In 1896, Brooklyn born and famous vaudeville singer, Maude Nugent, composed and wrote the lyrics to Sweet Rosie O’Grady which became one of the most popular waltz standards of its time. Tin Pan Alley publisher Joseph W. Stern & Co rejected the song when she first tried to sell it to them, but they changed their minds after she left their office to market it elsewhere.
Joseph W. Stern’s partner, Edward Marks chased her down the street and made an offer. It was a smart and lucrative move on their part. The sheet music for the song sold over a million copies.
This was written for the Weekend Writing Prompt by Sammi Cox. For instructions, click Here.
I stood there in the secluded spot and tranquil place where we used to meet. It was our secret place where we could love each other freely. Back there it was against the law for a white man and a black woman to have relations. Race mixing as they called it was banned. The punishment for interracial marriage to be a year in jail and the white person was fined $100 fine. The person who officiated an interracial wedding was fined $200. How I hated those laws. They were passed by ignorant and racist people who couldn’t accept that people of different races could fall in love with each other.
My parents were just as intolerant. They believed that people should stick to their own kind–you know, to keep the races pure. They even used the Bible to validate their racist views. I read the Bible myself and nowhere did it prohibit interracial love. In fact, there were examples of mixed marriages. I hated going to a school where blacks weren’t allowed and even church which was to be the temple of the God who created all races, blacks weren’t allowed to worship with us. I hated living in a state that was so intolerant. I promised myself that I would leave it as soon as I was old enough.
My parents made sure that I went to the best schools and associated only with those whom they deemed to be socially acceptable–the filthy rich. They even had it in their heads that one day I would marry Governor Brown’s daughter, Virginia (I can’t believe her parents named her after the state). Granted, she was a nice girl, very pretty and I could tell that she liked me very much. We went on dates and such and then, I went away to university. It was an understanding that we were going steady and that in due time, I would propose.
When I returned from university one summer vacation, my mother told me that we had a new maid, Flora. The previous one, Berta had been fired. My parents never told me what happened but I was sore because I really liked Berta. Well, when I met Flora, I quickly forgot about Berta. She was much younger than Berta but about ten years older than me. Flora wasn’t pretty like Virginia but she was very attractive. She had big brown eyes that didn’t seem to miss a thing, smooth dark skin and a lovely voice. Sometimes she would sing as she worked.
Once I asked her why didn’t she become a professional singer. She scoffed and said, “The only thing white folks want colored people like me to do is cook, clean, do the laundry and keep my place.”
Flora had a room built at the back of the house where she would change into her uniform and use the bathroom. She had special plates and forks to use for her meals. She was paid $10 a week which in that time was considered good money.
Flora was a bit cynical and who could blame her? Although she is well paid, she is treated with disrespect and condescension by my parents, relatives and family friends. There are times when I sit at the dining table and seethe with rage. The final straw came when Flora accidentally spilled a glass of wine and some of it got on Mrs. Miller, an insufferable and vain woman. She rose to her feet and struck Flora hard across the face. “You clumsy n—–,” she cried. “You’ve ruined my dress. It’s too bad you can’t be whipped for this.”
My mother didn’t bat an eye. I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t livid that one of her guests had slapped Flora. I guess I was foolish to expect her to say something in Flora’s defense. Instead, she said to her crossly, “Clean that mess up.”
Flora quickly left the room and was back in a seconds to clean the spill. I wanted to go after her but propriety made me stay put. I promised myself that I would speak to her before she left this evening.”
“You should fire her, Rosemary,” Mrs. Miller said as she resumed her seat.
“It was an accident!” I said as calmly as I could although, what I really wanted to do was throw the rest of the wine in her sanctimonious face.
“You mind your manners, Boy,” my father scolded.
“You’re excused,” was my mother’s rejoinder.
“Excuse me,” I said as I rose to my feet. I was happy to leave the table.
I headed straight for the kitchen where Flora was busy washing up the dishes. I wanted to help but I knew that she wouldn’t let me. Besides, it would get her into trouble. I went and stood beside her. I could see that she had been crying. I wanted to hug her. “I’m sorry about what happened just now, Flora,” I said quietly. “Mrs. Miller had no right to hit you. You’re a grown woman, not a child.”
“You heard what she called me. That gives her the right to hit me.”
“Flora, sometimes, I wish I could take you away from all of this.”
“You shouldn’t be saying such things, Master Oliver.”
