Transcript:

Speaker Let's see to go back in time and remember what my response was when I first saw Lena Horne. Well, I can sum them up by as the younger generation does and the use of language. It was a wow situation. Lena had, as always, a tremendous impression that she made on the environment, on the room, on the street corner. I don't remember exactly where it was that I first saw her in person, but I do remember that it impressed me forever. She she was an occasion, you know, she was an accomplishment.

Speaker She was a beatitude. She was a marvelous thing to behold. And I beheld her and marvel.

Speaker Oh, I. Had you seen her before. You.

Speaker I did not see Lena Horne before I saw her and the movies. Well, let's see now, it may be that at the Apollo or in some stage situation, I might have seen her, but I think my impression of Lena Horne did come not only from the movie, but there was a network of newspapers and magazines that kept us informed as to what was going on and what was worthy and what we should pay attention to. And of course, Lena was the darling of all of the those media. And I like everybody else. You know, I gobbled up what was available. I don't know. I can't separate the time when I saw her in the flesh from those moments. I saw her on the page, on the screen. They were all wonderful.

Speaker Tell me about this.

Speaker Cabin in the Sky was a musical. It had come along. Let's say I forget now exactly what year it was. But in those days, we used to expect major musical about black folks to come along. Every five years we'd had green pastures. So we waited patiently for five years and then there was a cabin in the sky and I saw the stage production before Hollywood got to it. So Katherine Dunham, you know, do the part that Lena did. And I was impressed with that. I loved it. But when I saw her in the film, you know, there was something there's a sparkle. There is there is an excitement that she shared with everybody just being alive. You know, to watch her was to learn new things about yourself, about women, about beauty. She walked across the stage in a certain way.

Speaker She opened her eyes in a certain way. She flashed a smile in a certain way. She forced me to look at her lovely legs in a certain way. She she was she leaves me even today slightly speechless. And that's an accomplishment because I got a word for everything.

Speaker What what is your impression of any man?

Speaker What about it was our thought when we were young men in relationship to lean on that anybody who was not madly in love with me, no one should report, has to take it immediately and turn himself in. Know just get out of the way. For the rest of us who felt that Lena deserved adoration and praise and everything, you know how young men are.

Speaker We talk and we compare and we lie and we fantasize, you know, and we make up marvelous stories about people that we love and admire.

Speaker There were certain icons and heroes who were they continued heroes and and heroines of the stories that we told. They were legends. You know, that was Joe Lewis. There was Lena Horne. That was Paul Robeson. There was Marian Anderson. All of these people came into our lives and shook us up and make it made us bigger and better, certainly more exciting people than we were before. So if you didn't love Lena Horne, you know, go somewhere and died because you were consuming important space.

Speaker Oh, what?

Speaker At that time, there was so much going on. Social. Mm hmm. What's going on?

Speaker You know, at the time I came along when there was a tremendous amount of turmoil by and about black people in America, Lena Horne made a unique contribution.

Speaker And yet it was a contribution that we should have expected, that there was something about her that said amen to the human experience and that it validated our existence. It it explained to us that life under any circumstance, you know, could be worth living because it contained a Lena Horne.

Speaker The the days of my youth and my younger years were tumultuous days. And the black community was swept, you know, from time to time by currents of of hate and by explosions and news of lynchings and awful things that happened to us.

Speaker And we always needed some defense. We always needed somebody or some something to say to the world who we truly were, because in America's way of describing us, we essentially was a bunch of [Unrecognized], whatever we were. And, you know, we didn't get too far from that definition. We needed always somebody to come along and push that aside and blow that up and explode that and then step out in the true meaning of what it meant to be in those days. A Negro, she made us come alive and validated our existence. She made citizenship worthwhile. We could demand it on the basis that, you know, how could you say no to a person or a force like Lena Horne? You can't be alive. You can't be that hateful. You can't be that mean.

Speaker You know, if you're human at all, you must respect this woman. And in respecting her and respecting her, of course, you have to respect us, too, because Lena was ours, she'd come out of our experience and she was a part of who we were.

Speaker So she represented to us part of our definition, and that was only one part of it. Lena had the gift of summing up and giving a wrap around expression and experience to many disparate things.

