Transcript:

Speaker My mother and I came here in December of 1943, I was signed under optional agreement to the Hughes Tool Company, which is really Howard Hughes, and we came out thinking that we would be testing because I had tested for David Selznick and he was a casting man, had seen the test and showed it to him. And he liked it. And he sent for me. And we met a man who met us and brought us through there. He used to come and talk to some men there and said, you will see no one. You're not to meet anyone and don't go out and have dinner or anything like that. Mr. Guest will come by once in a while and take you out to dinner. You and your mother just stay like, OK, Will and my mother and I headed right away, or Hollywood and Vine. We took a bus after bus after bus and we landed at Hollywood and Vine and we went up and down to Highland and back and we didn't find any movie stars. Well, we went the next day and sure to find them. Well, after about a month of this, mother decided she would take one side of the street and I would take the other.

Speaker So one day, sure enough, darling, over here and I ran across Hollywood Boulevard in those days, luckily not as much traffic as today.

Speaker Lee Bowman, we met well, we were thrilled and oh, a movie star. And so we knew then we'd see many more, which we didn't. But we got bored after months and months of this because I didn't. Although I went I was sent to a dramatic teacher by Hughes. I didn't we didn't know anybody. And so I didn't see Hughes until six months later.

Speaker So could you tell me, how old were you were you when you arrived in Hollywood and what did it feel like? I was eighteen.

Speaker I was a very family oriented girl. I never lived alone. Uh, matter of fact, I have never lived alone and.

Speaker I had been reading movie magazines all my life, I loved Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy and knew that they should be married not to those people, but to each other. And I just adore them. And I adore all the stars because my mother and my mother would say, now, if you finish your homework, we can go to a movie home. We had a little movie in Georgetown called The Dumbarton, and this was inexpensive. And we'd run down to see all the pictures. It didn't matter whether there would be pictures or pictures, whatever they were. And I'd say I'd lie and say I've done my homework. I do it on the bus the next morning and see a lot of movies. And so I knew a lot about Hollywood from my magazines. I used to model for a fur coats in the hottest days in September. You know what it is like in Washington, D.C. in September with no air conditioning in the Willard Hotel and I mean for five dollars a day and read my magazines and these men, these these burgers would say, that's Betty Jane reading her magazine.

Speaker She's going to Hollywood is going to be a star. You know, I don't know.

Speaker I but I want to one day be a star and I'll come back and I'll say, Mr. Leaf, get me Mr. Leaf. And he will give me a job and I will model his clothes, his furs. And I loved Ermine. And I will model and ermine fur coat. And he will say, You like it, don't you, Betty? Jane. And I'll say, yes. And he'll say, Betty, Jane, I'll let you have it for 2000 getting paid five dollars a day. And so I'm going to come back and I'm going to get a job with Mr. Leaf. I'm going to model my my fur and he'll say, Betty, Jane, you love it, don't you? I said, Yes, I do, Mr. Leaf. And he'll say, you can have it for 2000.

Speaker And I'll say, I'll take it with all my money. That was my dream.

Speaker Tell me, when you when you finally started making pictures, what studio were you with? What pictures were you making all the time?

Speaker Well, when I got out of that RKO contract, it was nineteen forty four, end of forty four.

Speaker And when I got into my RKO contract, when I got out of use contract and went to RKO 1944, I started working within a couple of months and be parts, little bits and a little bit bigger bits and then finally parts and then better parts. And then eventually in nineteen forty six 1945 I did Sinbad the Sailor and they won't believe me. And in nineteen forty six out of the past with Bob Mitchum and Kirk Douglas, which was a big leap and a great part.

Speaker Was it hard at that time for young actresses to get. The next level.

Speaker Well, when you're under contract, a lot of people disliked being under contract. They wanted to be out on their own, but they don't know how hard it is today. I don't know how the girls do it. I see them having auditions of 50 women, 50 young girls, and they don't know what they want. They have no idea it's going to walk in the room, one of them. But they don't know what they want. They don't know what they want. Blind to all this. I had the luxury of knowing everyone at this small studio of getting to know them. They got to know me. They saw my work. They took a chance. They groomed you. They sent me to a dramatic coach there. They sat me singing lessons, you know, all kinds of things. I was at the studio. I had lived there. It was my second home and I loved it. I just love that little studio so that when I could when I was given the chance to do a lead, which was they won't believe me, Joan Harrison produced and luckily she liked me and she she lightened my hair. I had dark hair. And because I had dark hair, I didn't realize that I looked to be a heavy and I played heavies, the other woman, you know, and she said, you don't look like a girl. You know, you look like somebody. She she put my hair. She'd call it a soap cap. And what it is, it's a light blonde and sort of streaky type things. Anyway, it looked beautiful. Look, it looked like a young girl's brown hair with streaks and and natural streaks. And so it soften my face and I looked normal and not like a heavy anymore.

