Friday, January 31, 2014

Dreamy Kid - A Play: Zara Cully Brown

I love seeing the different articles talking about Zara Cully Brown. Every article and every new information I come across helps build and develop the story of my Great Aunt. I only knew her for the first part of my life, as she passed away when I was 10 years old. She was, I believe one of my mother's favorite Aunties. Zara is well known for the Jefferson's but I am finding it fulfilling to see how her career developed over time as she didn't make it big in Hollywood until she was a senior. It is a testament to me that it is never too late to live your dreams.

Los Angeles Sentinel
June 6, 1957
Page B10
FIRST NIGHTERS gather back stage to congratulate cast of "Dreamy Kid," now on stage at Hollywood Center theatre.  Shown left to right: Clarence Muse, Hari Rhodes, who played title role, Isabelle Colley played his girl friend, Bill Walker, Pauline Myers who was Ceely Ann and Helen Highes holding hand of Zara Cully Brown, who played the Dreamy Kid's grandmother.  Play was directed by James Edwards.
Sentinel Photo by Cliff Hall 
I had heard of Clarence Muse, so I decided to Google him. I also met one of his descendants online doing research a few years ago.

Wikipedia:  Clarence Muse (October 14, 1889 – October 13, 1979) was an actorscreenwriterdirectorcomposer, and lawyer. He was inducted in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1973. Muse was the first African American to "star" in a film. He acted for more than sixty years, and appeared in more than 150 movies.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ex-Schoolteacher Set To Play in Sugar Hill

Zara Cully Brown was a school teacher in Jacksonville, Florida.  She was an Elocutionist.  Her training began in Worcester, MA and once she married James M. Brown, she took her skills with her to Florida where her sister Hannah Cully who married Elvin Brown "Unkie", the brother of James Brown.

I remember my mother mentioning Aunt Zara getting a part in Sugar Hill.  I was five years old at the time.  I posted the letter on a previous post that Zara sent to my mother regarding the movie that she was contemplating about accepting. You can go to the link here>>>> A letter from Zara Cully Brown to My Mother Regarding: Sugar Hill

New York Amsterdam News
October 20, 1973
Pg D6


Ex-Schoolteacher Set To Play in Sugar Hill

"Sugar Hill," a drama filled with voodoo and crime, is being filmed in Houston, Texas with Zara Cully playing the role of an aged voodoo priestess, Mama Maitress.
A former school teacher in Jacksonville, Fla., now a busy actress, Zara Cully, has played in "The Liberation of L.B. Jones," "A Hall of Mirror," "The Great White Hope," and "Brother John."
The Drama which is being directed by Paul Maslansky and produced by Elliot Schick is expected to be released by the American International in February, 1974.
The cast includes Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley, Richard Lawson And Betty Anne Rees. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Madame Zara Cully Brown: A Dramatic Reader

Zara Cully Brown
Photo in Private Family Collection
My Great Aunt Zara Cully Brown, who was born January 26, 1892 in Worcester, Massachusetts enjoyed performing at a very young age.  Her whole family was also very talented.  Zara's sister Agnes Cully Peters (my grandmother) and my mother Betty Mae Peters moved to Los Angeles so that Aunt Zara could pursue her career in acting.  At the time, Zara was living in my grandmother's apartment in New York with her husbands brother "Unkie" who also moved with to Los Angeles.

Over time I have found mentions of Zara and will be posting these over time to get a full picture of some of the activities that she was a participant in.  

Los Angeles Sentinel
May 28, 1953
Page A4

Neighborhood Guild Presents Musical Treat

The Progressive Guild presented the Neighborhood Church orchestra in an evening of music May 24, in the church sanctuary, 47th place and San Pedro
Artists featured on the program included "Madame Zara Cully Brown," dramatic reader formerly of Jacksonville, Fla; Milton R. hall, flutist; Dr. H. Hamilton Williams, at the piano and Mrs. Minnette Finnis, soloist.
The orchestra played renditions of their own arrangements. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Harlem to New York: Zara Cully Brown - A Letter to my Mom

Zara Cully Brown, [my great-aunt] was a boarder in the same New York Apartment with her sister Agnes Cully Peters,  for a number of years between 1935-1940's.  My mother was quite young at the time, and I had not known that Aunt Zara ever lived in New York with my grandmother.  This discovery of their living arrangements was documented in the 1940's Census.