“But, it’s true, Flora.”
“And where would we go?”
“I don’t know yet but some place where you’re treated better.”
“Right now I can’t think of any place like that except Heaven.”
“Flora, after I graduate from university, I’m going to leave Richmond. I want you to come with me.”
“Master Oliver, stop talking foolish.”
“Stop calling me Master Oliver,” I retorted. “I’m just plain Oliver and I’m not talking foolish. I’m very serious, Flora.”
“I’ll think about it now, go before your mother comes in here and finds us together.”
“All right. I’ll go. Goodnight, Flora.”
The next morning, she was gone. My mother had taken Mrs. Miller advice and fired Flora. I was so upset that I didn’t speak to my mother for weeks. I found out where Flora lived and the first opportunity, I had, I went to see her. She was alone. After I letting her know how upset and furious I was that she had lost her job, I made her promise to meet me that afternoon at the pond where no one ever goes.
I got there first and waited. As I waited, I picked a bunch of wildflowers I saw there. Flora would like them. I bet she never got flowers from anyone before. I would be the first. I smiled at the thought. She showed up five minutes later. I gave her the flowers and she took them, smiling. She smelled them. “Thank you,” she said. She reached up and kissed me on the cheek.
I felt my face get hot. I also felt strange sensations in my body. “You’re welcome, Flora,” I said.
We sat down on the grass and talked and talked. I loved being with her and I could tell she felt the same way. We promised to meet there again tomorrow. She left first and then I left several minutes after. When I went home, my mother told me that Virginia and her parents were having dinner with us that evening. It would be the first time I would be seeing Virginia since I’ve been home for the summer. I was more excited about seeing Flora tomorrow than seeing Virginia that evening.
The evening went well, I suppose. Virginia didn’t seem to notice that I was preoccupied with my thoughts. She talked mostly about herself and what she had been up to while I was away at university. I didn’t make any plans to see her again. After we parted company, I went up to my room where I remained until the following morning. As soon as the afternoon came, I was racing down to the pond. This time Flora was waiting for me. And she brought two huge slices of an apple pie she had baked. After we ate them, we went for a swim.
Afterwards, we lay in the sun. We talked about different things and then, I rolled onto my side and looked down at her. She had her eyes closed. The strange sensations stir inside me again and this time, I lowered my head and kissed her. She didn’t push me away or slap me in the face. Instead, she reached up and put her arms around my neck. We ended up making love for the first time.
Day after day we met there in our secluded spot until one day we were discovered by Virginia’s brother and his friends. I was promptly sent back to Atlanta where I spent the rest of the summer until it was time to return to university. I don’t know what happened to Flora. No one would tell me anything. I was devastated because I was madly in love with her. I wanted to marry her.
When I returned to Virginia, I went to her house. At that point I didn’t care what people said or did or thought. All I wanted was to see Flora. However, when I went to her house, the neighbors said that she was gone. They had no idea where she had gone.
Dejected, I returned to Atlanta where I tried to forget about her. I even got married to a nice girl named Amy and we had a boy. Time passed but the memories of my summer with Flora never faded. I still yearned to see her. I still loved her and no amount of time would make me forget about her.
After Amy died, I tried to see if I could find out any information about Flora. I wish I had a photo of her that I could have put on Facebook but I didn’t. In spite of these setbacks and disappointments, I haven’t stopped hoping that one day I will see her again.
It’s 2018 and summer again here in Richmond. I’m here by the pond, allowing myself to relive the happiest memories of my entire life. I look at the wild flowers and smile. I will never forget the spark in Flora’s beautiful eyes when I gave them to her. If she were here now, I would give her another bunch.
“Mr. Jones?” a voice called out and startled, I turned.
It was a young African American girl. “Yes,” I replied. “I’m Mr. Jones. Who are you?”
She came closer. “I’m Regina. I was told that I might find you here. Someone asked me to give this to you.” She held out a letter sized brown envelope.”
I took it. It didn’t have any address. It only had my name written neatly at the front. “Who asked you to give this to me?”
“My grandmother, Flora.”
My heart caught in my throat. Flora. I sat down on the tuft of grass and eagerly opened the envelope. I pulled out a letter and some photos. I looked at the photos first. They were of Flora and a lovely little girl. She looked so much like Flora but much fairer in complexion.
