Three award-winning female entertainers of Old Hollywood share a birthday today, June 30th, as well as a common experience of initial career struggle followed by tremendous success later in life.
Lena Horne (1917-2010), who would have been 98 this year, is easily the most recognizable African-American female performer of the Hollywood Studio era. A great beauty and a gorgeous voice with tremendous range, Horne sang in such musicals as Cabin In the Sky (1943) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946), but failed to secure top billings because of her race. After her film work in the 1940’s, Horne made frequent television appearances in the 50’s and 60’s. In 1981, Horne starred in the Broadway revue Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music for which she won a Tony, a Grammy and an Emmy. Throughout her long singing and acting career, Horne promoted civil rights and took an active role in the NAACP.
Susan Hayward (1917-1975) started out as a fashion model and began her acting career in small parts for B-grade films. It wasn’t until she began playing alcoholics, seductresses, and other anti-heroine roles that her career gained momentum. Natural and believable in intense dramas, Hayward earned five Academy Award nominations for Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947), My Foolish Heart (1949), With a Song in My Heart (1952), I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) and the film that finally earned her the win, I Want to Live! (1958). Hayward also replaced Judy Garland in the powerhouse role of Helen Lawson for Valley of the Dolls (1967). Hayward’s life was cut short by brain cancer, though she performed until she was too ill to be able.
Dorothy Malone (1925) began her acting career in the early 40’s. As a brunette, Malone got off to a slow start in minor roles, albeit in films as famous as The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart (1946), Night and Day with Cary Grant (1946) and Artists and Models with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (1955). In 1956, Malone went blonde and won an Academy Award for her sex-charged bad girl performance in Written on the Wind with Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall. After a handful of impressive film roles, Malone began a successful television career in the 60’s, and she is perhaps best known for playing Constance MacKenzie on Peyton Place from 1964-1968.