Speaker When you heard the voice coming from a different world, what was your feeling?
Speaker Well, the cast of a different world as a whole was very excited to have Lina come. I don't think we really believed it till she got there, though.
Speaker One of our stage managers had worked with her and Debbie Allen knew her. There was some personal connections and they spoke of her as a real person. But to the rest of us, she was quite a stellar figure and I had seen her Broadway show. A friend of mine gave me tickets because I didn't have any money at the time of my what was I doing at a Broadway show? But I thought they were a gift because he knew that I would appreciate her alive.
Speaker And I've kind of held that image for me. That's her strongest image, was that that show on Broadway that she did?
Speaker Before you saw that Broadway show, what did you know of Lena Horne in that?
Speaker I knew that Lena was a singer and a star of the 40s and 50s, I had seen stormy weather and I think some of cabin in the sky, but I really learned more about it when I read about her when I was doing I read some compilation books and they always focused on Lena because she started so many things. And I think I related to her alienation and what she must have felt coming to Hollywood at that time.
Speaker All of those black stars, I'm sure, had to deal with the fact that they were the one and only.
Speaker And I thought that would be kind of scary, at least I had a cast of aid around me and we all had kind of grown up together on this black show and there were black people in front of us and behind us, you know.
Speaker I remember one day and Carol came on this show. She was almost in tears to say how wonderful it was to be around these black people.
Speaker Being the first black woman on TV. You realize how strange they must have been from what was familiar to them, even though Lina had a kind of aristocratic air to her, she was still black and still from the south. And I think thrown into a very white and high profile world must have been very stressful, I would imagine. And when I met her, I kind of just wanted to talk to her like we were all friends. But I hate when people do that to me. So let's go. Was she approachable? Oh, very, very warm. Very down, you know, telling jokes she had. I don't know if she had done anything in a while and she had made jokes about being rusty and help me up and help me down. But flawless and her beauty. And I felt inspired by it like. I'd like to grow up like Lina. Self accepting and self-assured and at peace by now.
Speaker What was it like in terms of the actual working process, that rehearsal, so I was going, oh, sorry, hold. Yes. And we on at that first rehearsal.
Speaker Did you know her lines and or did she have to work on them?
Speaker Well, you know, on a sitcom, you have four days of rehearsal before you actually film. So we usually don't have a lot of line problems unless, you know, we give again, they give a gets chunks of dialogue.
Speaker And and she flowed you know, she was playing herself on our show and.
Speaker In between in between takes, we would all laugh and have a bomb, and she really fit in with all of us who was a very warm feeling. And Lou Myers, who plays Mr. Gaines, is just tickled. It's funny how our characters on this show. Well well, Whitley was, of course, way over the top at a time when I would not want to be in her face.
Speaker You know, my choice would have been to be a little low profile that a warm feel comfortable and then Nailer know.
Speaker But, you know, and as my character, I was up in her face and I think I had a wetly, had some kind of t it was, you know, whatever this thing was up to. Jennifer Lewis was on the show that that week. So our characters were reflecting one thing and then we had her as ourselves in between takes because, you know, she's someone you want to be next to. You want to just listen and hear what all these years in show business and and living her life as a woman and and, you know, having a family and having a career and having dealt with the political climate of this country and having represent all of these things, you know, that was laid in upon this woman because she was beautiful and talented.
Speaker You know, and there's always so much extra to deal with, it seems, when you're black and in this business is like an extra thing you have to do other than your craft you have to represent.
Speaker Well, that she. When you have a chance to get next to her. Did she give you any jewels go and come away with?
Speaker What I remember she signed a poster for me and. It was there were she was kind of reassuring because I think. She automatically understood, you know, the obstacles ahead of us and a sense of who's going to be able to handle it and not. I think she is very encouraging above all.
Speaker It's very befitting the song, if you believe, for Leonard to sing that.
Speaker With her reputation as a singer, did Jennifer Lewis show any nervousness at all about singing in front of her?
Speaker If she if Jennifer was ever nervous, I don't think you would know. I don't know if you've ever seen her one woman show, but she's known for her bravado, but an utmost respect.
Speaker I mean, Jennifer of all of us probably knew Lena's work the most because she had been in New York longer and was just more in touch.
Speaker And she was very gracious with Lena. I don't I'm sure she was nervous, but probably not intimidated. It was more of a sharing. Then we felt pressured and wanted to do well, wanted it to be a good episode, you know. Let's make this one a good one.
Speaker So I think everybody was just doing what they do best in her presence was the fact the way the episode was really designed around her life was that that become like a learning experience for you. I mean, what did you come away from that episode?
Speaker Well, you know, her being our black pinup for the war during the war with our soldiers and traveling and performing for them and having to perform for white soldiers first, you just need to preface this by saying, I learned, oh, OK.