With trembling fingers, I unfolded the letter and read it. Halfway through, I started to cry. Flora was pregnant when she left Richmond. She wanted me to know about Olivia and wrote to me at the university several times but all of her letters were returned. She never got married, she said because there was only one man whose wife she wanted to be.
I looked up at Regina who was standing beside me. “Where’s Flora?” I asked. I longed to see her.
“I’m sorry, grandfather, but she died this morning.”
I broke down at that point. Regina dropped to her knees and put her arms around me. The only thing that gave me any comfort was the knowledge that Flora and I have a daughter and a granddaughter. Our love will live on through them and generations to come.
Those we love are never really lost to us–for everywhere their special love lives on – Amanda Bradley
This was written for the #writephoto Prompt – Tranquil at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.
“When God loves you, what can be better than that?” ~ Aretha Franklin
There is so much I could write about Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul but I decided to concentrate on the highlights of her music career and her “social and civic contributions”.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin was a Baptist minister and a circuit preacher while her mother, Barbara was an accomplished piano player and vocalist. Theirs was a troubled marriage because of her father’s philandering. The couple separated in 1948. Before her tenth birthday, Aretha’s mother died from a heart attack. Several women, including her grandmother and Mahalia Jackson alternated helping the children at the Franklin home and it was during this time that Aretha learned to play the piano by ear.
Following her mother’s death, Aretha began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.” When she was twelve, her father became her manager, bringing her on the road with him during his “gospel caravan” tours for her to perform in various churches.
Her music career found Aretha signing on with big recording giants such as Columbia, Atlantic, Arista and RCA. She belted out many hits such as You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, I Say A Little Prayer, Hold On, I’m Comin’. And she thrilled the younger generation with Who’s Zoomin’ Who and Freeway of Love. Hearing Freeway of Love transported me back to the ’80s which were a great time for me when I was living in New York. And who could forget I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, her number one duet with George Michael?
In 1980, she gave a command performance before the Queen at Prince Albert’s Hall, in 2009 she sang at the 2009 inauguration of President Barak Obama. In the following year, she received an honorary degree from Yale University. In 2014, she received honorary degrees from Harvard University and New York University as well as honorary doctorates in music from Princeton, Yale, Brown, Pennsylvania, Berkeley, New England Conservatory of Music and University of Michigan. She was the recipient of other honors such as Doctor of Humane Letters and Doctor of Law degree.
Aretha was dubbed “one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.” Her voice was described as being a “powerful mezzo-soprano voice” and she was praised for her arrangements and interpretations of other artists’ hit songs. At the age of 14 when she recorded her first album, Songs of Faith, Jerry Wexler declared that her voice “was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant.” A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. Aretha’s explanation for that would have likely been, “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”
Singing and music weren’t her only passions. Aretha was a civil rights activist. Throughout her life, she was involved in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights. When Angela Davis was jailed in 1970, Aretha told JetMagazine that, “Angela Davis must go free… Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.” Not surprisingly, her songs “Respect” and “Natural Woman” became anthems of these movements for social change. She was also a staunch supporter of Native American rights, supporting their struggles worldwide and movements which fostered their cultural rights.
“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right” ~ Aretha Franklin
It was a sad day when it was announced that the great Aretha Franklin passed away after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer. She leaves behind a world touched by her music, her incomparable voice and her effortless work in championing human, civil and women’s rights. She was the first woman to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. In 2013, she was again ranked first in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers” list.
“American history wells up when Aretha sings. Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope” – President Obama in response to her performance of “A Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors.
Notes to Women salutes the woman with “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality” She was an inspiration not only for those in the music world but for all of us. Although she is no longer with us, her music, her legacy will live on.
“It really is an honor if I can be inspirational to a younger singer or person. It means I’ve done my job” ~ Aretha Franklin
Role model is not the title they like to give me… (but) I think I can inspire a lot of young women to be themselves and that is half the battle.” She added: “The minute you learn to love yourself, you would not want to be anyone else.
On Friday, April 1, singer Rihanna was honored at the BET Black Girls Rock 2016 show. As the camera panned on her, you could see the emotion on her face. To the sound of thunderous clapping and cheers she made her way to the stage. http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1” target=”_blank”>Watch her acceptance speech.
I learned a couple of things about Rihanna. She created the Believe Foundation in 2006. The foundation helps and protects children with terminal and disadvantaged disease worldwide. In 2012 she founded the Clara Lionel Foundation in honor of her grandparents Clara and Lionel Braithwaite. The foundation grants fund efforts promoting health, education, arts and culture globally. Read more about her charitable work here.