Speaker That's it. What was the reputation of energy? How how for a young actress did that seem like, oh, that was heaven.

Speaker I just need you to see MGM, MGM, the metro studio, Leo, the Lion. It was absolutely the biggest. The best it was so exciting, I met a few people who work there and they loved it. And then later I went to I went to MGM much later in my career.

Speaker Now, you did some singing early on. And as a singer with the MGM musical, something that you wanted to be in, what did they have a special reputation?

Speaker Oh, yes. Yes, they had well, no. One, Busby Berkeley. I just knew that musicals, MGM musicals were the epitome. And the first case they had a Busby Berkeley. They had wonderful orchestras. They had great singers. They as a matter of fact, everyone under contract went to a maestro and whose name escapes me at the moment and you take lessons. And he discovered that Howard Keel had a voice. Howard Keel was just an actor. He didn't know he had a voice. This man found this magnificent voice and he so naturally went into musicals. But they were renowned. You know, they were the the top.

Speaker Did you know people in the unit and Arthur Freed?

Speaker I mean, let me just ask, what was Arthur meditation? Arthur Freed. I had a very good reputation for for musicals. He would take a chance on people and on material and on stories. I think he was very well thought of. I knew him later through the Oscar Levant, but I mean, I didn't know him that well.

Speaker And, um, for the short time you were at MGM. How did you what was that like?

Speaker Well, I was impressed by the lot, by the stages, even by the Commissaire. I'm sorry, could you just go back and say, well, when I got the energy when I first went to MGM, I was impressed with the lot, with the stages, with the tremendous, uh, the bulk of it, you know, and even the commissary, they had a good commissary and it was very impressive, the big stages. And, you know, they put two stages. My my my middle son, Lawrence Lascher, made a picture.

Speaker They're called, uh, WarGames.

Speaker And they put two stages, two big stages together to make the narad. It was it was gorgeous. It was simply wonderful what they can do.

Speaker Moving to to, um, well, you were out in Hollywood.

Speaker What? Well, let me just ask, what was the what was the word about me? What did you know when other actors would talk about her? What was she considered to be?

Speaker Well, Lena Horne was considered to be one of our finest, finest singers.

Speaker Uh. Personalities, beautiful. Just a delight.

Speaker When she did her her musicals, I guess, at Metro, uh, in the South, the projectionist, many of them, I guess the manager told them to would cut her songs, splice them back together after and send the film back. But her songs were never seen because in the South, they you know, that the I guess the manager thought that the people wouldn't sit still for having this beautiful black woman singing, you know, and it was known that that's what happened in the south.

Speaker Oh, I understand well, Gene Kelly was one of the food movement, and I understand that he had fabulous parties. I know that he attended to tell you what those parties were like.

Speaker The Gene Kelly parties were fun. Most of them that I went to, I went to cover with Peter Lawford. They were clips of pictures. Sometimes he showed whole pictures, but he used to love to see clips of pictures, little tiny clips. He clip them out and then splice them back together and send them back.

Speaker And they were little moments. There was one I remember one day when I saw it, when I was there, a detective, an English detective. It was the end of the picture. And he is in his bed with his pajamas on and his manservant comes in and says, well, I guess they never did find the jewels, did they? And the detective looks at him and he says slyly and he opens his back.

Speaker There are the pearls and diamonds. You know, he was so ridiculous.

Speaker And he love that clip. Yeah, we saw that clip a lot.

Speaker Now, I understand that there was a time when you were at a party with Lena. Would you tell me about that party?

Speaker Yes. Edith Gwynn, who was a columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, she had been married to Billy Wilkerson, who who ran the reporter. And she loved Lena. They were very good friends. And she invited me one night to to play charades. And I loved games anyway and charades especially. And so free from time to time, we'd get together to play charades. And that's how I got to know Lena. I didn't know her before that. And she loved them. She loved playing. And our team we loved playing with David Selznick because David Selznick would become incensed with stupid people who didn't get what he was trying to do, you know?

Speaker And so three things.

Speaker No, three words, three words, three words, three words. I didn't march up and down again. March I was in the title, but it wasn't what he was doing. And so finally, it was so hard to get. Tramp, tramp, tramp. Finally, it sounds like stamp. It sounds like this. And it was three tramps, three tramps.

