xml:space="preserve">

Lena Horne was too hot for MGM. The studio signed her to a long-term contract but never found a proper showcase for her talent. With a physical presence as sinuous and exciting as her singing, and a gift for finding the comedy in sensuality (and the sensuality in comedy), she should have been a major star for decades. But Hollywood in the 1940s wasn't ready for a romantic African-American leading woman. She sang great songs in not-so-great movies, including "Stormy Weather" (the film that gave her a theme song). But when she lobbied to play what should have been an ideal role for her -- Julie in "Showboat" -- MGM gave it to Ava Gardner.

Still, Horne did appear in one great movie musical: Vincente Minnelli's debut film, "Cabin in the Sky" (1943). The director made his name with this movie by using a sophisticated style and vibrant performers to present a rural American fable with unequalled grace and fervor. Ethel Waters is a God-loving housewife who fights for the soul of her husband, Eddie (Rochester) Anderson, against Rex Ingram's Lucifer, Jr. -- and Lena Horne's very sweet Georgia Brown.

Advertisement

The studio cut Horne singing "Ain't It the Truth" in a bubble bath ("Life is a ripplin' brook,/Man is a fish to cook,/You got to bait your hook,/Rise and shine/And cast your line"). That number wound up only in a short called "Studio Visit" (1946) and later in "That's Entertainment! III" (1994). But Horne's talent burst through when she put all sort of naughty shadings into lines as simple as "You're gonna be filthy rich!"

Horne was responsible, in a different way, for helping to create one other great movie. Her granddaughter, Jenny Lumet, wrote the tender, incisive script for "Rachel Getting Married." The screenplay became a tumultuously moving film about a recovering addict (Anne Hathaway) who gets a weekend pass to attend her sister's wedding. The movie has an electric, musical temperament; it sets off emotional vibrations that are encompassing, delicate and sure. And the action unfolds in an unselfconscious racially-mixed world.

It's too bad Horne never had the chance to act in a film like "Rachel Getting Married."

What are your best memories -- from film, TV, stage, clubs or records -- of the inimitable Lena Horne?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement