Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen, Yes I say Gentlemen too as I seem to have some lovely Chaps that read my newsletters so thought I’d better acknowledge that!
Wow-wee! Hows the rolls-coaster? Mine has been a bit like buckle up and trust you won’t get thrown from the carriage! I’m still in a state of one step in front of the other and say yes to everything and when there is nothing to say yes to then revert to the “To Do List” and chip way until the next opportunity I am manifesting comes knocking on my door… but…
Just for a Moment, I want to acknowledge my deep pain and my support to stand in solidarity for the Black Lives Matter Movement. As a Lindy Hopper (Swing Dancer) of 25 years I respect and give thanks every day for the joy of their Black Dance gifted to us and taught to us by the most generous of human beings I listened to many stories by our teachers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller (pictured above) and many many more who shared their stories of racism and injustice as black performers in the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s and beyond and although I can’t ever truly imagine or understand I do stand in solidarity to make change. #blacklivesmatter
In this newsletter:
- Free Live Zoom Class – Victory Rolls
- My Home Salon is Open for one on ones, small group workshops or via Zoom
- Merle Oberon – Passing for White plus some interesting facts of our gorgeous women of colour from the Golden Years Of Hollywood.
Free Live Zoom Class streaming across Australia, London & Berlin as part of an initiative by Swing Patrol
As part of a wider Swing Patrol London, Berlin, Sydney and Melbourne initiative, I have been asked to do a Live Session via Zoom on how to achieve Victory Rolls for Swing Dancers…
Live with Miss Chrissy of @lindycharmschool – FRIDAY 26 JUNE AT 7PM
Come learn the secret sauce and the silent skill set to get those Perfect Victory Rolls in a jiffy!.
In this Live I will show you some cheats plus the authentic way to create those sweeps & rolls… I may also throw in the creative art of tying a Turban for when you are having a bad hair day and you are late for the dance! Join me in the Salon on ………………….(Zoom logon details will be available soon) – Will list in next newsletter and also on FB event.
One on Ones with me on any subject/topic/era you need:
Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Come learn the secret sauce and the silent skill set you can not learn off You Tube. Hands on, one on one time with me at my new Gold Coast Home based Salon OR Via ZOOM video conferencing.. Private Consults covering Hair and Makeup, Fashion and Accessories to suit the particular style/era you love plus The Essential 3 P’s (what are they?) .. Sessions usually take about 2 Hours.
You leave with your hair and makeup done and a whole lot of learnings to take home with you…
Come with your sister or friend or come by yourself for some one on on vintage styling classes where I will teach you the fundamentals of all vintage hair and makeup styles as well as work with you on achieving your own personal and individual style.
SPECIAL COVID 19 prices in these tough times, enquire today. NB: I have completed my Covid Safe Work Training Course and the salon is cleaned before and after each client and we will be practicing all Covid Safe practices.
Book Today: Call me: 0409727888 or Email: [email protected]
Passing for White – Merle Oberon
A great Podcast to Listen to from You Must Remember this on Merle can be found HERE
I have been listening to a lot of podcasts in this COVID 19 downtime as I walk and walk and walk (I love walking now!) and one of my favourite shows is You Must Remember this and of course “Dressed”, the history of fashion, both a riveting and so informative. I thought it timely to shine the light on some of the most famous and beautiful women of colour (known then as Exotic) and the lengths in which they felt they needed to go to to be accepted in Hollywood i.e.: be white! Merle Oberon was one such example and it is well documented that she resorted to Skin Bleaching in order to be more white to get into movies and be accepted int he inner circle of Hollywoods most famous stars. Here is a little bit on Merle:
Oberon was born into poverty in Mumbai in 1911. Her twelve-year-old birth mother gave the baby to her own 26-year-old mother, to raise her granddaughter as her own. Oberon’s fate seemed sealed in her racist colonial society. But a series of events, lies, men, and an obsession with controlling her own image — even if it meant bleaching her own skin — changed Oberon’s path forever. In 1935, Merle Oberon became the first biracial actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, an incredible achievement in then-segregated Hollywood — except that nobody in Hollywood knew Oberon was biracial.
While Oberon hid the fact that she was born in India—likely due to the rampant racism in Hollywood at the time—it actually means that she has two unique distinctions. Not only was she first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, she was the first Asian nominated for any Academy Award.
Oberon’s resort to skin-lightening cosmetics was hardly unusual; rather, they were widespread in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the nineteenth century, when many women made their own cosmetics from household and herbal ingredients, one of the perceived general benefits of cosmetics was that of lightening the skin, even for those regarded as ‘white’. A white complexion was seen as an index of gentility as well as racial status; sun exposure was linked to outside, manual work such as agricultural labour, which women of the poorer classes undertook. Cosmetics were thought to help reduce the effects of the sun or other damage. Nevertheless, skin whiteners were used from the mid-nineteenth century onwards by non-white women.