Speaker And somebody said, Clayton, Jackson and Durante.

Speaker No, you fool, you idiot. What are they give me here? They give me idiots.

Speaker They do this stupid and you go through an absolute fit, you know? And so we purposely are dumb. We are purposely dumb for six minutes. Just wait until he's apoplectic and he's saying and they said no talking, absolutely no talking. We're going to have to decide how you talk to these people. I don't want to hear from you. You shut up. It was terrible to us and we loved it because it's made it we dumb and dumber. So at the end of the evening, after six minutes, you only allowed three. He'd be frothing and we would laugh and we would let him know that we thought he didn't think that was funny.

Speaker That Lena was Lena love.

Speaker Yes. True. Yeah, she got she got a kick out.

Speaker Oh, did you just say that.

Speaker Yeah. And Lena got a big kick out of that because she was she, she loved laughing and she loved and she loved to participate too. She had a few good questions of her own.

Speaker Oh, how would you describe her wounds from that time that you were there with the party?

Speaker She was fun. She was beautiful, of course, couldn't take your eyes off of her. And she was just very outgoing. I always thought she'd be shy, but because I was sort of shot, you wouldn't know it today, which I was. And she she was very outgoing and very, you know, enjoying things. She enjoyed herself very much.

Speaker I enjoyed her now.

Speaker As you you know, you talked about how her her parts were cut out in the south and that's not the only time that she actually experienced. Difficulty Hollywood was not an easy to. Could you tell me about this? Well, first of all, just could you set the scene in terms of what kind of neighborhood was Nichols Nickels Canyon?

Speaker My father found it. It was nestled between Laurel and I don't know what the street garden or something and Ogden or Gardner and highly off of Hollywood Boulevard. And it was a lovely little canyon.

Speaker I think there were only maybe 15 houses at that time when we went to we were early and we lived about a half a mile and a half up the canyon. And Dad built the house and my mother and father lived there all of their lives. And across the street, Lena Horne had moved in with Lonnie Haden and they were so quiet that I never knew anyone was there.

Speaker I don't know. I didn't see any children. I didn't see any, you know, but I. I thought, well, I just want that privacy, you know, so let them have their privacy. And on the other side of them, we had no one on either side of us. It was that sparse. I mean, just coyotes and rocks and rattlesnakes. As a matter of fact, on the other side of Lena was a woman not to how this went together.

Speaker I mean, it was like, you know, a block apart was a young girl named we called her Annie Oakley. And Annie Oakley was a great shot, as, of course, Annie Oakley was. And so we yell.

Speaker Picked up the canyon and she said, be right there.

Speaker She knew that we'd found a snake and she'd have her baby under one arm and the shotgun on the other and she'd come over. She says she'd hand you the baby and she'd say, we're right over there. Or you go. And I mean, she did she didn't want to hit anything but the head because she kept the skins and she sold them to someone on Hollywood Boulevard who made belts and used the teeth. I don't know what about. But she they use the whole thing. And so and we had Annie Oakley and I mean, it was a rustic, wonderful, you know, world and.

Speaker I don't know, I, I don't know the year, would you I don't know that a year and.

Speaker My mother called me and said, Darling, did you know there's a petition going around Nichols' Canyon to see whether or not they can stop Lena Horne from living at the house, you know? Said, what do you mean? She said, well, I don't know, some kind of petition. They don't want them living there. I couldn't believe it. And I said, What petition? She said, yes. And they're having a meeting down at the lower canyon on. I'll be there. And so when the evening came down, I went and.

Speaker I'm not one to run around to look for a new neighbors, you know, I knew I think two people there, one with two little girls, you know, and one with, you know, that I had seen before. And but when they began talking about, you know, the property values going down and that's a ba ba ba ba ba ba ba, Lena Horne and so forth and so on. I just, you know, said you have to be you know, you have to be kidding. You can't possibly do this to her, you know, I mean, it's just unconscionable. You can't get her out. She's living there, you know, she's living there happily and quietly and and you know what's wrong with you as nothing is going to happen to your property? This is a big canyon. This is where she should be, you know, having a life and don't do this to her. And you can't. You just can't. And I'm words to that effect. So I'm a little stronger. But that's what I said.