Aunt Zara had been living between Duval, Florida where she taught drama and was a elocutionist and New York.  She traveled to various states of the U.S. performing, speaking and doing readings.  Zara was not fully recognized as a talented & skilled actress until she landed the role of Olivia in "The Jeffersons."

Zara eventually moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950's taking my grandmother Agnes, her brother in-law "Unkie" Brown, and my mom.

I found this letter written to my mother regarding the movie role Zara took in "Sugar Hill" as the Voodoo high priestess..

Letter written to My mother Betty Mae Peters Porter

And here again, I have to take note that My brother and I were thought of indirectly.

" Kiss the children for me and excuse all errors."

Aunt Zara

I wanted to see what the home looked like that Aunt Zara lived in at the time this letter was written.  I do not remember this home, only the high-rise apartment she resided in a few years before her death in 1978.

What an adorable home.  Wonder if she chose this home as it seems similar to the homes Zara resided in Worcester, MA.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Yorker Makes Marian Anderson's Clothes: Newspaper Article #2

I received an inbox facebook message from a Mr. Adams informing me of a news article outlining the relationship of Marian Anderson to my grandmother Agnes Peters and how they were introduced.  He also informed me that some of my grandmother's dresses are held at the Museum of the City of New York.  I hope to have the opportunity of seeing some of Agnes' handiwork.

The article was written by Ollie Stewart of the Baltimore Afro-American dated April 19, 1941 on Page 17.

By Ollie Stewart
Next to her voice, the most outstanding thing about Marian Anderson is her wardrobe.
On the concert stage, as social gatherings, at home or wherever, she may be, America’s High Priestess of song is always a picture of what the well-dressed woman will soon be wearing.  She loves beautiful clothes, has lots of them and wears them well.  But if you think they’re all expensive Paris or Fifth Avenue creations, then you don’t know Marian Anderson.
The exquisite satin gown she wore at Carnegie Hall on the night of January 3, 1941 was designed and made by a modest little woman in Harlem, who is a wizard with needle and thread.  Her name is Mrs. Agnes Peters, and the telegram she received the day after the concert is among her most cherished possessions:
“Dress tremendous success last night,” the wire read.  “Enjoyed very much wearing it.  Congratulations.  Marian Anderson.”
Mrs. Peters has many more telegrams from the noted contralto, and she preserves them every one.  Most of them are sent from the Algonquin Hotel, where Marian Anderson stops when she comes to New York, and most of them are requests for Mrs. Peters to make, repair or design some article of clothing.
Plans Wardrobe
“Miss Anderson is a marvelous person,” the modiste (Mrs. Peters refers to herself as dressmaker) will tell you. “She is easy to fit, has many ideas of her own and looks well in anything she puts on.
“She plans her wardrobe months ahead.  Naturally she is very particular about an evening gown, but for many of her other things she gives me a general idea of what she wants and tells me to go ahead.”
A telegram dated November 3, 1939, marked the turning point in Mrs. Peters’ career.  It was sent to the wrong address, but when it finally arrived it brought a thrill that comes seldom in a lifetime.  Here it is:
“Please call me at your earliest convenience.  Miss Roberta Bosley recommended you.  Marian Anderson.”
Nervous and trembling, Mrs. Peters presented herself at the door of Marian Anderson’s suite in the Algonquin in a very short time.  She is barely five feet four in high heels ordinarily—but on this occasion she must have seemed even smaller, for Miss Anderson remarked after greeting her and making her feel at ease:
“Little” Person
“My, I never expected you would be such a little mite of a body!”
Back in 1937 Marian Anderson attracted nation-wide attention when she appeared as soloist at the Lewisohn stadium in New York City.  Among the thousands who heard her was Mrs. Peters – then a struggling unknown, seamstress with no husband, but with a growing daughter to rear and educate.
Mrs. Peters watched Miss Anderson in her hour of triumph, and inspiration touched her.  On the way home she said to her companion: “Some day I hope to do some sewing for Marian Anderson.  Maybe I’ll even make a dress for her to sing in.  Who knows?”
Wishing and working made it so.  Roberta Bosley, 135th Street librarian, knew Marian Anderson.  She also knew what miracles the tiny seamstress could work with a scrap of cloth, a needle, a thimble and a spool of thread.  So she brought the two together, with success.
Last summer, Mrs. Peters spent many weekends at Marianna Farm, Marian Anderson’s country place in Connecticut, sewing, relaxing and enjoying the intimate contact with the famous singer that millions will never know.
Wears Slacks
“Miss Anderson wears slacks most of the time.” She says.  “She raises all the green vegetables used in the house, she nourishes her flowers and then she rehearses.  Every day she rehearses with her accompanist.”
What about amusements?
“At night Miss Anderson would show us movies of her travels.  She has a first-class motion picture camera and a projector.  The pictures are Technicolor, and were taken in all parts of the world.  Miss Anderson operated the machine herself.”
Designs Simple
Mrs. Peters has been sewing practically all her life.  Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, one of a larger family of children, she became an expert on doll dresses at an age when she was scarcely any bigger than a large doll herself.
She has done work for a host of people, many of them outstanding—but she thinks Marian Anderson is unique in one respect.  “What I mean is,” she says, “Miss Anderson will have nothing but the best – in material, workmanship, etc.  But in designs she demands utmost simplicity.  The best on her does not look expensive, it just looks right, and nice.”

