Friday, June 30, 2017

Lena Horne and Susan Hayward's 100th Birthday

It is not unusual for classic movie stars to share birthdays. In fact, a large number of big names were born on April 5 (Walter Huston, Melvyn Douglas, Bette Davis, and many others) . That having been said, it is rare for two legendary stars to have been born on the exact same day. That is the case with regards to Lena Horne and Susan Hayward. Both of them were born 100 years ago today, on June 30 1917.

The two women did have a bit in common besides their birth date. Both Lena Horne and Susan Hayward were extremely talented actresses. Both were extremely beautiful. And both were regarded as sex symbols in their day. What is more, both of them were born in Brooklyn. That having been said, they were also very different. Lena Horne was primarily a singer and much of her work was in musicals. Because she was African American when roles for African Americans were limited (to say the least) she would not really get a chance to shine in dramatic roles until late in her career. Susan Hayward was best known as a dramatic actress, appearing in such films as Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947),  My Foolish Heart (1949), and I Want to Live! (1958).

One thing the two women had in common was they each had highly successful careers. Lena Horne started her career at the Cotton Club and it was before long she was singing with Noble Sissle's Orchestra. It was with  Noble Sissle's Orchestra that her first records released on the Decca label. She would go onto have a number of hit records, including "Stormy Weather" in 1943, "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" in 1945, "'Deed I Do" in 1948, and "Love Me or Leave Me" in 1955. She released a number of albums in her lifetime, her first being It's Love in 1955 and her last being Seasons of a Life in 2006.

Lena Horne would not just see successful in the recording industry, but success on film as well. She was gifted not only with an incredible voice, but acting talent and good looks as well. She made her film debut in the musical The Duke's Tops (1938), when she was only twenty. It was produced by  Million Dollar Productions, a company that made films with nearly an all-African American cast and crew. She starred in the films Cabin in the Sky (1942) and Stormy Weather (1943),  and appeared either a supporting role or as a speciality act in many others, including Panama Hattie (1942), I Dood It (1943), and Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), and so on. Sadly, Lena Horne's career would suffer during the Golden Age of Hollywood, a time when the vast majority of roles open to African Americans were outright stereotypes. Worse yet, she would fall victim to the Hollywood blacklist after her name had appeared in the notorious right-wing tract Red Channels in the Fifties.

Fortunately Miss Horne's career would recover. While she would only appear in a few more films (Meet Me in Las Vegas in 1956, Death of a Gunfighter in 1956, and The Wiz in 1978), she established herself as a nightclub performer and also appeared frequently on television. Her recording career also prospered. While she would have only a few hit singles after the Fifties, Miss Horne released several albums between 1955 and 2006. Arguably when Miss Horne died on May 9 2010, she was as famous as she ever was.

Like Lena Horne, Susan Hayward also found stardom while relatively young. She started her career as a photographer's model. In 1937 she moved to Hollywood in hopes of being cast as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. While she did not get that role, she soon found herself cast in supporting roles in such films as Beau Geste (1939) and I Married a Witch (1942).  Miss Hayward eventually began playing leads with Reap the Wild Wind (1942) and The Fighting Seabees (1944).

If anything Susan Hayward's career would grow even bigger in the Fifties. In the early part of the decade she appeared in such films as David and Bathsheba (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), The President's Lady (1952), and I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955). Her career continued to go very well in the Sixties and Seventies. She appeared in such films as The Marriage-Go-Round (1961), Ada (1961),
Where Love Has Gone (1964), and Valley of the Dolls (1967). Sadly, Miss Hayward died on March 14 1975 from brain cancer.  In a career that spanned over thirty years, she saw a good deal of success. She was nominated for Academy Awards five times.

Both Lena Horne and Susan Hayward were legends. That they were both born on the same day (and in the same city at that) is remarkable. Classic film buffs should perhaps count June 30 1917 as one of the best days for classic film ever.

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