Ingrid Bergman

I just read in the Stabroek News that the 68th Cannes Film Festival unveiled its official poster featuring legendary actress Ingrid Bergman in a tribute to what would have been her 100th birthday this year.  I think that’s wonderful.  She was an actress I truly admired and appreciated.  She had gentle beauty and an air of quiet refinement.  She was very classy.  I remember her in films like Casablanca, Gaslight, Anastasia and For Whom the Bells Toll.  She acted with some of Hollywood’s A list male stars–Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper.  It would have been interesting to see her star opposite Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster.

Acting was something Ingrid always knew she wanted to become.  Her father, a Swedish artist and photographer wanted her to become an opera star and had her take voice lessons for three years.  She wore her mother’s clothes and staged plays in her father’s empty studio.  He documented all of her birthdays with a borrowed camera.  He died when she was thirteen.  Her German mother had died when she was two years old.

After her father’s death, Ingrid was sent to live with an aunt who died just six months later from a heart disease.  She moved in with another aunt and uncle who had five children.  Her aunt Elsa was the first one who told Ingrid when she was 11 years old that her mother may have “some Jewish blood”, and that her father was aware of this long before they got married.  Her aunt cautioned her about telling others about her possible ancestry as “there might be some difficult times coming.”  This reminds me of Queen Esther who was intially cautioned by her uncle not to let anyone know that she was a Jew.

In 1932 when she was 17, Ingrid had only one opportunity to become an actress by entering an acting competition with the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.  For Ingrid it was a terrible moment.  She recalled:  As I walked off the stage, I was in mourning.  I was at a funeral.  My own.  It was the death of my creative self.  My heart had truly broken…they didn’t think I was even worth listening to, or watching.”

This couldn’t have be further from the truth as she soon learned after meeting one of the judges who told her, “We loved your security and your impertinance.  We loved you and told each other that there was no reason to waste time as there were dozens of other entrants still to come.  We didn’t need to waste any time with you.  We knew you were a natural and great.  Your future as an actress was settled.”  What a thrill and relief that must have been for the aspiring actress.  She received a scholarship to the state-sponsored Royal Dramatic Theatre School where Greta Garbo had earned a similar scholarship just years earlier.

Ingrid’s dream was now a reality.  She was given a part in a new play and over the summer break, she was hired by a Swedish film studio which led to her departure from the Royal Dramatic Theatre a year later to work full-time in films.  She starred in a dozen films in Sweden, including En kvinnas ansikte which was later remade as A Woman’s Face, starring Joan Crawford.  Ingrid made one film in Germany in 1938.

Then it was off to Hollywood…Thanks to David O. Selznick, she starred in Intermezzo:  A Love Story, her first acting role in the United States.  It was a remake of her 1935 Swedish film, Intermezzo.  Ingrid didn’t plan to stay in Hollywood.  She thought she would complete this film and return home to Sweden to be with her husband, Dr. Peter Lindstrom and their daughter, Pia.

Selznick had concerns about Ingrid.  “She didn’t speak English, she was too tall, her name sounded too German, and her eyebrows were too thick.”  However, Ingrid was accepted without having to modify her looks.  Selznick let her have her way because he understood her fear of Hollywood makeup artists who might turn her into someone she wouldn’t recognize.  He told them to back off.  Besides, he believe that her natural good looks would compete successfully with Hollywood’s “synthetic razzle-dazzle.”

Selznick, who was filming Gone With the Wind at the same time, shared his early impressions of Ingrid in a letter to William Hebert, his publicity director :

Miss Bergman is the most completely conscientious actress with whom I have ever worked, in that she thinks of absolutely nothing but her work before and during the time she is doing a picture … She practically never leaves the studio, and even suggested that her dressing room be equipped so that she could live here during the picture. She never for a minute suggests quitting at six o’clock or anything of the kind … Because of having four stars acting in Gone with the Wind, our star dressing-room suites were all occupied and we had to assign her a smaller suite. She went into ecstasies over it and said she had never had such a suite in her life … All of this is completely unaffected and completely unique and I should think would make a grand angle of approach to her publicity … so that her natural sweetness and consideration and conscientiousness become something of a legend … and is completely in keeping with the fresh and pure personality and appearance which caused me to sign her.

Not surprisingly, Intermezzo was a huge success and resulted in Ingrid becoming a star.  She left quite an impression on Hollywood.  And Selznick’s appreciation of her uniqueness made he and his wife Irene remain important friends to Ingrid throughout her career.

