Monday, May 10, 2021

Lana Turner and the Death of a Thug

 I've been watching episodes of E's Mysteries and Scandals and the other day I saw the one involving actress Lana Turner. I'd heard about this scandal from my mom when I was a kid, but it happened a few years before I was born. True crime junkie that I am, I read Detour, written by Cheryl Crane, the assailant of the thug, and she was only fourteen at the time of the crime.

Lana Turner

Here's the gist of the story: Lana Turner, one of Hollywood's most glamorous stars of the Golden Age, began dating and then living with Johnny Stompanato, a small time gangster with mob connections. Turns out Lana was rather fickle when it came to men, and when she decided to break things off, Stompanato became violent. Apparently the mob had wanted Stompanato to eventually become Mr. Lana Turner so that the mob would have access to her money.
Lana with daughter Cheryl Crane

Stompanato became physically abusive to Lana on several occasions and refused to leave the home he shared with her. Ms. Turner began to fear for her life, as Stompanato had held a gun to her head more than once. Desperate, she told her 14 year-old daughter Cheryl that she was afraid and needed her help. Most likely she meant, call the police if things get out of hand with that monster.

On one particular evening while Stopananto was beating Ms. Turner, he threatened her by saying, "If you were a man I'd cut off your hands, but since you make a living with your face, I'll cut that up instead!" Cheryl woke up upon hearing the beating and her mother's screams. She went to the kitchen and got a butcher knife, then went upstairs terrified, holding the knife and stood outside her mother's bedroom.
Lana with Johnny Stompanato

When Stompanato had had enough of beating and threatening Ms. Turner, he left the bedroom, only to walk straight into Cheryl's knife, which plunged straight through his abdomen. Needless to say, he died. A heinous thug brought down unintentionally by a frightened 14 year-old girl.

Cheryl Crane says she doesn't even remember going to the kitchen for the knife. Then she stood frightened outside her mother's bedroom unsure of what to do, but she knew her mother needed her.

If you enjoy true crime check out Detour, and for more on the case of Johnny Stompanato's death, click here. Were you familiar with this story?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 3/19/18

Monday, May 3, 2021

Jane Russell: More Than Just a Sex Symbol

I saw a fascinating biography the other day entitled Jane Russell: Body and Soul. If I weren't an old movie buff, the only thing I'd know about Jane Russell was that she was the spokeswoman for the Playtex 18 hour bra back in the 1970s. Since I do know a thing or two about old movies, I knew that Jane was known as a sex symbol,discovered by Howard Hughes and featured in  a starring role in his movie The Outlaw, her bust line being the main attraction.  

However, the documentary I watched told me so much more about Jane Russell and what an amazing woman she really was! Below I have excerpts from an article featured in Lifesupernatural.com.  Be sure to click on the link for the entire article! 


“I love the Lord”  is a beautiful statement that summed up Jane Russell’s philosophy.  While she was  best known for musicals, Westerns, and adventure films, too little has been said about her strong belief in God and how she has practiced her faith.


Jane Russell was raised by a devoted Christian Bible teaching mother who had been a stage actress before she was married (so she wasn’t worried when her daughter later became an actress).  Her husband died at 47 years of age, leaving her with Jane and four younger brothers, an eight-acre ranch, four horses and a cow.

Jane gave her heart to the Lord at age 6, received her baptism at the age of 12, and in her late teens discovered the wiles of what she calls “the world, the flesh, and the devil”.  But the Lord was faithful, never left her side through thick and thin and opened many controversial doors that led to things He wanted her ultimately to accomplish, through the motion picture business, the stage, recordings, and night clubs.  (“All things work together for good…”)
Though Jane  was known for her tall beauty, she would never compromise her Christian moral standards to please  a  studio.   She  says,“   In  those  days  there was a decency code that kept us safe.”  She speaks fondly of her mother who was a “fabulous” bible teacher.  “Mom made the Word come alive,” remembers Jane.  “That stayed with me forever.”
It was when Jane was modeling, that an agent came by the photo studio and “swiped” a head shot of her.  It was shown to movie studios and Jane was called to test for an upcoming movie that needed a half Irish/half Mexican actress.  Soon she was contacted to be awarded the leading role in The Outlaw.  There was a three year publicity campaign that touted Jane Russell in particular and it was a  “smash in the box-office.”

