ETHEL WATERS & JACK JOHNSON:

Ethel Waters started off singing on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Waters had grown up in the red light district of Philadelphia and she ran errands for prostitutes and served as a lookout for pimps.  She was married at 13 and divorced at 15.  Once she hit the road as a singer, she became a star. Show business toughened her and stories flew all over New York and Los Angeles about her stormy relationships with men and allegedly women. Waters once said she wanted to buy the current man in her life an automobile that stretched from one end of the block to the next. She likewise lavished gifts on her women and she unleashed a fury on anybody that crossed her. She was known for her volcanic temper.

During her life, Waters remained scarred by her troubled childhood and the racism she experienced. Waters also felt Lena Horne and Josephine Baker were trying to upstage her. One evening a talent scout took her out to Warner’s Studio in Burbank and introduced her to production chief Darryl F. Zanuck. After Waters auditioned, singing, “Am I Blue?” Zanuck offered her a job. Waters demanded $1,250.00 per week with a four-week guarantee. Zanuck told her she drove a hard bargain but he agreed to her terms.

Waters became the first African-American to deal with Hollywood on her terms. One evening, backstage, after a nightclub performance, boxing champ Jack Johnson came to her dressing room with his white wife in tow. Waters and Johnson got into a deep discussion and allegedly Johnson’s wife felt left out and made a derogatory comment towards Waters. Waters exploded and threw them both out.

Also, singer Crystal Waters (100% Pure Love) is the great-great niece of Ethel Waters.

Source: "Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams," by Donald Bogle.

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