Donyale Luna, the first black supermodel, left the US for London in December, 1966 largely because Negroes were less discriminated against there. But in November 1968 racism raised its ugly head in the posh Cavendish Hotel.
In a row that received sensational international media coverage, Donyale, Mia Farrow and three male companions were asked to leave the hotel restaurant at 4 am, ostensibly because the men weren’t wearing ties. When they pointed out that men at the other tables were tieless, management called the police. A fracas ensued and Donyale’s date, Canadian photographer Iain Quarrier, was arrested and charged with assaulting a bobby.
A few days later, in a courtroom scene in which Mia and Donyale stole the show, Quarrier was found guilty and fined $24.
This post examines how the media handled the event.
In those days, most newspapers rewrote the releases coming from the two major wire services: AP (The Associated Press) and UPI (United Press International). The way that the two handled the story shows the dominant white culture of the time schizophrenically caught in the middle of an attitude shift toward Negroes.
Here’s the AP version, apparently in its entirety, as these words were printed verbatim in every newspaper I read with the AP credit (the Tucson Daily Sun, the Yuma Globe, the Elyria (OH) Chronicle and the Ironwood (MI) Daily Globe).
LONDON (AP) — Actress
Mia Farrow, 23. and four com-
panions were thrown out of a
fashionable West End hotel Sun-
Donyale Luna. 21, a 6-foot-taIl
American Negro fashion model
said the Cavendish Hotel “re-
fused to tell us why we were
being thrown out.”
The management said it was
because the group created a dis-
turbance at their predawn
breakfast in the hotel’s restau-
Canadian-born actor Ian
Quarrier was charged with ob-
structing police who had been
called to escort them out.
Besides Miss Farrow, the for-
mer wife of Frank Sinatra, the
group included Steve Brant, an
American magazine writer, and
film director Donald Cammell.
Reading this, how do you feel about Luna et al? Obnoxious, spoiled celebrities, drinking and partying too hard, disturbing the peace? Read on.
In Fresno (CA), the Bee-Republican included something that AP—oops!— left out: Donyale’s second sentence. Management didn’t give them a reason for the heave-ho, but “It was obvious (sic) because I was colored.”
As we look at more newspapers across the country, our story continues to unfold: the more balanced UPI account says Mia also made a statement, in support of Donyale.
However, only the Des Moines Register ran Mia’s statement in full: she called the incident a cruel act of intolerance. We must fight prejudice and intolerance whenever possible. We are fighting the battle for a better world. We have inherited a mess. We cannot be passive while the future still holds promise.
How much promise did the future hold in Tucson or Yuma AZ, Elyria OH or Ironwood MI? The AP, like many of its mainstream media clients, chose not to ruffle any white feathers with distasteful and unsettling talk of racial discrimination. You didn’t have the information to even suspect the hotel of provoking the incident by publicly humiliating Donyale about her skin color. Chances are you didn’t even want to: she was another “American Negro” (one of them) acting up again.
Donyale was even skewered in her home town. The Detroit Free Press opened by recounting a previous run-in our girl had with a Detroit hotel. There was the mandatory description of Donyale’s couture: “She wore a short yellow Mongolian lamb coat over black velvet trousers, a red skirt and hip-length blue suede boots.”
The story did mention Farrow’s statement charging the hotel with racial discrimination (without the circumstances), followed by the hotel’s counterclaim that the five were evicted for “disturbing other customers.”
Donyale “has not commented upon Mia’s discrimination charge,” it reported, “but she did say once: “I never think of color. I went to a mixed high school. No one ever hurt me by prejudice.”
Readers of newspapers citing the UPI version got more balanced accounts.
The Long Beach Independent/Press-Telegram, for example, concluded: Cause of the disturbance was not clear. Miss Farrow accused the hotel management of an immoral and cruel act of intolerance. Miss Luna said it was pretty obvious they were thrown out “because I am colored.”
The hotel said they were rowdy.
