Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Presenting the California Eagle (as seen through the eyes of the Robey Theatre Company).

The Low Down

Gossip column of the California Eagle.
Written by Mary Meddler
April 1, 1944

It has come to this reporter's attention that Mr. Jack Johnson is interested, yet again, in another clip joint right here in Los Angeles; the Club Alabam located inside the Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue.  Remember, Mr. Johnson previously opened a night club in Harlem which he sold to known gangster, Owney Madden (who has since renamed it the Cotton Club).  Mr. Johnson seems to be remaining consistent with the kind of company he chooses to keep by associating, and helping to promote Club Alabam, with Lucious Lomax, a rather hard boiled fellow and rumored to have a rather nefarious background.  Both Mr. Lomax and Mr. Johnson have been criticized by Dr. John Sommerville (former owner of the Dunbar Hotel when it was called the Hotel Sommerville) for creating a place that encourages crime and criminal activity.  Even Black scholar Booker T. Washington had this to say about Mr. Jack Johnson's actions: 
“It is unfortunate that a man with money should use it in a way to injure his own people, in the eyes of those who are seeking to uplift his race and improve its conditions, I wish to say emphatically that Jack Johnson’s actions (does not) meet my personal approval and I am sure they do not meet with the approval of the colored race.”
Mr. Johnson who is certainly no stranger to controversy, has recently taken heat for his comments on why he thinks White women are attracted to Black men.  He responded to the
Boxer Jack Johnson with his white wife.
question by saying, 

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts."
I find that statement ridiculous, but then again, I must consider the source.  Mr. Johnson's comments and the things he does often fall short of my understanding.  Speaking as a Black woman, I don't think I know a Black man that has even seen an eel, much less eaten one.  But if I had a saw buck every time someone were to blow smoke this reporter's way, I'd be Rockefeller. 

And speaking of the dubious Club Alabam, the rather volatile relationship between Lena Horne and Ethel Waters continues there.  It has been rumored there was a fight that occurred last week at the Dunbar, over an alleged agreement that had been breached when the Hollywood chanteuses showed up at the Dunbar Hotel at the same time.  Apparently, there was an arrangement between Ms. Horne and Ms. Waters not to stay, nor perform, at the hotel at the same time.  A kind of, first come, first serve arrangement. 
When asked about the rumored agreement and the on going spat between Lena Horne and Ethel Waters, Ms. Horne had this to say, 
"I actually don't think there is any real conflict between myself and Ms. Waters, any divisiveness that appears to exist is constructed by Hollywood.  She (Ms. Waters) and I have more in common than most of my studio counterparts.  Ms. Waters first sang Stormy Weather at The Cotton Club before I recorded it in 1941.  MGM hired me to star in, and sing the record again in their 1943 film production of Cabin In the Sky.  Ms. Waters, naturally, was not too thrilled about their decision." 
Ethel Waters and Lena Horne.
Photo courtesy of Tomoko Matsushita.

When I asked Ms. Waters the same question she had quite a bit to say on the matter. 
"Yes it is true that Ms. Horne and I have had choice words on more than one occasion.  I have a problem with her performing, recording, and getting the credit for songs, like Stormy Weather, that I have already recorded to critical acclaim.  I have more experience as a performer on Broadway and in radio broadcasts, film and television in my 'pinky finger' than Ms. Horne will have in her lifetime.
I also have a problem with phony people who look down on me for portraying maids.  My mother, Louise Anderson was a maid.  My grandmother, Sally, was a maid, and I have been a maid in real life and I resent anyone who thinks hardworking, honest maids are inferior citizens in our society.  Ms Horne's mother was an actress.  I know this because I headlined the TOBA tour show, Dumb Luck, in which Edna Louise Scottron Horne, Lena's mother, was a supporting player.
It has also been said that Ms. Horne has had an intimate relationship with our director, Mr. Vincent Minnelli, Judy Garland's husband, in order to secure her part in the film version of the play I worked so hard for, Cabin In the Sky.
Now, what Ms. Horne does in her bed is none of my business because I sure as hell don't want anyone poking their nose with what I do in my bed, but all that to say this, when you want a pretty, high-yellow thing to gawk over, call Ms. Horne.
When you want a world class performer to tear the house down, call Ethel Waters."
I asked Ms. Water to give me the first word that pops into her head when she thinks of Lena Horne.  She responded, "Heifer."

