Nina Mae McKinney, superstar…

Posted by Winifred on May 16th, 2014

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It was totally by accident that the TV was turned off and left on TCM and that we at the right moment would turn it back on to find ourselves stopped short at what looked like a very early film with an all black cast. It was from 1929 no less! The film was Hallelujah, directed by King Vidor featuring a beautiful, magnetic, sassy, raspy voiced star named Nina Mae McKinney. She jumps off the screen immediately, with her doe eyes, her pouty lips, her decisive but feminine moves. Who was she? Why had we never heard of her before and why was she not on our Pinterest boards?

Nina Mae, (pronounced Nine-ah) was born in Lancaster, South Carolina. She had moved to New York as part of the great migration and was discovered on Broadway in the musical Blackbirds of 1928 by Director King Vidor. What is so remarkable is that Nina Mae was only 16 when she starred in Hallelujah, thus she had everything ahead of her. She had beauty, energy, playfulness, she had sexy, spunk and glamour. She should have had it all.

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She was the first black actress to star in a sound film, and was even signed to a 5 year contract with MGM after the success of Hallelujah which included an Oscar nomination for best writing. This, however, never led to any significant roles and she soon left for Europe where she starred in several British films and also performed in cabarets. In Europe they called her the black Garbo. And that she was.

That there are not many photos or even all of her films in the American archives serves us well. That way, we will not mourn for what could have been and not question why she was not a ultra glamorous, divine and richly chronicled star. Without the interference of less flattering photographs and unflattering film roles to mar the thrill of our discovery, we can construct the image of her that we prefer. A great beauty and enduring star.

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In our view of her, Nina Mae McKinney has her hair perfectly set and waved, ultra thin long silky lashes make her already large eyes, sparkle. Her lips are ruby red, a shade of russian red just for her. She is in an Orry-Kelly gown, very low in the back, semi low in front, sequins lighting up her tiny frame and curves. Her nails, also red, holding a long cigarette of course, like all elegant ladies of the 1930s should. And in her photographs, shadows play up her beautiful skin against dark backgrounds, her eyes the stars that mesmerize and seduce. Her days would look like this and her glamour shook up the world…

Images Via pocinclassicfilm

Posted in : Beauty Refined, Classic Films, In an Ideal World...  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Friday, May 16th, 2014 at 12:33 pm and is filed under Beauty Refined, Classic Films, In an Ideal World.... You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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