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Monday, September 14, 2020

Sybil Lewis - Subject 5 in my "Actresses of the "race films" series


Revenge of the Zombies
still from the 1943 film "Revenge of the Zombies"

If you've been reading these posts, you should have detected a common theme with the women who became stars in the "race films" of the era. They all were rather light-skinned. So weird that even in a niche of film created mainly by, and for, Black Americans, the performer's color was still a a focal point.

Amazing. Sad. Not surprising though when a people have been steeped in a country's tea of superiority through skin color. It could not help but seep into a people's conscoiusness that beauty is being as White-adjacent as possible. No darker skinned Black actress was ever going to be a cinematic  "sex symbol." Remember. Those who were of a darker hue were "allowed" to gain fame through recording contracts and club performances. When, and if, they wanted to be in films, they were relegated to maid, cook, house keeper and hooker roles.

Reviews: Broken Strings - IMDb

Today? It's a mixed bag and a mixed blessing. All hues are "seen" but I see mostly Black actresses as set dressing. Mostly nude set dressing in throw-away roles. Ah, show biz.

But I digress.

Sybil Lewis ( nee Sybil N. Sanford) is the next ingenue on the "race film" list. Now this woman like Dona Drake could have passed herself off as anything but African-American but didn't. She definitely had the phenotype for it. Little personal info is available on her and few photos. Seems she played it close to the chest. She was wed 4 times; had no children. Her dates are November 16, 1919 - September 28, 1988. She too found more fame in stage musicals and is remembered as an actress of extraoridnary skill. Able to play any role convincingly. On par with the top Caucassian actresses of the 40s but never to given the chance to compete against them.

From IMDB:
Attractive Sybil Lewis was one of the best, most convincing actresses of Black Cinema. Her sophisticated, sometimes snooty presence was one of many but her more popular approach to acting always worked whether in drama, straight, romance or comedy roles and always remained likable. Sybil's acting would remind one of a Rosalind Russell or even Bette Davis. She was able to adapt to any role and make a film worth watching even if she was the only one acting. Her training and natural touch to acting, gave those films substantiality. "Mystery In Swing," "Broken Strings," "Am I Guilty?," "Midnight Menace," "Lucky Gamblers," "Boy! What a Girl!," and "Miracle in Harlem," are Black Cinema films where Sybil and others got to be a real actress, not a "Black" actress but actress without a label or stereotype and she got to play roles of people from all walks of life unlike Blacks in Hollywood. Even in Hollywood movies, "Revenge of the Zombies," "Going My Way," and "The Very Thought of You," Sybil had a chance to use her acting skills and not be stereotyped too much because of her race.

Sybil Lewis | Old hollywood wedding, Hollywood wedding, Vintage hairstyles

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Sheila Guyse - Subject 4 in my "Actresses of the "race films" series


Sheila Guyse | DPL DAMS

Etta Drucille Guyse, known profesionally as Sheila Guyse, was born July 14, 1925 in Forest, Mississippi and passed in Honolulu, Hawaii on December 28, 2013. An all-round performer (singer, film and stage actress, recording artist) her popularity was in the 1940s and 50s. Other work she was paid for was modeling. She graced the covers o Jet, Ebony, Our World and Hue several times.

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In the all-Black produced, performed and written "race films," Sheila was usually casts as the "girl next door" with something extra. Her biggest hits were Boy! What a Girl! (1947); Sepia Cinderella (1947) and Miracle in Harlem (1948). Known for her naturalness when it came to acting, directors still sought her out even though she was not trained in the craft.

People of Color in Classic Film: Sheila Guyse Appreciation

Popular, well-liked, talented she did work a lot even though plagued with bad health for many years of her career. Diagnosed with stomach ulcers among other ailments, Sheila still racked up credits and performed when she could. Wed 3 times, and the mother of  3, Sheila stayed married to her last husband until his death in 2012.

People of Color in Classic Film: Movie of the Week: Miracle in ...

Sidelined a lot by her ailments, she always made her way back to the entertainment industry somehow. Her last attempt was in 1958 with her last studio album This is Sheila. Battling ill health, she continued on until she could no longer face the grind to get back once more. A final diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease bested her and on December 28, 2013 at the age of 88, complications from the disease took her life.

Sheila Guyse- Our Sweetheart of Stage and Screen


Boy! What a Girl! (1947) - IMDb

Friday, August 14, 2020

Nina Mae McKinney - Subject 3 in my "Actresses of the race films" series

Nina Mae McKinney, Who Defied the Barriers of Race to Find Stardom ...