Jane went  on to star in a string of popular movies working with Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Robert Mitchum, and others.  Two of her most famous films were Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe and Paleface with Bob Hope.
Jane Russell was  a strong believer in prayer and knew that more than once it saved her life including one night when she was attacked in her own home. One thing she especially prayed for was children.  She had no idea that God would answer that prayer thousands and thousands of times.
During the war years Jane married football star Robert Waterfield  and during that twenty three years she and her husband adopted three children. Her second husband, Roger Barrett, died three months after her marriage, and finally she married John Peoples, to whom she stayed married for twenty-five years until his death in 1999.  Between the two of them, Jane remarks with amazement, they had eight children, fifteen grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren.
Jane created her own special organization called WAIF in 1955.  The name referred to children without homes.  This organization placed about 51,000 children with adoptive families.  She went all over the nation and overseas as a fundraiser and spokesperson putting her faith to work.   The chapters for the original program have closed with the exception of the one in Los Angeles now known as “Operation Children”.  This group holds four parties a year for four different groups of children and prospective children.  Adults and children intermingle, eat, play games, and get to know each other in a park.  This approach has helped new families to be formed.
Jane also championed the passage of the Federal Orphan Adoption Amendment of 1953, which allowed children of American  servicemen born overseas to be placed for adoption in the United States.
According to some critics, Jane devoted more energy to WAIF than to maintaining her movie stardom.   At various points of her career, she took years off of movies to attend to family and ministry matters.  Her priorities were clear and often very public.
There's much more to the article. I've only scratched the surface here. Had you ever heard of Jane Russell? Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 
Originally published 4-2-18

Monday, April 26, 2021

Keye Luke: From Artist to Actor


As Number One Son Lee Chan
Hubby and I have been watching old episodes of Kung Fuwhich featured actor Keye Luke as the blind Master Po. To older generations he is remembered from the Charlie Chan serials as Charlie Chan's Number One Son Lee Chan. Wikipedia says that he was the first Chinese-American contract player signed by RKO, Universal Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and was one of the most prominent Asian actors of American cinema in the mid-twentieth century. However, before he was an actor, he was an artist.

According to IMDb, Keye Luke was born in Canton, China. He grew up in Seattle, Washington, and entered the film business as a commercial artist and a designer of movie posters. He was hired as a technical advisor on several Asian-themed films, and made his film debut in The Painted Veil (1934). It seemed that he appeared in almost every film that called for Chinese characters, usually in small parts but occasionally, as in The Good Earth (1937), in a meatier, more substantial role. In addition, he played Dr. Kildare's rival at the hospital in the Dr. Kildare series at MGM.

As Blind Master Po
More from Wikipedia says Luke worked on several of the murals inside Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and he did some of the original artwork for the 1933 King Kong pressbook. Luke also painted the casino's mural in The Shanghai Gesture. He published a limited edition set of pen and ink drawings of The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam in the 1950s. He also created illustrations for the books The Unfinished Song of Achmed Mohammed by Earle Liederman, Blessed Mother Goose by Frank Scully and an edition of Messer Marco Polo by Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne (unpublished). Other art done by Luke included the dust jackets for books published in the 1950s and 1960s. It was through his studio art work that he was recruited for his first movie roles.

I always find it fascinating to learn about an actor's life before the acting began, so just thought I'd share! By the way, are you a fan of Kung Fu? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 10/23/17 

Monday, April 19, 2021

White Like Her

 

Gail's Mother
Mystery writer Gail Lukasik tells the story of her mother's mixed race ancestry in her memoir White Like Her. This is an excerpt of a 2017 article about her book from The Washington Post. I found it so fascinating, I ordered the memoir and have since read the heartbreaking account. I love family histories, especially when a secret is involved. An excerpt of the article is below:

