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Archive for the ‘LITERATURE, EDUCATION, & REFORM’ Category

What would the American Civil Rights Movement been without the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? On September 20, 1958, we almost found out.

The weather boded well for a good turnout. It was a sunny Saturday in New York City and Blumstein’s Department Store – at  230 W. 125th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, Harlem – was hustling to get ready for their big guest. On the ground floor, behind the shoe department, clerks had roped off an area where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would sit behind a desk to autograph copies of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. 

The book related the success of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of segregated transit systems.

wo black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At left, front seat, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left in the second seat is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beside King is white minister, Rev. Glenn Smiley of New York, who said he was in Montgomery as an observer.

Two black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At right, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black Americans no longer had to sit at the back of the bus or give up their seats to white people.

Dr. King, with his powerful oratory, had rocketed to fame nearly overnight and had become a significant figure on the national political scene for his participation in the victory. He was making four speeches a week to persuade the nation to stop the practice of racial segregation. It was the dawn of the civil rights movement.

“Dr. King is a rather soft-spoken man with a learning and maturity far beyond his 27 years. His clothes are in conservative good taste and he has a small trim mustache.”(1)

Izola Ware Curry

Blumstein’s Department Store – the site of the autograph party for Dr. King – wasn’t far from where Izola Ware Curry, 42, lived in a brownstone, at 121 West 122d Street in Harlem. Izola was a drifter, a sometimes maid, who had been in Harlem only two months. Izola had Dr. King on her radar. She detested him and all black preachers, calling their boycotts and protests a sham. She felt that blacks should move for social change through appeals to Congress. She hated the NAACP in particular – thought they were controlled by Communists – and white people in general. By 1956, paranoia had taken over her thinking. She started writing the FBI claiming that Communists were out to get her. She was anti-social, tended to babble and rant, her words often unintelligible and ungrammatical. Her neighbors wrote her off as “eccentric.” Izola Ware Curry was African-American.

The Rally The Night Before the Signing

The night before Dr. King’s book signing, just around the corner from Blumstein’s, a rally was held for Dr. King in front of the Hotel Teresa. On the podium he was joined by other dignitaries, among them baseball great Jackie Robinson, New York Governor Averell Harriman, and gubernatorial hopeful, Republican Nelson Rockefeller, with music provided by Duke Ellington. The crowd numbered 5,000. Izola Ware Curry, in her unstable mental state, was there.

When Rockefeller spoke:

This business about [Eisenhower] going slow on integration….I know the man!….Who sent the troops to Little Rock?”(2)

Curry heckled him, calling white people racists. King’s escort in the city, William Rowe,

“did his best to calm her down. And Frederick Weaver, a platform guest, motioned for police officers to make her stop. But the police were reluctant to get tough with her, fearing…an incident…that could escalate into a larger racial disturbance.” (2)

When Dr. King spoke, Curry jeered him, too, as did a few others. Curry shouted that no “negro” should ever try to cooperate with a white person. Rowe had to calm her down once more.

Miraculously, the rally ended without dissolving into chaos. Rowe feared more trouble at the next day’s signing, suggesting a bodyguard for Dr. King, an idea that Dr. King rejected.

The Booksigning

Saturday, September 20, 1958

Blumstein’s Department Store

3:30 p.m.

Izola Ware Curry, 42

Izola Ware Curry, 42

As she pushed her way through the crowd to the desk where Dr. King sat, bystanders couldn’t help but notice the elegantly dressed black woman in her stylish suit, showy jewelry, and sequined cat’s-eyeglasses. Nothing on the surface betrayed the insanity beneath. Little did onlookers suspect that, secreted in Izola Curry’s bra, was a loaded Italian automatic pistol, and, in her enormous leather purse, a 7-inch steel leather opener.

With her purse slung over one arm, Izola Curry strode with purpose straight up to Dr. King, where he was seated, signing a book for a customer.

“Are you Martin Luther King?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, not looking up. (3)

She reached into her purse and withdrew the letter opener in an arc. Instinctively, Dr. King yanked his left arm up to block the weapon, cutting his left hand as she plunged the blade into his chest. Dr. King recalled:

“The next minute I felt something beating on my chest.”

A bystander knocked Curry’s hand away from the blade before she could withdraw it and stab Dr. King again.