And she recently made history as the first black woman to front a Dior campaign.
Notes to Women congratulate Rihanna on her much deserved Rock Star award. She truly rocks because she is teaching young black girls to have a positive self-image, something that many girls struggle with. Wouldn’t it be great if one day several of those girls who were watching her as she gave her speech receive their own Black Girls Rock award? Nothing is impossible. As Rihanna said, God put each of us here for a purpose. When the time is right, He will reveal it to us.
I still watch Murder, She Wrote because I like the show and the character Jessica Fletcher played by the great Angela Lansbury.My 7 year old son is also a fan of Jessica Fletcher’s. Before taking on the role of a mystery writer in one of the longest running detective drama series in television history, Angela was a silver screen movie star. My husband thought she was hot then.
Angela is a versatile actress, easily portraying an unlikable and cheeky maid in Gaslight opposite Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer to the music hall singer who, unfortunately and tragically, falls in love with the protagonist, Dorian Gray in the movie, The Picture of Dorian Gray to the frightening and domineering mother in The Manchurian Candidate. Her performance as Mrs. John Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate is ranked #21 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains for villains.
Angela was born to an upper middle class family on October 16, 1925 in Regent’s Park, central London. Her mother, Moyna Macgill, was a Belfast born Irish actress and her father was the wealthy English timber merchant and politician Edgar Lansbury. He was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and former mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar. Her paternal grandfather was the Labour Party leader and anti-war activist George Lansbury. Angela was in awe of him and to her, he was “a giant in my youth”. Angela had an older half-sister, Isolde from her mother’s previous marriage. When Angela was four, her mother gave birth to twin boys, Bruce and Edgar, prompting the Lansburys to move from their Poplar flat to a house in Mill Hill, North London. In the weekends, they went to a rural farm in Berrick Salome, Oxfordshire.
She was nine years old when her father died from stomach cancer. To cope with her loss, she played characters, describing the event as “the defining moment of my life. Nothing before or since has affected me so deeply.” Faced with financial difficulty, her mother got engaged to a Scottish colonel and moved into his house in Hampstead. Angela attended South Hampstead High School from 1934 to 1939. She considered herself to be largely self-educated, learning from books, theatre and cinema. She became a “complete movie maniac”, going regularly to the cinema and imagining herself as certain characters.
Angela’s grandfather died in 1940 and with the onset of the Blitz, her mother, Moyna took her and her brothers to the United States. Her half-sister, Isolde remained in Britain with her new husband, actor Peter Ustinov. Angela’s mother got a job supervising sixty British children who were evacuated to North America aboard the Duchess of Athol, arriving with them in Montreal, Canada in mid-August. From Montreal they went by train to New York City where Moyna was sponsored financially by a Wall Street businessman and moved in with his family at their home in Mahopac, New York. Angela got a scholarship from the American Theatre Wing which allowed her to study at the Feagin School of Drama and Radio. There she appeared in performances of William Congreve’s The Way of the World and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. By the time she graduated, she and her family had moved to a flat in Morton Street, Greenwich Village.
Moyna got work in a Canadian touring production of Tonight at 8:30. Angela joined her mother who got her first theatrical job as a nightclub act at the Samovar Club in Montreal. She lied about her age to get the job and earned $60 a week. She returned to New York city but her mother had moved to Hollywood to revive her cinematic career. Angela and her brothers joined her. After moving into a bungalow in Laurel Canyon, Angela and her mother got Christmas jobs at the Bullocks Wilshire department store in Los Angeles but unfortunately, Moyna got fired for incompetence. The family had to live on Angela’s wages of $28 at week.
Angela met John van Druten at a party hosted by her mother. He recently co-authored a script for Gaslight. He suggested that Angela would be perfect for the role of Nancy Oliver, a conniving cockney maid and she accepted the part although at the time she was only 17. A social worker had to accompany her on the set. She got an agent and was signed to a seven-year contract with MGM, earning $500 a week. She used her real name as her professional name. The movie received mixed reviews although Angela’s role was widely praised. It received six Academy Award nominations, one of which was for Best Supporting Actress for Angela.
Following Gaslight, Angela starred in a supporting character in National Velvet which was a major commercial hit. Angela developed a lifelong friendship with co-star Elizabeth Taylor. I remember that the two friends appeared together in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d with Angela in the role of the endearing Miss Marple.