Speaker You know, we could look at Lena and see our most exciting woman, a woman of such beauty that you always once you saw Lena, you were much more of a man when you saw her than you were the minute before. At the same time, she could be a political force, you know, helping us in our struggle. She could offer us innocence, protection, protection in this sense. For example, when she was in Hollywood, there were a lot of us who thought about going to Hollywood. We dreamed about it, what it would be like if we were there and the pain of being excluded. Well, the fact that Lena was there also, in a sense, gave us an opportunity to be there. And when we saw Lena fighting or, you know, attacking somebody, our hearts cheered because.

Speaker Yes, yes, that's exactly what we should do. That's exactly how I would have done it. And any victory that she had was a victory to as much as Joe Lewis is Butches by Jackie Robinson's capacity to knock the ball out of the park, it did something marvelous to us.

Speaker Lena was elemental and essential to all of that.

Speaker What kinds of battles, the battles that a woman fights, the battles that a black woman fight, the battle that an office fight, the battle that a human being fights, the battle that a mother fights, all of these battles, all of these things are. What would what would be aimed at any of those in our community who had some éminence, you know, you had always to prove your value and your worth to American society at all levels, you were challenged and you were put back in your place. You were pushed down, you know, so what Lena had to fight was all of those things. That were visited upon black people, you know, for whatever reason. And can you imagine to have a fight to know that in the audience with people who might hate you and to know that there were circumstances around you that makes you absolutely no good whatsoever, and yet step in front of the band and know and the down becomes and you open up and you glorious and you're wonderful and you're beautiful. As if none of that stuff mattered at all.

Speaker She could command the situation. She could make anything. Yield to Lena. And then smilingly share a victory with all of us magnificent, a princess who was also a bit of a pagan and a peasant, too, but for us, a princess, no doubt.

Speaker You know, you compared her to Paul Robeson, you called because we had to pay a price for all of it to be the one. I remember you called Paul, I mean, how can the. Hmm.

Speaker Paul Robeson, candidly, and Lena Horne. Where, in my opinion, sacrificial lambs, they were people who themselves paid a high personal price, you know, for their freedom or for their rights in defense of their rights, but they also were offerings that we as a people made to appease the gods of rage and anger and hate. We, in a sense, had to give up what we love. As an offering to show how much we love you or how much we care, how much the whole thing means to us, we could love and worship our heroes. But we knew that we had to give them up to whatever the exigencies of the times might demand. We knew that Martin Luther King, you know, was deeply meaningful and gratifying to us. And yet we knew that the time would come when we would have to join him in giving up his life in order to make the political point. The thing about Paul Robeson and Lena Horne and accountability was that they they were sort of at the forefront of the struggle and the New York area when racism was joined by by the anti-communist hysteria so that there were many people, many blacks who, you know, were strong and marvelous and gifted and talented. And yet when it comes comes to a political extension of their rights to express unpopular opinions, they themselves would back down and we could understand that, you know, the feeling was, look, you're being out there, you're being at the top. It's good for us and we want you to stay at the top. So don't take controversial opinions, you know, don't wear your political heart on your sleeve. You know, go along to get along because we so desperately need somebody up there. So please, easy, cool, calm and stay there. Neither of these people. We're willing to do that.

Speaker They insisted on being marvelous, beautiful, wonderful and talented, but on their own terms, you know, they would fight you backstage and to step out and entertain you always. They refused to surrender any ounce of their dignity, their rights, their capacities to to struggle.

Speaker And in that regard, there were times, I suppose, that affected all of us when we would look at our great exemplars of beauty and talent and say, cool it easy.

Speaker You know, you upset the boat. You it you're scaring us by being so bold, you know, you're going to prove the point. But they didn't stop to them. Racism was an enemy that they had to kill. And with Paul saying if I had a hammer, I knew what he would do, that there was certain things, maybe people dealing with them and later was the same kind of person. And we felt the glory of having his heroes. But sometimes we did want to please, you know, smash them to small because some of it might matter on us. It's not safe to be black, Garance Massive, you know, smashing the opposition like that.

Speaker But they because of their principles, their political principles, provided leadership and the McCarthy days, not only to us in the artistic community, but to us in the political community, to those of us in the struggle and to those Americans who wanted to feel good about their country, that the rights preserved and expressed in the Constitution were alive and viable. And Lena and Paul and Canada took those rights literally, and they insisted on Practic practicing them themselves. And they would insist that America grant them those rights regardless.

Speaker During that, speaking of.

Speaker Your answer took me in so many places, Lena will do that for you.