“I’ve been after him for six years!” shouted Curry, starting to run. “I’m glad I done it!” (2)

A group of women chased her with umbrellas, shouting, “Catch her!” A journalist jumped out and grabbed Curry by the left arm and turned her over to the store security guard, who handcuffed her.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Meanwhile, Dr. King sat still and calm and clear-thinking, with the letter opener protruding from his chest. Someone called for an ambulance to Harlem Hospital. Dr. King was carried, still seated in his chair, to the back of the store. When the ambulance arrived, he was placed carefully on his back. He was told, as was everyone present, that he must not touch the letter opener.

The stabbing nearly cost Dr. King his life, as the blade of the letter opener had lodged in his sternum, within millimeters of piercing the aorta. At Harlem Hospital, surgeons extracted the blade in a delicate operation. He developed pneumonia and had a long convalescence.

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King's manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King’s manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King's assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King’s assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he is recovering from a stab wound following an attack by a woman.  At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King.  (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he was recovering from a stab wound following an attack by Izola Ware Curry. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Ten Years Later

On April 3, 1968, ten years after the Harlem stabbing, Dr. King recalled it in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee:

“The x-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And, once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood – that’s the end of you.”

The surgeon told him that, if he had sneezed before the operation, he would have died. To lively applause, he continued, in his “Mountaintop” speech:

“And I want to say tonight – I want to say tonight that I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters. 

 “If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Ala., aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream I had.”

He closed his speech with remarks about the possibility of his untimely death. The next day, in Memphis, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist.

(1) “Battle Against Tradition: Martin Luther King, Jr.” The New York Times, March 21, 1956

(2) Pearson, Hugh. When Harlem Nearly Killed King. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

(3) “Izola Ware Curry, Who Stabbed King in 1958, Dies at 98.” New York Times. March 22, 2015.

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Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney gaze at one another in "Rings on Her Fingers" (1942)

Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney (1920-1991) gaze at one another in “Rings on Her Fingers” (1942)

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, actress Gene Tierney, age 21, and film star Henry Fonda were filming “Rings on Her Fingers” on Catalina Island, 22 miles off the southern California coast.

The cameras were getting ready to roll when a man came running down the beach screaming:

“The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor! “

Pearl Harbor was in Hawaii, just west across the Pacific from Catalina. Catalina was a dangerous place to be. No one knew exactly what was happening – or what would happen next – just as Americans felt as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Everyone had to get off that island. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor had come without warning and a formal declaration of war by the Japanese, the American people were in shock. They expected more attacks, possibly on California.

Gene Tierney, her husband Oleg Cassini, costar Henry Fonda and the rest of the film’s cast and crew piled into a boat and sailed hurriedly for the mainland. It was a nervous crossing. Rumors flew that the waters had been sabotaged with mines.

random-wallpapers-pearl-harbor-attack-wallpaper-36838

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. All but one (Arizona) were later raised, and six of the eight battleships were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. (2)

The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. Overnight, the United States was plunged into war in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

The U.S. government enlisted the help of Hollywood stars to aid the war effort by boosting morale at home. Americans were urged to plant backyard “victory gardens” – vegetable patches – to help feed civilians at home. Suddenly, farm production was heavily burdened by having to feed millions of military personnel, as well as coping with fewer men on the farms.

War is expensive. The U.S. government encouraged people to buy War Bonds. You could purchase a $25 War Bond for $18.75. The government used that money to help pay for tanks, planes, ships, uniforms, weapons, medicine, food, and for the military.  Ten years from the time you purchased your War Bond you could redeem it and get $25.

Gene Tierney did her part for the war effort, whether it was planting a “victory garden,” promoting war bonds, or entertaining the troops.

Gene T tends her own "victory garden," in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed in the army.  She is pregnant with her first child, Daria. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney tends her own “victory garden,” in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney encouraged Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney appeared in posters and went on campaign drives to encourage Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney took time to entertain the troops at the Hollywood Canteen. From 1942-45, three million service personnel on leave – men and women, black and white – would pass through the doors of that converted barn to rub elbows with the stars. On any given night, Bob Hope might be on the stage cracking jokes while Rita Hayworth made sandwiches, Harry James played trumpet, or Hedy Lamarr danced with the soldiers.

Film star Shirley Temple gives cookies to the soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

Shirley Temple passes out cookies at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

During the war years, Gene Tierney was at the height of her popularity. Her image graced countless magazine covers.Gene T Life Mag Nov. 10, 1941 Shanghai Gesture wardrobe gene-tierney-movie-stars-parade-magazine-cover-1940-s_i-G-54-5494-2D3WG00Z March 1946 mag cover tierney april 1943

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene’s best pictures were made in the forties. Her beauty was extraordinary then. Her presence on screen was fresh and captivating. She had expressive green eyes, high cheekbones, lustrous, dark hair, and a sensual full mouth that revealed, when parted, an unexpected yet terribly endearing overbite. (Her contract with 24th Century Fox forbid her from correcting the crooked teeth.)