I’d never seen my mother so afraid.
“Promise me,” she pleaded, “you won’t tell anyone until after I die. How will I hold my head up with my friends?”
For two years, I’d waited for the right moment to confront my mother with the shocking discovery I made in 1995 while scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records. In the records, my mother’s father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, and his entire family were designated black.
The discovery had left me reeling, confused and in need of answers. My sense of white identity had been shattered.
My mother’s visit to my home in Illinois seemed like the right moment. This was not a conversation I wanted to have on the phone.
Author Gail Lukasik
But my mother’s fearful plea for secrecy only added to my confusion about my racial identity. As did her 1921 birth certificate that I obtained from the state of Louisiana, which listed her race as “col” (colored), and a 1940 Louisiana census record, which listed my mother, Alvera Frederic, as Neg/Negro, working in a tea shop in New Orleans. Four years later, she moved north and married my white father.
Reluctantly, I agreed to keep my mother’s secret. For 17 years I told no one, except my husband, my two children and two close friends that my mother was passing as white. It was the longest and most difficult secret I’d ever held.
My mother’s pale, olive skin and European features appeared to belie the government documents defining her as African American, allowing her to escape that public designation for most of her adult life.
In the silence of those 17 years, I tried to break through my mother’s wall of silence. But every time I tried, she politely but firmly changed the subject. Her refusal to talk about her mixed race only fueled my curiosity. How had she deceived my racist white father? Why was she so fearful and ashamed of her black heritage?
Using my skills as a seasoned mystery author, I started sifting through the details of her life, looking for clues that would help me understand her. But this real-life mystery only intensified as I tried to sort truth from fiction.
I am eagerly waiting for my copy of White Like Her to arrive! Any secrets in your family?
Thanks for visiting and have a great week!
Originally published 12/11/17

Monday, April 12, 2021

Advice from Anthony Hopkins

I stumbled across an entertaining interview with Sir Anthony Hopkins from Fox News. He shared some fascinating facts about his life and also provided some great advice.
Sir Anthony Hopkins discussed his battle with alcoholism in a speech to students at the University of California on Wednesday.
Hopkins, 80, was a guest speaker at the LEAP conference and addressed a crowd of about 500 students, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The Academy Award-winning actor told the crowd he was not the easiest person to work with.
"Because that's what you do in theater, you drink. But I was very difficult to work with, as well, because I was usually hungover,” Hopkins admitted.

“The Silence of the Lambs” star said he was "disgusted, busted and not to be trusted" when he drank. However, the actor said his life turned around in 1975 after a conversation with a woman from Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Why don’t you just trust in God?” the woman asked Hopkins.
The “Westworld” star said he did not have the urge to drink after the conversation.
Hopkins also told the crowd why he got into acting because he “had nothing better to do” and was “not all that bright in school.”
"I believe that we are capable of so much," he told the crowd. "From my own life, I still cannot believe that my life is what it is because I should have died in Wales, drunk or something like that." 
"We can talk ourselves into death or we can talk ourselves into the best life we've ever lived. None of it was a mistake. It was all a destiny,” he continued.
As for his advice to students, Hopkins told them to not chase money and success.
"If you chase the money, it's not gonna work. And if you chase success, it's not gonna work," he said. "You just have to chase whatever you want to be, but live it as if it is happening now. Act as if you're already there, and it'll fall into place.”

Is any of this information about Anthony Hopkins new to you like it was to me? Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Originally published 7/30/18


Monday, April 5, 2021

Save the Cat: A Great Resource for Any Writer!

Save the Cat is a great book for any writer! Even though the subtitle is The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, it's a helpful tool for any writer!  Check out what writer editor Tim Stout says: 

The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is the best plot structure template I’ve come across.
It breaks down the three-act structure into bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal for your overall story. It’s a great resource! 

Below is an explanation of each beat:

THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET (aka BS2)

Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
The Promise of the Premise – This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
Midpoint – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
Finale – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
THE END

I used the Beat Sheet method in writing my last novel and it was a big help! Are you familiar with Save the Cat? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!  

Monday, March 29, 2021

From Novel to Screenplay


Gone With the Wind is  a movie that's just as phenomenal as the book it's  based on. But have you noticed that's not always the case when  a novel  is made into a motion picture?

When I first posted this article back in August of 2018, I had just started adapting one of my novels into a screenplay. That task is complete, and it was quite a learning experience! Now I understand why some movies fall flat when compared to the novels they're based on.  