Speaker Speaking about the hole left by the time that the left was really very powerful and very frightening to a lot of people, the cafe society was sort of created as. Could you tell me a little bit about kind of a society?

Speaker Well, Cafe Society was an institution, an entertainment institution downtown where social experiment took place. In other words, people who might, because of their color, not find acceptance on Broadway and Hollywood. And what were given a chance. You know, Josh White llena and people like that, I cannot personally tell you about Cafe Society. I never was there, but I knew of the people who were and I knew why it was important. And I knew that their victories down in that cafe society were significant because they were political as well as artistic victories.

Speaker But to me, I wanted to experience my heroes closer to my own venue, closer to the streets of Harlem at the Apollo and various other places. I wanted it to be a home setting, and that's what it was for me. Cafe Society was greatly important, but it really was intended to help educate white America, to help disabuse them of their prejudices and smallness and things like that, and served a wonderful purpose in that regard. But that wasn't all I wanted from Lena Horne. I wasn't all I wanted from Paul and all of my heroes. I wanted to be patted on the back to because to be chucked under the chin, to be winked at, you know, and to be to be where we were all sharing things that were black and wonderful and noble and foolish and laughable and could make us cry, but always something of our own who we were, regardless of what the rest of the world said.

Speaker Well, you know, it was one who helped us enjoy being who we were.

Speaker We spoke you told me that you wanted to have an affair with me.

Speaker Oh, yes, very much so.

Speaker She was like, well, let's say that Lena for us was a part of our folk culture, you know, the things that we loved as a people, the collard greens, the Black Eyed Peas, you know, the pig's feet, whatever it was. That was Mashable and good. That made us feel, hey, this is home. This is Mama's cooking. This is this is how it smells in the kitchen on Christmas Day. I wanted Lina to be that a part of that. That was the city that I appreciated most in.

Speaker As a performer, what was special about Lena was that there was no difference or bridge between her character, her persona and personality and her performance. She was able to perform and at the same time sum up the meaning of performance itself by what she did. That was when Lina sang, it was Lina singing as nobody else could sing but Lina. But it was also a black woman singing about the pains of being a black woman. It was sometimes I feel like a motherless child, or it was, Why can't I vote? I'm a citizen too. Or it was somebody has lynched my father, my mother, and nothing has been done about it. Lina could, as a performer, include the sentiments that grew out of these situations without once stepping out the line or bending the music incorrectly or. Or. Making anything into a political statement, I remember out on Long Island one night, I forget what the place is really got a big entertainment that was hanging out at Westbury that she was there and she was singing and singing completely. And yet the total I mean, the evening was bathed in a special moment and Lena's life that she shared with us and I think her son had just died. And the other things that deeply affected her had happened. But there was never a dichotomy, there was never a moment when Lina stopped being Lina, stopped being a performer, a performer, just carried her life on from where she left it last time. And when she sang Let It Be. Let it be, I think there wasn't a dry eye in the house, a magnificent performance, you know, by this magnificent woman, but some other thing had come to it. Her honesty made her able to open her heart and share her most private and even painful moment with us, without Galkin as without awkwardness, without sentiment and sentimentality, you know, any of those things. It was a shared experience that the heart could only say at the end of it. Amen. She was elemental as a force on that stage always.

Speaker The lady in the morning, a lady and her music. What was your response to that?

Speaker My response to Lena Horne, the lady and her music. Was tremendous satisfaction, No one that Lena, who might have been away from my consciousness and the conscience of the American people for some time, you hadn't heard from her lately and wonder what Lena is doing that finally Lena had come to make another statement, but when I saw it, I saw the summoning up. Of all the strands of her life. Expressed. Through her music. What she was what she thought, the battles she had fought, some of which she won, some of which she lost her loves, her capacity to love and be loved, you know, a desire to be understood. But yet her determination, whether you understood her or not, to be who she was strongly and purposefully was expressed in her music. She taught us. She toyed with us. She played with us. She could to us. She built what she lectured us, did all those wonderful things that only a little one could do. And yet she did them in song and in music. And it was a wonderful. Well, upon thought, deeply religious experience. You know, the lady and her son and mean, she's saying that's why the lady is a tramp. You know, we knew that Lina herself was always a lady, but also always a tramp. She was one of the few people who could take the contradictions of those two terms and be quite comfortable with them and make us comfortable, too. She was a lady, elegant or at all times. And yet as earthy as anybody could possibly be, a woman, you know, in all magnificent senses of the word and all at the same time standing on that stage and the spotlight with the musicians to aid her, sharing it all with us.