Angela next starred in The Picture of Dorian Gray with Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders, Donna Reed and Peter Lawford. Surprisingly, at least to me, the film was not a financial success. However, it garnered Angela her second Best Supporting Actress nomination. She lost to her National Velvet co-star Anne Revere.
Angela married Richard Cromwell, an artist and a decorator. When I saw a photo of him, I recognized him as the brother of Henry Fonda’s character in the marvelous movie, Jezebel. Angela’s marriage to Richard was a trouble one. She would later disclose that he was gay, something she was not aware of until after their separation. The marriage ended in less than a year and Angela filed for a divorce. They remained friends, however, until his death.
Angela met her second husband, Peter Pullen Shaw at a party held by her former co-star Hurd Hatfield. Hurd would later be a guest star on Murder She Wrote. Peter was an aspiring actor also signed with MGM and had recently left a relationship with Joan Crawford. He and Angela became a couple, living together before she proposed marriage. They wanted to get married in Britain but the Church of England refused to marry two divorcees. So, they wed at St. Columba’s Church which was under the jurisdiction of the Church of Scotland in Knightsbridge, London. They had their honeymoon in France. They returned to the United States and settled in Angela’s home in Rustic Canyon, Malibu, each becoming naturalised U.S. citizens with dual British citizenship.
Angela’s contract with MGM ended in 1952. She was miscast, playing older and often villainous women. Earlier in her career, MGM loaned her to United Artists for The Private Affairs of Bel Ami in 1947 and then to Paramount for Samson and Delilah (1949). Unhappy with the roles MGM was giving her, Angela instructed her manager to terminate her contract. At the time she was pregnant with her first child, Anthony whom she gave birth to that year. Soon after he was born, she joined the East Coast touring productions of two former Broadway plays, Remains to be Seen and Affairs of the State. In 1953, Angela gave birth to her daughter, Deidre Angela. Angela’s husband, Peter had a son by a previous marriage and had legal custody of him. He brought the boy to California to live with the family. They moved to a larger house in Santa Monica.
In the mid-fifties Angela entered the world of Broadway theatre. In 1957 she debuted in Hotel Paradiso, a French burlesque set in Paris, at the Henry Miller Theatre. Although the play ran for only 15 weeks, earning her good reviews, she later stated that had she not appeared in the play, her “whole would have fizzled out”. Next she appeared in A Taste of Honey, playing Helen, a boorish and verbally abusive absentee mother of Josephine played by Joan Plowright who was only four years younger. Angela became friends with Joan and Laurence Olivier, Joan’s lover. It was from Angela’s rented apartment on East 97th Street that Joan and Laurence eloped to get married.
Angela didn’t feel comfortable in the Hollywood social scene. She chalked this up to her British roots. “In Hollywood, I always felt like a stranger in a strange land.” In 1959, the family moved to Malibu where they settled into a house on the Pacific Coast Highway where she and Peter were able to escape the Hollywood scene and send their children to state school.
In 1962, Angela starred opposite Lawrence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate, playing his manipulative mother even though she was only three years older than him. The role earned her her third Best Supporting Actress Award nomination. It bothered her that she didn’t win. Angela starred in several movies in the 1960s but although her performances were well received, the kind of roles she wanted evaded her and she became dissatisfied with the minor roles she was getting, feeling that none of them allowed her to explore her potential as an actress.
I was a wife and a mother, and I was completely fulfilled. But my husband recognised the signals in me which said ‘I’ve been doing enough gardening, I’ve cooked enough good dinners, I’ve sat around the house and mooned about what more interior decoration I can get my fingers into.’ It’s a curious thing with actors and actresses, but suddenly the alarm goes off. My husband is a very sensitive person to my moods and he recognised the fact that I had to get on with something. Mame came along out of the blue just at this time. Now isn’t that a miracle? – Angela Lansbury
In 1966 Angela took on the title role of Mame Dennis in the musical Mame, the musical adapted from the novel, Auntie Mame. The director’s first choice for the role was Rosalind Russell who played Mame in the non-musical adaptation but she declined. Theatre critics were surprised that Angela was chosen for the role, believing that the role would go to a better known actress. Angela was forty-one at the time and this was her first starring role. She trained extensively for the role which involved over twenty costume changes throughout the play and ten songs and dance routines. Auntie Mame opened on Broadway in May 1996, gaining Angela rave reviews. She received her first Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Following her success as Mame, Angela appeared in Dear World, the musical adaptation of The Madwoman of Chailott, as a 75 year old Parisian eccentric. Angela found the experience “pretty depressing” but received positive reviews for her performance and her second Tony award. The show, however, received critical reviews and ended after 132 performances. After Dear World, Angela played the title role of the musical Prettybelle, based on Jean Arnold’s The Rape of Prettybelle, set in the Deep South. It was a controversial play because it dealt with issues of racism with Angela as a wealthy alcoholic who seeks sexual encounters with black men. It opened in Boston to poor reviews and was cancelled before it even reached Broadway. Angela would later say that the play was a “complete and utter fiasco.” She felt that her performance was awful.
