HELLO AMERICA!—Hearing about the sudden illness of Harry Belafonte was very disturbing as well as surprising. He was scheduled to be honored in person at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation’s Restore Brooklyn Annual Benefit Gala in New York City.
I spoke with the folk singer several months ago and he seemed just as sassy and determined as ever when discussing current music and always the political scene. Of course, we reminisced about our film “Carmen Jones” experience and I quickly reminded him that he was not very nice to me during the shoot of that picture. He exploded with a big laugh and said, “Hey, Mike, you just don’t remember what a pushy little bastard you were! No matter where we turned, you were there listening and watching every move we made. Every breath I took, you were there, in a way it was kinda’ scary, man!”
I was shocked by his recollection and attempted to differ but he insisted his memory was on target. “Hey,” he said, “You were so anxious to be recognized, you got on everybody’s nerves. No matter where we turned YOU were there. I don’t know why BUT Otto Preminger (director) seemed to enjoy it.”
However, Belafonte didn’t hesitate to tell me that he has been aware of all the creative things with which I’ve been involved through the years. He even watched my performance with legendary actress Ethel Waters in her Tony award play “Member of the Wedding” and quickly noted:
“Now, Mike I saw the original play with Waters on Broadway and there was no fight scene between the half-brother and Ethel’s character. And I knew something was going on between you and her. For years I’ve been dying to know it about it.” I quickly informed Harry that he was right, in the scene he was referring to, Ethel was not supposed to throw a chair at me, she was just to yell and beg me not to take anymore drugs. Instead, I was so shocked by the new action on her part, and threw the chair back at HER. And the audience exploded with applause which made her furious.
Harry agreed that it definitely worked but his knowing Miss Waters personally; he knew she was not happy with that. I quickly agreed with that assumption. In truth, when I finally decided to talk with Belafonte after so many years of avoiding him based on the Carmen Jones film, I realized that I might have been too sensitive. After all, I was only 18-years-old, hungry to be considered special by the industry since I was forced to make a new life in Los Angeles and not New York as previously planned. I, also, needed to finally put behind me all the horror and drama which sucked at every crevice of my being. Instinctively, I was in a fast mode of escape to survive.
Harry Belafonte made me realize this more than anyone after our last conversation and I will forever be grateful. I hope my former acting buddy and nemeses gets well quickly, he is and always has been one of a Calypso kind.