30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Herbert L Calhoun
- Published on Amazon.com
I doubt if we will ever again see the likes of Mr. Harry Belafonte (HB), or the likes of an autobiography as meaty and as life affirming as this one. No one else in the American entertainment firmament will ever have as the back up group to his nineteen year old "coming out debut:" Charley Parker, Max Roach, Al Haig, and Tommy Potter! And that is just for openers. From that auspicious beginning, Harry Belafonte's life, although it did not get easier, did just keep on getting more and more interesting.
Here is a story full of life -- that is to say full of its challenges, tragedies, pathos and victories, both lows and highs -- that challenge and warm the human spirit. But somehow too, it is a life in which against all odds the good guy keeps on winning. As he crosses the red-hot coals of America's racist society, Mr. Belafonte just keeps jumping from one preset trap after another, until he has simply grown too big, too powerful and too rich for the traps to work against him any longer. And while he never completely crosses the hot desert sands (no one ever does in this society), he does repeatedly subdue American racism by "outfoxing" and "end-running" it.
Born on the cusp of the Black Renaissance - a dirt-poor immigrant with meager talents, and from a broken family - Harry Belafonte caught the last seat on the train that contained the heroes of that era. Not only did he rub shoulders with the likes of Paul Robeson and WEB Du Bois, but also they were among his mentors, teachers and friends. So too were a host of other Hollywood types that later gained great fame (or infamy) as more than just plastic personalities. They included Marlon Brando and Shelly Winters, among many others.
In a nutshell the reader will discover that the arc of this story is about how a dyslexic insecure Island boy, who had punched out one of his eyes at the age of eight, came to New York and managed to retain his dignity and avoid being neutered on his way to becoming a successful black entertainer. It is thus not just a story about overcoming the normal built-in racist adversity, but also about how one man could become inventive and resourceful enough to affect the system of American oppression so that those coming along afterwards might also have a chance at success.
The Hallmark of the "Harry Belafonte way," was to be uncompromising about his dignity, his craft and the politics of his survival. Mr. Belafonte was no ones fool, he too saw that the easy backdoor was wide open for any blacks who wanted success by first depositing their dignity and their nuts at the door. He understood all too well the politics of America's quid pro quo to its black performers: become an Uncle Tom or an Aunt Jemima, that is, hand over your dignity and your nuts at the door and we give you 30 pieces of silver, and you are then allowed to live like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby and Louis Armstrong, ever after.
Mr. Belafonte chose not to take up the nation's standing quid pro quo offer. Instead he went hungry, went into analysis, and lived on the edge for many harrowing years before he was able to carve out a new path to his own existence, one that allowed him to survive keeping his mind and body (that is his dignity and his nuts) intact. Was it easy? No. If he had it to do over again, would he do it the same way? Yes. Did many of his friends (like Sydney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, Bill Cosby, and Oprah Winfry) take the open door? Yes. Were they rewarded for taking the easier route? Yes. Does he begrudge them for doing so? No.
It is all here in this story and much more, including Mr. Belafonte's close relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how he was able to deal with his own personal demons that at one time or another included gambling, and womanizing. Next to Andre Agassi's autobiography, "Open," this is the one to buy. Five stars