Speaker And my mother said a few days later, she said they stopped. The petition is not enough. They said what's been recalled and don't worry. And naturally, Lina didn't get one. So I assume that she didn't know anything about it. And all those years, I assume that she didn't know anything about it. She never mentioned anything about even living in Nichols Canyon when we used to go to Edith's house. So I didn't know that she knew and I wouldn't say anything about it. So it wasn't until about 10 years ago, maybe, or 15 years ago, Dick Cavett was on the radio and I heard a voice saying yes. And then across the street lived a young actress named Jane Greer. What, what, when? And. She was telling him about the petition and she said yes, and this young actress confronted these people and the petition was was dropped and I never knew she knew, you know, I mean, I figured, you know, who tell her? I guess someone at the meeting, she knew someone else at the meeting who told her what had happened. And they probably spoke up to when I after I left. But she credits me with the oh, the the people at this meeting.

Speaker Um, how would you characterize it? I mean, were they older or younger? Were they did it?

Speaker I don't know. I mean, as I say, the people at the meeting, I didn't know them well. I don't go around meeting neighbors much. I only met with one family who were two houses down who had two little girls. And they would come up and look at what we had two dogs while they had a little Chihuahua, and they would come up and look at the Chihuahua. That that lady I knew.

Speaker And I would say at the meeting, uh, I suppose there were quite a number of older people, uh, you know, living their golden years and the Kenyan mother and that certainly were, um.

Speaker Did you know anything about the episode on Horn Avenue with people that came to her rescue? Did you know anything about. No.

Speaker No. Same thing. Boy, isn't that terrible.

Speaker I wonder if you can tell me, since you were there during this period, Hollywood and black actors, I mean, do they seem to have proscribed roles? Could you just tell me something about that?

Speaker Well, in in the 30s and 40s, uh, I didn't work in the 30s, but I mean, I know about them. And, uh, for the most part, the black actors were servants'.

Speaker I don't think that I except for the occasional black movie that would come out and be made by some company in New York or whatever, you know, they didn't do them at the big studios.

Speaker They didn't do any as they were today. I guess the whole country was that way. Uh, of course, my mother and father were from the south.

Speaker I would compound it if they hadn't been such nice people. Well, I mean, I remember as a child hearing a lot about in Washington, D.C., you know, about the black people, uh, names, uh.

Speaker It just grew up with it, you know, and you and then your mother said later, don't use that word, I don't know.

Speaker But that was a lot of bigotry around.

Speaker And I remember there was an actress, a beautiful girl named Aqua Netta.

Speaker You remember her beautiful girl and.

Speaker Um, I don't think I'll tell it. Oh, I'm sorry, OK. Oh, let me just think of.

Speaker And I'm just curious if your parents were from the South.

Speaker No, I can't believe that. Yes, they did. You know, we've got to believe.

Speaker No, no, I just put them in a way with God that no one was hurt.

Speaker No, I didn't. That was later. Yeah, that was later, I think.

Speaker I mean, the story behind this document, good. Thank you. Yeah, things I wanted to know.

Speaker Yes, yes, yes. So when you asked about Gene Kelly, what were those? I didn't like it was bad, but it was there.

Speaker OK, well, let's just do that over again if you can. Someone please just tell me what it was like, the parties to go to a party.

Speaker Gene Kelly says the party said Gene Kelly's house in the afternoon. They played, though, all kinds of games, tennis. And then in the evening they had a five o'clock hour. And then after the five o'clock hour, they were just like all day long. And then they'd show movies late at night or play games. And I mean by games, charades, Scrabble or whatever, canasta, whatever it was, it was in vogue. And but my my days were looking at movie clips. He saved motion picture clips, just little pieces that wouldn't disturb the whole picture, except this might be what I'm talking about. Might. And anyway, it was an English picture and the English detective was quite a character.

Speaker And at the very end of the picture, the English detective is in bed with his bathrobe, his pajamas on, and he and his manservant comes in and says, uh, well, sir, I guess. They didn't find the jewels, did they buy, the detective said, look at his pants open. But they did and he opened and here are the jewels he's wearing and the look that he gave.

Speaker It was so marvelous. And Gene Kelly loved it. He adored it, and he kept it and he would run it. Right. It was about an hour's film of all these wonderful clips. You know, you probably it's probably still in the vault.

Jane Greer
Interview Date:
1996-02-08
Runtime:
0:29:36
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-gq6qz2337d, cpb-aacip-504-q23qv3ct2w, cpb-aacip-504-r785h7cn0p
MLA CITATIONS:
"Jane Greer, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 08 Feb. 1996, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/892
APA CITATIONS:
(1996, February 08). Jane Greer, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/892
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Jane Greer, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). February 08, 1996. Accessed December 07, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/892

© 2021 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.