Speaker Do you remember her rendition of Yesterday on.

Speaker I remember that song. Yes, I don't remember it in any special way, it just joins in my mind a number of.

Speaker Of other songs that Lina had used to express either her life or her experience, it was a song, but it was more than a song. Once again, she was sharing an experience, a perception. A shared understanding. Of something. Yesterday, when I was young, she took us back to when we, too, were young, and yet she brought us forward and we all can look back with, you know, with a bit of sadness as we do as the youth that we were and loved and live fades gradually to the distance. It's good to look back, but there was never any sentiment, never any desire to stop the present and bring back the past. And ever since that in her, she was prepared for this moment yesterday when I was young. Marvelous, wonderful. But this is today. This is the battle. This is where we are. This is what the fight is all about. Summon up the troops. Let's go up the hill.

Speaker That was Lila going back to yesterday again. I remember what I was going to ask you before.

Speaker There was a point when I first got to Hollywood that the black actors are really kind of upset, scared they're going to disappear in India or think of Lena was out there and actually protest.

Speaker Status quo.

Speaker You know, I know I didn't know that when Olina got to Hollywood that there were those who were so frightened of their positions as maids and butlers that they held a protest. But I'm in no way surprised. It's a part of our experience being interstitial people, being people who are always on the edge. We are the hungriest dogs and we must fight all the leanest bone that is thrown to us and sometimes out of our disquiet and fear. We do awful things to ourselves and to each other. And I'm sure Lina's long experience, she must always have been the target of some jealousy or spite or animosity, even from a mother. That wouldn't surprise me at all.

Speaker The NAACP, Walter White, really used to help slash taxes to go out to Hollywood.

Speaker All of that and a lot of those actors. Was the National Association for the Advancement of Lena Horne.

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker Could you just give me a little bit of information about the NAACP in that context? Because it seems that often was considered by. Working-Class Black Folk is something legally.

Speaker Well, I'm sure that. And my experience that I must have felt about the NAACP, all the things that black people have felt, the enormous pride and gratitude to their organization for what it did and sometimes being a bit mad at it, sometimes I thought of it as being elitist, black, middle class, and sometimes it lived up to all those expectations. But in the overall picture, the NAACP was and still is the premier fighting organization that still exists for US and services. It's interesting that you should mention that Walter White would would insist that Lena Horne go to Hollywood and do some of those roles. I think it was a 1955 birth of a nation came out and there was a tremendous furor in the black community among against that particular film. As a matter of fact, it was at that time that the NAACP began to express itself as a national organization. All the chapters were sort of lined up to do what they could against birth of a nation. One of the things they attempted to do at that time was to themselves, make a motion picture. They wanted to counter, you know, birth of a nation, so the interest in Hollywood, you know, was real. Also the powerful use by Hollywood, particularly in that film of negative images concerning black folks and how those negative images had impact on our lives. The awful things that happened to us as a result of them kept the NAACP glued on Hollywood as a place where we had to keep a very sharp watch because they could destroy with one film much of what we might have accomplished, struggling and singing and fighting for the rights to vote. And so when Walter sent insisted that Lena go to Hollywood, it was in this context that the insistence was made. And Lena understood, as most of us did, that we when we went to Hollywood, it was not only for our own self-glorification that we should become some great star or, you know, whatever it is that you become in Hollywood always. We were part of the struggle, whether we wanted to or not. If we buckeye's the wrong way, it could be considered derogatory to the rest of black folks. Because America had only a few places where it really chose to see and make judgments as to black people were and Hollywood and film was one of those places.

Speaker So we had to keep a sharp watch. And I, for one, was glad that Lena was out there to battle.

Speaker There are other.

Speaker About these other you know, about the struggle of. So I'm not asking you to just because I don't think it was on the.