A beauty who graced film in the 1920s and early 1930s, Nina was born Nannie Mayme McKinney in Lancaster, South Carolina on June 12, 1912. Her parents moved to New York for better opportunities. There, as a pre-teen, she was helped by her aunt who worked as a maid for a White couple with connections to get a job hustling packages for the Post Office. While doing her job, she did tricks on her bicycle. It caught the attention of additional White folks who thought she'd be a natural on stage. She soon acquired work with Lew Leslie's Blackbirds Revue as a dancer, singer and performer. Agents saw her act and Hollywood came knocking. King Vidoe of MGM Studios cast her in Hallelujah! as the siren, Chick, and the rest is history.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/obituaries/nina-mae-mckinney-overlooked.html


Nina Mae McKinney. Nina Mae McKinney (1913-1967) was the first ...

Hallelujah showed African-Americans in their natural, real life surrroundings not in fantastical, magical stagings. It made her a star in the "race film" genre. Parts in mainstream film were few and far in between and repetitious. Disgusted with Hollywood, she departed the States for Europe.There she worked consistently and was respected.Labeled the "Black Garbo," she took Europe by storm. Years later, she returned to the States to act in mainly Black staged productions to great aclaim.

https://www.amazon.com/Nina-Mae-McKinney-Black-Garbo/dp/1593936583

Nina Mae McKinney passed on May 3, 1967 in New York City.

Nina Mae McKinney

https://scafricanamerican.com/honorees/nina-mae-mckinney/

Monday, August 3, 2020

Francine Everett - Number 2 in my "race films" actress series

203 - Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA | Movies For the Blind


Francine Everett (nee Williamson) was born April 13, 1915 and passed on May 27, 1999. She took the last name "Everett" when she married at 18 to her 1st husband. Venturing to NY after her divorce, she found work as a singer and actress at the Federal Theater of Harlem in properties created by the Works Progress Administration. There she met her 2nd husbnad, actor Rex Ingram. They wed in 1936 but divorced 3 years later. Everett bounced between the East and West coasts as work dictated. She did get small parts in over 50 musical numbers in Hollywood films. The bit speaking parts she was offered in "mainstream" Hollywood films she saw as lackluster and she grew tired of auditioning for roles as domestics or Jezebels. Nothing showcased her range. It was then she was discovered by, or discovered, the "race film" market. There she thrived as parts were as varied and vibrant as the lives of Black people. Called a beauty and a great talent of her time by filmmaker William Greaves, she was only denied superstar status due to the flat out bigotry of the time.

Umm. Not much has changed really. Possibly the size of the paychecks?

Francine Everett: The Most Beautiful Woman in Harlem – (Travalanche)

Still the film industry is a business where there can be a gazillion mediocre blonde thespians crowding up the red carpet but the one Black actress singled out (and make no mistake, it's like Highlander. There can be only ONE at a time. It's like Hollywood has ADHD where Black actors are concerned).must be ALL things, ALL the time and ALWAYS at the top of her game otherwise she's trash.


Dirty Gertie From Harlem USA (1946) | Spencer Williams Francine ...

Read more about Francine Everett at the link below:

https://face2faceafrica.com/article/francine-everett-the-actress-who-shunned-hollywoods-maid-roles-and-became-darling-of-race-movies

Friday, July 24, 2020

Dona Drake - Actress One in my "race film" series

Well, I've finally gotten back to my proposed series on the Black actresses who were prominent in Hollywood's "race film" genre. I meant to have been deep into this project BUT events in the U. S. intervened and BOOM! my attention was drawn elsewhere. But better late than never as grandmom would have said.

Dona Drake
Dona Drake.jpg

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23487213


Today's subject is Dona Drake, born November 15, 1914, deceased June 20, 1989. Eunice Westmoreland, as she named at birth, was 3/4 Black. Busy bee sources dug into what her grandparents lineages were.- one set were Black; another, Black/White. This was according to a U. S. Census. Who knows? She was born in Miami, FL which is, and has always, been a mixing bowl of cultures. Suffice it to say, she "passed" as Mexican. Which I could picture her doing from her appearance. Actually, it's incorrect to label her "BLACK" as her lineage was such a mix but this is the U S of A where race matters tons! Though the younger generations are fighting it. Personally with all the intermarrying and mating afoot, there needs to be a revision in the choices on those forms where they ask one's race. I mean it is 2020. Women born of two Black parents do not need a Dona Drake to rep for them as she does not look like the typical Black woman in the U. S. She was a mixed race female and looked it. Substituting her for the average Black woman was, is, not truthful just as substituting the average Black woman for a mixed race one is not truthful. It's not fair to either party involved.

But I digress.

