The Life and Career of Ethel Waters
By Donald Bogle
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061241734, 640pp.)
Publication Date: February 2011
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From the author of the bestselling Dorothy Dandridge comes a dazzling look at one of America's brightest and most troubled theatrical stars.
Almost no other star of the twentieth century reimagined herself with such audacity and durable talent as did Ethel Waters. In this enlightening and engaging biography, Donald Bogle resurrects this astonishing woman from the annals of history, shedding new light on the tumultuous twists and turns of her seven-decade career, which began in Black vaudeville and reached new heights in the steamy nightclubs of 1920s Harlem.
Bogle traces Waters' life from her poverty-stricken childhood to her rise in show business; her career as one of the early blues and pop singers, with such hits as "Am I Blue?," "Stormy Weather," and "Heat Wave"; her success as an actress, appearing in such films and plays as The Member of the Wedding and Mamba's Daughters; and through her lonely, painful final years. He illuminates Waters' turbulent private life, including her complicated feelings toward her mother and various lovers; her heated and sometimes well-known feuds with such entertainers as Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horne; and her tangled relationships with such legends as Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harold Clurman, Elia Kazan, Count Basie, Darryl F. Zanuck, Vincente Minnelli, Fred Zinnemann, Moss Hart, and John Ford.
In addition, Bogle explores the ongoing racial battles, growing paranoia, and midlife religious conversion of this bold, brash, wildly talented woman while examining the significance of her highly publicized life to audiences unaccustomed to the travails of a larger-than-life African American woman.
Wonderfully atmospheric, richly detailed, and drawn from an array of candid interviews, Heat Wave vividly brings to life a major cultural figure of the twentieth centurya charismatic, complex, and compelling woman, both tragic and triumphant.
Donald Bogle is one of the country's leading authorities on African Americans in Hollywood. He is the author of the groundbreaking Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films; the acclaimed biography Dorothy Dandridge; and Brown Sugar: Over 100 Years of America's Black Female Superstars. He teaches at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and at the University of Pennsylvania.
“A penetrating look at a woman of massive talent and determination.”
-Booklist (starred review)
“In this powerful biography, Bogle recovers the rich fullness of singer Ethel Waters’s life...Bogle’s thorough and unflinchingly honest look at Waters’s brilliant and flawed life will undoubtedly be the definitive biography of this great woman”