On this edition of Ron’s Amazing Stories – The Blog, we will throw the spotlight on one of America’s best, Lena Mary Calhoun Horne. An amazing woman with, as it just so happens, an amazing story. Horne was an American jazz and pop singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. Horne’s career spanned over 70 years appearing in film, television, and theater. Her real love and many would say her passion was in the night club.
At the young age of sixteen she began her career in earnest. In the fall of 1933, Horne joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York City. In the spring of 1934, she had a featured role in the Cotton Club Parade starring Adelaide Hall. Unsavory roots some would say, but truth was it was the perfect place for Lena. She would connect with band leaders such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. A few years later, Horne joined Noble Sissle. Lena toured with Noble and made her first records with him and his orchestra.
At 21 years of age Lena made her first film, The Duke Is Tops (1938) followed by Panama Hattie (1942). Lena had signed with MGM but, unfortunately for her, the pictures were shot so that her scenes could be cut out when they were shown in the South. Most theaters there refused to show films that portrayed blacks in anything other than subservient roles to whites. At that time most movie studios did not want to take a chance on losing that particular source of revenue. Very sad we ever thought like that.
Horne was long involved with the Civil Rights Movement. During World War II, when entertaining the troops for the USO, she refused to perform for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen. She staged her own show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs. Seeing that the black soldiers had been forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where the black troops were seated and performed with the Germans behind her. Amazing!
By the mid-1950s, Horne was disenchanted with Hollywood and increasingly focused on her nightclub career. She was blacklisted for her affiliations in the 1940s with communist-backed groups. She would subsequently disavow communism and returned to the screen three more times ending by playing Glinda in The Wiz (1978), which was directed by her then son-in-law Sidney Lumet.
Horne continued to perform well into her 80s, in fact her last public appearance was in 1999. It is hard to imagine what life would have been like for us without women like Lena Horne. If you want to know more about her I suggest the book: Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne written by James Gavin.
This Week’s Podcast:
On the podcast this week we have Lena Horne in a OTR story from Suspense called, You Were Wonderful. You can listen to this podcast on Thursday at Ron’s Amazing Stories, download it from iTunes, stream it on TuneIn Radio or listen to it on your radio Saturday night at 6pm Eastern time. Check your local listing or find the station closest to you at this link.
August 03 – He #17 – Out Of Body
August 10 – You Were Wonderful – (RAS294)
August 17 – The MUFON Story – (RAS295)
August 24 – Western Week – (RAS296)
August 31 – Science Fiction Week – (RAS297)