Speaker When Lena went to Hollywood, there were other black actresses who were on the scene, people of some consequence in terms of talent and public importance. Hazel Scott was one, Ethel Waters was one. And of course, people who were staples and standbys like Hattie McDaniel, McDaniels was one and several others. And they had a kind of vested interest in Hollywood that was the source of their employment and and what roles were available. And I suppose, like all actors, you know, we all want the fat role and which one of us gets it. We congratulate them, but we are a little bit sad. I could have done better if they let me play that role. And I'm sure that Lena ran in to some of that, too. It's not easy to be able to function and in the void that not the void, but in the world that exists between two different worlds with two sets of values going on at the same time, and where the opposition and the enemy also controls the power that allows you to exist at all is not easy. In some instances, everything you do to some degree is going to be wrong if you make yourself to be gracious to the oppressive powers. Those of us on the outside watching you and checking on your blackness or who you're selling out, you're becoming an Uncle Tom. You know, you're giving away something that's precious to us. You have no right. So to do we are we, of course, understood that oftentimes if you didn't take the Uncle Tom role, there wasn't any other role that for you to take. So the economic incentive to perform in Hurlbut came along with sometimes great, sometimes overpowering. At the same time, we wanted our heroines, our Ethel Waters's and and Lena Horne as our Dorothy Dandridge and others to stand fast to certain principles that spoke truthfully and eloquently about who we truly were. We didn't want them to be handkerchief head. We didn't want them to be kowtowing. We don't Yazz and all that sort of thing. We wanted them and sure to be, ladies and gentlemen, to speak meaningfully of our dignity, of our class, of our humanity and things like that. We as black people had to demand from our performers more than we should have and often more than they were able to give us. But we had no choice. They control the images, which in turn controlled us. Therefore, we have to demand much more from them than under normal circumstances. Lena went to Hollywood and I'm sure there were those on the Hollywood scene who looked upon her. As we always look on the newcomer, there's a shortage of jobs in America. You know, Wolf, I don't see what's so great about her, but she went and she found a certain degree of acceptance, as did ropes and as did others. But nobody could ever say that Lena was comfortable ever at home or accepted in total by Hollywood. And God knows she didn't accept Hollywood.

Speaker I'm not sure.

Speaker Well, when I saw Lena Horne in film, you know, I didn't pay too much attention to what the rest of the film was about, although I did like stormy weather, you know, with fat rallies and billboards, I had a ball and some of the other things that Lena was in, but I didn't pay much attention. We learned to make a kind of discount. We're so hungry still to see ourselves represented in any circumstances at all and to see one of us, you know, who could walk across that stage and light that sucker up and head on the, you know, wearing the clothes and looking to look and speak in the speak and just the sashaying and simulating all over the place. Oh, God. Oh, no.

Speaker Lena represented us in those instances.

Speaker So we were prepared, whatever pictures she was in to set aside that little slice where Lena was and make that goal, you know, the rest of it. Throw it out with a joke.

Speaker Well, tell me about Jamaica. Well, of course.

Speaker Sure. Keep in mind that I'm an actor, you know, and not not not too well known, even as an actor, Lena was not an actor in our sense of the word. Lena was always a musician. You was always a song singing itself into our lives. So I was honored to work with Lena Horne, but I never thought of her as just another actor stepping on stage. She was a star, but essentially always Lena was first and foremost in my mind, a premium musician, and she was that. And that to me was the big thing that she was in Jamaica, although she certainly was an actress and did an extraordinary job in the role of Savannah. But always when I looked on that stage from the wings, I was watching music itself. Take wings. I remember the first rehearsal, but I don't remember anything notorious or notable about it.

Speaker I can't imagine searching my own head memoirs come up with anything that seems to have been outstanding. A official rehearsal is pretty much of a mess under any circumstances. You know, everybody running around, stumbling over everybody else, the costume. People want to get to the lighting. We want you to move. The director wants you to speak louder, you know, and you haven't found a place in the script. He said you have the slightest idea of who you are and what the hell you're supposed to do. But at the same time, you don't want to be so bad to the director. Might think of firing you before the next rehearsal. So a lot of things are going on and I'm sure to an outside observer they must look mad because they really are. I don't know how we survived. All those are certainly not the first. I guess you better understand when I talk to Michael.

Speaker Because, uh. But he said that everyone was shocked.

Speaker Yeah, but I wasn't shocked at all, so tell Mike that he missed one and I expected her accent to be whatever it was, you know, required of her. A part of our talent as a people has always been expressed through mimicry. A capacity to mock each other and to mock the powers that be has something in common that we all had. So when Lena came up with her Jamaican accent, it didn't in any way make an impression on me. Just like Josephine, premies had her accent.

Speaker I had mine. So all of us that what approximated make it in our own minds and not imaginations. So I wasn't surprised.