Brandt said the hotel told them to leave because they were not wearing lies— although other men there weren’t either. “The hotel refused to give another reason and called the police,” Brandt said. “That’s when the fighting started.”
The Salt Lake City Tribune, bless their Mormon hearts, made Mia’s accusations the lead. And the Canandaigua (NY) Daily Messenger ran only a paragraph from UPI, but concluded with Donyale’s full statement (attributed to both her and Mia), that the hotel wouldn’t give a reason for the ouster but it was obviously because of her skin color.
Another balanced account, from the Morgantown, West Virginia Dominion-News, citing the London Daily Mirror as its source, unfortunately described Farrow (who was a top property, having just starred starred in the year’s most talked-about film, Rosemary’s Baby) only as “recently divorced from Frank Sinatra.” But it repeated her accusation that the group was refused service because Donyale was Negro.
It gave the hotel equal time, quoting a spokesman: “The Cavendish Hotel does not, never had, and will never operate any kind of a color bar….they were disturbing other guests by their behavior.”
Jet, a Black magazine, zeroed in on the racial issue. Nothing happened when the white members of the party entered, but when Miss Luna, who was trailing behind, came in, the group was told to get out. Brandt said the group was told to get out because the men were not wearing ties, even though they pointed out that men at three other tables were not wearing ties. The hotel refused to give another reason and called the police. That’s when the fighting started.
Luna said they were thrown out ‘because I am colored. It was a nightmare. The Hotel staff and police were pushing me around. The Hotel refused to tell us why we were being thrown out.’
And finally, we have a first-hand account of the incident. Photoplay magazine journalist Steve Brandt was in Donyale’s party. Noting that false versions of the incident abounded, he wrote the following for the Feb. 1969 issue (lightly edited from where it appears online at a blogsite for slain actress Sharon Tate):
Mia Farrow, myself, Donyale Luna (a beautiful six foot Negro model who soon makes her film debut in Otto Preminger’s Skidoo), Luna’s beau, producer Iain Quarrier and Donald Cammell (he just directed the new Mick Jagger film Performance) decided to top off our evening of disco dancing with a late breakfast. Having been there before, Iain suggested The Cavendish, a hotel that had an all-night restaurant.
We arrived and entered, everyone was seated at the table, and then Donyale (who’d been primping in the ladies’ room) made her entrance. At this point, one of the staff approached our table and advised us we couldn’t be served.
“Why not?” we queried.
We were told it was because none of the men were wearing ties. At least two of the four occupied tables were comprised of men not wearing ties. We pointed this out to a grumpy middle-aged manageress who then said, “No reason, I just want you out of here!”
It was obvious to all of us that we were being asked to leave because a Negro woman was seated with us. Even a very self-conscious Miss Luna blurted out, “Why, is it because I am colored?”
The manageress walked away. Within 10 minutes, four policemen came running in and advised us we had to leave. Right or wrong, they added, it was the hotel’s prerogative to refuse service to whomever they wished.
“But we just want to know why,” Mia chimed in.
The police admitted that no reason was given.
“Well, then, we’ll sit here until we get an explanation.” I figured I might as well get in on the issue.
A few seconds later two waiters grabbed Iain and started pulling him out of his seat. Iain fought back and then the police joined in. Before we knew it, six men were on top of Quarrier, with Mia and Donyale screaming, “Leave him alone!” as they tried to help him out. Both slender ladies were pushed clear across the room!
Next we learned Iain was being arrested for “obstructing justice.” Mia announced, If you’re taking him, we’re coming too!” and we all traipsed down to the police station. After waiting an hour, Quarrier was released.
Both Mia and I stayed on in London, just to give testimony at his hearing.
Despite our protests, Iain was found guilty. Although he was fined only $20 (after all the headlines), the principle of the incident still bothered all of us. As we left the court, people ran up and said, ‘We believe you…we’re on your side…take it to a higher court.’ We decided not to; instead, La Luna reported the incident to the Racial Discrimination Board.