Forget about introspection and long descriptions, plus subplots have to be dropped and minor characters combined or omitted in order to condense a three-hundred and fifty page novel into a one-hundred and twenty-five page screenplay. If you have ever considered turning a novel into a screenplay, here's a portion of an article from Scriptmag.com to help you start the adaptation process:



First, make a list of the following:

  • The world and setting of the story.
  • The 5–8 main characters of the story including the protagonist and antagonist, what their respective back stories are and why/how they come together.
  • What 5 things about your main protagonist/antagonist are the most important for an audience to know.
  • The major core conflict of the story and why/how this occurs.
  • The most visual and key scenes in the book that connect to how that conflict plays out.
  • Your 10–20 FAVORITE lines of dialogue that drive the plot, are vital to the story or character development and that really shine.
  • The major overarching theme of the book.
Margaret Mitchell with her novel
Be aware that you will probably have to cut many supporting characters, subplots that don’t connect to your main storyline, and almost all of the description. Instead of two pages of character description, you only get two lines. Often, two or three different characters in a novel will be combined into ONE character in a screenplay. And what happens on the first page of the book may not be how you need to open the film. Try to nail the same tone that the original material had—as that is part of what built its fan base and that tone needs to translate on film. But the real key to adapting a book to film or adapting someone’s true story—is FOCUS and knowing how and when to take poetic license.
If you are adapting a true story, it becomes even trickier, but you need to know that changing the timeline of the original story is OK. Your primary job isn’t to be loyal to a book or to another writer or even to the main character—it’s to be loyal to the core story and yourself. You can’t show a whole lifetime on screen (except maybe in Benjamin Button), so you need to choose the most important, interesting, conflict-filled, character-building part of the book or the person’s life—and focus on that to create a tight story.
Or alternatively, if you’re adapting a small personal story, you may need to expand it to fill the screen. All those Nicholas Sparks novels are incredibly small and usually depressing, but the screenplays introduce more conflict and raise the stakes. Though not based on a book, let’s examine Academy Award nominated The Fighter, which was based on a true story. The screenwriters looked at all the material they had—all the characters, all the true things that happened, the time range of the real story—and then wrote what worked. The Amy Adams character wasn’t even in Mickey’s life at the time he won those fights. Many characters were combined and the time period was totally fudged so that the story became more cinematic and engaging but it kept the essence of the characters involved, the story and the emotion of it all.
That’s exactly what your job is when adapting a book or person’s true life story. Much like in life, learning to adapt is often a difficult process but can be one of the keys to success. Keep writing!
For the complete article, click here.

Have you ever written a screenplay or considered writing one? Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Black Count

I knew that Alexandre Dumas was of mixed race heritage, but only recently learned about his father, who is profiled in The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss.

It's always fun to see what inspires a writer, and here we learn who inspired one of the greatest.  Through historical sleuthing, Tom Reiss has uncovered the life a forgotten hero who was the inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, is General Alex Dumas.  Though almost unknown today, his story is familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of literature's best loved heroes.

Not only does this book tell of swashbuckling adventures, it reveals a secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave.  He rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our current time.

Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris. There, he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. After enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution.


A fascinating story! Are you familiar with The Black Count?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Monday, March 15, 2021

The History of Private Investigators

I've always been fascinated by the world of private eyes, but I didn't know anything about the history of the profession. Take a look at this article from North American Investigations at pvteyes.com: 

It should come as no surprise that the history of private investigation is an intriguing and colorful tale that dates all the way back to ancient Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations.

The first mention of espionage is even recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible in the Book of Numbers, when God told Moses to send some men to spy on Canaan. These twelve spies were the leaders of their respective ancestral tribes and were sent ahead by Moses to explore Canaan during the Jews’ long trek from Egypt to the Promised Land.

The Birth of the Private Investigation Agency

As a craft, private investigation has existed for thousands of years, for as long as people have required it. The first known private detective agency, however, was founded in 1833 by a man named Eugène François Vidocq, a French soldier, privateer, and criminal. Le bureau des renseignments, or the Office of Intelligence as it was called, was staffed by men of similarly patchy backgrounds with law enforcement. Most of these men were ex-convicts and, as a result, official law enforcement attempted to shut the operation down several times,

In 1842, Vidocq was arrested on charges of unlawful imprisonment and for accepting money under false pretenses after solving an embezzlement case. He suspected a set-up but was still sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and a 3,000 franc fine. The Court of Appeals later released him.

