She was the first black actress to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio (MGM in 1942) and the first black actress to be popularly accepted in roles that were as glamorous as any bestowed on the studio's other top singing talent. She was beautiful, to be sure, and was quickly made a pin-up for (black) wartime soldiers.
But almost as rapidly as she rose to international fame, she quickly became disillusioned with her groundbreaking career. Her appearances in movie musicals were often scissored from the final cut when the films ran at theaters in the segregated South. She said she experienced jealousy from unexpected quarters -- black performers in Hollywood who depended on servant and jungle native parts for their livelihood. And most of all Ms. Horne grew to resent playing the role of a "good little symbol." .....(CLICK HERE to read the rest of this article)
Horne already had two low-budget movies to her credit: a 1938 musical feature called The Duke is Tops (later reissued with Horne's name above the title as The Bronze Venus); and a 1941 two-reel short subject, Boogie Woogie Dream, featuring pianists Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. Horne's songs from Boogie Woogie Dream were later released individually as soundies. Horne was primarily a nightclub performer during this period, and it was during a 1943 club engagement in Hollywood that talent scouts approached Horne to work in pictures. She chose Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the most prestigious studio in the world, and became the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio.
She made her debut with MGM in 1942's Panama Hattie, and performed the title song of Stormy Weather (1943), which she made at 20th Century Fox, on loan from MGM. She appeared in a number of MGM musicals, most notably Cabin in the Sky (also 1943), but was never featured in a leading role because of her ethnicity and the fact that films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theaters could not show films with black performers. As a result, most of Horne's film appearances were stand-alone sequences that had no bearing on the rest of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline; a notable exception was the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky, though even then one of her numbers had to be cut because it was considered too suggestive by the censors. "Ain't it the Truth" was the song (and scene) cut before the release of the film Cabin in the Sky. It featured Horne singing "Ain't it the Truth," while taking a bubble bath (considered too "risqué" by the film's executives).
By the mid-1950s, Horne was disenchanted with Hollywood and increasingly focused on her
nightclub career. She only made two major appearances in MGM films during the decade, 1950's Duchess of Idaho (which was also Eleanor Powell's film swan song), and the 1956 musical Meet Me in Las Vegas. She was blacklistedduring the 1950s for her political views. She returned to the screen three more times, playing chanteuse Claire Quintana in the 1969 film Death of a Gunfighter,Glinda in The Wiz (1978), and co-hosting the 1994 MGM retrospective That's Entertainment! III, in which she was candid about her treatment by the studio during the filming of Cabin in the Sky.
discrimination. During World War II, when entertaining the troops for the USO, she refused to perform "for segregated audiences or for groups in which GermanPOWs were seated in front of African American servicemen", according to her Kennedy Center biography. Since the US Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she wound up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black US soldiers and white German POWs. She was at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, the weekend before Evers was assassinated. She also met President John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated. She was at the March on Washington and spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC and the National Council of Negro Women. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws. She was a member of the prominent organization Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.
"I no longer have to be a "credit", I don't have to be a "symbol" to anybody. I don't have to be a "first" to anybody. I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become. I'm me, and I'm like nobody else." - Lena Horne