Friday, July 19, 2013

Stars of Color: Blacklisted!

The Hollywood blacklist—as the broader entertainment industry blacklist is generally known—was the mid-20th-century practice of denying employment to screenwriters, actors, directors, musicians, and other U.S. entertainment professionals because of their suspected political beliefs or associations. Artists were barred from work on the basis of their alleged membership in or sympathy with the American Communist Party, involvement in progressive political causes that enforcers of the blacklist associated with communism, and refusal to assist investigations into Communist Party activities. Even during the period of its strictest enforcement, the late 1940s through the late 1950s, the blacklist was rarely made explicit and verifiable, but it caused direct damage to the careers of scores of American artists, often made betrayal of friendship (not to mention principle) the price for a livelihood, and promoted ideological censorship across the entire industry. [Wikipedia

The driving force behind the second "Red Scare", Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

This was a scary time for U.S. entertainers and artists, especially (and "ironically") for those who were outspoken advocates of equality in America. In this post, you will find a list of entertainers of color who were "blacklisted", why they were blacklisted, and what it did to their careers......


Canada Lee

Canada Lee was born Leonard Cornelius Canegata on March 3, 1907 in New York City. Before becoming an actor, Mr. Lee had tried his hand in music (he was a concert violinist by the age of 12), horseback riding, and boxing (a blow to the eye would end his boxing career and leave him nearly blind). He would go on to have a successful career in theater (while applying for a job at the YMCA, he stumbled upon an audition in progress and was invited to try out, thus earning a supporting role in a play), and then, a successful one in film. 

Along with being an excellent actor, Canada Lee was also an outspoken activist for Civil Rights in America and in South Africa as well. By around 1949, Lee's outspokenness and contact with "alleged" Communists (particularly his good friend, Paul Robeson) got him placed on Hollywood's Blacklist. In 1950, he and Sidney Poitier were smuggled into South Africa as indentured servants in order to shoot what would be his final film, Cry, the Beloved Country. Mr. Lee had a heart attack while shooting the movie and never fully recovered from it. He died of another heart attack on May 9, 1952 at the age of 45. 

More Information: 
Blacklist: Recovering the Life of Canada Lee (Documentary) (Website, IMDb page), 


Paul Robeson


Paul Leroy Bustill Robeson was born on April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey. Robeson and his four siblings were raised singlehandedly by their father, a Presbyterian minister (their mother had died in a house fire when Paul was six years old). The foundation for Robeson's legendary vocal skills were laid in his father's church. At the age of 17, the 6'3" high school fullback earned a scholarship to attend Rutgers University (only the third Black-American to be accepted to the school) where--despite racial hate from other students--he would excel as an athlete, join the debate team and the Glee club and graduate with multiple high honors--including class valedictorian. 

In Fall 1919, Robeson would enter NYU's School of Law, but later transferred to Columbia's Law School. By this time, along with being a popular athlete, Mr. Robeson was also an established singer in the black community, and had made his theatrical debut while still in law school. His theatrical debut would lead him into more theater roles, on-and-off Broadway, and into his film debut in Oscar Micheaux's 1925 film, Body and Soul. Paul Robeson never practiced law, but went on to become one of the country's most revered entertainers--that is, until about the 1940's...

The 1940s was a mixture of performance triumphs and poignant, political upheavals. While his title run in the musical drama John Henry (1940), was short-lived, he earned widespread acclaim for his Broadway Othello in 1943, opposite José Ferrer as Iago and Uta Hagen as Desdemona. By this time, however, Robeson was being reviled by much of white America for his outspoken civil rights speeches against segregation and lynchings, particularly in the South. A founder of the Progressive Party, an independent political party, his outdoor concerts sometimes ignited violence and he was now a full-blown target for "Red Menace" agitators. In 1946 he denied under oath being a member of the Communist Party, but steadfastly refused to refute the accusations under subsequent probes. As a result, his passport was withdrawn and he became engaged in legal battles for nearly a decade in order to retrieve it. Adding fuel to the fire was his only son's (Paul Jr.) marriage to a white woman in 1949 and his being awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1952 (he was unable to receive it until 1958 when his passport was returned to him). [IMDb]

Robeson originally had no intentions of leaving America, his home, but when worked dried up, he went to Europe and was warmly welcomed into their entertainment circuits. Although he was able to find success in Europe, Robeson still battled with depression and other health problems. He returned to the United States in 1963, still in poor health, but still speaking out against discrimination. Paul Robeson died on January 23, 1976 at the age of 77.

Sources: Wikipedia, IMDb

More Information: Wikipedia


Lena Horne

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents divorced when she was three, and her mother--an actress--traveled all over the country as part of many theatre troupes. Lena was mainly raised by her paternal grandparents, but sometimes would accompany her mother on the road. At the age of 16, Horne dropped out of high school and joined the chorus line of Harlem's Cotton Club. A few years later, Lena joined the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra (using the name "Helena Horne"). Within a short time, Lena had become one of New York's most popular and sought-after vocalists. 

She made her film debut in a "race movie" musical, The Duke is Tops in 1938 and in 1942, she'd signed a long-term contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but unfortunately--as was the case with most actresses of color--MGM had a hard time casting Lena and her work in Hollywood quickly fizzled out. By the end of the 1940's, Lena Horne had become known as an outspoken advocate for racial equality in the entertainment industry. Her outspokenness, membership with the Progressive Citizens of America (a leftist group), and affiliation with Paul Robeson got her blacklisted in Film, Theatre, and Radio. She returned to working in nightclubs and found a huge amount of success there. 