Reading this, one can certainly question Brandt’s decision to “sit here until we get an explanation.” Right or wrong, you’re asking for trouble if you don’t do what a cop tells you to—even in England. But considering the group’s moral rightness and the enormity of the issue, and possibly a little nudge from the alcohol, it’s understandable.
What was Donyale feeling before the fracas erupted? I’ll bet part of her wanted more than anything to just creep away and not spend another minute at the center of the rapidly escalating tension. Another part felt righteous indignation: “At last! Someone gets to see what I live in constant fear of being subjected to!” and finally she must have felt warm all over to be with white friends who stood by her side in such a humiliating situation.
No wonder she didn’t like to discuss her heritage!
Five days later Quarrier and Mia appeared in Bow Street Court, with Luna, Brandt and Cammell there to support them. Quarrier faced a reduced charge of obstructing an officer and Mia of saying the F word. Reportage of the hearing reached a new low.
On the stand Mia repeated the expletive, to the consternation of The El Paso Herald Post’s man on the London beat. Arnold Latcham’s entire story was about the dastardly obscenity and included this astonishing paragraph:
As the word was uttered spectators gasped and the monocle fell from the eye of a friend she had come to court with, long-haired velvet-suited American journalist Steven Brandt. Magistrate Kenneth Harington remained stoic, and the lawyers in court blushed.
Anderson (IN) readers received a long account from UPI, but if UPI maintained its earlier standard of reporting both sides, the defense charges were edited out.
AP’s man on the scene, Geoffrey Anderson, filed a balanced story that added some missing details: The case lasted all day long. Mia, feeling poorly, went to the doctor and didn’t show up until near the end. The prosecution’s case was that they were drinking, they were dressed in “fantastic, way-out clothes and the men wore no ties.” Not a word of disturbing others.
Police said that when they dragged Quarrier out of an elevator and through the hotel lobby, Miss Farrow and Miss Luna were clawing at them and trying to get them free, and that Miss Luna was screaming,”Let him go!”
Good for the girls! Donyale’s testimony basically agreed: According to Miss Luna, Quarrier was brutally and forcibly dragged from the hotel restaurant.
“He was in no physical condition to resist,” she said. I started screaming, “Let him walk. He’s not an animal.”
When Mia finished testifying, she squatted cross-legged on the floor of the crowded court—something which probably has never been done before in an English court of law. (She was temporarily removed and sat properly when she returned.)
Unfortunately, the only newspaper I could find that carried Anderson’s account was the Lowell (MA) Sun.
The Detroit Free Press focused on Donyale and Mia’s courtroom appearance and behavior.
“Perjurors!” shouted Detroit model Donyale Luna as she and Mia Farrow were led from the London courtroom.“It’s a lie!” shouted Mia.
Then Donyale’s clothes: Donyale wore a black satin catsuit with high-heel suede boots. There was a turquoise stone set in the center of her forehead Indian-style, and she wore four large rings on her fingers.
It had been a bad day for Donyale, the story continued. First, she was handed a writ as she stepped from a maroon Rolls-Royce outside the court. It was from a London hotel involving what Donyale called “a personal matter.” Then, while she lighted a cigaret while waiting in the wrong court for the case to begin, she was rebuked by an usher for smoking in court.
Mia’s antics came next: Her first words, on entering the court late, were: “Can I take my clothes off?”
“What is bad?” she asked (on the stand) of an obscene language report. “I don’t think I said anything cruel. Oh, yes I did. I said “Heil Hitler” because there were a lot of Germans attacking us.”
She then used a four-letter word and asked: “Would you call that bad? It’s the nicest thing you can say to anyone.”
After her testimony, Mia tried to enter the prisoner’s dock with Quarrier, but was removed by police. She sat cross-legged on the floor of the crowded court for a while, then crossed the room and sat on the lap of the fourth co-defendant, Donald Cammell, an American movie director.