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

And she could act. She was only 23 when she appeared in “Laura” (1944), directed by Otto Preminger, a stunning film noir masterpiece, so richly layered with plot twists and great casting (Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson, Clifton Webb) that you can enjoy it again and again. It is her signature film. Also fantastic are “The Razor’s Edge” with Tyrone Power (1946) and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” with Rex Harrison (1947). All three are available to rent on Amazon Instant Video. She plays against type – still classy in manner, yes, but devious in heart – in the film she received an Academy Award nomination for: “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945).

Gene Tierney smolders as "Laura." (1944),

Gene Tierney is smoldering as “Laura” (1944), one of my top five favorite films of all time. Gripping.

In the spring of 1943, Gene finished filming “Heaven Can Wait” in Hollywood. She was expecting her first child and, gratefully, not yet showing signs of pregnancy. She had kept that a secret for fear of being replaced in the film. She longed to be with husband Oleg in Kansas, where he was stationed in the army.

Before leaving Los Angeles and starting her maternity leave, Gene decided to make one last appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. So, that night, Gene showed her support of American troops by signing autographs, mingling with the crowd, and shaking hands. The troops were homesick and sad; a little stardust lightened their load.

A few days after that visit, Gene woke up with red spots covering her arms and face. She had the German measles, or rubella. In 1943, there was no vaccine to prevent contracting the measles. That would not be available for 22 more years. Obstetricians advised patients to avoid crowds in their first four months of pregnancy, to avoid contracting the measles. At the time, it was believed that measles was a harmless childhood disease.

Little did Gene know at the time, but, just two years earlier,

“…[B]y studying a small cluster of cases in Australia, [eye doctor] Dr. N. M. Gregg first noted that the rubella virus could cause cataracts, deafness, heart deformities and mental retardation [in an unborn child].” (3)

Of course, this was before TV and Internet gave us 24/7 news cycles that would have immediately alerted the public to this critical finding. Gene didn’t know that her small act of kindness at the Canteen would have tragic and long-term consequences for both her and her baby’s health.

After a week of doctor-ordered rest, Gene rested, got better, then packed her bags for Fort Riley, Kansas, to join Oleg. The next several months were devoted to making her Junction City home ready for the baby and being a couple.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini celebrate the birth of their first child with a night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini await the birth of their first child with a celebratory night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

By the fall, Gene was living in Washington, D.C., while Oleg was awaiting orders in Virginia. On the morning of October 15, 1943, Gene gave birth to a premature baby girl, weighing only two and a half pounds. Oleg flew to Washington and joined his wife at Columbia Hospital. They named their baby “Daria.”

Doctors informed them that Daria was not in good shape. She was premature and going blind. She had cataracts in both eyes. After reviewing Gene’s medical chart, the doctors concluded that Gene’s measles were responsible for the baby’s defects. They cited the studies done by the Australian eye doctor, Dr. Gregg.

Daria continued to have health problems and delayed development. She had no inner ear fluid and became deaf. It was clear that she suffered from mental retardation. Gene and Oleg hoped against hope that a doctor somewhere could cure Daria. But, after consulting one specialist after another (much of it paid for by Howard Hughes), they had to face the fact that Daria was permanently disabled and needed more care than they were capable of giving her at home.

When Daria was about two years old, Gene got an unexpected jolt. She was at a tennis function. A fan approached her.

“Ms. Tierney, do you remember me?” asked the woman.

Gene had no memory of having met the stranger. She shook her head and replied, “No. Should I?”

The woman told Gene that she was in the women’s branch of the Marines and had met Gene at the Hollywood Canteen.

Gene never would forget what the woman said next.

“By the way, Ms. Tierney, did you happen to catch the German measles after that night I saw you at the Canteen?”

The woman revealed that she had had the measles herself at the time but had broken quarantine just to see Gene at the Canteen.

Gene was dumbstruck. That woman had given her the measles! She was the sole cause of Daria’s disabilities. Gene said nothing. She just turned and walked away.

When Daria was four, Oleg and Gene made the difficult decision to institutionalize Daria (1943-2010). Daria spent most of her life at the ELWYN, an institution for specially disabled in Vineland, NJ.

Gene Tierney never fully recovered from the blow that Daria was disabled. Although she gave birth to another daughter that was healthy, her marriage to Oleg ended in divorce, and her mental health began to deteriorate. She couldn’t concentrate. On the movie set, she would forget her lines. She began to fall apart and live a life of “stark misery and despair,” said ex-husband Oleg.

