Lena Horne Was a Friend to the Press

"She made remarkable revelations," biographer says.

Lena Horne and Ed Bradley (CBS)
Lena Horne and Ed Bradley (CBS)

The late CBS correspondent Ed Bradley was fond of saying, “When I get to the pearly gates and St. Peter asks what have I done to gain entry, I’ll say, `Have you seen my Lena Horne interview?’ “

In that classic 1981 piece for “60 Minutes” [video], “he got the legendary performer to candidly discuss topics she had never broached in public: race, sex and the cost of being black in Hollywood. At one point, she even reached out to take his hand,” David Zurawik recalled in the Baltimore Sun after Bradley died in 2006.

It takes nothing away from Bradley’s interviewing skills to say that Horne, who died Sunday night at 92, was a friend to reporters.

“She was very accessible to the press from the very beginning of her career,” said James Gavin, author of “Stormy Weather: the Life of Lena Horne,” published last year.

In fact, “she very often had an easier time telling the truth to strangers than she did to friends,” Gavin told Journal-isms on Monday.

“When I interviewed her at 30 in the spring of 1994, she didn’t know me. She knew that I cared about her and cared about her career. She gave me one of the best interviews she ever gave anybody. We talked for over two hours. It became the kernel of the book that I did 10 years later.

“She did hundreds of radio and print interviews. She made remarkable revelations that made my book possible,” he said.

“Something always came out. She wasn’t always presenting the politically correct, image-conscious Lena Horne.” Many of the revelations concerned her treatment by the MGM studios. But she also talked about racism, such as the time in the late 1940s when she was told she could not address the white host of a radio show by his first name.  Horne blasted the racism of the broadcast industry in an interview with Nate Gross of the New York Daily News.

Cooperating with the press was part of the job, Horne told younger entertainers, such as the veteran singer-songwriters Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.