Before making Casablanca, Ingrid made one last film in Sweden and appearing in three moderately successful films, Adam Had Four Sons, Rage in Heaven and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  According to her biographer, she felt guilty that she had misjudged the situation in Germany.  She had dismissed the Nazis as a “temporary aberration, ‘too foolish to be taken seriously.’ She didn’t believe that Germany start a war because the good people of the country would not allow it.  Sadly, she was wrong.  She felt guilty for the rest of her life and when she was in Germany at the end of the war, she had been afraid to go with the others to witness the atrocitites of the Nazi extermination camps.

In 1942, she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, a movie famous for its wonderul lines and the famous song, “As Time Goes By”.  I was surprised to read that Ingrid did not consider it to be one of her favorite performances.  She said, “I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart.”  I thought she and Bogart were great together.

I think I only saw For Whom the Bell Tolls once but really liked it.  My sister and I liked how she looked with her short, blond, curly hair and a “sun-kissed complexion”.  I read that Ernest Hemmingway wanted her to play the part of Maria.  When he met her, after studying her, he exclaimed, “You are Maria!”  When Ernest told Ingrid that she would have to cut her hair to play the part, she was quick to respond, “To get that part, I’d cut my head off!”

For Whom the Bell Tolls, was the film that saved the song, “As Time Goes By” from being removed from Casablanca.  Warner Brothers wanted to substitute the song and planned to re-shoot some scenes with Ingrid but thanks to her hair-cut, they had to drop the idea as there would be a problem with continuity even if she wore a wig.

A year later, Ingrid won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Gaslight.  It was a gripping and suspenseful movie of a wife being driven to madness by her husband, masterfully played by Charles Boyer.  She next starred as a nun in The Bells of St. Mary opposite Bing Cosby, garnering her third consecutive nomination for Best Actress.   She came in a succession of Alfred Hitchock movies, Spellbound, Notorious and Under Capricorn (I never heard of this one).

During her marriage to Lindstrom, Ingrid had a brief affair with Gregory Peck.  This affair was kept private until five years after Ingrid’s death, when Gregory revealed in an interview with Brad Darrach of People, “All I can say is that I had a real love for her (Bergman), and I think that’s where I ought to stop…. I was young. She was young. We were involved for weeks in close and intense work.”

Unlike her affair with Gregory Peck, the one with the Italian film director, Roberto Rossellini was a very public one.   Although Ingrid received another Best Actress nomination for Joan of Arc in 1948, the film was not a hit, partly because news of her affair with Rossellini broke while the movie was still in theatres.  It was her admiration for Rossellini which had led Ingrid to write him a letter, expressing her admiration and suggesting that she make a film with him.  She was cast in his film, Stromboli and during production, she fell in love with him and they began an affair.  She became pregnant with their son, Bergman became pregnant with their son, Renato Roberto Ranaldo Giusto Giuseppe (“Robin”) Rossellini and this affair caused a huge scandal in the United States.  She was denounced on the floor of the United States senate and Ed Sullivan chose not to have her appear on his show despite a poll showing that the public wanted her there.  However, Steve Allen had her on his equally popular show, noting, “the danger of trying to judge artistic activity through the prism of one’s personal life.” 

The scandal drove Ingrid back to Italy, leaving her husband and daughter.  She went through a very public divorce and custody battle for their daughter.  She and Lindstrom divorced a week after her son was born and she married Rossellini in Mexico.  In 1952, Ingrid gave birth to twin daughters Isotta Ingrid Rossellini and Isabella Rossellini.  Five years later she divorced their father and the following year she married Lars Schmidt, a theatrical entrepreneur from a wealthy Swedish shipping family.  That marriage lasted until 1975 when they divorced.

In 1956, Ingrid starred in the movie, Anatasia. It was her return to the American screen and her second Academy Award for Best Actress which her best friend Cary Grant accepted for her.  She made her first appearance in Hollywood since the scandal when she was the presenter of the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 1956 Academy Awards.  She received a standing ovation after being introduced by Cary Grant.  In 1969, she starred opposite Walter Matthau and Goldie Hawn in the hilarious and delightful movie, Cactus Flower.  It was nice seeing Ingrid take a turn in a light romantic comedy.

In 1972, US Senator Charles H. Percy entered an apology in to the Congressional Record for Edwin C. Johnson’s attack on Ingrid 22 years ago.  In 1974 she won her third Oscar for Murder on the Orient Express, earning her the distinction of being one of the few actresses ever to receive three Oscars.  Her final role was as Golda Meir in A Woman Called Golda.   She was offered the part because, “People believe you and trust you, and this is what I want, because Golda Meir had the trust of the people.”  This interested Ingrid and the role was greatly significant for her because she still carried the guilt of misjudging the situation in Germany during World War II.  Ingrid was frequently ill during the film although she hardly showed it or complained.  She was a real trooper.  Four months after the film was completed, on her 67th birthday in London, Ingrid died of breast cancer.  Her daughter, Pia accepted her Emmy.

