Happy 99th Birthday, Lena Horne!

The wonderful Lena Horne was born Lena Calhoun Horne 99 years ago today in Brooklyn, New York.

    Lena Horne Did-You-Knows

  • Lena Horne was raised in large part by her grandparents while her mother pursued a career as an actress (her parents split when she was a toddler).
  • Horne quit school at age 14 and by 16, she was dancing (and later singing) at the renowned Cotton Club in Harlem.
  • MGM, worried that Horne would be perceived as white onscreen, had makeup artist Max Factor create a line of makeup for her called Dark Egyptian.
  • Horne was turned down at least twice—Pinky (1949), Show Boat (1951)—for film roles as light-skinned black women who pass for white. In both cases, white actresses were cast and had their skin darkened with makeup.
  • Horne was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
  • Horne’s favorite actor was John Garfield.
  • During World War II, Horne refused to perform before racially segregated audiences of American soldiers. This was against Army policy, but she held her ground, putting on a show for a mixed audience of African-American soldiers and German POWs.
  • Accused of having Communist sympathies because of her civil rights activities dating back to the 1940s and her enduring friendship with Paul Robeson, Horne was blacklisted from films and became a cabaret performer.
  • Horne was born on the same day and in the same city—Brooklyn, NY—as actress Susan Hayward.
  • Horne worked with Eleanor Roosevelt on anti-lynching laws and was a frequent guest in the Kennedy White House.

Happy birthday, Ms. Horne—wherever you may be!

Lena Horne

TCM Remembers 2010

Every passing year brings the sad loss of prominent and often beloved figures in movie history.

2010 was no different, of course, and, among those lost, there were talented men and women whose careers began in the Cladrite era: Gloria Stuart, Tony Curtis, Patricia Neal, “Baby” Marie Osborne, Lena Horne, Doris Eaton and others.

As they do every year, the good folks at Turner Classic Movies have put together a video tribute to those departed movie professionals who touched our lives during their time with us. It’s nicely done, and well worth a look.

image-Kathryn Grayson

TCM remembers Ms. Horne

Beginning at 8 p.m. tonight, Turner Classic Movies pays tribute to the great Lena Horne by airing a trio of her pictures. Here’s the line-up:

8:00 p.m. — The Duke Is Tops (1938)
A producer’s romance with his star ends when the latter is offered a better job in New York. Cast: Ralph Cooper, Lena Horne, Lawrence Criner. Dir: William Nolte. BW-73 mins

9:30 p.m. — Cabin in the Sky (1943)
God and Satan battle for the soul of a wounded gambler. Cast: Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne. Dir: Vincente Minnelli. BW-99 mins

11:15 p.m. — Panama Hattie (1942)
A nightclub owner in Panama takes on Nazi spies. Cast: Ann Sothern, Red Skelton, Lena Horne. Dir: Norman Z. McLeod. BW-80 mins

Remembering Ms. Horne

We want to pause to remember the great Lena Horne, who passed away at 92 yesterday.

She was an immense talent and a pioneer in Hollywood, helping to smooth the way for so many talented African-American actors and musicians who followed her. If she were just beginning her career today, she’d no doubt be an ever bigger star than she was.

And man, what a looker!

I met her briefly many years ago. She was appearing at a video trade show I was crashing, promoting, if I recall it correctly, the video of her very successful one-woman show The Lady and Her Music. I stood in line to get her to sign a poster from the show for my parents, who framed it and proudly displayed it for many years (Dad may still have it hanging to this day). Ms. Horne was very gracious in dealing with a nervous young admirer, and I’ll always remember that encounter with fondness.

“How Long Has This Been Going On?” — Lena Horne