And that's the LOW DOWN!


8pm Friday     12/26/14  
8pm Saturday 12/27/14
3pm Sunday    12/28/14
Tickets are selling out FAST!  
Get 'em quick!

Top row left to right: Chester Hines, Paul Robeson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jack Johnson, Dr. John Sommerville.
Bottom row left to right: Ethel Waters, Almena Davis, Lucious Lomax, Charlotta Bass, John Kinloch, Lena Horne.
Photo courtesy Tomoko Matsushita

The Magnificent Dunbar Hotel has reopened from November 22- December 28 
at the 
New LATC 514 S. Spring St. Los Angeles, CA 9001

General Admission – $30 LAUSD Teacher – $20* | Veteran – $20* | Student – $20* | Senior (60+) – $20* Thursdays – $10 (Limited Number Available, Not Available Online). 

To Purchase by Phone Please Call – 866-811-4111
For Group Sales Please Call – 213-489-7402
(*Requires ID for Verification).

Content contributor Kellie Dantzler.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Presenting the California Eagle (as seen through the eyes of the Robey Theatre Company).

Race Battles and Confrontations Plague Los Angeles.

Article written by Almena Lomax 
June 7, 1943

Racial battles between a group of Navy service men and Mexican youth have been occurring in Downtown and East Los Angeles since June 3rd.  Although the details remain sketchy, what is clear, on the night of June 3, 1943, Navy service men began harassing and beating Mexican men because of how they were dressed, which turned into a race war with both sides pleading self Defense.

Gloria Harrison, a housekeeper at the Dunbar Hotel, was an innocent bystander and eyewitness to the June 3rd racially motivated incident.  She was hit in the head by a flying bottle during the race riot.
Gloria Harrison was injured in the race riot.
Photo courtesy of Michael Blaze
"When we got close to 12th street it seem like all hell broke loose...people was running everywhere and those Navy Seamen was grabbing and hitting everybody that wasn't white."
Lucius Lomax, proprietor of the Dunbar Hotel had this to say, "They acting a fool out there but nobody is coming into the Dunbar with none of that mess, because I'm not having it.  Every hustler on Central Avenue is out and ready.  So, long as you stay above 28th Street, you'll be just fine.  I don't go looking for trouble but I know how to handle it when it comes."

It is not just the Black Newspapers who have been reporting dissatisfaction and anger at the actions by the military service men.  Even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt has been quoted with saying, "The question goes deeper than just(zoot)suits.  It is a racial protest.  I have been worried for a long time about the Mexican racial situation.  It is a problem with roots going a long way back, and we do not always face these problems as we should."

Along with the merciless assaults by the United States Navy of anyone who wasn't white, the lack of support by the Los Angeles Police Department to protect and serve their citizens have many people across the nation outraged.  Innocent men and women, girls and boys, have been harmed, if not critically injured, from the brutality of service men who supposedly have pledge their lives to protect all Americans.   
One of only a few LAPD officers who are not white, Tom Bradley, stated, "It (is) a rather unsettling experience because of the racial hostility that (exists)...primarily directed at the Mexicans, but not limited to them, because Blacks also (suffered) some rather vicious treatment.  In fact, some of the police officers
Tom Bradley and a few other members of the LAPD.
were involved in what I thought was improper conduct. Their treatment of anyone who happened to be Black or Mexican, who happen to be wearing the clothes, the (zoot suits), that was all that was necessary for that person to be the subject of rather vicious police handling."

It shows this reporter, as more things change, the more things still remain the same.  Perhaps we can hold the hope for the future, that race riots like this will cease to exist in America, and certainly not beginning over something as juvenile and trivial as taking offense to the way someone is dressed.  Perhaps we need more Blacks and Mexicans to become police officers, like Tom Bradley.  Better yet, maybe one day a Mexican or Black could even become mayor of Los Angeles or President of the United States and really make a change.