Vidocq was the one who introduced record-keeping, criminology, and ballistics to the field of criminal investigation. He pioneered the practice of creating plaster casts of shoe prints and is also the inventor of indelible ink and unalterable bond paper.

To this day, some aspects of his method of anthropometrics – the study of the human body and its movement – is still in use by seasoned private investigators and the French police. He was also a known philanthropist who claimed to never have informed on anyone who had stolen due to a great need.

Evolution of Private Investigators

The private investigation industry came into existence as a response to a specific need: in the olden days, clients went to private investigators with the expectation that they would do work and act as the police in matters where traditional and official law enforcement were ill-equipped or simply unwilling to do.

They were mostly employed by wealthy owners who effectively utilized and deployed them to resolve labor disputes. Their primary function was to control workers and keep the peace, especially those who had been inspired by the French Revolution. They also did mercenary work, as well as acted as private security.
Private Eyes in the United States

Meanwhile, in the United States, a man named Allan Pinkerton was making a name for himself as a criminal detective. After informing on a band of counterfeiters to the local sheriff of his town, he was appointed in 1849 as the first police detective in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.

A year after that, he partnered with a Chicago lawyer named Edward Rucker and formed the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a company that continues to exist today under the name Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations. It is believed that the term “private eye” originated from Pinkerton’s choice of business insignia: a wide open eye with the caption “We never sleep”.

During the Civil War, Pinkerton became the head of the Union Intelligence Service – the predecessor of the United States Secret Service – and managed to successfully foil an assassination plot targeting Abraham Lincoln. He and his men often took on undercover jobs posing as members of the Confederate army and sympathizers in order to acquire military intelligence.

Today, private investigators fulfill an important role in society. Their services have become invaluable in everything from assisting crime investigations to finding missing persons. With the continuing advancement of technology, private investigation services are continually evolving to serve the public much better ways than ever.

That's your trivia for the day! Did you learn something new? Thanks for visiting an d have a great week

Originally posted March 18, 2019

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Film Noir

I love old movies and the older, the better. I'm particularly fond of the film noir classics of the 1940s.

According to Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia, the term "film noir" was coined by French critics to describe motion pictures characterized by a "dark somber tone and cynical, pessimistic mood." It literally means "dark film."

The film noir Hollywood pictures of the 40s and 50s portrayed the dark, sinister underworld of crime and corruption. And both heroes and villains were cynical loners, insecure and disillusioned by life's circumstances, bound to the past, and unsure of the future.

Several scenes are shot at night, and dingy realism is portrayed through the interior and exterior set designs. There's nothing glamorous about these movies (aside from the leading lady's wardrobe), but the stories are extremely compelling, with intrigue, suspense and lots and lots of plot twists!

Two of my favorite film noir pictures star beautiful Rita Hayworth. Although Lady from Shanghai is hard to follow (you'll have to watch it more than once), it keeps you wondering what's going to happen next. Even if it seems too weird (or perhaps, thought provoking, since it's Orson Welles), it's worth watching just for the ending. That's when Rita's character is shot in the house of mirrors and then lay dying in broken glass (she deserves it).

My other favorite is Gilda, which, for film noir, has a relatively happy ending. In this film, Rita is glamour personified! As the hot and steamy Gilda, a woman with a questionable past, her dialog to leading man Glen Ford is topnotch. Her words actually had me saying "ouch" a few times for the poor guy!

Do you enjoy old movies too?  If so, what are some of your favorites?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 1/28/19

Monday, March 1, 2021

Korla Pandit — Disguising Identity: From Black to Indian


 http://www.nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/34_43/ae_korla.jpg

