Tag Archives: African-American

Racism III: A Night on the Town, a Day in Court

1 Feb

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.

Donyale with Ian Quarrier (back), Mia Farrow, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate at the Paris premiere of "Rosemary's Baby." Photo from Sharon Tate blog

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.

AP/UPI VERSIONS

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

La Luna and Ian Quarrier arrive at Bow St. court

Mia Farrow, 23. and four com-
panions were thrown out of a

fashionable West End hotel Sun-

day.

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-

rant.

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.

NEWSPAPER VERSIONS

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.”

Leaving the court with Quarrier. Pity we can't see the red skirt and blue suede boots in color!

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.”

UPI STORIES

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):

PARTICIPANT VERSION

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!

 

Would you kick this woman out of...your hotel? Donyale graced this Minolata camera ad

IN COURT

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?”

Another shot from "Rosemary's Baby" premiere, showing off Mia's garb. That's Peter Sellers on the right

“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.

Go Donyale!

Sources:

“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

Race Part II Four Fateful Words: Donyale Puts her Foot in her Mouth

9 Jan

Sorry for the long delay, folks; I’ve been traveling. Here’s the next installation about Luna and race.

I’ve also added photos to the last post.

Enjoy! —Don
_________________________________

If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Negroes, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less.
—Donyale Luna, New York Times, May 19,1968

This wonderful photo by Michael Alexander accompanied the New York Times article. The caption read: Luna, 6-foot-2-inch model, will act Groucho Marx's mistress in "Skidoo." Will her job open up movie roles for Negro women? "I couldn't care less."

If you’ve ever googled Donyale Luna, the first black supermodel, you’ve read those words. She uttered them in response to interviewer Judith Stone when Stone asked her if she thought that being cast in Otto Preminger’s Skidoo would open up more movie roles for “Negro women.”

Donyale’s answer kindles passions in Blacks to this day. A future post will run some of the fiery comments on Luna blogs more than 40 years later.

She initially responded to Stone’s question with an icy, “I don’t think about that.” How long had she been telling the media she was of mixed heritage? Wasn’t Stone listening to her?

Then Donyale’s fiancé, German actor Georg Willing, piped up, “She’s white, didn’t you know?” I’ve disliked Willing ever since I read that remark: what a sarcastic clod! And I can see I’m doing the same thing as people who castigate Luna for her reply to Stone. Willing may have been merely showing support and it came out wrong.

“But then,” writes Stone, “Luna reconsidered for a moment. ‘If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Negroes, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less’.”

Read the first sentence. Donyale, living the role of “Donyale Luna,” probably, as she said, “didn’t think about that.” Now she thought about it and it sounded good. Had she stopped there, she had said the right thing and also made her point that her blood was not pure Negro but mixed.

But would her landing the role actually bring down the barriers? Offhand, she didn’t know: “It could be good, it could be bad.”

Then out tumbled the Four Fateful Words: “I couldn’t care less.”

Why on earth did she add them? The more I ponder it, the more I think they were an unfortunate rhetorical fillip, words to fit the rhythm of a conclusion, spoken in haste by an uncertain woman all of 21 or 22 years old, beating a hasty retreat from a subject that could trigger a lot of pain and confusion inside her back into the role of diva.

This was before Donyale and Salvador Dali had become buddies, when she would take a page from his book of tricks and make up an outlandish response for the press, not a lie so much as an imaginative creation to further her public image. At this point she didn’t have the tools to handle a savvy journalist like Stone.

Salvador Dali claimed Luna was the reincarnation of Nefertiti

Stone’s portrait of Donyale is actually the most sympathetic and perceptive I’ve read. An unkind editor ignored Luna’s first two sentences and wrote the photo caption: “Will her job open up movie roles for Negro women? ‘I couldn’t care less’.” Later, Wikipedia’s account also accentuated the Four Fateful Words and suggested that Donyale renounced her race. A hefty percentage of Net profiles copied Wikipedia.

But it simply wasn’t true that Donyale couldn’t care less.