End of story. No mention of racism from start to finish.
The Detroit News ran only a paragraph with a photo. They devoted one sentence to the event: The group was tossed out of the eatery after the incident in which Miss Farrow used a four-letter word which she repeated yesterday in coming to Quarrier’s defense in court.
Elsewhere, The Charleston Daily Mail focused on the prosecution statements:
“I had the impression they (Mia and Donyale) had both been drinking heavily,’ the Inspector testified. ‘They were very confused and swore.”
“The party was ‘dressed in fantastic, way-out clothes, drinking, making a lot of noise, the men wore no ties.”
Further down the page, Apparently Mia Farrow swore at and clawed one of the cops. Farrow said a four-letter word in court and put on a show.
You could read all of these stories and never have a clue that the party got the heave-ho because of Donyale’s skin color.
With hindsight, we can question the ladies’ decision to put on a show rather than stress the discrimination. But they got what they wanted: publicity, in an era when so many newspapers (and even the wire services) routinely edited out any references to racism. If you think Donyale was in denial of her heritage or chose to remain above the fray, this might be grist for your mill. But read on.
Piecing all these stories together to learn what really happened is like watching the movie Rashomon. (Could we expect a clear understanding if Donyale was involved?) Racism was so prevalent at the time that, although it was at the core of the fracas, some publications don’t even mention it.
Was the party indeed drunk and disorderly? Did the hotel’s charge that they were disturbing the other customers have merit?
Several tell-tale clues suggest not.
First, the hotel couldn’t get its story straight. It claimed the party was rowdy only after saying the men weren’t wearing ties (a common pretext then for denying admission to people of color).
Second, in Steve Brandt’s account the manageress says, “No reason, I just want you out of here.” This echoes the waitress in the restaurant I took Donyale to and my apartment manager: “We don’t want them in here.” It’s an accurate reflection of how many white people felt about Negroes.
Third is the amount of Quarrier’s fine: $24? Plus $15 court costs for a case that lasted all day? Judge Harington couldn’t really dismiss the charge if Quarrier actually laid a hand on the bobby, even in defense, but he clearly was not going for the hotel’s story.
And finally: Donyale Luna, so-called traitor to her race, she who chose to live her life above the fray, filed a charge with the Racial Discrimination Board.
“Producer Fined after London Bobby Struck,” Anderson (IN) Herald, 11/17/68
“Hotel Ousts Actress,” Canandaigua (NY) Daily Messenger, 11/11/68
Charleston Daily Mail, 11/15/68
Des Moines Register, 11/11/68
“Mia’s Pal, Hotel Here Also Clashed,” Detroit Free Press, 11/12/68
“Irked by the Verdict, Mia, Donyale Disrupt Court,” Detroit Free Press, 11/29/68
“Mia Stars in Court,” Detroit News, 11/16/68
Arnold Latcham, “Mia Farrow Startles London Court with Obscene Word,” El Paso Herald Post, 11/20/68
untitled, Elyria (OH) Chronicle-Telegram, 11/11/68
untitled, Fresno Bee Republican, 11/12/68
untitled, Ironwood (MI) Daily Globe, 11/11/68
“Bias Charged Against Hotel That Threw Out Mia, Luna,” Jet, 11/28/68
“Hotel Ousts Mia Farrow and Friends,” Long Beach Independent/Press-Telegram, 11/11/68
Geoffrey Anderson, “Mia Farrow Has Real-Life Role in London Brawl,” Lowell (MA) Sun, 11/15/68
Morgantown (WV) Dominion News, 11/12/68
Steve Brandt, “4:00 am Breakfast Incident,” Photoplay, Feb. 1969
“Fray in Hotel Prompts Racist Charges by Mia,” Salt Lake City Tribune, 11/12/68
Sharon Tate blog
“Companions Tossed Out,” Tucson Daily Citizen, 11/11/68
“Mia and Friends Ejected from Hotel Room,” Yuma Sun, 11/11/68