Fans of Francis Ford Coppola's 1984 film, The Cotton Club, are usually divided into two camps; those who love period gangster flicks with campy acting and those who love the musical sequences (and wish there were more of them intact!). Movie fans often wish for a lot of things - primarily that the film would've been more solid and that any "lost" footage will one day be restored.
But one thing everyone agrees on about this film is that it's a wonderful kaleidoscope of cinematography, fleshed out with beautiful people of color all the way to the very last reel.
The Cotton Club is set in the late 1920's & early 30's and is largely known as a film that can't make up its mind about what it wants to be; movie musical or gangster film. Yet, it remains entertaining and no one can deny that the cast doesn't look fabulous trying to figure it all out! Throughout 129 minutes of plots, subplots, and quick edits, the characters are decked out and dressed to the nines in fantastic period costumes as they sing, dance, move and murder to the beat of the Jazz Age.
The Art Deco sets and the backdrop of the era is so brilliantly captured that you feel like you want to step into the film and become a part of it. Some argue that the history isn't always as accurate as it should be, but the actual recreation of the Club, originally situated at 142nd & Lenox Ave. in Harlem (and the atmosphere of discrimination and racial politics) is on point. So are the blatant and sometimes loosely-based depictions of the great iconic stars that shined on the Cotton Club stage like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Bill Robinson and the club's beautiful tall, tan and terrific chorus girls.
Richard Gere's gigolo persona is forever captured to great effect, as is the dynamic tap dancing and complex onscreen-offscreen relationship between Gregory and Maurice Hines (left).
Lonette McKee never looked so wistful & soulful as she does while singing Ill Wind juxtaposed against a video montage of the Depression era 30's. One of the main reasons things stay as interesting for as long as they do is because of the supporting cast and extras who were too beautiful to be ignored.
The Cotton Club employed some of the most gorgeous black men and women in the industry including stage actors, background singers, well-known models, those on the brink of stardom and those who probably had their best scenes end up on the cutting room floor.
1) Believe it or not, the sultry diva above in the lingerie is Jackee Harry. 2) At the time, Mario Van Peebles was no more than a successful male model. 3) Of course, you'll recognize Patti Austin's familiar smile.
Before Tyson Beckford, we had Tyrone Spears and Mario Van Peebles.
Random shots on the set include Maurice Hines (center) with model Tracy Ross (left).
The photos used here are from the private collection of Mr. Kenneth Hanson. Mr. Hanson worked as the stage manager for the many wonderful musical sequences that was filmed for the movie but were chopped from the film. I would like to thank him for their use and offer a resounding BRAVO for the beauty that he helped to bring to the film.
Back in the late 1920's & early 1930's, Blanch Calloway was as popular as her brother Cab Calloway. He is documented as saying SHE is the reason he wanted to be an entertainer, and some say that Cab's flamboyance on stage was actually a facsimile of Blanche's onstage antics. Others say she was the first (or one of the first) female bandleaders to lead an all-male unit called the Joy Boys, which consisted of members of the orchestra known as Andy Kirk & His Clouds of Joy. With skill, showmanship and direction as a leader, it is no surprise that Calloway's organization has gone down in history for more than the novelty of having a female leader in a time when women musicians were not taken seriously.
Blanche Calloway's looks appeared fair and almost delicate but she was anything but! She could be rough, ready and almost raunchy in her vocals. She was a tough, shrewd businesswoman and later played an extremely important role in the rise of singer Ruth Brown's career during the 1950's. Before the quick rise (and fall) of her own career, Miss Calloway was a cosmetics "tycoon" with her own skin care "empire" that sold preparations designed specifically for women of color.
In this 1932 print ad for Black and White Bleaching Cream, the lady tycoon peddles a peroxide concoction that boasts a skin lightener so powerful that it sunk all the way "down beneath the four layers" of the skin where the "coloring" took place. Light, bright and damn near white, there was more to Blanch Calloway than met the eye!
Cab Calloway arrived for his sound check at Cincinnati's Music Hall alone, somewhat frail-looking and without fanfare; indeed, I was the only "fan" waiting at the stage door to meet him. As I approached him, he seemed to be lost in thought but when I called him by name, he snapped into himself and flashed me a megawatt smile of yellowing teeth. Mr. Calloway was quite amused by the fact that I was so young and seemed to know so much about him which at the time really wasn't that much at all. He was also surprised when I whipped out an old photograph that I wanted him to sign. It must have been in the late fall of the year because we both had on lightweight coats. His overcoat was very simple and if you didn't know better, you'd think he was just another old man on the street. We talked about the film Stormy Weather for a minute - or rather I did - while he just smiled and looked on in what seemed like amazement. The day that I met Cab Calloway, he wasn't high he was ever so warm and gracious and looked a little something like he does right here in this photo.
Had I met Mr. Calloway at the ascent of his career as a bandleader during the days of the Cotton Club, Minnie The Moocher, Reefer Man, That Man From Harlem, Kickin' The Gong Around and Bugle Call Rag, he most certainly would've been high and he would've been full of youth & vigor and would've looked a little something like THIS ....... Cab Calloway, circa 1930-33.
When was the last time you buried your face in luxurious white? Ralph Lauren towels in solid white are quite fabulous and I think blinding white, thick as tablecloth bed sheets are quite decadent. I also enjoy my timeless white linen suit during the summer months. However, with Labor Day upon us, they say white will soon be out of season.
While basic black remains de rigueur for most of us, I realize there will be some brothas who'll be disappointed that they did not receive an invitation to this summer's annual White Party. Yet, I know that some of us don't necessarily adhere to social constricts and antiquated fashion rules. For those brothas, the invitation will always be open.
My white linen suit is as close as I've ever gotten to that kind of party but I must admit that sometimes those invitations can sometimes look most intriguing!