In searching the Internet for something interesting to blog about, I stumbled upon this fascinating celebrity named Korla Pandit. I'll start by saying before there was Liberace, there was Korla Pandit. Check out this captivating article by Andrew Hamlin from Northwest Asian Weekly
Two hands hold a large censer.  A voice speaks of wisdom and rubies.  A deep, slightly scraggly voice.  The action fades-in to a man in a turban with a jewel mounted between his eyes.  Fixing his eyes upon the camera, Korla Pandit begins his act.
And his act was the Hammond Organ, augmented with a Steinway piano to his right.  Playing mostly organ, occasionally piano, sometimes one with each hand, Pandit played for fifteen minutes on Los Angeles’ KTLA-TV from 1949 until 1951.  He did not rock and roll and he did not get down and dirty with the blues, but he flitted easily between all other types of music, playing popular tunes, show tunes, traditional, and ethnic music from around the world. He was one of the first television stars, but he never spoke on camera.  The narrator off-screen was someone else.
And Korla Pandit had reason to never speak.  Speaking might have given away his secret.
John Turner’s film “Korla” covers the organist’s life from start to finish, but not in that order.  He starts with the censer, the myth, the exotica (for Korla Pandit was a pioneer of “exotica”) and goes considerably into Pandit’s keyboard skills combined with his elegance and mystery, his easy way of wining over an audience.  Pandit’s work grew popular with folks who ironically were into tiki torches and vintage cocktails, folks who wanted to overlook rock and roll or step into a time machine and come out back before rock and roll first rolled.
But Pandit’s work, cheesy as it could get, transcended kitsch. He knew how to play to the camera and reach his audience through the camera, with his galvanizing eyes bolstered with the glinting jewel, the white of the turban combined with the milk chocolate of his skin.  He hammered down Hammond keys with the heel of his hand, his palms, and even his forearms. He took chestnuts such as “Over The Rainbow” and gave them fresh illumination with rapid runs, melancholy swells, double-time breaks, and piano intermezzos.
Pandit never admitted to anyone that he was not actually Indian—not from India or elsewhere.  He was not from the Far East or the Near East.  He was born John Roland Redd, in St. Louis in 1921.
The “exotic” persona came partially from his wife, a white lady Beryl June DeBeeson, and partially from a film the future Pandit’s sister appeared in—a film featuring a black man disguised as an Indian.  With a turban and a jewel.
And the fascinating, damnable thing was that passing for Indian worked wonders for him.  He was no longer a black man, but he was one of the first black men to have his own TV show.  His birth certificate lists him as “colored”; his death certificate asserts he was “white.”  His family appears to have gone along with his fake background, although his wife and older son have since died, and his younger son, for whatever reason, does not appear in the film.
He exploited the exotic background story for his own ends and to that extent must be deemed selfish.  But not solely selfish.  Many black people who could, passed for white.  And as Pandit/Redd demonstrated, passing as anything was preferable to being black.
He preached the universal language of music.  He was a fraud, but he was a spiritual optimist.  And as Carlos Santana remarks, he opened vortexes.  Anything seemed possible when he pressed the keys.  Any dimension, any identity.  Any form.  Any triumph.
I had never heard of Kora Pandit. Had you? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Dona Drake: Another Imitation of Life


I happened to stumble upon this interesting and talented actress who never quite became a big star. Her story is an interracial one, so of course I found it fascinating! Check out what IMBD says:

In a situation that closely recalls the Fannie Hurst story "Imitation of Life" in which a girl strives to pass for white, beautiful light-skinned African-American actress/singer/dancer/bandleader Dona (pronounced "dough-nuh") Drake, for the sake of her career, denied her heritage and passed for white (in her case Mexican) for the duration of it. While it did not make her a true star, her zesty talents and charm went a long way in the field of war-time music. Unlike the story, Dona, however, did not abandon her parents or deny her parentage.

Dona was born Eunice (nicknamed "Una") Westmoreland in Jacksonville (some references say Miami), Florida, on November 15, 1914, of African-American parents (Joseph Andrew Westmoreland and Novella Smith Westmoreland). A gifted child musically, her father moved his family and later opened a restaurant in Philadelphia. Five year old Eunice started to perform and play musical 
instruments there as entertainment. Following schooling, she moved to the Big Apple where (billed as Una Villon) she caught the fetching eye of Broadway and nightclub talent ("Murder at the Vanities" (1930)) and worked as various chorines on stage, nightclubs and Earl Carroll revues. Claiming she was Latino, she even went so far as to learn Spanish.

In 1935 Dona changed her name to Rita Rio to emphasize her "ethnicity" and spiced up her image even further when she earned a featured spot in Eddie Cantor's film Strike Me Pink (1936). While it did not lead to more film work, it did enable her to form her own glitzy and glamorous all-girl band, Rita Rio and Her Rhythm Girls [aka The Girlfriends], which toured successfully.

