In Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams, Donald Bogle tells–for the first time–the story of a place both mythic and real: Black Hollywood. Spanning sixty years, this deliciously entertaining history uncovers the audacious manner in which many blacks made a place for themselves in an industry that originally had no place for them.
Through interviews and the personal recollections of Hollywood luminaries, Bogle pieces together a remarkable history that remains largely obscure to this day. We discover that Black Hollywood was a place distinct from the studio-system-dominated Tinseltown–a world unto itself, with unique rules and social hierarchy. It had its own talent scouts and media, its own watering holes, elegant hotels, and fashionable nightspots, and of course its own glamorous and brilliant personalities.
Along with famous actors including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Hattie McDaniel (whose home was among Hollywood’s most exquisite), and, later, the stunningly beautiful Lena Horne and the fabulously gifted Sammy Davis, Jr., we meet the likes of heartthrob James Edwards, whose promising career was derailed by whispers of an affair with Lana Turner, and the mysterious Madame Sul-Te-Wan, who shared a close lifelong friendship with pioneering director D. W. Griffith. But Bogle also looks at other members of the black community–from the white stars’ black servants, who had their own money and prestige, to gossip columnists, hairstylists, and architects–and at the world that grew up around them along Central Avenue, the Harlem of the West.
In the tradition of Hortense Powdermaker’s classic Hollywood: The Dream Factory and Neal Gabler’s An Empire of Their Own, in Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams, Donald Bogle re-creates a vanished world that left an indelible mark on Hollywood–and on all of America.
Bogle, whose previous works (Primetime Blues, etc.) have focused primarily on the "screen images" of blacks, now explores "what happened just before the cameras rolled or once the performers left the studio to go home... how people lived and socialized." Starting with Madame Sul-Te-Wan's work in D.W. Griffith's 1915 The Birth of a Nation and ending with the 1960s deaths of Louise Beavers, Nat "King" Cole and Dorothy Dandridge, Bogle tells the stories of the stars of Black Hollywood: their outfits, their love affairs and their struggles for better roles. Initially, his coverage is encyclopedic he includes the black independent studios, the work of Black Hollywood architect Paul Williams, stories of the wives of major black stars, Black Hollywood's residential shifts but gossip about the big personalities (Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, etc.) gradually overwhelms the narrative. Some important black actors, like Paul Robeson and Canada Lee, are barely mentioned, as if their politics made them less dishy. And while the hundred photos Bogle includes are wonderful, a single map of Black Hollywood would've made the discussions of changes in residential segregation much more meaningful. Still, Bogle's lively style (the Sugar Hill neighborhood wasn't quite Hollywood Hills, but it wasn't "chopped liver either") and his many anecdotes will entertain and inform film students and black history buffs alike.