In the early 1970s Angela turned down several cinematic roles, including the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which went to Louise Fletcher who won the Oscar for Best Actress. In 1970 Angela appeared as the middle-aged English witch in the Disney film, Beadknobs and Broomsticks, her first lead in a screen musical. 1970 was a traumatic year for the Lansbury family. Peter underwent a hip replacement, their son Anthony suffered a heroin overdose and went into a coma and the family’s home in Malibu was destroyed in a bush fire. They bought a farmhouse constructed in the 1820s located near the village of Conna in rural County Cork. It was there Anthony was taken to receover from his drug addiction after he quit using cocaine and heroin. He enrolled in the Webber-Douglas School, his mother’s alma mater and became a professional actor before becoming a television director. Angela and her husband did not return to California, instead, they divided their time between Cork and New York City. They lived opposite the Lincoln Centre.
Angela returned to theatre in 1972, performing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatrical production of Edward Albee’s All Over in London’s West End. Although reviews of the play were mixed, her performance was widely praised. She did a revival of Mame which was touring the United States at the time. She returned to the West End to play Rose in the musical Gypsy. Initially, she turned down the role because she didn’t want to be in Ethel Merman’s shadow. Ethel had portrayed the character in the original Broadway production. Eventually, Angela accepted the role and she received a standing ovation and rave reviews. Not at all in anyone’s shadow, she was in demand among the London society, having dinners in her honour. When Gypsy went to Broadway, it was a critical success, earning Angela her third Tony Award.
Eager to move on from musicals, Angela decided to tackle a production of one of William Shakespeare’s plays and landed the role of Gertrude in The National Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet. The play received mixed reviews. Angela later admitted that she hated the role because it was too restrained. To make matters worse, she learned that her mother had died in California. Angela had her mother’s body cremated and her ashes scattered near to her own County Cork home.
Angela appeared in Edward Albee’s Counting the Ways and Listening. Her performance was praised. She followed this with another revival tour of Gypsy. She appeared in the revival of The King and I musical at Broadway’s Uris Theatre. After seven years, she starred in her first cinematic role in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, opposite her brother-in-law Peter Ustinov and Bette Davis who became a close friend. Of Bette, she had this to say, “She is an original. There has never been anyone, before or since, who could touch her.”
In 1979 she earned her fourth Tony Award playing Nellie Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In 1982 she played an upper middle class housewife in A Little Family Business which also starred her son, Anthony. The movie was panned and accused of racism by the Japanese-American community. She co-starred with friend Bette Davis in the film made for television, Little Gloria…Happy at Last. She appeared in other television movies, one of which was BBC’s A Talent for Murder which she jumped at the chance to take in order to work with co-star Laurence Olivier.
Then in 1983, Angela was offered two television roles–one was in a sitcom and the other was in a detective series. She was unable to do both so her agents advised her to accept the sitcom role but she decided to accept the other role. And we are thrilled that she did! Angela described her character Jessica Fletcher as “an American Miss Marple”. It’s interesting that she said that because she played Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d. She played the sleuth the way Agatha Christie described the her unlike Margaret Rutherford who made the role famous. The role of Jessica Fletcher had been offered to Jean Stapleton first but she turned it down. I must say that I am happy that she did because I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. Angela was the perfect choice.
Angela took her role as Jessica Fletcher very seriously and had creative input over the character’s costumes, makeup and hair. Network executives wanted to put the character in a relationship which Angela strongly rejected, believing that the character should remain a strong single female. She changed any script which did not fit Jessica’s personality. She saw Jessica as a role model for older female viewers and praised her “enormous, universal appeal” and admitted that, “It was an accomplishment I never expected in my entire life.” Murder, She Wrote was described as a television landmark in the U.S. for having an older female character as the protagonist, paving the way for series like The Golden Girls, another show I enjoyed tremendously. “I think it’s the first time a show has really been aimed at the middle aged audience,” Angela said. It was the most popular show among senior citizens but it gradually gained a younger audience. By 1991, a third of the viewers were under fifty. It gained high ratings throughout most of its run.