In the United States, from the 1870s ‘Laird’s Bloom of Youth’ was marketed as a skin lightener, and, as historian Kathy Peiss shows, the lead it contained was known to cause lead poisoning. In the later decades of the nineteenth century, face bleaches that were commonly advertised caused skin blotches and sometimes permanent injury. Such advertising included targeted messages of racial masking.
Concerns about the harmful effects of skin bleaches led to investigations by the American Medical Association in the 1920s, and the US Food and Drug Administration in the 1930s, which found that products on the market contained concentrations of ammoniated mercury sufficiently strong to cause serious skin irritation and damage. (NB: you can still buy these products over the counter in some countries and can even import them from Korea to Australia without warning!)
While the manufacturers and product names were very likely different in India in the 1920s when Oberon was a teenager, it is quite possible that a skin bleaching cosmetic she used there may have contained similar levels of ammoniated mercury. That women resorted to such destructive products shows the impact of racial categories on individual lives, the exclusions and subordination that non-white women struggled against, and how important it was to them to pass as white if they could.
Interesting to note at this time that Merles Face Launched her career but after a car accident and many years of skin bleaching her face was often veiled to hide scars and in order for her to be on screen there was a special light designed to focus of her best feature (her piercing green eyes) and soften the rest of the face. Cinematographer Lucien Ballard invented a small light that could be mounted directly to the side of the camera. It could then light the subject directly, washing away any unseemly blemishes. Oberon would later marry Ballard. The light, still used today is now called the Obie Light or now just the “O” light and like me, I’m sure a lot of your have one at home.
I encourage you to listen to the full podcast as Merles story is really interesting, sad, inspiring all at once.
A selection of Women of Colour in the Golden Years of Hollywood – Shining the light on the extraordinary:
I have picked only a few to shine the alight on but seriously there are soon many beautiful, talented women of colour from the golden era that were not credited for their amazing work, her were stereotyped as Maids, Whores or chorus dancers, all striving for the same dream and all facing the same racial discrimination the kept them down. I remember hearing a story first hand from my Lindy Hop Dance Teacher Frankie Manning who’s best friend happened to be Billie Holiday! Yes I know, being so close to greatness through Frankie was surreal! Anyway, he recounted the story to us many times of her fame at the all white, famous music & dance establishment – “The Cotton Club” .. Billie was billed to perform there often but could never walk through the front door, could never sit in a seat and entered and exited side of stage/backstage etc… One night she asked if her friends (Frankie and the Lindy Hop Dancers of the Savoy) could come and watch her show, the Manager said NO so she protested and said that she would refuse to play unless they could come and watch, the Manager reluctantly agreed but they had to enter through the back, watch the show side of stage and not be seen! But they came and Billie made a stand and Frankie was so proud of her.
Nina Mae McKinney – Nicknamed “The Black Garbo”
Nina Mae McKinney is known as the seductress “Chick” from Hallelujah (1929), the first all-black, all-sound musical. Even though she was acknowledged as a great actress, singer and dancer by audiences in the U.S. and Europe, today she is mostly forgotten. She certainly had the looks, enthusiasm, and acting talent to succeed. But as she and other black women of her time learned, there wasn’t much work for a black woman other than as a maid, “mammy” figure, or prostitute. Hollywood was scared to take a chance on an attractive black woman, to make her into a glamorous sex symbol as they would with an attractive white actress. There would be no true glamorous black female sex symbol until Lena Horne‘s arrival in 1942. Nina learned, as did other black actresses, that there was little success to be had after an initial big splash.
Fredi Washington was a pioneering African-American actress whose fair skin and green eyes often were impediments to her showing her extraordinary acting skills. Her talent was often overlooked because of people’s obsession with her race and color. In the few films in which she acted her enormous talent as an actress couldn’t be hidden.
Her first film performance was with Duke Ellington in a musical short, Black and Tan(1929), as a dancer. In Hollywood she was urged to “pass” for fully white by studio heads, who said they would make her a bigger star than Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Constance Bennett and Greta Garbo. Fredi refused. Her best-known role was as the original Peola, in the controversial film Imitation of Life (1934).
She first danced for the public on the streets of St. Louis for nickels and dimes. Later she became a chorus girl on the St. Louis stage. At age 15 she married Pullman porter William Howard Baker, but left him when she ran away from St. Louis at age 17, feeling there was too much racial discrimination in the city.
She eventually made her way to Paris, France. Her first job in Paris was in “La revue negre”. Her next significant job was at the Folies Bergere, where she was a member of the club’s all-black revue. It was there, in 1925, that she first performed her famous “banana dance”.
She quickly became a favorite of the French, and her fame grew, but she had many ups and downs during her career. Although popular in France, during the “Red Scare” era of the 1950s, she was falsely accused of being a Communist and informed that she was no longer welcome in the US (in 1937 she had renounced her American citizenship, utterly disgusted by the blatant and official racism against blacks, and became a French citizen).
