Monday, August 25, 2014

Hadda Brooks: Did You Know?

Late one night recently, thanks to YouTube, I was giggling at a goofy comedy that's not exactly a well-known film but has well-known actors.  It's kind of a screwball comedy set in Manhattan.  Out of the Blue stars George Brent as a dork in glasses -- like Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby or Eddie Bracken in Summer Stock.  Brent was known in the 1930s as the leading man opposite Bette Davis in top dramas like Jezebel, Dark Victory and The Great Lie.  Cast as the suave ladies man was Turhan Bey.  He was usually in costume dramas and wearing a turban in exotic desert adventures.  In this movie, he's in GQ Magazine attire and trying to hold the Mayo -- yummy Virginia Mayo.
Who steals this picture?  Ann Dvorak as a ditzy interior decorator who likes to drink and gets a crunch on the nervous married dork.  You classic film fans know that Ann Dvorak was one helluva good dramatic actress.  Just watch her opposite Paul Muni as the gangster's sister in the original Scarface (1932) and Three on a Match with Bette Davis and Joan Blondell (1932).  1947's Out of the Blue showed that she had comedy chops that were rarely utilized.
Olive the interior decorator goes home with the harmless husband while his bossy wife is out of town.  It's all very innocent but there were quite a few cocktails in this Olive.  She falls asleep in his apartment.    He's a gentleman but anxious the next morning when he asks if he can get her anything for breakfast.  Olive, charmed, replies "Just some melba toast and brandy.  Don't go to any trouble."
This non A-list studio comedy has nice sets and, obviously, someone came up with money to make the lead women look terrific.  They're dolled up in smart dresses, fabulous hats and flattering hairdos.
Even the black woman in the movie gets the glamorous treatment.  This was an era in which Hollywood was still giving black actresses roles as maids and mammies.  Lena Horne was the breakthrough, getting the glamour treatment in deluxe MGM musicals.
Olive is in the cocktail lounge with the married man.  She absolutely loves the singer playing piano.  They're acquainted and have a brief chat like girlfriends.
I had to find out who that singer/pianist was.  Hadda Brooks was her name and, reportedly, she made TV history in Los Angeles in the 1950s.
Our Miss Brooks was a class act.  College educated and trained in classical music, this native Los Angeleno loved pop music and theater.  She played piano for a Hollywood choreographer and she became a recording star, billed as "Queen of the Boogie."

Out of the Blue marked her first film appearance.  She also appeared and sang in the Humphrey Bogart classic, 1950's In a Lonely Place.  Gloria Grahame co-starred.  
Hadda Brooks contributed to the 1952 classic that brought Grahame the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, The Bad and the Beautiful.
Remember when Gilbert Roland as "Gaucho" is nightclub dancing with the tall, blonde babe who zeroes in on a T-bone steak?  You hear a vocal of "Temptation" in that sequence.  That's Hadda Brooks you see as the vocalist.  See Hadda in the lower left corner of the pic below from Minnelli's movie.
The TV history came in 1957 when Hadda Brooks hit screens as the second African-American woman to host her own television program in that decade.  The Hadda Brooks Show had talk and musical entertainment, airing on KCOP/Channel 13 in Los Angeles.  The 26 episodes aired in Southern California and were repeated on KGO in San Francisco. A nice piece of TV history.
From what I read, she was coaxed out of retirement and had more success in the 1980s.  She played nightclub engagements in Hollywood and New York City.  She even did other film appearances, such as making music in 1995's The Crossing Guard starring Jack Nicholson and Angelica Huston.  The film was directed by Sean Penn.

The singer/musician passed away in 2002 at age 86.
Reportedly, the first black woman to host a TV show in the 1950s was celebrated pianist and singer Hazel Scott. Scott did guest appearances in two MGM musicals.  I love that Hadda Brooks made history as the second black woman in America to host her own TV show -- and she hosted it in her hometown.


  1. Thank you for the research, and posting this story! Very interesting!

  2. THANK YOU for noticing and reading it.


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