In much of the 1950s, Gene went from one mental health facility to another seeking help with her bouts of high and low moods and suicidal thoughts. She received 27 shock treatments, destroying even more of her memory. It is believed that Gene Tierney suffered from bipolar depression during a time when effective treatment for that disease was in its infancy.

If Daria had been born after 1965, Gene Tierney would have been vaccinated against the German measles and Daria would have been born healthy.

Currently, in Mexico and California, there is an outbreak of measles due to the antivaccination movement. Some parents in the western part of the United States have decided not to vaccinate their children due to unfounded worries about it causing autism. These few anti-vaxers are putting our whole population at risk.

Make no mistake. Measles is a highly contagious disease and is anything but harmless:

“Symptoms of measles include fever as high as 105, cough, runny nose, redness of eyes, and a rash that begins at the head and then spreads to the rest of the body. It can lead to inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and death.” (4)

AND

“Worldwide, 242,000 children a year die from measles, but it used to be near one million. The deaths have dropped because of vaccination, a 68 percent decrease from 2000 to 2006.

“The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles’ heel,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don’t realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine.” (5)

Postscript: In 1962, Dame Agatha Christie published the detective fiction, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, using the real-life tragedy of Gene Tierney as the basis for her plot.

SOURCES:

(1) Vogel, Michelle. Gene Tierney: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2005.

(2) wiki: Attack on Pearl Harbor

(3) Altman, M.D., Lawrence K. “The Doctor’s World; Little-Known Doctor Who Found New Use For Common Aspirin.The New York Times, July 9, 1991.

(4) LA Times

(5) New York Times

 

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Diana Vreeland, Empress of Fashion, 1903-1989

Before her career as editor and columnist at fashion magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Diana Vreeland, like other society women of her class, ran a little lingerie shop near Berkeley Square in London. She often traveled to Paris where she would buy her clothes, notably, Chanel. She remembered one such trip in the summer of 1932:

“One night in Paris, after I was married, a friend and I went to a little theatre above Montmartre to see a German[-French] movie called “L’Atlantide,” with a wonderful actress in it called Brigitte Helm, who played the Queen of the Lost Continent. It was the middle of July. It was hot. The only seats in the theatre were in the third balcony, under the rafters, where it was even hotter. There were four seats in a row, and we took two.

L'Atlantide poster 1932

“We sat there, the movie started…and I became totally intoxicated by it. I was mesmerized! …I was absorbed by these three lost Foreign Legion soldiers with their camels, their woes…they’re so tired, they’re delirious with dehydration…And then you see the fata morgana [mirage]. That means that if you desire a woman, you see a woman, if you desire water, you see water – everything you dream, you see. But you never reach it. It’s all an illusion.

“Then…a sign of an oasis! There’s a palm…and more palms. Then they’re in the oasis, where they see Brigitte Helm, this divine looking woman seated on a throne – surrounded by cheetahs! The cheetahs bask in the sun. She fixes her eyes on the soldiers. One of them approaches her. She gives him a glass of champagne and he drinks it. Then she takes the glass from him, breaks it, cuts his throat with it…

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs.  "L'Atlantide" (1932)

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs. “L’Atlantide” (1932)

“This goes on and on. I hadn’t moved an inch. At some point I moved my hand…to here…where it stayed for the rest of the movie. I was spellbound because the mood was so sustained. I was sucked in, seduced by this thing of the desert, seduced by the Queen of the Lost Continent, the wickedest woman who had ever lived…and her cheetahs!

The essence of movie-ism.

“Then…the lights went on, and I felt a slight movement under my hand. I looked down – and it was a cheetah! And beside the cheetah was Josephine Baker!”

Josephine Baker was a hit in Paris cabarets, singing, dancing, and goofing around. In the 1930s, she was the most successful American entertainer in Paris. She got rich fast and was a superstar. She is wearing her notorious silly but erotic banana skirt. ca. 1925

When Josephine Baker began performing her exotic, erotic, and peculiar dances in Paris cabarets in 1925, she became an instant hit, a superstar. In the thirties, she was the most successful American entertainer working in France. She was known as “The Black Pearl” and “The Bronze Venus.” Whether sitting high up in a giant bird cage covered with peacock feathers or dancing semi-nude in a skirt of dangling fabric bananas, audiences were captivated by her infectious charm. ca. 1925

Meanwhile, back to our story:

Diana Vreeland was chatting with Josephine Baker in the balcony of a hot theater, looking at a cheetah.