Anyhoo, during that era, non-White women who longed to be discovered would start as a chorus girl in a nightclub revue. Also, per usual, the girls who landed those jobs were quite light-skinned or mixed race or what is known as "high-yella" in the Black community. Think the women who worked at the Cotton Club in NYC. This selection based on how light one was had been used for years as the patrons of these night spots were White. In their minds, a darker female was servant, maid, mammy material. A Black woman of that hue was not someone thought of as alluring no matter the person's talent. Plus, the selection of lighter-skinned Black females set the patrons minds at ease as "light" was seen as non-threatening. I find that hysterical as anyone hopping around on a cramped stage is there to get paid and seen, not to attack the audience. Anyhoo, to calm the nervous, but eager-to-oggle "exotic" entertainment, White patrons, who came to watch non-White women scamper about in scanty attire to music, these clubs followed their demands and those of established society.

84 Best Dona Drake images in 2020 | Dona drake, Drake, Actresses

Dona's ambiguous otherness caught the eye of Hollywood who decided they could get double the work out of her - she could play a light-skinned Black woman OR any "ethnic" woman. She was a consummate singer, actress and dancer. She cycled trough several names (Una Villon, Una Velon, Rita Rio, and Rita Shaw) before settling on Dona Drake. From the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, she made about 60 films and broadcasts in aaddition to performing in clubs in an all girl band (The Girlfriends) She seemed to have had a content, non-controversial life. She married a Caucasian costume designer, William Travilla (famous for creating the white halter dress that Marilyn Monroe immortalized in The Seven Year Itch), had one daughter and retired. She passed from pneumonia and respiratory failure at the age of 74 in 1989.

Dona Drake | Dona Drake Picture #25077382 - 454 x 577 - FanPix.Net

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

"ROLLING STONE" AND "TIME." Give us a freakin' break. Go troll somebody else. Please

I thought I was done commenting on the events of the last 3 -4 months but I guess not. The following images of the Black community, especially Black women are not flattering. They do us no favor. It unfortunately re-inforces the myth of "Black women not needin' no man." It also shows that the "mainstream" watches and listens closely to what goes on in the Black community. I knew this day would come when I saw many of us embrace that damaging mindset. We forget that the mainstream watches us to see how all the -isms have taken hold in our communities, and in some areas, have usurped the traditional family unit. We are the nation's petri dish. Mainstream news revels in the visual of the weary, crying, uncared-for, Black, single-mother on the 11 o clock news as a representative of ALL households in the Black community. Not to say the woman does not exist. She does. It is that her sad image is joyously telegraphed out in colorful, huge graphics as de rigueur in the Black community. A community seen as fatherless (due to death or choice), rudderless, dangerous, and one that is to be pitied. It is the graphic served to the general public.

TIME's George Floyd issue 2020
The Story Behind TIME's George Floyd Cover | Time.com

Typical. We only make the cover of major magazines when we are seen as confirming a negative narrative or are "misbehaving" or are dead. Otherwise, it is crickets from these publications. I do not find it flattering, not one bit, that corporations like these are donating money to Black causes, or are "examining" our issues more, or posting black squares on any given Tuesday. Same for the toppling of Confederate statues and the re-naming of this, that and a third.

WHO THE FRIG CARES? ACTION IS THE ANSWER. I'M NOT IMPRESSED BY SYMBOLISM!

TIME's July issue 2020
Issue Cover

The felling of a rebel's statue or the removal of the name of a son of the South from a building means, as my venerated grandfather would have said, "diddly squat!" It does not remedy, or address the Black community's deeper problems. And NO! It's deeper problem is NOT Black-on-Black crime. The crime is a SYMPTOM of a much larger issue. but critics aren't able to grasp that. No. Critics love to toss out that old talking point and how nothing we say about police brutality can be taken seriously until the crime in our neighborhoods is fixed. WHY? Funny how that sentiment is NOT expressed when the issue of the huge amount of opioid addicts in White communities comes up. NO ONE is discussing withholding counseling, rehab or funds from them  if they FIRST don't confront their mess. Nope. Mr. and Ms. John Q. Municipal Center/Suburbs are allowed to fail again and again without conditions.

BUT US? NO WAY. WE MUST BE PERFECT!

So, no, ROLLING STONE. No, TIME. You do not have your finger on the pulse of Black people in America. Your finger is on the cash register and you do KNOW who your reader is, don't cha?

ROLLING STONE July 2020
Black Lives Matter: From Ferguson to Now - Rolling Stone

Friday, June 19, 2020

JUNETEENTH!

Oh Man. I completely forgot. Too much celebrating I guess.

Juneteenth! That holiday 45 says NO ONE knew about until he brought attention to it.

Lord help us. Party the whole weekend to burn off that nonsense.