A nice little side story about standing in solidarity – Princess Grace of Monaco became Josephine’s lifelong friend, here’s how:
A superstar in 1951, Baker returned to the United States to sing in Miami and then went to New York to celebrate being named NAACP’s “Woman of the Year.” On October 16, she entered the famous and exclusive Stork Club restaurant for dinner, but the staff refused her service. Several different anecdotes exist about what exactly happened–some say Baker was seated and then the staff refused to serve her, others say she was refused a table altogether–but Baker was not served.
Grace Kelly, sitting nearby, was witness to the whole affair. Josephine Baker was world famous, and she knew exactly to whom the Stork Club was refusing service. At the point when it was clear that Baker was not going to be served, Kelly stood up, took Baker by the arm, and walked out with her entire party in tow. She vowed never to eat there again.
After this incident, Kelly and Baker became close friends. Kelly accompanied her back to Europe that summer, and the two spent quality time together in Paris and London. In 1956, Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco, and even as a princess, Baker was always close to her heart. By 1974, Baker was having severe financial issues and was struggling to support her many beloved adopted children. Her old friend, now Princess Grace, gave her a royal villa to live in with the children, and together with Jacqueline Onassis, she financed Baker’s triumphant comeback in Paris the following year.
Another Such Story with one of the worlds most famous of Jazz Singers, Ms Ella Fitzgerald:
During the ‘50s, one of the most popular venues was Mocambo in Hollywood. Frank Sinatra made his Los Angeles debut at Mocambo in 1943, and it was frequented by the likes of Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Lana Turner.
Fitzgerald was not allowed to play at Mocambo because of her race. Then, one of her biggest fans made a telephone call that quite possibly changed the path of her career for good. Here, she tells the story of how Marilyn Monroe changed her life:
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt … she personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild.
“The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”
Lena quit school when she was 14 and got her first stage job at 16 dancing and later singing at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem, a renowned theater in which black performers played before white audiences immortalized in The Cotton Club . She was in good hands at the club, especially when people such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington took her under their wings and helped her over the rough spots. Before long, her talent resulted in her playing before packed houses.
In 1943, MGM loaned Lena to 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black musical Stormy Weather (1943), which did extremely well at the box office. Her rendition of the title song became a major hit on the musical charts.
Had it not been for the prevailing racial attitudes during the time when Lena was just starting her career, it’s fair to say that it would have been much bigger and come much sooner. Even taking those factors into account, Lena Horne is still one of the most respected, talented and beautiful performers of all time.
Dorothy Dandridge was the first black actress nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in the 1954 film Carmen Jones. Dandridge was also the first black woman on the cover of Life magazine and is still one of the world’s most celebrated beauties.
She may have been allowed to sing in these fine hotels but, because of racism, she couldn’t have a room in any of them. It was reported that one hotel drained its swimming pool to keep her from enjoying that amenity.
Theresa Harris appeared with more stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood than anyone else. She sang, she danced, she appeared in movies and TV. She graced the screen with her magnetic presence and most times stole scenes from the top stars of the day every chance she got and made a lot of dull films worthwhile. Although stereotyped by receiving only maid roles, Theresa stepped outside the stereotype any chance she got, to show she was glamorous, classy, beautiful, and a true actress. While she often played maids, she always showed dignity, grace, and demanded respect.
Theresa Harris was perhaps the hardest-working woman in Hollywood, appearing in close to 90 films, working at every major studio with most of the big stars. She was respected by studio executives, producers, directors, and co-workers alike, who sometimes went out of their way to get her more lines and screentime.
In 1974, she was inducted into the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame.
Despite going uncredited in most of her film roles, she was well known to black audiences of the era. Some black theaters would feature her name on the marquee when her films were shown, rather than the names of the films’ leading actors.
Hattie McDaniel was the first African American woman to receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her 1940 role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind.
Her Academy Award achievement may have been hailed as a step forward in achieving racial equity in Hollywood, but McDaniel was also hotly criticized for continuing to play subservient roles throughout the course of her career (she reportedly played a maid 74 times).
Aware of the criticism, McDaniel once said of her work, “I’d rather play a maid and make $700 a week than be a maid and make $7.”
After continuing to get disappointing roles in film, McDaniel’s career pivoted toward radio. She broke records again when she became the first Black woman to star in her own radio show, after taking over from Bob Corley, a white voice actor, for the radio comedy series Beulah. She was eventually cast in the TV version of the series, but was soon replaced once she was diagnosed with breast cancer and became too ill to continue working.
McDaniel died in 1952 at 57 years old.
Halle Berry gave an emotional acceptance speech after becoming the first African American actress to win the Oscar for Best Actress, 2002, for her performance in Monster’s Ball. She thanked Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Jada Pinkett Smith and a slew of other black actresses. The Oscar winner said the award was “for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.” While she made history, sadly Berry remains the only black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress.
In Final: Highly recommend this fantastic Video to watch: #oscarssowhite – A legacy of Halle Berry In particular, the last line is gold: “because while Halle Berry may have opened the door, we are still waiting on someone else to walk through.”
Miss Chrissy xx