I know why [Murder, She Wrote was a success]. There was never any blood, never any violence. And there was always a satisfying conclusion to a whodunit. The jigsaw was complete. And I loved Jessica’s everywoman character. I think that’s what made her so acceptable to an across-the-board audience – Angela Lansbury, 2014.
As the show went on Angela assumed a larger role behind the scenes with her own company, Corymore co-producing the show with Universal. After a while, though she began to get tired of the series, especially of the long working hours and said that the 1990-1991 would be the show’s last season. However, she changed her mind after she was appointed executive producer for the 1992-1993 season, which made it far more interesting for her. For the seventh season, the show’s setting moved to New York where Jessica had taken a job teaching criminology at Manhattan University in an attempt to attract younger viewers. Angela encouraged this move. The show aired on Sunday where its ratings improved in the early 1990s. People had gotten used to tuning in every Sunday night to see what murder mystery Jessica Fletcher would be solving so it was unfortunate when CBS executives got the bright idea to move it to Thursdays opposite NBCs new sitcom, Friends with the hope of drawing a larger audience. Not surprisingly, Angela was angry at this move, believing that it ignored the show’s core audience. The show’s final episode aired in May 1996 and ended with Angela voicing a “Goodbye from Jessica” message. The role of Jessica Fletcher would prove to be the most successful and prominent of Angela’s career. It must have been hard saying goodbye to Jessica Fletcher for Angela and the faithful viewers. All good things must come to an end. Sigh.
After the end of Murder, She Wrote, Angela returned to the theatre. Fast forward to March to June 2014 when Angela reprised her 2009 Tony winning Broadway performance as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End, marking her first London stage appearance in nearly 40 years. She picked up her first Olivier award, Britain’s most prestigious prize a the age of 89 for Blithe Spirit. It’s worth mentioning that Angela received an Academy Honorary Award for her lifetime achievement at the Governors Awards on November 16, 2013 and received the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre on November 16, 2015.
I read a few interesting things about Angela. I will just mention a few. In the late 1940s, MGM planned to cast her as the female lead in a film entitled “Angel’s Flight” with Clark Gable but the project never came through because Mr. Gable disliked the storyline, so the studio had to squash the entire project. She was considered for the role of Miss Caswell in All About Eve (1950), but Marilyn Monroe was cast in the role instead. Frank Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball for the role of Mrs. Iselin, the manipulative mother in The Manchurian Candidate but Angela got the part and played it convincingly. I don’t know if Lucille Ball would have pulled it off. Angela is a staunch Democrat and a solid supporter of Barack Obama. She was very close friends with Bob Hope. She gave a speech at his memorial service on August 27, 2003. Her nephew David Lansbury was married to actress Ally Sheedy, The Breakfast Club.
Angela was self-professed homebody who preferred spending quiet evenings inside with friends to the Hollywood night live. She is a supporter of the United States Democratic Party and the British Labour Party. Notes to Women celebrate this remarkable woman who is a staunch supporter of charities such as Abused Wives in Crisis which combated domestic abuse and those who worked toward rehabilitating drug users. She supported charities dedicated to fighting against HIV/AIDs. She was a chain smoker early in life but gave up the addiction cold turkey in the mid-1960s. We congratulate her on her promotion to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to drama and to charitable work and philanthropy. Last year she was made a Dame by the Queen at Windsor Castle. This honour couldn’t have happened to a more deserving lady. Dame Angela, we applaud you for the work you have done in movies and in theatre and most importantly, your charitable deeds.
The older I get, the more I realize how much I have missed because I was so busy entertaining that audience and so busy pursuing a career.
I just went along for the ride. It was a God-given gift. It is. So you can’t say well, you wasted your life because you spent all of it acting, but I think gosh, I’ve never been to China, I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve never been to Yellowstone Park.
I had no idea that such a thing could happen. It never occurred to me.My son told me. He called me and said, “Darling, I just wanted you to know that you have been chosen to receive an honorary Academy Award.” I was in the back of this car, and I said, “Oh,” and burst into tears, of course, because it was so unexpected and quite wonderful. I thought it’s been worth hanging around all these years.
