when one starts and one leaves off, but they shared the same sensibilities. And when Duke would get stuck writing an arrangement, he'd call Billy up and then Billy would pick up and tell him what to do or take it over and finish the arrangement. And so they melded very well. And Lena met Billy on the West Coast and he was so adorable. They called him sleepy because he was just like the darling, his little baby. That was a character in the funny papers. The Ellington band was nuts about funny papers. They had songs about Jeep's blues, all these references to to comic strips. So there was sleepy. And I think one of the most famous pictures in the jazz world is Lena kind of bending over. He was short and Billy Strayhorn is puckering up and they're kissing. It's so dear. And that's that's the friendship. You just see it in that picture.

Speaker Do you know who took that picture?

Speaker No, but it's just all over, it's it's universal. I think probably Frank Driggs has it in his collection.

Speaker You were telling me that you gave all these parties and would be fairly regular, then all of a sudden she just thought. Could you tell me?

Speaker Yes. We while we were living on the west side in this kind of crummy setting, the parties were very lively. And we went to Europe back and I and while we were gone, this house caught fire. I shouldn't wonder. I mean, it was a mess. And when we got back, we had to find another place in a hurry and we found a kind of much more suitable place, I think for parties. It's got a big living room or at least two story living room and a garden and a lot of bathrooms. And so I thought, oh, the parties are really going to start burgeoning now. And we did indeed expand. But for some reason we were never able to get Lina. And I think she had this great sense of self-preservation. And, you know, she was right. I mean, you can get so much of that thing and staying home is probably better. I'm sure she went out to great state occasions, but I don't recall her coming to anything much in the new setting. So too bad she was with us at the beginning, though. That was nice.

Speaker And when was this that she began to fade out?

Speaker Let's see. It was I thinking about the mid 50s when we moved, so she was still pretty young woman. I remember one of the best parties I ever went to was her fiftieth birthday party that Gayle, her daughter, gave. She hired Circle Land Cruiser that went around the island of Manhattan. And she had a marvelous band. They were it was Latin soul music and a lot of attractive people in it. And one more evening clothes and the moon was out and it was quite lovely. And Lena sat between my late husband, Bob Buck and Tex McCreery, and I remember what she wore. It was so marvelous. There's a kind of a Mexican wedding dress that was kind of new on the scene that I mean, the Mexican peasants, I guess, had been wearing them forever, but she had this beautiful dress on and White was very attractive and that was a good party. I had no hand in that one.

Speaker What was his reputation as a style person? I mean, she had a lot of style. How did she impress you?

Speaker Well, I think as in everything else, I think she was a perfectionist. She she was dressed by some of the greatest criteria. And I think they all knew what to emphasize. And I've never seen her in an unbecoming costume. And that covers daytime and evening. And in between, I think she's just well, I mean, it's great when you start out looking like that, but she really always seemed to have a sense of her own look.

Speaker And it was very effective, particularly not just.

Speaker Well, now she had some interesting things to wear when she did that long run on Broadway. It was something in Silk Jersey and I think that she complained that you hung it up and then it stretched. I think she was always either getting it cut off or getting new ones or something, but it moved with her. It was very fluid and quite lovely. But also she knows how to you know, if you're comfortable in your clothes, she knows how to hold something around her and not look desperate. They've always said the only people that should wear trains are people that are accustomed to, you know, that sort of haughty look. And she always knew how to handle her clothes. Very attractive.

Speaker One thing, you know, when you tell the story about Dorothy Kilgallen, there will be a whole generation really know who she is. That's good. Yes, if you just actually give me just the end, that's the way she saw. Oh, yeah. Yes.

Speaker She saw Dorothy Kilgallen sitting at her feet, Dorothy holding a glass of champagne and feeling no pain. And she said she caught her breath and she said, oh, Dorothy. She said, How tactless of me. You're a Republican, aren't you? I should never. And Dorothy said, Oh, that's all right. She's holding her glass of champagne. And she said, It's better than I like Ike. Now, Dorothy wrote a syndicated column. Its base was a Hearst paper in New York City, a very right wing paper. And her father, Mr. Killgallon, was a friend of he kept saying to me, you ought to meet Joe McCarthy. You'd really like him. I say, Mr. Kilgallon, I don't think I want to meet him. I mean, they were they were just definitely right of center, that whole world. But Dorothy seemed to have a lot more scope. And I remember going to Las Vegas, Bob and my husband and Dorothy and her husband, Akama, the four of us went to see Leno in Las Vegas and Dorothy's hanging out with everybody. She had kind of a more of a populist appeal. I think you'd be out with her late at night riding home in a taxi and the milkman or the garbage man or something would lean out of his cab and say, hi, Dorothy. They all called her by her first name and she liked that she didn't have these firm prejudices. And I guess she could listen to this cute song. I love the gov and enjoy it. She was the most widely syndicated columnist, I think probably Winchell was originally. But there was a period when Dorothy had over 600 papers. So she was extremely influential. But she also went to court in defense of Lenny Bruce. I mean, this shows you how how broad her interests were. She she defended him. We I remember going to hear baozi with her and she at first didn't quite get the whole appeal of Joe Williams. And then suddenly she started swooning the way the rest of us did. She loved to go to Birdland and a lot of jazz.