Speaker And your lapel. OK.
Speaker OK, well, I remember the most is her influence on our black soldiers during the war. She was our first pinup girl and represented Black Beauty for that time, and that we, too, are glamorous and gorgeous and. Have an and then taking that influence, which could could have just been a pretty superficial influence on these men and actually visiting them and performing for them and. You know, the shock that she made that trip and then performed for white soldiers first and then the colored troops, or in one account that I read, she performed for colored soldiers, but they were in the back and the German POW WS were in front of them, which is very symbolic, I would think. And she came off the stage and passed them and saying to the black section of the audience. Ghazi.
Speaker Can you cut from this?
Speaker I'm struck by to me, there is a very strong similarity.
Speaker In the two of you, in terms of the the drive, the focus, did you feel a kinship with her in that sense or I do feel a kinship with her.
Speaker I absolutely relate to her and really have not other than the show, have run into her. You know, I think at an elite concert, you know, not where I've really sat down to talk to her, but knowing I mean, the way she looks. And having all the labels that I've heard put on her, I relate to her in that way and I think she understands me.
Speaker I may be being very presumptuous, she may not be giving me a bit of money, but I feel akin to that and her there is a constant cycle for some reason.
Speaker Sometimes I wonder, are we really progressing? And when I read stories from the 40s and 50s and it's so relatable to me now, I wonder, are we really progressing?
Speaker And in fact, I said this to Della Reese last week, because when I look at these women, I want to be like them.
Speaker You know, I can see the people I don't want to be like and I can see the people I do want to be like. And I wonder, what is it about these women that I'm attracted to?
Speaker What is it that I like about them? It is that they have not surrendered their soul to the business and they still made it. And I truly believe that it can be done.
Speaker And I have also resigned myself to the fact that if I don't have what I consider the success that I want in my life, I have to still have Jasmine.
Speaker There was still Laina, there was still Delta, they were not shells or what they used to be riding on their past.
Speaker They were all fighters, anybody that is successful and has survived like they have is a fighter.
Speaker I don't see any other way that they could have done it, giving in to the evils that come with, you know, being in the public eye and the estrangement from your people.
Speaker And the misconception that because you're light, you're closer to the white community, these women grew up with black people.
Speaker That was what they were familiar with, no matter what shade of brown they were. I think it's very interesting that people think the lighter you are, the less black you are, because there's more to being black than. Then your skin color, its culture, its richness, its what you're taught, it's the loved ones, it's the people you relate to. These are all ways that we define ourselves. So I know that these women have been through it. Schools should stop making that transition easier, and it wasn't sure it wasn't, yeah, see if we can try to.
Speaker OK, after that one. OK, go ahead.
Speaker I think there's a big misconception that the lighter skinned you are, the closer you are to white and the white world as far as you're from your familiarity with it and your connection to it. And I say misconception because.
Speaker You know, Lena grew up with a black family throughout the south, her roots, her culture, the things she knew, the people she loved, related to and identified with were black. So I don't think her adaptation to Hollywood would have been any easier for her than for a darker person.
Speaker But I think other people probably thought it was, which is the whole irony of it, you know, how we feel inside and how we look to other people. We probably have that in common to whether whether we were performers or not, you know, just socially and then dealing in a segregated world.
Speaker You know, I went to integrated schools, so I really don't know how much interaction she had with white people other than performing for them in her life.
Speaker You know, before she came out here, before she. Became a public figure.
Speaker Is how. How would you classify how what is it still a segregated?
Speaker Well, in the same sense, Hollywood is a reflection of this country to me, I don't think it can be any more progressive than.
Speaker Then America. So in that sense, it is as segregated as our country is and is as divided. My answer to that, even though it is kind of a built in obstacle in our lives, is we have to be more cooperative with each other and. Listen, you know, I love talking to Lena Horne, Della Reese, Diahann Carroll, I want to know. I want to know not that it'll save me from going through things, but there's nothing like education and in that sense we're not educated, you know. We're not educated as a people, and therefore it affects our sense of value.
Speaker In this country and in Hollywood.
Speaker And, you know, they they print things in the industry papers like black people can't sell movies overseas and, you know, they're they're kind of comments that are made.
Speaker Black writers can't write on white shows and we're not as imaginative. I've heard things that are really offensive. Some things have been said to me and I've addressed and other things I've just, you know, are just stories that I've heard which lead me to believe that, you know, the open mindedness of of the arts. Really exists more in New York where you are on stage and it's more the value of your talent, which is how I grew up. I'm not used to the value system out here.
Speaker And the excuses, you know, for why we can't have integrated groups of friends and movies. And relationships and, you know, why can't it reflect more of the world that we live in?