The Magnificent Dunbar Hotel has reopened from November 22- December 21 
at the 
New LATC 514 S. Spring St. Los Angeles, CA 9001
General Admission – $30 LAUSD Teacher – $20* | Veteran – $20* | Student – $20* | Senior (60+) – $20* Thursdays – $10 (Limited Number Available, Not Available Online) To Purchase by Phone Please Call – 866-811-4111
For Group Sales Please Call – 213-489-7402
(*Requires ID for Verification) 

Content contributor Kellie Dantzler.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Presenting the California Eagle Newspaper (as seen through the eyes of the Robey Theatre Company).

Article written by Almena Davis

The Magnificent Dunbar Hotel, written by the accomplished playwright Levy Lee Simon, will reopen its doors on November 22, 2014 at 8pm, at the New LATC located at 521 S. Spring in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, with a reception immediately following.

This news reporter had an opportunity to spend a little time with playwright Levy Lee Simon, interviewing him in regards to the Dunbar Hotel’s reopening on stage at the Robey Theatre Company.

QUESTION: What prompted you to write The Magnificent Dunbar Hotel?

MR. SIMON: Last year around July/August of 2013 I got a call from Ben Guillory who asked if I’d be interested in writing a play on commission about the Dunbar Hotel. I didn’t know much about the Dunbar at the time. I mean, I knew it existed and why but surely was not aware of the breadth of meaning that came with the name and history. Anyway, sounded interesting to me, and since it was a Robey project and I consider myself a part of the Robey Theatre Company, I was compelled to give it a shot. 

QUESTION: Where and when does the play take place?

Playwright Levy Lee Simon (left) and Ben Guillory (right) director.

MR. SIMON: The Dunbar was built is 1928/9 by John Sommerville, the first Black man to graduate from USC, School of Dentistry. He was a very interesting man and needless to say a visionary in his own right. The hotel had a grand opening in 1929, with a 100 luxury rooms, restaurant, bar, barber shop, beauty shop, and of course a stage. When the stock market crashed later in 1929, he had to sell the hotel, which he eventually did to a group of white investors. Sommerville was above selling it to the coalition of Black businessmen of questionable character who offered to take it off of his hands. When the hotel wasn’t making money, the white investment company ended up selling it to this coalition of Black men known in the underworld to be into, numbers, racketeering, prostitution, bootlegging, etc. John Sommerville wanted no part of that but suddenly his hotel was in the hands of people he despised. So the play begins at that point. 

QUESTION: What is the play, The Magnificent Dunbar Hotel about? 

MR. SIMON: What’s it about? That question, huh? Well, it’s about a time gone by, and a place that once existed. It’s about people and the survival of a people. It’s about poetry, and music. It’s about style, and class, dignity and pride. It’s about all that and what happened to it. Where is all that today and did it fade away with the actual hotel itself? Does the Dunbar represent a rise and decline of a people? Will those people rise again with the same type of pride and dignity the hotel represented? I know that’s a broad stroke but that’s what came out. Ask me tomorrow I may have a different answer, and maybe a more concise one, but I guess that answer will do for now. 

QUESTION: What do you hope people will take from this production? 

MR. SIMON: So much. It’s not just one thing. It’s many things and probably things that I don’t know. I always want people to leave the theatre feeling different from when they came in because they have experience something that moved them, educated them or even changed their lives, at the very least causes them to question their perspective on any given issue. My hope is that the play will do all that. Maybe it will cause people to question not only what happened to the hotel but what happened to the people, a community that was so aware, so alert and so tight. How did we go from there to what we have today, which in my mind is questionable at best. I offer no answers. I’m just putting it out there in what I hope is a very provocative, theatrical and entertaining way, so people can take from it what they will.
Duke Ellington, one of the many artists who perform at the Dunbar Hotel.