Speaker But, um, now you, uh, have you ever seen live at the Waldorf Astoria?

Speaker Yes, I remember Lena performing at the Waldorf, and that was a period when she was well, she's always been wildly popular, but it was tough to get a table. And I was worried that if we went just as a twosome, that we would get stuck behind a pillar or something. So we teamed up with Miles Davis and Cicely Tyson and we were a force and we had a good table. And she was heaven as usual. I've never seen her do it less than perfect. It's just something you can count on.

Speaker What what do you like the essence of Lena Horne?

Speaker Well, first you get the the the visual pleasure, the aesthetic bliss of just looking at her and then this very pretty voice and these well-chosen songs and marvelous accompaniment. I mean, she's never had bad accompaniment to my knowledge. I mean, I've never heard anything that was less than perfect. And then, as I say, some of the songs get very intense. And she really would let fly. I mean, she wasn't just a pretty face was not behind it. You know, she'd get into the thing and start moving. And really, it was it was dramatic. It was thrilling. I remember the appearances at the Copacabana. I guess that's when we went the most often. And everything was just a bell ringer. It was smashing.

Speaker Did you have any favorite longus?

Speaker Well, yes, I love some of the Vernon Duke stuff that she's saying. Take Luv's. I'm trying to think of some of my favorites. You'll have to let that slide, too, because I came unprepared for that.

Speaker Um.

Speaker This party that I referred to earlier down in Greenwich Village when she came with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

Speaker Yeah, OK. Oh, I see. All right.

Speaker Lena's taste in music was. Quite remarkable. And she also had great melodic sense, I remember at one point she was listening to Billy Strayhorn playing Just Squeeze Me and she's singing the obbligato. She's singing a I don't know if it's a third away or something, but she's not singing the tune and it just sounds great. She had had good musical ideas.

Speaker Are you aware that there that. She didn't really have a full appreciation of herself as a musical person. Did you ever get that sense?

Speaker I find it hard to believe that she wouldn't know that she was great from the beginning because, I mean, she's got such great taste. How could she not know? There were some early records that she made with Fillmore. And they're cute. They're funny. I remember one particular. She was singing I want a little doggie. And then she's she's doing little bits about the dogs that some reference to a Chihuahua. And then she suddenly gets very Spanish and she says, Oh, si, si, senor, it's so cute. How could she not know? That was great. I find it hard that to believe that she wasn't aware of her. Excellent.

Speaker No, you saw her.

Speaker No, I didn't see her with Noble. I don't know. I think I think the first time I saw her was a cafe society, but I just knew that she had sung with Noble Social. And I did have these these records that already show a record. And the the Charlie Barnett records, I can just hear them now. I think one was called It's a Lonely Town, something like that. Have to look that up. But they really records you could tell right at the beginning that she was an exceptional.

Speaker What is it like when you spend an evening out with Lena Horne? What is it like when is what does she bring to the party?

Speaker Well, I've always in recent years found it hard to believe that she's so accessible, you think a star of that magnitude would have kind of some defenses, but she seems quite open. That surprises me, because over the years when you've had all this adulation, you kind of you build up a little hotter and a little distance. And she's extremely warm. Now, I presume it's sincere. I mean, I certainly take it to be and funny. Oh, the wit is something that I hadn't realized fully until she made an appearance at the Museum of Broadcasting and Television. I don't know how the booking came about because she didn't know anybody there. But somebody got the notion that I guess they were going through all her files and they they look and see who they've got a lot of film on. And then they invite that person to come in and kind of talk about these various episodes in their life. So she got there. And I honestly think I was the only person in the audience that she knew. She said, what's going to happen? I said, oh, it'll be fun. I mean, you'll just get up there and they'll tell you how great you are and you just sit there and say, Don't I know it? And that's about it. So they started showing these old films. And boy, she was really open about stuff. I think they showed one with Sinatra and she told the background of that and how he was not too pleasant or there was some negative thing about that. She was very, very frank. But the best thing is that she started getting laughs and she was on a roll. It was so entertaining and the audience was just eating it up. And some of the stuff she really, I guess, had not been prepared for and her takes were extremely funny. And then somebody in the audience piped up and said, you know, you ought to do your own talk show. And I guess, as I say, she was kind of like she was as funny as Johnny Carson. And she said, you know, I could do that. I'd like to. And I thought, darn it, here she is in this temple of broadcasting. Why doesn't somebody think of it? It was it was a memorable evening. I hope they filmed it.

