Monday, May 10, 2010

Keeps Raining All the Time

Behind the dazzling smile, the goddess-like beauty, the blooming American rose voice, Lena Horne may have been the unhappiest of women. A traumatic childhood gave way to a contentious young adulthood; and her experiences as a black, female entertainer in the pre-civil rights era left indelible scars. Horne was the first black movie star to be signed to a long-term studio contract; yet MGM had no idea what to do with a leading lady of color, and relegated her to either all-black speciality pictures like Cabin in the Sky (1943), or glorified musical cameos in other films, which would be edited out for Southern consumption. She made inroads into the chic, lucrative world of nightclubs and casinos, yet was treated as a second class citizen in the very establishments she was making money for, and bringing customers to.

Not surprisingly, then, Horne has been described as a distant mother, a dispassionate wife, and a mercurial friend; and, unlike other complicated, troubled divas, Horne didn't even necessarily find solace in her art or her audience, often feeling hostile and contemptuous of the moneyed, white elite who came to see her strut her stuff at the Copacabana or the Waldorf. That she masked her pain and anger so well, for so many years, seeming as if she were having the time of her life on stage or on screen may also qualify Lena Horne as one of the all time great actresses. We can only hope that when Miss Horne passed away this past Sunday, time had burnished her pain, and she could reflect on the joy and inspiration she'd passed on to others.

1917 - 2010


  1. Such beauty, such class.
    To trot out the cliches, like fire wrapped in ice....or maybe vice versa.

    God speed.

  2. I had a shiver up my spine yesterday afternoon... her voice & presence were very moving to me.

  3. I was a casual fan.

    Which makes the depth of sadness I feel about her death all the more surprising. Really, I'm at a loss to explain it.

    Bless her.

  4. She was amazing. That is all.

  5. I've never quite understood the anger or the bitterness, so rare in a woman who is beautiful.
    Then again, who but Lena Horne was qualified to star in a film like "Pinky"? (though come to think of it she probably did not relish another encounter with Ethel Waters)

  6. I'm so filled with mixed feelings. Clearly, abstract sadness, but also real dread of the inevitable Alicia Keys biopic and not a little anticipation of the auction of her Sant'Angelo wardrobe from her '71 tour.

  7. keeps "reigning" all the time

  8. I worked with Lena Horne at the Beverly Hills Country Club in Covington, Kentucky, summer of 1953.
    She was stunning. She wore nothing under her gowns. She left the dressing room door open because it was so hot, and no A/C in the dressing rooms back then.
    We would come off the stage and go past her, as she stood there naked, stepping into her gown, smiling at us. Always the lady, sophisticated. Her body was perfect.

    She was not allowed in the front door, but she was the star of the show, and raised her regal head above it all.

    She was married to Lennie at that time, her musical arranger and conductor, and they seemed at peace with each other.

    I have a lot of great snapshots of her talking on the phone, coming off the stage. She was sensational. No one like her.

    My favorite song that she sang was:
    "I love to love, need plenty of love each night. I love to love, it's so good, it can't be right."

    A dynamic personality. Rest in Peace, honey. Your legend lives on.

  9. Le Grande Dame! There will never be another like Lena Horne. In the abstract, I get the anger and bitterness. If you're as beautiful as Horne the world only wants one thing from you. And it makes you a target. All that she had to offer was eclipsed by the beauty.

    92 years of bitterness is a very long time. I hope she is finally at peace.