Ingrid was a  woman of grace, natural beauty who brought realism and dignity to her roles.  She was a star with no temperament, making her a delight to work with, unpretentious, unique, hard-working, “a great star” who “always strove to be a ‘true’ woman.”  She was not a saint but a woman with real emotions.   She was not afraid to speak out against racism.  During a press conference in Washington, D.C. where she was promoting, Joan of Lorraine, she protested against the racial segregation she witnessed firsthand at the theatre where she was performing.  This drew a lot of publicity and some hate mail.  In a news column in the Herald-Journal, she is reported as saying, “I deplore racial discrimination in any form.  To think it would be permitted in the nation’s capital of all places!  I really had not known that there were places in the United States–entertainment places which are for all the people–where everybody could not go.”

Notes to Women salute this remarkable woman and actress who won our hearts and deepest admiration with her grace and courage.  We celebrate one of the greatest leading ladies that ever graced the silver screen.  She once said, “I am an actress and I am interested in acting, not in making money.”  Dear Ingrid, we are so very thankful that you chose acting over opera.

I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.

I can do everything with ease on the stage, whereas in real life I feel too big and clumsy. So I didn’t choose acting. It chose me.

I don’t think anyone has the right to intrude in your life, but they do. I would like people to separate the actress and the woman.

Time is shortening. But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me.

If you took acting away from me, I’d stop breathing.

ingrid-bergman

Sources:  Stabroek News ; Wikipedia; IMDB; Brainy Quotes; Herald-Journal

Her Nazi Grandfather

I lapsed into silence, I slept a lot and I wasn’t really functioning. Only afterward did I begin to analyze the situation and try to understand the characters of my mother and my grandmother. I only started to learn more about my grandmother at the end. Today I understand that I went through the process step by step, peeling away layer after layer. But in the first months I had no idea what to do.

2349077637Imagine how you would feel if you were to find out that Amon Goeth was your grandfather. He was the sadist Nazi Commandant at the Plaszow concentration camp near Krakow from 1943 to 1944 whom Ralph Fiennes portrayed in an Oscar worthy performance. I remember the scene in the movie where he would be on the verandah with his rifle and would randomly shoot people as if it were a sport.

This man murdered prisoners on a daily basis and actually trained his dogs to tear inmates to death. He shot people his office window if they appeared to be moving too slowly or resting in the yard. He even shot to death a Jewish cook because the soup was too hot. He brutally mistreated his two maids, Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig and Helen Hirsch, who, along with the other inmates, lived in constant fear for their lives.

In the movie he was attracted to Helen Hirsch, looking at her and wondering “is this the face of a rat?” At one point in the movie, Helen had resigned herself to idea that Goeth was going to kill her. “He will. I see things. We were on the roof on Monday, young Lisiek and I and we saw the Herr Kommandant come out of the house on the patio right there below us and he drew his gun and shot a woman who was passing by. Just a woman with a bundle, just shot her through the throat. She was just a woman on her way somewhere, she was no faster or slower or fatter or thinner than anyone else and I couldn’t guess what had she done. The more you see of the Herr Kommandant the more you see there are no set rules you can live by, you cannot say to yourself, “If I follow these rules, I will be safe.””

It’s hard to believe that a person could be capable of such horror. And it’s even harder to accept that you are related to such a person. This was the shocking reality for Jennifer Teege, a bi-racial woman who found out quite by accident that Amon Goeth was her grandfather.  She plucked a book from a library shelf and recognized photos of her mother and grandmother in the book.  It was then that she discovered the horrifying fact that her grandfather was Nazi butcher, Amon Goeth.  His daughter, Monika Hertwig was Jennifer’s mother. Monika had met and fallen in love with a Nigerian man. Their relationship didn’t last. Monika’s own experience in dealing with the truth about her father’s role in the Holocaust is showcased in the 2006 documentary film, The Inheritance. In the movie, Monika meets Helen Jonas-Rosenweig at the scene of the former concentration camp, the latter at first unwilling to meet the daughter of the man who terrorized her and so many others.

I am not clear on how Jennifer Teege came to be adopted. Apparently she was close to her grand-mother who committed suicide not long after she did an interview. Jennifer is convinced that had she been around when her grandfather was alive, he would have shot her because she was not a member of the master race–she didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes. Many of us would not have survived.  Jennifer shares her story in the book, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me which she co-wrote with award-winning journalist Nikola Sellmair.

