Today we have Halle Berry earning a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in 2001's "Monster’s Ball". It make one wonder what kind of career the talented and beautiful Lena Horne (b. 1917) might have had under today’s standards versus the era of her youth. She was an immense talent both as a singer and an actress. She got her start at age 14 as a dancer in Harlem’s famous Cotton Club, a place where black entertainers were mostly enjoyed by a white audience. By 16 she was packing them in as a singer and later moved on to some parts in Broadway productions. At 21 she was ready for Hollywood but was it ready for her? She had small roles in "The Duke is Tops" (1938) and "Panama Hattie" (1942) but they were singing "inserts" and not really acting parts. In 1943 she appeared in the all black production of "Stormy Weather" and the title song became her signature. Perhaps her best role as an actress was in "Cabin in the Sky", also an all black production from 1943.
By the late 1940's she was still doing inserts for major movies like "Words and Music" (1948) and "Duchess of Idaho" (1950). Although these inserts were nice productions, they rarely had anything to do with the plot. They were simply "fluff" that could be removed from the film when it was sent into the south, an area where no black person was to receive any type of favorable recognition even though the Civil War had been over for almost 100 years.
Lena has referred to her early career as being "a sepia Hedy Lamarr", a reference to the beautiful Austrian actress of that time. Fortunately, she had a nice career despite the prejudices of the times but one wonders what might have been.