Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ava Gardner, Dorothy Dandridge, and Nancy Kwan

I know, to this day, that things I experienced as a child, before I turned ten-years-old, in both real life  and at the movies, had a profound effect on my future life, life-choices, considerations, and manner toward others of identifiable difference.

Another thing, I knew for sure, because my uncle had been in the Navy in WW2, I "knew" I was going to join the Navy.

I'm in hope that the children of today are less prejudiced than my generation, but with the world of today, I'm not as sure of this lack of prejudice as pundits on today's youth, claim.  Perhaps, racial prejudice is being replaced by just as sinister a prejudice, or group of prejudices including race, I don't wish to discuss or name here, that remains to be seen and played out.

I wonder what the youth of today must be like with the internet and so much "media" impinging on their senses, perhaps making them grow an ominous type of cynicism toward life, love, and sex . . . and 'worldly' before their time.

In elementary school, I was in love with the most beautiful Asian girl in the world, Sachi, and then again, Rochelle, a dark-haired Italian girl and then again, at one and the same time, Ginger, a blonde-haired girl with a developing figure. Their multiple attractions included : offered friendship, sharing of lunch, playing tag at recess, sweetness of spirit, looks and laughter, their nice families, and 'normalcy.' I have to admit all three impinged on my developing hormones.

I think of these three "girl friends" fondly and wonder what they are like now. I'm sure, not being as naive now as I was then, if I had married them in order of my love for them, I would have been married by a Zen-Buddhist Monk, A Catholic Priest, a Protestant Minister, and divorced thrice by a Civil Judge by now.

I also had a Japanese friend named, Michael, and a friend named Richard, an Hispanic with a sister named, Lupe, who I admired. I had a variety of Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian friends, but no black friends until junior high.

In the movies, my first love was Ava Gardner when I not only fell in love with her, but sorrowed with her as well when her mixed race was revealed in Show Boat (1951) causing her to be cast off the boat. I didn't think of Ava as half-caste, I thought of her as a beautiful heroine fighting against injustice and would have asked her to marry me (how scandalous a white and black marrying in 1951, let alone our age difference) if I got half the chance. Ava died in 1990.
In 1953, around Christmas time, alas poor Ava, was replaced in my affections (not totally) by Dorothy Dandridge when I saw her and Belefonte in Bright Road (with an all black cast where she played a caring school teacher). Like the troubled, very intelligent, little boy in the film, I fell innocently in love with her. 

Eight months later, after I had turned nine, I viewed Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones (an all black cast and Belafonte as her costar, once again). This time not so innocently, with a little boy's growing passion,  I fell in love with her once  more. In November, 1954, I got a copy of Life magazine with her picture on the cover and  hid Dorothy under my bed . . . I mean the November issue of Life magazine.

I know some may think, "here we go, with this white/black thing"  (in the late 50s she was forced to take such roles) but, when I was nine, whether you believe my memory or not, I did not think of her as black and, somehow when it came to race, I did not think of race as "a class" with either positive or negative connotations. Maybe I was just to stupid, but before I was ten, I just never identified difference in those terms. I don't know how this revelation of her being black, or different from me, did not dawn on me at the time as I knew "about" prejudice but, I guess I was just weird and, of course, madly in love with Dorothy Dandridge.

I did not see another movie of hers until 1958 in The Decks Ran Red (a mixed racial cast). I remember thinking, how could she be even more beautiful now than before . . . it just didn't seem possible. The somewhat fuzzy picture below is my favorite picture of her and I assure you it's everything about the picture: the tilt of her head, her hair, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, cheeks, her incredible lips, the countenance on her face, her neck, shoulders and collar bones, and not just her cleavage. Like the fuzzy picture below, I knew, even then, that she was an imperfect woman of perfection. In her life, she deserved better than what she received by the people around her, 1950s Hollywood's lack of roles for such a talent, her "friends," and her lovers. 
Dorothy could have been black, white, Latina, Asian or a combination of every race in the world . . . she was just downright gorgeous . . . and . . . her race was irrelevant to me. Seriously, she may have been half-caste, black-white, black/Asian or any race in the world, it did not matter, she was still the epitome of my desire and in my mind the most beautiful woman in the world.
Dorothy died in 1965, and Halle Berry, most appropriately, played Dorothy in the 1998 movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Halle won multiple awards for her portrayal. Dorothy was the first African American woman to be nominated for "Best Actress" at the Oscars for Carmen Jones in 1954, and Halle was the first African American woman to win the Oscar, for Monster's Ball in 2001. I don't think there is another actress in the Universe that could have played Dorothy with such depth and matching beauty.

In 1960,  the same year I fell in love with Nancy Kwan, and the character she played in The World of Suzie Wong, I finally forgave Harry for his strangling Dorothy, in the movie Carmen Jones, and bought his Calypso album.

Two years later, I joined the Navy and I was off to Japan and Southeast Asia, including five trips to Hong Kong where I searched for my Nancy Kwan, aka Suzie Wong. As an aside, Nancy and I were once in the same movie (Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N., released in 1966) but, I never got to meet her. As of this date, Nancy is still alive and very active in her community.
Ava, Dorothy, and Nancy to me were, as Nat King Cole sang, Unforgettable. Therefore, I just had to pay tribute to these three women as people and performers.

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