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"In the Spotlight"

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In the Spotlight: Nina Mae McKinney


In 1913 the town of Lancaster, South Carolina was the birthplace of a black woman who became an international figure as an actress, singer and bandleader. Her given name was Nannie Mayme McKinney.

Her parents moved from Lancaster to New York and left the child with her great-aunt, Carrie Sanders.

She eventually appeared in plays at the black Lancaster Industrial School where she quickly learned the lines of the entire cast. But at about age 13 she headed for New York to stay with her mother.


Choosing Nina Mae as her stage name, she managed to get a job as a member of the chorus in 'Blackbirds', a Broadway play. Her lively performance caught the attention of King Vidor, famed MGM producer, who starred her in "Hallelujah!" as the seductress Chick, released in 1929. It was the first all-black sound musical feature. In the film McKinney dances the "Swanee Shuffle", a seductive dance which became a minor fashion.


Although signed by MGM to a five year contract, Nina Mae was only in two films, "Safe in Hell" (1931) and "Reckless" with Jean Harlow (1935) in which she appeared briefly on the screen. Her voice was dubbed for Harlow's songs. Hollywood could accept black character actresses like Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen appearing with white cast members but didn't know what to do with a beautiful black actress.


Other movie roles included, "Pie, Pie Blackbird", "Gang Smashers", "The Devil's Daughter", "Straight to Heaven", "Dark Waters", "Pinky", etc.


Her most notable roles during this period were in films for other studios, including a leading role in "Sanders of the River" (1935) where she appears with Paul Robeson. After MGM cut almost all her scenes in "Reckless" (1935) she left Hollywood for Europe where she acted and danced, appearing mostly in theatrical shows and cabaret where she became known as the "Black Garbo."


She returned to the USA at the start of World War II where she married Jimmy Monroe, a jazz musician. After the war she moved to Athens, Greece and lived there until she returned to New York in 1960, at which time she was forgotten and didn't make a comeback such as Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, or like Billie Holiday did


In spite of limited exposure to the general public, Nina Mae McKinney was always on stage, it didn't attract big crowds, or sell-outs but she was always a show-stopper. At the Apollo Theater, Harlem's only all-black theater, Nina Mae played Jeanne Eagel's role in "Rain". Nina Mae McKinney could have become one of America's enduring performers.


Her death on May 3, 1967 at age 54, and funeral went unknown, Jet, Ebony, and Variety didn't even print an obituary. One newspaper printed something about "Nina Mae McKinney "ENTERTAINER" died at New York Metropolitan Hospital of a heart attack, funeral services is going to be in the little white church around the corner".


In 1978 she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

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This is a wonderful thread! I'm sorry I've discovered it so late. It's going to take quite a while to catch up with all of your previous spotlights. But, I look forward to it!


Thanks for creating this wonderful thread and taking the time to research the stars. And, all those wonderful pictures!

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In the Spotlight Dennis Morgan:


Dennis Morgan was born Earl Stanley Morner on December 30, 1910 in the small town of Prentice, Wisconsin.

His father was a banker who also owned a number of logging camps. As Morgan was growing up, he worked as a lumberjack for his dad.

At 6'2 and because of his hard work at the logging camps, he excelled in school sports, including baseball, football, and track.


After graduation from high school, he atended college, where he continued to participate in sports, as well as working as a radio disc jockey in Milwaukee for $35 a week. In addition he took music lessons and after graduation decided on a singing career, preferbly opera.

Eventually he landed on radio and in vaudville.


He arrived in Hollywood in 1935 with his wife Lillian. She was his high school and college sweetheart, whom he married in 1933.

A handsome gent (always with a twinkle in his eyes and a dimpled smile), a fine tenor and a pleasing disposition, he worked at MGM for a year in mostly bit parts as Stanley Morner. His best effort at the studio was in "The Great Ziegfeld" singing "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody".


Eventually he worked for various studios, notably Warner Bros. His films include, "The Fighting 69th.", "Three Cheers for the Irish", "Flight Angels", "Bad men of Missouri", "Captains of the Clouds", "In This Our Life" putting up with a rotten Bette Davis, "The Hard Way" with Ida Lupino, "Thank Your Lucky Stars", "The Desert Song", "Shine on Harvest Moon" with Ann Sheridan, "God Is My Co-Pilot", "Two Guys from Milwaukee" with buddy and frequent co-star Jack Carson, "One Sunday Afternoon", "This Woman Is Dangerous" with Joan Crawford, etc.

He could switch from singing roles to dramatic roles and back again with ease.


Two of his most popular roles were as Jefferson Jones in the holiday classic "Christmas in Connecticut" opposite Barbara Stanwyck, and as Ginger Rogers' love interest in the film "Kitty Foyle", for which Ms. Rogers won a Best Actress Oscar.


Morgan retired in the late 1950s, but did cameos now and then and also some TV.


In January of 1983, Morgan and his wife were in an auto accident on their way from their ranch near Yosemite to San Francisco. He lost his left eye and she had both legs broken. They would have burned to death if two passers by had not pulled them out of the wreckage.


He and his wife were married for 61 years, when he passed away on September 7, 1994 at age 85.

He also had three children, Stanley Jr., Kristin and James. He remains one of the legendary actors of the 1940s and his movies still popular as shown on TCM.


Quoted: "It's not the easiest thing in the world to be a success in Hollywood and still be the ordinary husband and father." He did both admirably.


Dennis Morgan does NOT have a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Message was edited by: mongo

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