Diana says to Josephine:

“‘Oh,” I said, ‘you’ve brought your cheetah to see the cheetahs!’

“Yes,” she said,’ that’s exactly what I did.’

“She was alone with the cheetah on a lead. She was so beautifully dressed.  She was wearing a marvelous little short black skirt and a little Vionnet shirt – no sleeves, no back, no front, just crossed bars on the bias. Don’t forget how hot it was, and, of course, the great thing was to get out of this theatre we were in. The cheetah, naturally, took the lead, and Josephine, with those long black legs, was dragged down three flights of stairs as fast as she could go, and that’s fast.

“Out in the street there was an enormous white-and-silver Rolls-Royce waiting for her. The driver opened the door; she let go of the lead; the cheetah whooped, took one leap into the back of the Rolls, with Josephine right behind; the door closed…and they were off!

…Ah! Style was a great thing in those days.” (1)

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. Early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. ca. 1931. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita.

Comparing Josephine Baker to a beautiful Egyptian queen,  artist Pablo Picasso dubbed her “the Nefertiti of Now.” She posed for him in all her glory: “tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles.” (2)

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

(1)Vreeland, Diana. D.V. New York: Da Capo Press, 1984

(2) Picasso quote

 

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Lady Diana Spencer reads a romance novel by her favourite author, Barbara Cartland. Diana is probably 16. Photo ca. 1977

Lady Diana Spencer reads a romance novel by her favorite author, Barbara Cartland. Diana is probably 16 years old. Photo ca. 1977

Princess Diana (1961-1977) loved to read romantic fiction. She devoured novels by British author Barbara Cartland, of which there was an endless and steady supply. In her lifetime, Cartland (1901-2000) is credited with having written 723 books. In 1983 alone, she wrote 23 of them. She holds The Guinness Book of World Records for writing the most books in a single year.

Reclining on a chaise lounge at her home, Cartland dictated her hundreds of stories to her secretary. They both wore pink. Pink was Cartland’s signature color.

British romance novelist Barbara Cartland dictates stories to her secretary while relaxing with one of her Pekinese pets.

British romance novelist Barbara Cartland dictates stories to her secretary Jean Smith while relaxing at home in Camfield Place in Essendon, U.K.

Barbara Cartland

Barbara Cartland

Cartland, self-styled as the “Queen of Romance,” was a celebrity favorite with journalists as she was always holding forth on topics of the day, and sometimes saying outrageous and unprintable things such as speculating on the private parts of the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

She was well-known for her flamboyant appearance, resembling a fairy queen with cotton candy hair. Her dresses were ultra-girly, adorned with feathers, frills, flounces, fluff, and froth. She was heavily perfumed and glittered with jewels. Her thick make-up was more suited to the stage, and the end result was often clown-like. To achieve a more youthful look, she pulled back her cheeks with the application of sticking plaster (which, sadly, often showed). Her “forests of false eyelashes” were legendary, jet black, and preposterous. Her secret? In 1959, she wrote to a fan that, instead of mascara:

I use Meltonian black shoe cream for my eyelashes.” (1)

Barbara Cartland up close and personal

Barbara Cartland up close

In her writing as well as her appearance, Cartland was an accomplished illusionist. Her books were fairy tales of the most fantastic nature. In them, the young virgin heroine – usually with an exotic name like Vada, Lalitha, Syringa, Fenella, Kamala, or Anthea – always marries Prince Charming. They live happily ever after. They never quarrel, they don’t have affairs, and they certainly don’t divorce.

More than one of Diana's Spencer's acquaintances remarked on her dreamy nature. Photo ca. 1977

More than one of Diana’s Spencer’s acquaintances remarked on her dreamy nature. Photo ca. 1977

Not so in the Spencer household. From her earliest years, Princess Diana’s parents had had a troubled marriage, and her home was a scene of violent quarrels. Diana’s mother, Frances, felt as if her husband Johnnie Spencer, Viscount Spencer, treated her like a brood mare, sending her to fertility experts to explain why she had given birth to three girls in a row. He wanted a male heir to carry on the royal family line. Diana listened behind the door when her parents had a shouting match and her sister turned up the record player volume.

Frances did give birth to a boy, Charles, but the breach in the marriage had become, by then, an unbridgeable chasm.

When Diana was six, her mother left her four children and husband to pursue an affair in London with Peter Shand Kydd, also married. In 1968, she divorced Diana’s father, Johnnie Spencer, who, surprisingly for the times, was granted custody of the children. It is not surprising once you know that a surprise witness at the divorce hearing provided the damning testimony that decided in his favor. Testifying to Johnnie’s superior parenting skills was Frances’s own mother, Lady Fermoy, testifying against her daughter.