If you are interested in hearing Jennifer’s story, listen here.

Sources: The Current; Jennifer Teege; Jennifer Teege’s Longreads

Eleanor Gehrig

Just recently I watched the movie, Pride of the Yankees and was touched by the wonderful love story of baseball great Lou Gehrig and his wife Eleanor.

Lou and his wife were married for nine years.  They met in Chicago.  Eleanor was from a well to do family,  She met Lou in Comiskey Park and married him after a long-distance courtship.  They lived in New Rochelle and then later in Riverdale.  They travelled a lot but their life was centred on Yankee Stadium where Lou teamed with Babe Ruth, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey and later Joe DiMaggio.

The Gehrigs’ lives were turned upside down when Lou was forced to retire in 1939 with the disease that later came to be known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”.  I remember the scene in the movie when Lou was in the locker room, untying his shoe laces and he toppled right over.  Eleanor Gehrig later said that she never told her husband that he was suffering from a fatal illness.  In the movie, he knew that it was fatal but he tried to hide the truth from his wife.

Eleanor cheered him up at home with gatherings, parties and impromptu performances. He died two years later at the young age of 37.  Eleanor said that she never intended to play the role of a professional widow to a celebrity although for years, she and Mrs. Ruth were greeted as “the great ladies” of the Yankees.

In the movie, Pride of the Yankees, I saw the love that these two people shared for each other just jump off the screen.  It was heartbreaking to see their happiness ripped away by a disease that claimed his life at such a young age.  My favourite scene was when Lou gave Eleanor a bracelet, which was among the items, Mrs. Gehrig had lent to be used in the film, to add realism.  And I liked how she kept a gigantic scrapbook of Lou.
Gehrig_wife_Eleanor

I felt that Gary Cooper was the perfect choice to play Lou Gehrig and it seemed like Eleanor felt the same.  Of Cooper, she remarked, “Gary studied every picture of Lou’s.  He had every one of his mannerisms down to a science and he is so like my husband in the picture that there were times when I felt I couldn’t bear it.”

Eleanor felt that Teresa Wright was too young to play her. Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Arthur or another actress with more experience would have been preferable.  Eleanor later said, “But now I know that no one could do better, or even as well as little Teresa. Of course she’s prettier and younger but then no woman could object to that, could they?”  Of course, the movie was a success and grossed over $3 million and was one of the top ten films of 1942.  It earned eleven Oscar nominations, including ones for Gary Cooper’s and Teresa Wright’s performances.

Eleanor sold war bonds during World War II, raising over $6 million by auctioning off Lou’s memorabilia.  She joined the local Red Cross, chauffeuring the disabled for which she received Presidential recognition.  She worked for the All American Football Conference as a secretary-treasurer and then was promoted to Vice President after she resigned due to the fact that she couldn’t even balance her own bank account.

Eleanor’s greatest achievement was her tireless efforts to promote ALS research.  She partnered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, testifying before Congress to fund research in various debilitating paralytic diseases.  She eventually will most of her estate to the cause.

Sadly, Eleanor’s relationship with her in-laws never improved.  In the past, she never felt comfortable in their home.  They would converse in German which she didn’t understand.  And as portrayed in the movie, Lou’s mother, Christina was frequently clashing with Eleanor.   The elder Mrs. Gehrig’s relationship with her son was a bit overbearing, smothering.  She was one of those mothers who wouldn’t have approved of any woman her son showed an interest in.  Not surprisingly, she had broken up his previous relationships.  I remember in the movie, how she reacted when Lou first brought Eleanor home. Eleanor quickly picked up on her coldness toward her.  I resented her interference in their lives.  She tried to impose her decorating tastes on Eleanor, even going as far as putting up her own wall paper and moving in a chest of drawers much like the one Lou had in his old room.  Lou had to step in and make it clear to his mother that Eleanor was the mistress of their home, not her.

The Gehrigs never had children.  Eleanor may have had trouble conceiving.  They considered adoption but according to Lou, his mother, “wouldn’t have any of that. She said she didn’t want a grandson if it wasn’t a Gehrig.”

After Lou died, the relationship was forever marred when there was a dispute over the division of Lou’s estate.  He had left his entire assets to his wife but he bequeathed the interest he got from stock investments and monthly payments from a $20,000 life insurance to his parents. His parents believed that Eleanor was withholding these payments from them and they sued her.  The matter was privately settled but the discord between the two parties was never resolved.