Speaker You know, she did a beautiful one. At the same time, I was always aware that that was Lena Horne speaking Jamaican, not just any Jamaican, but Lena Horne. And it made a difference.

Speaker I think so I'm sitting on a Broadway stage now, you know, in stormy weather. She had a speaking part and in those pictures that we saw, she had a speaking part. But here she was, the star who carried the show. The story was about her and what happened to her. So she had to express as an actress all of what was going on in Lena's life and take us from one development to the next as a character, which she did. You know, she wasn't just out there waiting until the orchestra gave a cue for the next song. No, she she sustained a performance from one beat on stage to the next. And I thought she did a pretty damn good job of it.

Speaker Yeah. The thing about. Was she acting, so was she being.

Speaker She was, in all instances being Lena Horne, but she was truly trying as an actor tries to Shadforth a character, a person, a persona in a particular situation. I heard her. Savannah was a woman in love and and torn between her desires to enjoy what was available on the island of Jamaica and also, you know, open to what might be coming in from New York and tempted because New York and Harlem expressed itself in the form of an attractive young man, whereas Jamaica. Came to us in the form of a sort of lazy fisherman played by Ricardo Montalban, who certainly was not going anywhere up the corporate ladder, so so she was torn. She wanted you know, she wanted her boyfriend to be better than that. And she wanted him to be equal to the city slicker who came down from the north coast. It was not to be.

Speaker There was a lot of sturm und drang around Jamaica in the book. I understand.

Speaker I know about it and I don't know about it is so natural a part of what takes place on stage when you bring a play or musical from the printed page into production. There's always the tug between one department and the other. Each department thinks that the play focuses on his or her craft. You know, even the costume. People think the play is a play about costumes and they act in that regard. The choreographer is concerned with the way the steps look. We don't give them anything else. So we end the production as an actor, as a person who is committed to try and creating a character on stage. Lina. I thought that admirably well, and that was Bobby Lewis, who is himself quite a very well-known director and teacher who was there to give us guidance. Now, as in terms of the sturm und drang, there is the costume. People have an idea. Llena as a woman has her own idea in terms of the music. The musicians have an idea, the conductor has an idea, the composers have an idea, you know, and the LibreOffice all have ideas. Lena has to sing the song. She has her own ideas. So the rehearsal period is that time when all of these various conflicting and contentious strands and threads come together and it is up to the director to wheel them and well them into one coherent moment. Sturm und drang. Exactly. That's what theater is all about. And if I was in a production, if I and the production was Placid and Sleepytime and everybody was smooth, I would know right away that 10 minutes into that production on opening night, the audience would join us all in slumber.

Speaker You know, now it has to be contentious. It has to you know, you have to contend. You have to you know, it's like being in a boxing ring.

Speaker You come there to fight, you know, and in a sense, when you're on stage, the next production, you come there to act. So stand back. Get out of my way. I want to I have every right to do it at the same time. So naturally, instrument and wrong. But that marvelous moment when the curtain goes down and it goes up again and the audience applauds and you see the satisfaction on their faces and you look at each other, all is forgiven. We are in an actor's head and you know, and that's all that matters. Sturman Wrong.

Speaker Yes, but Lena Horne was always not only full of old Sternman and wrong, and she was equal to anything else anybody else could dream and up and threw it away.

Speaker Oh, all kinds of things.

Speaker I remember being in Boston, I don't remember. You know, the details of that, I have no idea, I was vaguely aware, you know, that that things were going on. But as I said before, it sort of goes with the territory. I was not, as I remember, aware that Merick wanted to replace Josephite. You know what the reasons were, why he did not do so. I know that for me, there were some unhappy times because when these moments of high contention came in the middle of a rehearsal, you know, and the other actors sitting around waiting went to their turn and the whole thing stops and the big moment has to reach its climax. And this force must challenge that force. And nothing can move until there's been some resolution. Those of us who are sitting around waiting and watching, you know, we get a bit edgy and antsy and a bit bored. And I remember one occasion I was so upset that I you know, I went home to pack, to get the train, to go back to New York. You know, who wants to me? I don't know what stopped me. And I have a sneaking suspicion I really was going to get on that train to come back to New York and leave that Paty. Don't think it was that foolish, but I certainly felt it. You know, that that that you feel abandoned and the actor's capacity to feel sorry for himself is enormous, you know, and under any circumstances, you can you pull it out and cry yourself into a JAG over how badly you're being mistreated by the critics, by the director, by the musicians, by everybody who will hate me.