Three months after the divorce, Frances married Kydd and they moved to Scotland. With her two older sisters away at boarding school, only Diana and her younger brother Charles remained behind at Park House on the Queen’s royal Sandringham estate. Her father holed up, silently, in his study, abandoned.

The spirit of gaiety was gone from Park House along with Frances’s furniture.” (2)

A Hazard of Hearts (1948) by Barbara Cartland

A Hazard of Hearts (1948) by Barbara Cartland

Cartland’s novels provided young Diana Spencer with an escape into a fantasy dream world. Diana came to believe in the magical rescue power of princes, waiting for her prince to ride up and take her away to her own happy ending. Her life view was shaped by this unreality and it would pitch her into a cold marriage to a man whose heart already belonged to another.

No fairy tale is complete without a wicked stepmother, and, in July, 1976, Diana got one. Her name was Raine, Countess Dartmouth. By this time, the Spencers had moved into the family’s stately home of Althorp, as Diana’s grandfather had died, passing the earldom on to Johnnie. He became the 8th Earl Spencer and Diana became Lady Diana. Raine began an extensive remodeling of Althorp, proving unpopular with Diana and her siblings, who hated their new (wicked) stepmother, calling her “Acid Raine.” Johnnie, however, became very happy after his marriage to Raine.

Princess Diana, at right, stands with stepmother, Raine, Countess Spencer, middle, and a friend. Undated photo, ca. 1977

Princess Diana, at right, stands with stepmother, Raine, Countess Spencer, middle, and a friend. Undated photo, ca. 1977

Now that you have seen this photo of Raine (above), you will not find it hard to believe that her mother was Barbara Cartland, Diana’s favorite novelist! That made Cartland Diana’s stepgrandmother. She learned of Diana’s love for her books and sent them to Diana by the cartload.

In 1977, Diana moved into Coleherne Court in South Kensington, London. Her roommates remember that she always got up before the meal was finished to clear the table. She hated dirty dishes. Diana loved to do the washing and ironing of shirts for friends. Her big sister Sarah paid her to clean her apartment. Diana was Cinderella, sweeping the hearth free of ashes.

Diana first revealed her crush on Prince Charles when on a ski holiday with friends in Val Claret in the French Alps. She surprised her friends one evening, saying that she was going to marry Charles AKA Prince Charming. According to those who knew her well, Diana kept herself chaste for her husband on their wedding night. (3)

Oxford student Adam Russell sits with Lady Diana Spencer. They are vacationing with a group in the French Alps. Russell is said to have had a ‘galumphing’ crush on Diana. Nothing, however, happened between them. According to royal author Andrew Morton, Mr Russell went travelling for a year, and when he returned to the UK in 1980 and told a friend that he liked Diana, he was told: ‘You’ve only got one rival, the Prince of Wales’.  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2257321/Revealed-Mystery-rival-Prince-Charles-pictured-relaxing-Lady-Diana-1979-Old-Etonian-aristocrat-Adam-

Oxford student Adam Russell sits with Lady Diana Spencer. They are vacationing with a group in the French Alps. Russell is said to have had a ‘galumphing’ crush on Diana. Nothing, however, happened between them. According to royal author Andrew Morton, Mr Russell went travelling for a year, and when he returned to the UK in 1980 and told a friend that he liked Diana, he was told: ‘You’ve only got one rival, the Prince of Wales’. Source: The Daily Mail

And Lady Diana did indeed marry Prince Charles on July 29, 1981. Her fairy tale unfolded as she had imagined. Her father gave her away. She wore a confection of a dress with a 25 foot-long train. She rode to St. Paul’s Cathedral in a carriage. She became Her Royal Highness, Diana, Princess of Wales. When Charles became King one day, she would become his queen, and their son, a king, too.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana smile for their wedding photo. July 1981

Prince Charles and Princess Diana smile for their wedding photo. July 1981

As we all know, Diana’s life with Charles did not have a happy ending. Her marriage was miserable, ending in a nasty divorce (1996) which led to her disastrous loneliness and tragic death (1997). Diana’s story was a fractured fairy tale of the worst imaginable kind.

By the way, stepmother Raine attended the royal wedding. However, stepgrandmother Barbara Cartland – the fairy queen who nurtured this fairy tale of Diana’s – did not attend.  Someone – maybe the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret – considered her an embarrassment and did not want her there. We don’t know if she wasn’t invited OR was offered an invitation but declined because her seat was behind a column! Anyway, not being present at Diana’s wedding proved to be the biggest humiliation of Barbara Cartland’s life.