Lena Horne had a long-lasting career in nightclubs and on Broadway. She'd return to the movies in 1956, not too long after being blacklisted, and made many television appearances after. Ms. Horne disappeared from the public eye in 2000 and passed away on May 9, 2010 at the age of 92. 

Sources: Wikipedia, IMDb, Biography


Hazel Scott

Hazel Dorothy Scott was born on June 11, 1920 in Port au Spain, Trinidad. Under the guidance of her mother, she began playing the piano at the age of three, and when she was four, the two moved to New York with other family members. At the age of eight, Hazel would receive scholarships to attend the Julliard School of Music, then as a teenager, she would play in her mother's all-girl Jazz band. 

By the time she'd reached her late teens and early twenties, Hazel Scott had become a a star attraction in nightclubs and on radio. By 1945, she was earning about $75,000 a year (over $900,000 today). She'd also made appearances in a few Hollywood pictures as well. In 1950, Hazel Scott became the first woman of color to host a network television show in the United States with The Hazel Scott Show, a 15-minute musical program that was produced and distributed on the DuMont network. 

However, like the people mentioned above, Hazel Scott frequently spoke out against racial discrimination in America and openly spoke out against McCarthyism. Hazel's outspokenness got her labeled as a Communist-sympathizer, and despite high ratings and positive reviews, The Hazel Scott Show was cancelled. She left the U.S. for Paris in the late 1950's and wouldn't return until 1967. She made a few television appearances upon her return and continued working in nightclubs until her death (of cancer) on October 2, 1981. 

Sources: Wikipedia, IMDb


Rosaura Revueltas

From Onda Cultural

Rosaura Revueltas Sánchez was born on August 6, 1910 in Lerdo, Durango, Mexico. She was little sister to composer, Silvestre Revueltas and painter, Fermín, and big sister to writer, José.

Revueltas studied acting and ballet in Mexico City and would soon join dance companies, dancing on stage, and later in Film. In 1950, she was cast as a seventy year old woman in the Emilio Fernández film, Un día de vida, a role that nabbed her an Ariel Award nomination (the Mexican equivalent to the Oscars) for Best Supporting Actress. 

In 1954, despite warnings, she accepted the role of Esperanza Quintero in the independent American film, Salt of the Earth. The pro-union labor film would become the only blacklisted film during the "Red Scare"--much of the film's cast and crew would also find themselves on Hollywood's blacklist, including Revueltas. She would be imprisoned in the United States and eventually deported to Mexico. She never made another film the United States. She moved to Germany in 1957, then returned to Mexico in 1960.

Rosaura made her final film in 1977 and would spend the rest of her life judging Film festivals, teaching dance classes and yoga classes. She published her family's biography, Los Revueltas: Biografía de une familia in 1979Six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer, Rosaura Revueltas passed away on April 30, 1996. 

Sources: Wikipedia, IMDb, Cineforever 

More Information: Cineforever, New York Times, LA Times, Here's Looking at You (Google Books)


Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

Photo from Black Love Forum

Raiford Chatman Davis was born on December 18, 1917 in Cogdell, Clinch County, Georgia. The county clerk misunderstood his mother's dialectal pronunciation of his initials, "R.C." when he was born. He thought he heard "Ossie" and registered him as such, and the name stuck

Ruby Ann Wallace was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 27, 1924. Ruby, a Hunter College graduate who'd been raised in Harlem, would begin her acting career on the stage in 1940. She married blues singer, Frankie Dee, in 1941, and of course, even after divorce she'd continue using his last name for her flourishing career. 

After dropping out of Howard University in 1939, Ossie Davis would begin his acting career that same year with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem (later, he'd attend Columbia University School of General Studies). 

The Davises married in 1948 and often worked together on the stage and in film. In fact, Ossie made his film debut with Ruby in 1950's No Way Out. As the two worked constantly, they were also well-known Civil Rights activists, joining many organizations that fought against racial discrimination, and were also good friends with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, such activism was considered a threat during the McCarthy era:

"The McCarthy years cut so much out from under us," he (Ossie) says.
For a period, they were blacklisted. They survived McCarthyism, though FBI agents trailed them around; they suffered the pain of being out of work, and remained determined to keep raising money for families of lynch victims. [Washington Post, 2004]

Fortunately, unlike many other blacklisted entertainers and writers, Ossie and Ruby were able to successfully make their way back into the entertainment world and continued working nonstop--together and solo--thus establishing themselves as living legends and as one of Black America's power couples. Ossie Davis passed away on February 4, 2005 and Ms. Ruby Dee is still working hard as ever. In 2007, she became the second oldest nominee for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award (Gloria Stuart was the oldest, nominated for her role in Titanic at the age of 87) for her role in American Gangster (2007). It was her first Oscar-nomination. 

Sources: Wikipedia (both), IMDb (both), Washington Post

More Information: "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Blacklisted" (Google Search results)

Questioned Stars of Color

Fredi Washington
Born to Be Hurt (Google Books; pages 368-369)

José Ferrer
Hollywood's Blacklists: A Political and Cultural History (Google Books; pages 113-114)

*Countless others*


Unless noted otherwise, all images used in this post were obtained from Wikipedia and are believed to be in the Public Domain. If the rightful owner(s) of any of the above images wishes to have them remove, please contact me and I will do so immediately.--Adrienne

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