Speaker So I went through a bit of that myself. So if Merrick and Josephine were having a tiff, I wasn't aware of it. I was too deep into my own stream and wrong at that moment. I didn't notice anybody else.

Speaker Oh, I remember that, but somehow or other, I didn't take it seriously.

Speaker Ah, I remember the Delphia when.

Speaker Mm hmm. I remember in Philadelphia when David Merrick was threatening to close the show, as I understood, it really didn't bother me, I had no expectations that he would. This is as I said before, this is the kind of things that happen in these nervous, high strung, very talented people, you know, going at it. I knew that Mr. Murray was a very practical man. And incidentally, I had known David Merrick since I first came to New York as a personal friend, but I never felt that he was going to close the show. You know, he could threaten to do it. He might even want to do it himself.

Speaker But like I said before, I got to the train, something would have interceded. And I think before David could get to the point where he said, bring down the good something. What is it? Don't do it, David. Don't do it.

Speaker Not anything that is so. That would make hard copy of the Enquirer, I assure you, but there are things that I remember Lena, in particular one afternoon, I guess it was after the matinee when Billie Holiday came backstage and Billy was and it was a particularly bad time. And Billy had that look on the face of somebody who had not only been kicked, but won it so much not to be kicked again.

Speaker And yet who had you kicked her would have accepted it. You know, that was a look of defeat on her face and a look of wondering whether she would be accepted. And Lena comes out and acts as if nothing has happened, as if this is a dear friend and we hadn't seen in years a girl. Come on inside, sit down and talk. I haven't seen you in a long time.

Speaker How are things whatever Lena being gracious to Billie Holiday at that time had a tremendous significance because Billy's reputation made her persona non grata in many places. And some people, you know, to protect their own image of themselves. Would what said get her out of here. I'll see you later. Not not Miss Horne. And then there was a young man with big eyes who came by the table in the afternoon and looked at her and almost as if he couldn't speak. His name, he said, was Johnny Mathis. And he was so struck by Lena Horne. And, you know, one of the seeing and being hit and Lena was this gracious to him as she was to Billie Holiday. There are indeed other stories, stories about Ricardo Montalban and Josephine premies and others, but I can't recall them at the moment. It was for me, a most wonderful experience. And the Horne was the center of it all, and I enjoyed being that close to her and to have thrown out of moments of triumph.

Speaker I understand that America was too popular toilettes, cheap to do the cars, the only night party in the name of.

Speaker No, I didn't know anything about that. It's quite possible that that did take place. I think there was a party and I think I went to it and I think I had a ball. That's about all that I remember.

Speaker But his relationship to it, I don't know these things, as I told you before it happened and so many shows at so many levels that they sort of come with the territory.

Speaker Did you go? Before yesterday's.

Speaker That I got to leave this out, I don't remember that I did I was always one of those people who, when the show was over, you know, I was heading I guess I lived in Mount Vernon at the time and I didn't socialize too much around the theater. All I know is Lenar backstage live on stage and and various other at various other venues where we might appear at a benefit or something like that. But I don't think I ever went to Leanna's home. I don't think so.

Speaker Not exactly, I didn't rush home to write presbyteries, I wrote it backstage while his shoes on. I didn't tell Bobby because it would have been a conflict of interest, but I was engaged at that time.

Speaker And, you know, the preparatory work for prolific terrorists. Yes. Which was another reason why I only attended to what was going on on stage and off with half a mind. The other half was writing. In my opinion, all of the actresses and actors today owe a heavy debt of gratitude to Lena Horne and to the Lena Horne who came along in those days, everything she did, every door she opened, even if she had to kick it open with a door of opportunity that ultimately opened wider and admitted the young people that we know today to come in. And one of the reasons I think this should be pointed out is that we live in a time when historical continuity is something that we don't pay too much attention to. We almost act as if each generation invented itself and was born out of its own anguish, you know, and that's the whole of life. But as black people in this country, we have had to over a long period of time, put together little pieces out of which we made victories. And it's very important for us to remember what those little pieces were, because Santana said, you know, he forgets history is doomed to repeat it. America is still a place that needs some improvement in the race arena. So let not the young people, the beautiful singers and the actresses forget that they are children of a struggle that oftentimes cost somebody his or her life. And that as we have the children of what happened in the past, we must perform the functions of fatherhood and motherhood for the future.