In 1993, Barbara Cartland remarked:

The only books Diana ever read were mine, and they weren’t terribly good for her.” (2)

In 1996, Cartland had figured out why the marriage had failed:

Of course, you know where it all went wrong. She wouldn’t do oral sex.”

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned….

For more about Princess Diana, click here.

(1)

(2) Brown, Tina. The Diana Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

(3)

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Credit:-/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Credit:-/AFP/Getty Images

On Aug. 28, 1963,  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his rousing, “I Have a Dream” speech to over 250,000 civil rights supporters gathered for the March on Washington. The speech calls for an end to racism in America. It was considered by many to be the most important speech of the Twentieth Century and helped advance President John F. Kennedy‘s important civil rights legislation then in Congress.

At the March on Washington, August 1963, peaceful African-Americans called for decent jobs with equal pay.

At the March on Washington, August 1963, peaceful African-Americans called for decent jobs with equal pay.

Dr. King timed his March on Washington to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln‘s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation which freed millions of American black slaves in 1863.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands in front of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. ca. 1963

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands in front of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. ca. 1963

His opening lines in his speech evoke the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.” 

Dr. King asked for justice to be made a reality for all of God’s children.

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities….

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. “(1)

He spoke of his dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’


I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.'”

***

Fast forward to August 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington and his landmark speech. 

Anderson Cooper of CNN is interviewing African-American writer Maya Angelou (1928-2014). They reflect on the state of Dr. King’s dream. Maya Angelou knew Dr. King and was part of the struggle for civil rights change in this country.

Cooper: Do you believe that the arc of history is moving in the right direction? President Obama, recently, when he was talking about Trayvon Martin, he said that he looks at his daughters and that his daughters’ generation is better than his generation was. Do you believe that?

Angelou: Yes, I do. I know that there was a time when people were lynched with everybody’s agreement – not everybody – but with the “Might’s” agreement. The might was white and white was might and so people were lynched.

I grew up in a village in Arkansas where a man was lynched and the skin of his body – after being lynched and burned – the skin was taken off in skin the size of a postage stamp and given to people as mementoes.

You can’t do that in the United States today. I mean you can lynch people and murder people in many ways but you can’t do it in the city square.

Cooper: Hmm.

Angelou: You see? We are better. Not nearly enough. Not nearly enough. But we come and we have to admit that. Because, Mr. Cooper, if we don’t, young people will say, ‘You mean to tell me, with the lives and deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Rosa Parks and the Kennedys, then there’s no point in me trying, because those people were bigger than life.’ So we have to say, ‘You have come a long way.’

***

President Barack Obama spoke from the Lincoln Memorial steps to honor the half-century anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic speech, “I Have a Dream.” August 28, 2013.

Our first African-American president was on hand at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the March on Washington Celebration. Like Dr. King, President Barack Obama is a great orator. In his speech to those gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, he echoed Maya Angelou’s sentiment in regard to the civil rights movement, progress, and where America stands.

To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest as some sometimes do that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years.”

Members of Dr. King’s family, including his then 5-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda King, were present as bells rang at 3 p.m. to mark the historical moment.

President Obama greets Yolanda King, age 5, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s granddaughter at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. August 28, 2013. Credit; Getty Images

President Obama greets Yolanda King, age 5, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s granddaughter at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. August 28, 2013. Credit; Getty Images

For more on Maya Angelou, click here.

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Maya Angelou (Undated photo)

Maya Angelou (Undated photo)

American writer Maya Angelou (1928-2014) had deep political ties with the Clintons. In 1993, she read her poem, “Pulse of the Morning” at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Both she and Bill were from Arkansas. In 2008, she supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary race for the U.S. presidency against Barack Obama, a fellow African-American. It was a tough decision.

Maya Angelou campaigns for Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton prior to the crucial Pennsylvania Primary, 2008. Even though Ms. Angelou walks with a cane, you can see that she is a towering figure at 6 feet tall.

Maya Angelou campaigns for Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton prior to the crucial Pennsylvania Primary, 2008. Even though Ms. Angelou walks with a cane, you can see that she is a towering figure at 6 feet tall.

However, when Hillary dropped out of the race, Maya swiftly endorsed Barack Obama.

When she was asked to introduce Michelle Obama at a rally in North Carolina, she consulted her good friend TV hostess Obama Winfrey:

I knew she had socialized with them. I asked her, ‘What is Mrs. Obama like? What should I expect?’