Ex-beau Sanders Bryant tells of a time Donyale and he visited a museum of slavery artifacts in Dresden, Canada one day when she still lived in Detroit. “When Donyale saw those artifacts and the slave conditions,” recalls Bryant, “she broke down in tears.”

Remember, this was “Donyale Luna,” who was going to be happy only, who had banished tears from her life.

Early articles about Luna portrayed her as the new top Negro model. “She never denied that,” says Bryant. “But she had that other side….To Donyale, denying any part of that was like denying herself.”

Donyale’s remarks to Detroit Free Press reporter Colleen O’Brien in 1966 show careful wording about her ethnicity: “Most of my publicity has been because I’m dark-skinned. But I think the reaction would have been the same if I were white because of my features.” Note two things here:

1. She said she wasn’t white.
2. She described herself as “dark-skinned” as opposed to “Negro” or even “colored.” (And she wasn’t even that dark-skinned.)

When asked whether she thought her success was due to her color, she also told O’Brien, “I never think of myself as a brown-skinned girl.”

While Donyale was tuned into the racial struggle, Bryant says, “she felt that she should be above the fray.” She was a seeker. She adorned her third eye with bindis. She took psychedelics. She saw the Big Picture, where racism was resolved. There she dwelt—by herself, if necessary, until the struggle and fighting was over.

Not a position that gains you points in history, but understandable for an artist who chose to live her life at the mythic level. Three years later, sounding weary of the subject, she told Free Press reporter George Kirvay, “I honestly don’t know what I am. I’ve been described as being both a white person and a Negro. Whatever people want to think…they can.”

I’m not exonerating Donyale from the charge that she denied her heritage. At age 15 she told Sanders Bryant she was Hawaiian. At age 17 or 18 she told me she was Polynesian. She was honing a story that eventually included a Mexican father and a veritable but unverifiable smorgasbord of colorful ancestors.

But as was usually the case with Donyale’s fabrications, this one had some truth mixed in: her mother was half Irish and that entire side of her family, according to Sanders Bryant, “could have been more ‘Hawaiian’ than she was.”

Donyale was a scared little girl playing diva, the only role in life large enough for her to make her qualities virtues, not flaws. As such, she wasn’t tapped into the world of ordinary reality so much as a deeper, more powerful truth. She was descended from Nefertiti, from goddesses and mermaids. Her ancestry was part of her mythic life.

Many if not most of us, black and white alike, while being primarily of one ethnicity, have mixed heritage. Negroes were much more second-class citizens 45 years ago than now, and it was common for those who could pass for white or mixed to do so.

The mythic part of Donyale loved her skin. She was proud of it. The little girl part felt ashamed of it and afraid in the world. She passed; or at least she tried to. What a heady game to play when you’re front and center on the world stage!

From that location, every foible, every shortcoming becomes magnified in people’s minds. Donyale was no trailblazer, no Muhammad Ali. Neither are most of us, but we live with our other pedestrian fellows quietly and no one thinks badly of us.

Sometimes the times turn some of us into trailblazers. Donyale lived in one of those times, an extraordinary time. If she failed to pick up the machete, how does that make her worthy of anyone’s derision? It merely shows that in this arena she was ordinary. Rather than anger or blame, we might choose to feel compassion for her. What would you or I have done for our primary race in her shoes (when she wore them)?

How many of us can handle the limelight? Especially a limelight so dazzling, so sudden, so early in life, with no one to guide us through its blinding brilliance? When I first learned of Donyale’s rise to glory in 1966, after I had moved to California., I thought: “Of all the people I knew in Detroit, Donyale is the last one I would have wished fame upon.” (Incredibly, when I was seeing her, I didn’t even know she was seeking it.)

Be careful of what you wish for, the adage goes, lest your wish comes true. Donyale Luna’s wish came true and she paid the price: this subject of race that so pained and tormented her, this issue that she fled halfway across the globe to escape, was thrust in her face wherever she went.

Sources:
Sanders Bryant, conversation, Nov. 2009
George Kirvay, Detroit Free Press, 1969
Colleen O’Brien, Detroit Free Press, 1966
Judith Stone, “Luna, Who Dreamed She was Snow White,” New York Times, 5/19/68
wikipedia, Donyale Luna