I did tons of research about the Dunbar Hotel and the 1930s and 40s, Los Angeles. It was an amazing time for Black people and Central Avenue was the place to be. There were some very colorful characters many whom I knew about but more who I didn’t know about and it was awesome to get to know them. The time was charged in every way, artistically, socially and politically speaking. As always when I do research I wonder why I didn’t know more about this era in American History. Clearly it has been hidden in the darkness. I guess it’s partly my objective along with the Robey to bring the story, the people, the era, the hotel to light.
I have to take a moment to thank the Southern California Library for Research, on Vermont. I can’t tell you the number of times I sat in that library reading intimate details about people that gave me goose bumps. I fell fortunate to have the opportunity to write the play and am ever thankful to the Robey for giving me the opportunity to do so. 

Dunbar Hotel in the 1930's

The Magnificent Dunbar Hotel reopens November 22nd, 8pm at the New LATC 514 S. Spring St. Los Angeles, CA 90013

(Previews November 20-21st)
Preview – $15 | Opening Night (w/Reception) – $50 | General Admission – $30 LAUSD Teacher – $20* | Veteran – $20* | Student – $20* | Senior (60+) – $20* Thursdays – $10 (Limited Number Available, Not Available Online)
To Purchase by Phone Please Call – 866-811-4111
For Group Sales Please Call – 213-489-7402
(*Requires ID for Verification) 

A little more about playwright Levy Lee Simon
Multiple award winning playwright and artist, Levy Lee Simon is originally from Harlem USA, and a graduate of the prestigious University of Iowa Playwright’s Workshop, MFA. He is the author of twenty plus plays which have received productions and major readings in the US and Caribbean. His plays have been produced and received staged readings at theatres such as: The New Federal Theatre, The Robey Theatre Company, Greenway Arts Alliance, National Black Theatre Festival, The Workshop Theatre, Algonquin Productions, NJoy Productions - LA, St. Croix Center Stage, Freedom Theatre – Phila., Karamu Theatre - Cleveland, Circle Repertory Theatre, The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players, The Labyrinth Theatre, the Geffen Playhouse, Denver Center, New Jersey Repertory Theatre and more.
Levy Lee is best known for his For the Love of Freedom trilogy about the Haitian revolution and independence, produced by the Robey Theatre Company and the Greenway Arts Alliance, directed by Ben Guillory and, The Bow Wow Club produced by John Marshall Jones at the Stella Adler Theatre in LA, and the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina. Other notable plays by Simon include: The Guest at Central Park West, (winner of the 2007 Audelco Award for, Dramatic Production of the Year and Best Playwright) The Stuttering Preacher, DAD, Caseload, Same Train, Smell the Power, Pitbulls and Daffodils, The Last Revolutionary and the cult hit, God the Crackhouse and the Devil.  

Levy Lee’s work has provided him a platform as a recognized playwright in the world of theatre. He is an Audelco Award Winner, Lorraine Hansberry Award winner, Eugene O’Neill Fellow, two time NAACP Best Playwright Nominee, an Ovation Nominee, a Cosby Screenwriting Fellow, the 2011 winner of the New Voices Playwriting Competition, and a recent Shorty nominee. In June of 2014 he was honored by request to be a guest artist at the Great Plains Theatre Conference, and in July is was awarded by the Robey Theatre Company for his contribution to the success of the Robey’s twentieth year celebration.
Studios and productions companies in Hollywood optioned levy Lee’s screenplay adaptations of, The Bow Wow Club, God the Crackhouse and the Devil, and DAD. He is hoping to go into production with them very soon.
As an actor Levy Lee was a cast member of the Pulitzer Prize winning, Tony nominated, The Kentucky Cycle, the England production of Ms. Evers’ Boys at the Barbican and Bristol Old Vic, plus over fifty plays Off- Broadway, Off-Off Broadway in regional theatres across the country and in the Caribbean.
Levy Lee is a proud artist and thespian always seeking to create work that inspires thought, and change. 

Content contributers: Jason Mimms and Kellie Dantzler.