October 13, 1945 p. 26
WRITING in the October issue of Esquire Magazine, George Jean Nathan, drama critic, takes quite a lot of space to discuss the popularity of the Negro in the theatre, movies, radio, night club and concert halls. Many of Mr. Nathan's observations are valid. Others are cock-eyed. Giving a cock-eyed slant on things theatrical has been one of Mr. Nathan's long suits or many years; but what this writer cannot understand is just what Mr. Nathan, who is known to be a cynic among his colleagues, is trying to stir up when he says: "One of the alarming aspects of our contemporary theatre is its race prejudice and racial discrimination. To observe the theatre of a democratic nation, whose chief tenet has always been that all men are born free and equal, discriminating against whites in favor of Negroes is a matter for some concern. The discrimination is increasingly unmistakable. It is also in a way understandable. But the prospect remains, if things continue at the present pace, that the day may come when one will have to go down to the Barter Theatre in Virginia to [...] a white actor on a stage."
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HOW MR. NATHAN ARRIVES at the conclusion that whites are being discriminated against in favor of the Negro in the theatre, is beyond me, as is his assumption that "the day may come when one will have to go" [sic] to Virginia to see a white actor on a stage." Any nit-wit can take a gander at the theatre ads in any daily paper and see for himself how ridiculous are Mr. Nathan's pipe dream fears. At this very moment, there are at least 25 legitimate shows enjoying capacity and near-to-capacity business on Broadway. Out of that number, there are three shows with three to six Negroes in otherwise white casts, one all-Negro drama and one all-Negro musical.
Mr. Nathan goes on to say that "the Negroes have proved themselves and have fully earned their estate. And the first peculiarly to agree are the very whites who are in danger of being ultimatly [sic] ousted by them." He seems a little alarmed at the fact that the Derwent prize for the best performance of a supporting player was awarded Fred O'Neal by white judges of the theatre world and that Hilda Simms and Alice Childress, all of Anna Lucasta, were given endorsement by these judges.
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MAKE NO MISTAKE, Mr. Nathan is more than familiar with Negro talent. Indeed he has been lauding the names of many for a quarter of a century. In his article, he uses many of these names. Many of his reviews about Negro talent have given praise when some constructive criticism would have been of more value. I often have gotten the feeling that he, like many other white critics in judging Negro talent, uses a Negro yardstick.
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MY BOY REALLY GETS CORNY when he says, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and Frank Tinney actually had to black up in order to gain the favor of their audiences. Nathan by his own admission here, says that the progress of Negroes in the theatre world is very slow. All three of these black-face comedians gained favor with the public some forty to fifty years ago. According to this, it would take the Negro some 300 years to displace the whites in the theatre providing, of course, we don't gain popularity more rapidly than we have, in the fifty-year period between Jolson, Tinney and Cantor's initial success and the year, 1945.
To wind up the article, Nathan clasps hands warmly with the Octavus Roy Cohen psychology and says, "And out of the theatre the whites are dancing the Negro's dances, playing his numbers game, shooting his favorite craps, eating his mammy's friend [sic] chicken dinners, and laying in the sun hopefully trying to look like him. Maybe it's all for the best."
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NATHAN AND ALL the other whites are laboring under the delusion that Negroes have a monopoly on dice, fried chicken, etc., would do well to remember that the white folk ate fried chicken long before we could afford the luxury of such a sumptious [sic] meal. As to the "craps," there are and always have been far more white crap-shooting operators than Negro. Seems to me that Arnold Rothstein lost his life because he was proficient at the game. And anyway, who the hell invented the things? I'm sure it wasn't a Negro. And I'm sure also, the white folk were rolling the bones a long time before the Negro got hip to the fact that they can spell dough.
Tut, tut, Mr. Nathan. Seems you could find much better and more valid topics to expend your time and talents projecting. We are kind of tired being held up to ridicule. Too bad that you folk who with so much delight, poke the fun, couldn't wake up one morning with a permanent black. Then you'd commence to understand how we feel.