Eleanor died on her eightieth birthday, leaving no survivors behind.  Surprisingly, the turnout to her funeral was not as large as the few mourners gathered expected.  Her body was cremated according to her wishes and her ashes placed with her husbands. According to George Steinbrenner, chief owner of the Yankees, Eleanor Gehrig was, “a great woman, and the Yankees have lost a dear friend.”

Notes to Women remembers this remarkable woman who loved her husband and stood by him and was a advocate for ALS, raising awareness and pushing for the funding of research.

I had the best of it.  I would not have traded two minutes of my life with that man for 40 years with another.

Sources:  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0311798/bio; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lou_Gehrig; http://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/08/obituaries/eleanor-gehrig-79-widow-of-yankee-hall-of-fame-star.html

Service: When Women Come Marching Home

Last month, my husband and I watched this documentary about women veterans who bore the scars of war.  They suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome, sexual assault, rape and homelessness.  CPL (ret.) Sue Downes lost both of her legs and was struggling to get the help she needed to integrate back into life.  She had her legs blown off above the knees and she got no support from the government.  We watch these women as they struggled to regain their lives–normalcy.  There was nothing there for them.  There were no jobs–most of them are incapable of finding jobs.  They had psychological problems.  They were physically disabled.

It was hard to watch these women who served their country–the double amputee went through both Iraq wars–not getting the support in integrating back into civilian life.  One woman who had a psychological problem and it took three months for her to be assigned to an officer who would actually listen to her case.  One woman who was physically injured and didn’t want to be a burden to her husband, was yelled at because she had a service dog in a grocery store.  Sue Downes encountered problems when she went into a fast food place with her service dog.

It was heartbreaking  to see that one of these incredible women still felt like a failure in spite of the fact that she was doing her Masters after completing her Undergraduate Studies.  It was encouraging though, to see two of the women who suffered from psychological problems take charge of their lives by venturing out instead of being isolated in their homes.  One of them who graduated from college.

I watched a documentary on the rape and sexual assault of women in the US military on Independent Lens and the lack of support they receive.  They are treated like they are the criminals and it broke my heart to see one woman’s husband actually break down and cry because his wife was raped by her commanding officer and his friend.  The women who tried to file reports on what happened were made to feel that what happened was their fault.  One was criticized for the way she was dressed.  Another was told that she would ruined the life of the man who raped her–he was married.

Many of these rape victims find themselves forced to choose between speaking up and keeping their careers.  Very few cases that are reported are prosecuted.  Women are left with the shame of what happened to them and not being taken seriously.  Their rights are violated again when they come forward with their stories and they are reprimanded or treated like the enemy.  These women who gave their lives to serve the military have to struggle to rebuild their lives and fight for justice.

I hope that bringing to light this shameful secret of the US military and the stories of these brave women in the Oscar and Emmy nominated documentary, “The Invisible Warwill make a difference.  “We hope the film will affect lasting changes in the way the military investigates and prosecutes sexual assault crimes and supports and cares for assault survivors,” said Kirby Dick. To that end, “The Invisible War” is a call for our civilian and military leadership to listen — and to act.

To find out more about the makers of this movie, check out their website at http://servicethefilm.com/filmmakers.php

I hope that those of you who have not watched the movie, will find a way to do so and spread the word.

Source:  http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/the-invisible-war-premieres-on-independent-lens-on-monday-may-13-2013-on-pbs-1789562.htm

Summer News: SOC Films Documentary Series

I wanted to share this email from Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the first Pakistani woman to win an Oscar for her film Saving Face in 2012 and one of TIME Magazine’s most influencial people of the world.

Dear Friends,

A lot has happened since the Academy Awards in February in LA…I have begun work on a new series of documentary films which are being aired for the first time on TV Channels across Pakistan-

In a unique partnership with Coca-Cola, my production company SOC Films has launched a 6 part documentary series titled “Ho Yaqeen” featuring Pakistanis doing extraordinary things and transforming their communities.

The first episode of the series launched 2 weeks ago: Please do tune in to watch it, links are below:

Part1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMO2M9s4Lxs
Part2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uZXt3hJBno

Please do share these links with friends and family….

In other news, i was very fortunate to have been named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most Influential people in the world- (http://goo.gl/OFVhZ)
This positive reinforcement helps us get the message of our Academy Award winning film Saving Face out.

As more episodes of Ho Yaqeen become available i shall send them out on this mailing list. I am also involved in two more exciting documentary ventures outside of Pakistan which i shall share with you later in the summer….

All my very best
Sharmeen

You can check out Sharmeen’s website at:  http://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/bio/  I will keep you posted on Sharmeen’s exciting ventures. 