Oprah said simply and without hesitation, ‘She’s the real deal.'”

The Obamas and Maya Angelou grew very close. She referred to Michelle Obama as one of her “she-roes.”

When she was interviewed followed Obama’s November ’08 victory, Maya was asked by the BBC World Service for her reaction:

My reaction can be described as thrilled – I am thrilling – but in the classic sense of the word. It used to mean having a physical reaction, you know – BRRRR!!!! – like that! (giggle) – where the whole body responds. Well, this is happening. Even my hair is happy!”

When Maya Angelou died this past Wednesday, President Obama called her a “fierce friend.” Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, was named after Angelou.

Maya Angelou receives a Medal of Freedom from President Obama at the White House in Washington in this February 15, 2011 file photo. U.S. author and poet Maya Angelou has died at age 86 in North Carolina.. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

Maya Angelou receives a Medal of Freedom from President Obama at the White House in Washington in this February 15, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

 

First Lady Michelle Obama and Maya Angelou on stage at BET Honors 2012 at the Warner Theatre on January 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. Photo from Amanda Wills at Mashable

For more on Maya Angelou, click here.

 

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Back in the 1950s, writer Maya Angelou was singing and dancing her way across Europe and America to appear in clubs, movies, and plays.

African-American writer Maya Angelou died this week at age 86. Starting Friday, May 31, 2014, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York City, will showcase a collection of her papers, manuscripts and letters. Maya Angelou is no stranger to the Schomburg Center. In 1991, the Schomburg expanded to include a new addition and Ms. Angelou was a guest at the opening.

The Schomburg Center, Harlem, New York.

The Schomburg Center, Harlem, New York.

The 1991 expansion of the Schomburg Center was the Langston Hughes Building. The structure is named after African-American poet Langston Hughes, the leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Maya Angelou met him in California once when he came to hear her sing.

Poets Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes hang out. Undated, prob. ca. 1960s.

Poets Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes hang out. Undated, prob. ca. 1960s.

The Langston Hughes Building contains an auditorium that seats 340 guests. Although impressive, the auditorium is of no interest to us here. It is the lobby that draws our attention.

The lobby is spacious, elegant, and flooded with natural light streaming through its many tall windows. The windows look out onto a garden but the real conversation piece is the floor. Embedded in the terrazzo tile  is a design honoring the poetry of Langston Hughes. “Rivers” was inspired by Hughes’ well-known poem, ” A Negro Speaks of Rivers.” This type of design is called a cosmogram, as it treats mystical themes of nature and the meaning of life. Blue rivers snake through rust-colored clay, evoking the Earth.

The Langston Hughes Building lobby at the Schomburg Center, New York City

The Langston Hughes Building lobby at the Schomburg Center, New York City

The design is pleasing, with its tribal symbols and poetic quotes. Looking closer even, we see that there is a fish shape in the middle. Inside the fish is a quote from the poem.

A quote from "A Negro Speaks of Rivers," by Langston Hughes appears in the cosmogram in the Langston Hughes Building Lobby.

A quote from “A Negro Speaks of Rivers,” by Langston Hughes appears in the cosmogram in the Langston Hughes Building Lobby.

If we had superpowers and could see through the tile of the fish and underneath the floor, we would discover that there is something buried there. It is a vessel, made of metal, and, fittingly, we think later, shaped like a book. It is sealed. If we were to open it, which we won’t (and can’t), we would discover that it contains the cremated ashes of Langston Hughes himself. So the cosmogram, besides being beautiful, is useful. It is a tomb.

So, at the 1991 opening of the Langston Hughes Building, guests filled up the lobby and turned it into a dance floor. Someone cranked up the music and everyone boogied down. And this is how Maya Angelou and others ended up doing the proverbial dance on a friend’s grave.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem observed the 89th birthday of the poet Langston Hughes and the beginning of Black History Month on Thursday night.  Mr. Hughes's ashes were buried beneath the floor of the auditorium, and in an African Custom of ancestral return, the  writers Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou danced atop them. Published NYT Metro, Saturday, Feb. 22, 1991 CREDIT:  Chester Higgins, Jr/The New York Times

In February 1991, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem observed the 89th birthday of the poet Langston Hughes and the beginning of Black History Month. Mr. Hughes’s ashes are buried beneath the floor of the auditorium, and in an African Custom of ancestral return, the writers Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou danced atop them.
Published NYT Metro, Saturday, Feb. 22, 1991
CREDIT: Chester Higgins, Jr/The New York Times

 

For more on Maya Angelou, click here.

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