Speaker I know that Leena's and Semiretirement now, but occasionally she emerges and everybody gets all excited and there was a concert at Carnegie Hall and I think Bobby Short was involved. I think he was the emcee. And the report was that she was nervous, absolutely nervous as a cat backstage. Find that hard to believe. But that was what was said. And she came out and started to sing. And I was sitting on the aisle and across the aisle from me, a couple of seats ahead of a couple of rows ahead. There was a person sitting with a handbag on the floor that suddenly went off. Now, I think it was some kind of an alarm or something. And this piercing thing, nobody quite knew where it was from. I could spot it, but I was so taken aback and she looked stunned and the music stopped and finally the person was identified and hustled out. It was some kind of a gimmick that somebody had given this woman. I guess, to tell you if your handbag is being stolen, I don't know. But it was under her seat. So they ran out. I don't know. They dumped it in a tub of water or something, got it to silence. And then everybody subsided. And then the intro started again and she started to sing. And I learned later that that broke the tension, that until that moment, she really was not sure of herself and worried about her pitch and everything else. But once this whole crisis occurred, she she got it together. And, of course, it was another perfect performance.

Speaker She and.

Speaker Has been in later years, he's been feeling a bit unsure.

Speaker Well, that that comes, you know, with with declining years, you can't grab hold of it. I noticed that there was in the latest album, there was one. The sustained tones are kind of hard to hang on to. I think that's probably what troubles her. And the problem is, if you've been so at ease singing difficult stuff, it is probably infuriating if you can't make it behave all the time.

Speaker Now, could you tell me about Lina being a guest and what's my.

Speaker Boy, that's one I can't remember. Isn't that disgusting? I have I have a tape of her on another show about the Stan Kenton show, Music 55. Yeah. You know, I'd rather find that and give it to you because my recollection was I wasn't too crazy about the lighting. I mean, you'd think that she's it, that she always looks perfect. But the lighting was, I thought, unflattering. Damn it. I can't remember her on what's right. Isn't that insane? Uh. There were so many. Yeah, yeah, it was on for 27 years now.

Speaker You mentioned oh, I'll give you a quote from James Mason. They were together at the same party.

Speaker Know that that party proceeded all the others. Um, so I'm trying to think who else came to Lena's party?

Speaker Um, were you ever at Adelina Atlantes when they were requested?

Speaker No, I never was there. I don't think know I don't think I have any more to tell you either. It's odd. I'm.

Speaker Let me just say.

Speaker Well, there's a a piece of film that you see occasionally and shows something to do with the dream, and she's singing with Teddy Wilson. It's charming. And then she. I guess she's. She starts out wishing she were singing with Daddy Wilson's orchestra, and then she's magically transformed into this goddess in this lovely evening dress. And it's it's I guess it was a film short. We have a.. Oh, that's it. Oh, yes, with Amazon Johnson. Do you have that other ridiculous film, something about Duke, the Duke Duke? Yeah. Oh, that's hysterical. But I mean, she's adorable in that.

Speaker Oh, could you just tell me that?

Speaker Oh, I love early movies of people. Usually they look so different. But I think Lena's first time on film, I may be wrong, but I think this is the first one was called The Duke is tops. And it looks as though it might have been one of those black films made by Michelle. I'm not sure, but she looks just as pretty and attractive and with it and together and chic and everything she does today in this early film.

Speaker When I saw the film, I was struck by the difference between the way she looked and the way she looked in Hollywood, she was a little plump in Hollywood. Do you remember the progression of the looks that she had?

Speaker Well, I guess a lot of it had to do with baby fat. The difference in the early film, The Dukas tops, I guess she was a very young girl and was naturally rather pneumatic. And then as life went on, she got more streamlined. And I guess she herself would tell you those those costumes that they made were all kind of filled in with Bucaram and everything. So you you look curvy. I think those dresses could probably stand by themselves. You know, they were so a lot of inner construction. So she probably was quite slim most of that period in her nightclub act.

Speaker I'm always struck whenever I see the television or her on television. Dresses are so tight she can barely walk. Could you just tell me something about how she dressed in a like.

Speaker Well, they were always ballgowns and a lot of flesh showing, and she had very pretty shoulders and I can remember draped white stuff and figure. Moulding costumes, I think, are kind of easy in the hip set. So it was a problem with women, but I was very sexy and very neat. She's the essence of neatness. I was like that.

Speaker Did you know much about learning?

Speaker I didn't know. I always knew about him because he was Lennie Hayton was very famous on the radio and a very accomplished arranger and had been a kind of a celebrated person, I guess, out in Hollywood. But I never knew him socially very well, except just to see him at parties. And he just seemed very docile and a perfect foil for Lena because she was kind of volatile and intense and he seemed rather easygoing.

Jeanne Bach
Interview Date:
1996-02-23
Runtime:
0:36:46
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-6688g8g253, cpb-aacip-504-m32n58d836, cpb-aacip-504-b853f4m83c, cpb-aacip-504-4q7qn5zs0m
MLA CITATIONS:
"Jeanne Bach, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 23 Feb. 1996, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/885
APA CITATIONS:
(1996, February 23). Jeanne Bach, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/885
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Jeanne Bach, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). February 23, 1996. Accessed October 25, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/885

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