Hattie McDaniel

I never knew about Hattie McDaniel until I saw her in Gone With the Wind.  She made history when she won an Oscar for playing Mammy in the Academy award winner for best picture.  She was the first African American to do so.  In her acceptance speech, she said, “I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race, and to the motion picture industry.”  Well, Ms. McDaniel, you are and will always be a credit to your race because you have opened doors for stars like Sidney Poitier, Whoopi Goldberg, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Monique and most recently Octavia Spencer.

McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood: one for her contributions to radio at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard, and one for motion pictures at 1719 Vine Street. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.

In addition to having acted in many films, McDaniel was a professional singer-songwriter, comedian, stage actress, radio performer, and television star. Hattie McDaniel was in fact the first black woman to sing on the radio in America. Over the course of her career, McDaniel appeared in over 300 films, although she received screen credits for only about 80. She gained the respect of the African American show business community with her generosity, elegance, and charm.

Hattie McDaniel was born June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, to former slaves. She was the youngest of 13 children. Her father, Henry McDaniel, fought in the Civil War with the 122nd USCT and her mother, Susan Holbert, was a singer of religious music. In 1900, the family moved to Colorado, living first in Fort Collins and then in Denver, where Hattie graduated from Denver East High School. Her brother, Sam McDaniel (1886–1962), played the butler in the 1948 Three Stooges’ short film Heavenly Daze. Another acting sibling of Hattie and Sam was actress Etta McDaniel.

In McDaniel’s time, America was segregated in virtually every respect in terms of race. In the South, blacks were barred by law from attending school with whites and subjected to segregation in all other public places Even outside the South, many restaurants and hotels refused to accept black customers. Job opportunities were limited. Custom or restrictive covenants kept blacks from living in “white” neighborhoods. Marriage between blacks and whites was illegal in most states of the United States. The United States military required blacks to serve in all-black regiments. Black Americans also faced the terrorism of lynch mobs without the assurance of federal or state protection. Indeed, in 2005, the U.S. Congress issued an apology for the federal government’s failure to enact lynching legislation to protect blacks in that era.  I will never forget the scene in the movie about Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry, where the pool at the hotel where she was staying was drained because she dipped her foot in the water.  And insult to injury, African American men were the ones cleaning the pool.  How hurtful that must have been for Dorothy.

The field of entertainment emerged as a profession in which blacks were allowed to reach white and black customers. Still, however, the success of black entertainers and their ability to rise into ownership and management was limited by racial restrictions. Often, many of the same places that allowed blacks to be on stage, did not allow them to sit in the audience as patrons.  State laws allowing discrimination and requiring segregation assured that black entertainers were not allowed the same benefits and opportunities as white ones. Black actors were cast repeatedly in menial roles and were consistently required to speak in contrived stereotypical “Negro dialects.” If black actors did not know how to speak that way, they had to learn to in order to succeed in Hollywood. Movie houses often hired white dialect coaches to teach the so-called “Negro dialect.” 

I hated the way the blacks talked in movies.  It degraded them and made them seem ignorant.  And they were always bowing and shuffling and their eyes wide open as if they were having a fright.  Here are a few examples of words considered “Negro dialect”: ah for I, poe for poor, hit for it, tuh for to, wuz for was, baid for bed, daid for dead, mah for my, ovah for over, wha for where, ifn for if, fiuh or fiah for fire, yo’ for you, cot for caught, kin’ for kind, cose for ’cause, and tho’t for thought.  What?!?

I learnt that the competition to play Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939) had been almost as stiff as that for Scarlett O’Hara. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to film producer David O. Selznick to ask that her own maid, Elizabeth McDuffie, be given the part.  McDaniel did not think she would be chosen, because she was known for being a comic actress. One source claims that Clark Gable recommended the role go to McDaniel; when she went to her audition dressed in an authentic maid’s uniform, she won the part.  Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel became very good friends.   When the date of the Atlanta premiere approached, all the black actors were barred from attending and excluded from being in the souvenir program as well as southern advertising for the film. David Selznick had attempted to bring Hattie McDaniel, but MGM advised him not to because of Georgia’s segregationist laws. Clark Gable angrily threatened to boycott the Atlanta premiere unless McDaniel was allowed to attend, but McDaniel convinced him to attend anyway.  Hattie and her escort were seated at a segregated table for two, apart from her Gone with the Wind colleagues and her colleagues in the motion picture industry, a painful reminder of how far the industry and the country had yet to go in overcoming racism.

