Monday, April 30, 2012

Lena vs. Ava in the Role of Show Boat's "Julie"

Lena Horne
One of my favorite movies from the Hollywood heyday of musicals is Show Boat, made in 1951, starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson.

The sultry Ava Gardner also starred as "Julie," the mixed race (mulatto) character.  However, before she was cast, the beautiful (African American) Lena Horne was considered.

While Lena Horne was employed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios (MGM), her appearances in movies were shot so that they could be cut easily from the films she appeared in. This was because MGM feared audiences of that time, especially those in the South, would not accept a beautiful black woman in romantic, non-menial roles.

This was probably the main reason she lost out on playing "Julie."  I remember seeing her on a talk show back in the '80s explaining how MGM's makeup department had come up with a foundation for her to wear as "Julie," called light Egyptian.  Shortly afterwards, however, Ava Gardner was the one being slathered with it and not her!

Ava Gardner
Ironically, Ava Gardner was one of Lena's closest off-screen friends.  She practiced for the role by singing to Horne's recordings of the songs, since Lena had already appeared in the "Show Boat" segment of Till the Clouds Roll By (1946).  In that, she had appeared as "Julie" singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (which was, as all her MGM appearances, shot in such a way that it could be easily edited out of the film).

Another irony for Lena is that she had been invited by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II themselves to play "Julie" in the 1946 Broadway revival of Show Boat, but had had to refuse because MGM would not release her from her contract.

Shortly after her death in 2010, Time Magazine provided a biography on what Lena Horne's film career could have looked like:

Gorgeous, gifted and preternaturally poised, the 24-year-old actress-singer came to Hollywood in 1941 and quickly became the first African-American movie star. She was a sensation in her first leading role, as the Congo goddess Tondelayo in MGM's White Cargo. She earned an Academy Award nomination as the light-skinned black girl passing for white in Elia Kazan's Pinky, then capped her first decade of stardom playing Julie and singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in the 1951 film Show Boat.

Those roles were eventually played by Hedy Lamarr, Jeanne Crain, and Ava Gardner, respectively.  It's a shame we'll never know what Lena Horne could have done with them!

Have you ever seen Show Boat? Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Need a Little Heat in Your Novel?

Adam Firestone, Firearms Expert
I'm not referring to the heat of passion, but the kind of heat you pack! Do you know the difference between casings and cartridges, or clips and magazines, or an Uzi vs. an AK-47?

If you're going to include firearms in your story, make sure you portray them, and all of their parts, accurately.  If you don't, to those out there who know gun speak, you'll have the equivalent of "He kissed her with his knee," while wrongly identifying your weapons and their inner workings.

I stole that knee quote from Adam Firestone. I recently attended his workshop Firearms and the Choreography of Direct Action.  It was amazing, and I learned quite a bit about "heat."

Adam provides technical consulting services to the literary and entertainment industries, specializing in action choreography and technical consulting on cyber and weapon technologies, their impacts, employment and tactics from both historical and modern perspectives.

Be sure to visit his blog if you have questions regarding firearms, because he addresses several issues pertaining to them in his posts. However, if you can't find an answer, drop him an email at

.38 Special Cartridges
Not all of us are fortunate enough to know a cop or a shooting instructor to verify information about those shoot 'em up scenes we love to write, but Adam Firestone is just a click away!

Do you pack heat in what you write? Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Titanic: An Untold Story

The Laroche Family
Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. The history of Titanic has always been of interest to me, and back in 2003, I had the opportunity to tour an exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Viewing the mementos salvaged from the wreckage was sad, yet reading about the passengers was fascinating. One thing I'd forgotten, until my husband suggested that I blog about Titanic today, was that from that exhibition, I'd learned about Joseph and Juliette Laroche, an interracial couple on board the ship.

Joseph Laroche was a Haitian-born, French educated engineer from a prosperous family.  His wife, Juliette, was white, and from a privileged French family. Joseph Laroche had not intended to travel on Titanic when he left France with his family in 1912.

Because he was black, Laroche had been unable to find work in France. So upon learning of his wife's third pregnancy, he decided to return to his native Haiti.  He'd bought first class tickets for the French liner France. But once he found out that children could not eat with their parents, he transferred to Titanic.