I honestly consider that the greatest gift to me, is the reaction that I get from my work. That is a given which I never, ever take for granted. But to be given that by audiences, individuals, on the street, in the theater, is an extraordinary feeling.
My mother was one of the most beautiful women, I have to say, of her generation. She was absolutely lovely. She was a very, extremely sensitive, Irish actress. She came from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and she came to London, and she was sort of discovered by several people.
In celebration of Black HistoryMonth, Notes to Women are going to celebrate a few notable women. We begin with singer, actress, Lena Horne.
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Bedford-sTuyvesant, Brooklyn. Her father, Edwin Fletcher Horne left the family when she was three years old. Her mother was the daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron. She was an actress with a black theatre troupe and travelled extensively. Lena was raised by her grandparents. When she was five, she was sent to Georgia to live. For seeral years she travelled with her mother. For two years, she lived with her uncle who would later serve as an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
At the age of sixteen, Lena joined the chorus of the Cotton Club and became a nightclub performer before she moved to Hollywood. In Hollywood she had small parts in movies, notably Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. She was never cast in a leading role because of her race and the films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theatres would not show films with black performers. Interestingly enough, Lena was the first African American elected to serve on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors.
In 1951, Lena wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in the MGM’s version of Show Boat but lost the part to her friend, Ava Gardner due to the Production Code’s ban on interracial relationships in films. Lena stated in the documentary, That’s Entertainment! III that MGM executives wanted Ava Gardner to practice her singing using Lena’s recordings. Both actresses were offended by this.
Not surprisingly, Lena was disenchanted with Hollywood and she began to focus more on her nightclub career. She made two major appearances in MGM films in the 1950s, Duchess of Idaho and Meet Me in Las Vegas. It was during this time that she was blacklisted for her political views.
After she left Hollywood, Lena made waves as one of the premier nightclub performers of the post-war era. She headlined clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. In 1958, she was the first African American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical”. She appeared in variety shows on TV such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Judy Garland Show and in 1969., she starred in her own television special, Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne.
In 1970, she co-starred with Harry Belafonte in ABC’s show, Harry & Lena and in 1973 with Tony Bennett in Tony and Lena. She toured the U.S. and U.K. with Bennett. In 1981, she received a special Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. In the 1990s she was active in the recording studio.
Lena was also a Civil Rights activist. She was involved in the movement for years. In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and Paul Robeson, another blacklisted performer. During World War II, Lena refused to perfom for segregated audiences or for groups where German POWS were sitting in front of African American servicemen. The U.S. Army refused to have integrated audiences so Lena ended up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs. When she saw that the black soldiers were forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where they were seated and performed with the German POWs behind her. Way to go Lena!
She was a participant at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers the weekend before he was assassinated and she met John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated. She participated at the March on Washington where she spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC adn the National Council of Negro Women. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, another champion of civil rights, to pass anti-lynching laws. She received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1983.
On a more personal note, Lena was married to Louis Jordan Jones. They had a daughter and a son. Sadly, their son died of a kidney disease. In 1940, Lena and her husband separated. They divorced in 1944. In 1947, she remarried. Her second husband was Lennie Hayton, Music Director and one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM. In the early 1960s they separated but never divorced. Lennie died in 1971. In her biography, Lena, she recalled the pressures they faced as an interracial couple. She admitted that she married him to advance her career and cross the “color line” in show business but had learned to love him very much.
Fame runs in the family. Lena’s daughter, Gail, a best-selling author, was married to director, Sidney Lumet. Their daughter, Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter, is known for her award winning screenplay, Rachel Getting Married.
On May 9, 2010, Lena Horne died in New York city of heart failure. Among those gathered to pay their respects at her funeral were Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minnelli, Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams and Lauren Bacall. At the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony held on February 27, 2011, actress Halle Berry presented a tribute to Lena.
Notes to Women salute this phenomenal woman who was not afraid to speak out against racism and was the first African-American actress to have a major studio contract with the stipulation that she would not have to play any demeaning, stereotypical roles. In doing this, she paved the way for other African American actresses.
In my early days I was a sepia Hedy Lamarr. Now I’m black and a woman, singing my own way.
I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.
Always be smarter than the people who hire you
It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.
My identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman, I’m not alone, I’m free. I say I’m free because I no longer have to be a credit, I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.
You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.
I never considered myself a movie star. Mostly, I just sang songs in other people’s movies.