On her own, Dona did a few short films and two-reelers, sang on the airwaves and revved up her image signing on radio. Good friend 
Dorothy Lamour assisted in getting her signed up to Paramount, where the studio changed her name to "Dona Drake" and built up her Latino background by sending out studio resumes that she was christened Rita Novella, was of Mexican, Irish and French descent and born and raised in Mexico City. Dona's first picture for the studio was in the Dorothy Lamour vehicle Aloma of the South Seas (1941). She then pepped up the Bob Hope starrer Louisiana Purchase (1941) as well as an Arab girl in the Hope/Crosby/Lamour comedy Road to Morocco (1942). Unable to break out of her typecasting as a spicy singing support, her contract was dropped after a sparkling big band singing lead loanout to Monogram entitled Hot Rhythm (1944). Around this time she married the Oscar- and Emmy-winning costume designer William Travilla.

Dona freelanced in Without Reservations (1946), co-starred with Kent Taylor in Dangerous Millions (1946) and was featured in Another Part of the Forest (1948) (as a girlfriend to weaselly Dan Duryea), Beyond the Forest (1949) (as Bette Davis' Indian maid), The Girl from Jones Beach (1949) (as Eddie Bracken's paramour) and as the gold-digging second lead in So This Is New York (1948). After her marriage and a daughter, Nia Novella, was born, she toned down her filmmaking but returned in the mid-1950s to some film and TV parts before retiring in 1957 due to health and emotional issues (heart ailment, seizures/epilepsy). She and Travilla separated in 1956, but never divorced and still appeared together at functions on occasion. Dona died of pneumonia and respiratory failure in 1989 with Travilla dying one year later.

I had never heard of Dona Drake. Had you?  Check her out on Youtube singing "Wha' D'ya Do when it Rains?" Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Frederick Douglass and Interracial Marriage


February marks Black History Month, and one of the most influential individuals in Black history, as well as American history in general, is Frederick Douglass. Douglass, who had no accurate knowledge of his age or birth date, chose to celebrate it on February 14. Also, he estimated the year of his birth to be 1818.

For those unfamiliar with Frederick Douglass, here's a brief summary from Wikipedia:

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African-American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.  

Frederick Douglass is indeed a fascinating and heroic figure in American history. To read more click here

Douglass was married to Anna Murray, a black woman, for forty-four years (1838-1882).  After she died from complications due to second a stroke, Douglass married again--this time however, his wife was white! 

According to Wikipedia:

In 1884, Douglass married again, to Helen Pitts, a white feminist from Honeoye, New York. Pitts was the daughter of Gideon Pitts, Jr., an abolitionist colleague and friend of Douglass. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College (then called Mount Holyoke Female Seminary), she worked on a radical feminist publication named Alpha while living in Washington, D.C. The couple faced a storm of controversy with their marriage, since Pitts was both white and nearly 20 years younger than Douglass. 

... Douglass (a "child of the master") responded to the criticisms by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father.
Frederick and Helen Douglass, seated, and
Helen's sister Eva, standing

A commentary from Syracuse.com written by Leigh Fought of Le Moyne College says this regarding the marriage:

...On Jan. 24, 1884, 60-year old Frederick Douglass and 46-year-old Helen Pitts defied the expectations of their families and Washington society by joining in interracial matrimony.

Neither black nor white communities offered many congratulations.

The Washington Grit called the marriage “a national calamity” and “the mistake of his life.” Others considered his choice to be that of a dotty, old man who had rejected his race. The groom’s children never hid their disdain for his new wife, believing the marriage betrayed their late mother, Anna, who was black. His daughter-in-law even sued him. The bride’s sisters and mothers embraced her new husband, but her father and uncle never accepted that a black man they once admired had joined the family. One of her old classmates at Mt. Holyoke simply exclaimed, “How could she?”

True friends, on the other hand, noted that the marriage was not only one of affection but also one that emerged from their principles. Another old classmate insisted that Helen “was true to her convictions to the last,” while a reporter for the IndianapolisLeader pointed out, “Mr. Douglass has simply put into practice the theories of his life.” Douglass himself demanded, “What business has the world with the color of my wife?”

Seems that Frederick Douglass and his new wife received both praise and prejudice, as well!  Although I must add, more of the latter than the former that time around. 

Were you aware of Frederick Douglass' interracial marriage? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 2/3/14