His first-class France tickets were equivalent to second-class tickets aboard the British Titanic.  He and his family boarded the ship at Cherbourg, outside of Paris.  They enjoyed the ship's luxury for three days, and on April 14, dined together for the last time. Afterwards, Joseph retired to the smoking parlor with other men in second class, while Juliette returned to their suite with daughters Simonne, three, and Louise, one.

Joseph Laroche felt the collision later that evening, and ran back to his room for his wife and daughters. As Juliette and the girls were placed in a lifeboat, Joseph draped his coat, stuffed with money and family valuables, across his wife's shoulders. "You will need it," he told Juliette, who was 22 at the time. "I will see you in New York. I must take another raft. God be with you."

Those were the last words Joseph Laroche spoke to his wife, and although his coat was stolen, Juliette Laroche and her daughters survived. Joseph Laroche was 26, and the only black man aboard the ship.  He was one of 166 second-class passengers who died.

I found the above information here in a story that described an exhibit featuring them. The Laroche's story is a fascinating, yet little known Titanic fact. Had you ever heard of them?

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fredi Washington: Didn't Live an Imitation of Life

Fredi Washington
I'm nearing completion of my next release, Escape: Book One of the Unchained Trilogy.  Late in the story, the theme of "passing" (as in a light skinned black person passing for white) comes into play.

Most white people who have ever heard of the term "passing," and know what it means, have probably seen the movie Imitation of Life.

Several years ago, my husband, who's white, watched the 1959 film with me.  He was fascinated by the subject matter, and impressed that Imitation of Life had been made back in the 1950s.

I told him that this was the second version, and that the original had been produced in 1934.  In that movie, I informed him, a "real black girl" played the part of Peola, the light skinned daughter desperate to pass as white.  (In the 1959 movie, the daughter's name is Sarah Jane and she's played by white actress Susan Kohner). If you're not familiar with Imitation of Life, based on the 1933 Fannie Hurst novel of the same name, click here.

The real black girl mentioned above was Fredi Washington, an accomplished African American dramatic actress during the 1920s and '30s.  Fair skinned with green eyes, she was often asked to "pass for white" in order to receive better opportunities in films.  However, Fredi refused.  "I'm honest," she said, "and you don't have to be white to be good." Here's some footage of her as Peola.

She faced discrimination from whites and, because of her appearance, resentment within the black community, which had complex feelings about obvious mixed-race people. Washington expressed her opinions about race and color prejudice, and after retiring from acting in the 1930's, became an activist and journalist.

In 1937, Ms.Washington was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG), which created better professional opportunities for blacks in show business. She also worked as Entertainment Editor of People's Voice, founded in 1942.

Never ashamed of who she was, Fredi Washington was no Peola!

Have you seen either version of Imitation of Life?

Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Going Indie? Enlist the Help of Others

Not long ago, I had a chance to chat with a traditionally published author.  I asked if she belonged to a writing group, and found out that she does not.

Although this author does have a writer friend to bounce ideas off of (which we all need), she said that a book is one writer's vision, and should not be written by a committee. I completely agree with this!

However, if you're an Indie or self published author, you don't have the benefit of a publishing house, which provides content editing, copy editing, proof reading, etc.

I'm not sure how many different editors there are, but a work published by a publishing house is read by several sets of eyes before it hits the market!

Most Indies are on a budget, so until you can afford to hire professional editors and proofreaders, here are a few things to keep in mind to improve your Indie books:

Your writing group or critique partners can help you better develop your story.  Don't allow them to change your vision, but do be open to advice in what will improve your story, or what doesn't make it work.  They may not be content editors, but your finished product will be vastly improved if other writers read it.

After incorporating changes, enlist the aid of beta readers. Friends and family are great for this. Not only can they find typos and grammatical errors, they can point out what's lacking, what's boring, and what's not moving your story along.

Can't afford copy editing? Barter services with a writer friend who's a capable editor. (When bartering, it doesn't have to be for the same service. If you don't feel you're the best at copy editing, and you lack the critical eye of a proofreader, volunteer to be a beta reader).  A copy editor will do more than just proofread. In addition to spotting typos and grammatical errors, she'll finesse the writer's prose into a highly polished product.

Can't afford a proofreader?  Again, barter with a writer friend.  A person with a sharp and critical eye is needed to find the teeniest of errors in a finished (proof) work. 

So, as an Indie/self published author, you do end up using a committee of sorts.  Don't ever let them alter your vision, but do consider them your publishing house!

Do you belong to a writers group or have critique partners? Thanks for visiting!