Friday, May 14, 2010

Lena Horne, R.I.P.

Lena Horne really could do it all. She could sing, dance and act, and if that wasn't enough she could knock you out with her looks at the same time. She was a movie star, a recording artist, a Broadway sensation. And yet this is the clip that really makes me smile:

If being green wasn't easy for Kermit, being black was never easy for Lena Horne. She was, in a sense, a star whose name could merely be whispered. Will Friedwald, in his Wall Street Journal obit, describes a scene in which Horne is refused service at a lunch counter by a waiter, who then asks her for her autograph. Says Friedwald,

It's an open secret that Horne's numbers in her dozen MGM films (excepting the all-black "Cabin in the Sky") were designed for easy removal in case Southern audiences objected to the idea of a black woman being presented with the same dignity that MGM routinely gave to stars like Garland.
But Friedwald goes on to illustrate how even through this ignominity, Horne's dignity shone through. "She's not sullied with the hackneyed plots or corny dialogue—she appears out of nowhere to sing a great song, stops every heart in the theater, and then vanishes, as if she had just beamed back and forth from Planet Heaven."

She had a sensational one-woman show, "A Lady and Her Music," that cemented her legendary status. She was nominated for a Tony for "Jamaica." She played the Good Witch in The Wiz. She refused roles that reduced her to a stereotype or a caricature. She did a memorable guest turn on The Cosby Show. She made Ed Bradley melt on 60 Minutes. She did it all with style, grace and class that often belied the bitterness she always felt at the racism she endured.

In an insightful piece for The American Spectator, Aaron Goldstein writes of how in her late years Horne struggled to accept that image that everyone had of her, of someone with as much talent as Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Garland. If only she been able to see herself the way others saw her. But then, perhaps in her early years she'd had to endure too much of seeing herself through other people's eyes.

Well, enough of that. Because Lena Horne was a star, one of the greatest, and it's apparent in the outpouring of affection and respect that has come in the wake of her death over the weekend at 92 that she still is a star, and always will be. Indeed, for her, the Horne does not blow at midnight, and never will.


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