Monday, May 20, 2013

Before Harlem: Miss Agnes Cully of Worcester, Massachusetts

I am just fascinated by my maternal grandmother Agnes Cully Peters, who sewed for many notable entertainers, socialites, and business people in New York and other areas of the country.  She had gotten her start in Worcester, MA at a very young age.  

My mother told me that her mother Agnes' talent was likened to Mendelsohn, Van Gogh, and numerous others who were born with their talents.  Agnes was born with a talent for sewing.  When she was a little girl, she would find scraps of fabric and scissors, needles and thread, and she would fashion little doll clothes  She was not taught to do this or helped in any way.  Neither was she able to watch sewing being done.  Agnes just had the natural ability to sew, and when she went to cutting, she had no pattern, however, her scissors would fly with such preciseness of artistry.

Below is a photo of my grandmother's graduating class of 1917 at the Girls Trade School in Worcester, MA.

Agnes Mae Cully, Only African American in the front Row
My grandmother is someone I would like to emulate.  Not so much her talent, but her sense of purpose and passion for the things that she desired.  It is in my opinion that this little lady embraced who she was, and pursued her dreams and accomplished what she desired.  She said one day that she would hope to sew for Marian Anderson, and one day the opportunity appeared in a telegram from the singer herself.  I would have loved to have been in the room when she received that message, one of many, in the Fall of 1939.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Happens to A Dream Deferred?

When I think about the process of writing my mother's memoirs of Sugar Hill, my mind reflects on  Langston Hughes and one of his famous poems, "A Dream Deferred".

What Happens to A Dream Deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over?
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I will not allow my mother's dream of being published die and rot.  I feel the urgency of her stories wanting to be shared.  Did she feel like Langston Hughes when he scribed these words on paper? She deferred her dreams of pursuing her career in journalism, because as she put it, "Discrimination was live and well" and "I must be practical."  She took no risk...Why?

I could hear her say, "One day I will..."  "One day when I have time.."

That time never came...or did it?

"Does the Dream come first or does the dreamer?"

Is it the dreamer that moves on?  Is it the Dream that remains?  Who will pick up the mantel of the dream?
Will it be you?

I will not listen to the word, "wait!"  "We have waited far too long!"

"Why must we wait?"

"If not now?