Speaker When I look at the screen today and I see the magnificent young ladies that is so tremendously talented and so beautiful and so expressive, so sparkling, so electric, I equal, you know, my heart bubbles and bounces and dances to be in their presence. They give that kind of excitement. And yet at the same time, I understand thoroughly where it all came from. I had that same feeling that first time I looked on that screen and saw Lena Horne. So I would want the young generation not to lose connection with the glories of the past, because we too, we belong to each other and we we feed on each other and we grow from each other.

Speaker Lena has stood there a long time and we have all benefited by her presence, by her grace or charm, her talent and her capacity to kick chins and fight. These are important qualifications and qualities. I should hope that the current generation of the generations to come will never forget them, and that they will understand that we all to some degree, you know, share the greatness, the glory, the grace of this magnificent woman. And let us never forget that.

Speaker I want to ask you today, could you think? This huge, huge following. I just want to ask the.

Speaker Well, that is a thought, the fruit of which I choose not to share. I mean, why jump into that into that country? You know, why make enemies? Why know I make choices. I look. I see them all. I love them all. And they are all to some degree, Lynne.

Speaker Anything that you would like to add, anything on the two little.

Speaker I would like to to. To add, well, it's not an addition, but it's it's a point of emphasis. That was a time when it was very important in the black community that we should have some way to communicate to the world that we were not [Unrecognized] and. What? Talking about Lena. Has meant to me what it has brought back to mind is the importance of the arts and the black experience. All art is entertainment, but all entertainment is not necessarily art. We were able, thanks to people like Lena Horne and Paul and the others, to use our capacities to entertain as a weapon to make a statement about who we were. Now it's it's casual in many instances, it's taken for granted, you look on the stage or on the tube or on the screen and you see black folks up there with everybody else doing their no. It's easy not to be aware that there was a time when that was not so when we were indeed invisible. People who helped change that, who helped make US citizens, who helped fill out a fill in the the the empty spaces more than our quote at the detainers. People who stood up defined us and said we were to the world when there was no other voice and no other mouth out there.

Speaker The Marian Anderson's. The Paul Robeson. The Lena Horne's. They made us, in essence, who we are today, and I'd like not ever to forget that.

Speaker Well, there's always been an intimate connection between black art and black struggle from the times of slavery when we lived huddled together in those slave camps, surely the masses must have heard one of us sing a song or one of us dancing.

Speaker And surely the master must have said or the next time I have an entertainment. Bring that slave, bring her, bring him to entertain my guests and that slave, he or she come to the master's house singing, performing, being acclaimed by the senator or the governor. Whoever was visiting certainly must have pleased the master a great deal so that when it was all over and all the guests had gone as he spoke to his slave, he must have said, Well, what can I do for you now? You've made me so happy. What would you like? And that slave would say. Well, I'm glad I pleased your master.

Speaker And there is something I want down in the quarters. It's called. We don't have anything to sleep under. And mama has a cough. Maybe if.

Speaker Let us have some old blankets or some other things that would make it warm for us. We would appreciate that greatly. Certainly, this must have been a moment of high politics when one of us had been chosen to become a spokesperson and had gone up to the big house and brought back something that we needed to survive, that person would have to have been an artist. And that capacity. To speak for us, to express who we were, to express our needs and to bring back some assuaging gift.

Speaker From the big house. Was always a part of what we thought of.

Speaker We wanted our heroes, our Joe Louis is our Jackie Robinson's. To be our spokesperson to represent us, Lena Horne, Marian Anderson's, and they did it was a struggle essentially to define the humanity of a people who had been dehumanized. And the arts led the way and forcing a redefinition. Of black life and black culture and black it and the black experience by American society at large. That was what the struggle was all about. And the artist was sometimes the first soldiers on the field of battle. And they stayed until the victory was won.

Ossie Davis
Interview Date:
1996-01-26
Runtime:
1:05:49
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-sj19k46m3b, cpb-aacip-504-k93125r19d, cpb-aacip-504-0r9m32nq07
MLA CITATIONS:
"Ossie Davis, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 26 Jan. 1996, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/890
APA CITATIONS:
(1996, January 26). Ossie Davis, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/890
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Ossie Davis, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 26, 1996. Accessed December 07, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/890

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