The Twelfth Academy Awards took place at the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was preceded by a banquet in the same room. Louella Parsons, an American gossip columnist, wrote about Oscar night, February 29, 1940:

“Hattie McDaniel earned that gold Oscar, by her fine performance of “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. If you had seen her face when she walked up to the platform and took the gold trophy, you would have had the choke in your voice that all of us had when Hattie, hair trimmed with gardenias, face alight, and dress up to the queen’s taste, accepted the honor in one of the finest speeches ever given on the Academy floor. …

Hattie did look wonderful and she was deeply humbled.  She said, “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. ”

Hattie was also known for her community service work.  During World War II. She was appointed the Chair of the “Negro Division” of the Hollywood Victory Committee, providing entertainment for soldiers stationed at military bases. (The military was segregated and black entertainers were not allowed to serve on white entertainment committees.) She asked her friend actor Leigh Whipper and other well known black entertainers to join her Negro Division Victory committee. She also put in numerous personal appearances to hospitals, threw parties, performed at United Service Organizations (USO) shows and war bond rallies, to raise funds to support the war, on behalf of the Victory Committee.  Bette Davis also performed for black regiments as the only white member of an acting troupe formed by Hattie McDaniel, that also included Lena Horne and Ethel Waters.  She was also a member of American Women’s Voluntary Services.

She joined actor Clarence Muse, one of the earliest black members of the Screen Actors Guild, for an NBC radio broadcast to raise funds for Red Cross relief programs for Americans, who had been displaced by devastating floods. She gained a reputation for generous giving, often feeding and lending money to friends and stranger alike.

Hattie was married four times.  When she was married to James Lloyd Crawford, she happily informed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in 1945 that she was pregnant. McDaniel began buying baby clothes and setting up a nursery. Her plans were shattered when the doctor informed her she had a false pregnancy; McDaniel fell into a depression. She never had any children. She divorced Crawford in 1945, after four and a half years of marriage. She said he was jealous of her career and once threatened to kill her.  Hattie  befriended several of Hollywood’s most popular stars, including Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Shirley Temple, Henry Fonda, Ronald Reagan, Olivia de Havilland and Clark Gable (as I mentioned earlier).

Hattie died at age 57 from breast cancer, in the hospital on the grounds of the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, on October 26, 1952. She was childless and was divorced from her fourth husband. She was survived by her brother, Sam McDaniel. Thousands of mourners turned out to remember her life and accomplishments. In her will, McDaniel wrote: “I desire a white casket and a white shroud; white gardenias in my hair and in my hands, together with a white gardenia blanket and a pillow of red roses. I also wish to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery”. The Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood was the resting place of movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and others. Hollywood Cemetery refused to allow her to be buried there, because it, too, practiced racial segregation. It did not accept the bodies of black people. Her second choice was Rosedale Cemetery, where she lies today. 

Notes to Women celebrate and remembers this resilient woman, gifted actress and beacon of hope for other African Americans.  She left behind two legacies–her contributions to radio and the movie industry.   She was not opposed to playing menial roles.  She reportedly said,”Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one.”  We thought it fitting to end Black History Month by celebrating the life and acchievements of this model of offscreen courage and great, show-stealing onscreen performances. 

A woman’s gifts will make room for her.

Faith is the black person’s federal reserve system.

I did my best, and God did the rest.

I don’t belong on this earth. I always feel out of place – like a visitor.

I am loathe to get married again. I’ve been married enough; I just prefer to forget it.What is the thing that Hollywood demands most? Sincerity. No place in the world will pay such a high price for this admirable trait.Hattie McDaniel
 

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hattie_McDanielhttp://www.imdb.com/name/nm0567408/biohttp://www.popmatters.com/tv/reviews/b/beyond-tara.htmlhttp://www.mahoganycafe.com/hattiemcdaniel.html; http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/01/harry_reid_could_use_a_lesson.html

Saving Face

I was thrilled last night when I saw the documentary, Saving Face win the Oscar.  It was a proud moment for Canadian Pakistani filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy as she made history as Pakistan’s first Oscar winner.  Chinoy hopes that this Oscar win will ignite a flourishing film industry in Pakistan.

Saving Face is a documentatry about acid attacks. The film follows London-based Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, as he journeys to Pakistan to perform reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid violence. Saving Face also broaches the subject of the under-reporting of acid violence due to cultural and structural inequalities towards women.  The film also features two women attacked by acid and their struggle for justice and healing. The Acid Survivors Foundation of Pakistan, which is featured in the film, had documented over 100 acid attacks a year in Pakistan but estimates far more due to lack of reporting.

Obaid-Chinoy has also stated that the film is “a positive story about Pakistan on two accounts: firstly, it portrays how a Pakistani-British doctor comes to treat them and it also discusses, in great depth, the parliament’s decision to pass a bill on acid violence”. Obaid-Chinoy has also said that the film assisted in the trial and conviction of one of the perpretrators of acid violence on a female victim.

“I am so grateful for the Academy’s recognition of this film and the issues highlighted here. No-one who sees these women could fail to be moved. Each beautiful in their own way, their lives have been destroyed, their faces and bodies disfigured, often by members of their own families,” Jawad said following the film’s success at the 84th Academy Awards.  “They are the real heroes here. They have been ostracised from society following the terrible attacks that have been inflicted upon them. I merely try to restore God’s creation, which has been destroyed by such evil acts of human beings, in the best way I know how. I hope that awareness of the cause will help to eradicate this beast of a man-made disease from society,” Jawad said.

Sharmeen Obaid was born in Karachi attended the Karachi Grammar School. She graduated from Smith College with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Government and fromStanford Uni with master’s degrees in International Policy Studies and in Communication.Obaid-Chinoy is an Emmy award winning producer and journalist.  She won an Emmy for her documentary, Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. She is also the first non-American to win the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.

Her career in documentary began when she examined the plight of Afghani refugee children in Pakistan for one of her articles. Their situation was so dire, and their stories so compelling, that Sharmeen decided to return to Pakistan and create a film about them. She petitioned Smith College and New York Times Television production division for the grants that would allow her to accomplish her goals. Intrigued by her story, both organizations gave her the funds as well as production equipment and training. She is currently a faculty member at media sciences department in SZABIST (Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and technology, Karachi). Obaid-Chinoy is also on the board member of The Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP).

Known for documentaries dealing with life in the Muslim world, Obaid became the first non-American to win the Livingston Award. Her films have aired on such networks as Channel 4,CNN, PBS, and Al-Jazeera.  She began her career with New York Times Television in 2002 where she produced Terror’s Children, a film about Afghan refugee children, which won her the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women and Radio and Television Award, and the South Asian Journalist Association Award.  Since then, she has produced and reported on more than twelve films around the world.

Obaid produced and reported on four multi-award winning documentary films for New York Times Television. In 2003, Reinventing the Taliban was awarded the Special Jury Award at the BANFF TV festival in Canada, the CINE Golden Eagle Award, the American Women in Radio and Television award, and the Livingston Award. In 2005, her film Women of the Holy Kingdom, which provided an inside look at the women’s movement in Saudi Arabia, won the South Asian Journalist Association Award.

In 2005, Obaid began working with Channel 4 in the United Kingdom reporting on four films for their Unreported World series. Pakistan’s Double Game looked at sectarian violence in Pakistan, City of Guilt explored the Catholic Church’s pro-life movement in the Philippines, The New Apartheid looked into growing xenophobia in South Africa, and Birth of a Nationdelved into the politics of East Timor. In 2007, Obaid was named “journalist of the year” by the One World Media awards for her work in the series.

In 2007, Obaid travelled to Afghanistan and reported for Channel 4 and CNN. Her film, Afghanistan Unveiled/Lifting the Veil, focuses on stalled reconstruction and the repression of women in the country.

Acid throwing (acid attack or vitriolage) is a form of violent assault. It is defined as the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person “with the intention of injuring or disfiguring him or her out of jealousy or revenge”. Perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones. The long term consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body.  These attacks are most common in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh,Pakistan and other nearby countries. According to Taru Bahl and M.H. Syed, 80% of victims of these acid attacks are female and almost 70% are under 18 years of age.

According to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, acid attacks are at an all time high in Pakistan and increasing every year. The Pakistani attacks he describes are typically the work of husbands against their wives who have “dishonored them”.

Obaid-Chinoy’s win has been the cause for celebration in her home country.  Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that Obaid-Chinoy would be receiving a civil award for her achievements on Monday, according to the Associated Press. She is the first Pakistani to win an Oscar.

She dedicated her Oscar to “all the women in Pakistan working for change.  Don’t give up on your dreams. This is for you.”

Saving Face airs March 8 on HBO Canada.

Notes to Women congratulates this remarkable woman whose passion for sharing stories of women and children and their plight has earned her the recognition she deserves.  Sharmeen, you made your country and women around the world very proud.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saving_Face_(documentary); http://ca.news.yahoo.com/canadian-pakistani-filmmaker-nabs-oscar-documentary-short-acid-160219303.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharmeen_Obaid-Chinoyhttp://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/http://www.dawn.com/2012/02/27/the-victims-are-the-real-heroes.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_throwinghttp://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/pakistan/120227/saving-face-oscar-winner-sharmeen-obaid-chinoy-ce