Old Hollywood and The One Drop Rule
One Drop In Old Hollywood
By Lorraine Spencer
In our race obsessed country, I have recently noticed more and more discussions about that infamous One Drop Rule on the various blogs and other online publications. Passing is still quite relevant evidently and some of the now obsolete terms that accompanied certain percentages of Negro blood. lol. I still say let people call themselves what they want to be called regardless of appearance. Back in the day, Hollywood’s famous Bennett sisters had no use for ‘one drop’ or anything that came with it.
Or it would be more precise to say, had Hollywood Execs known about the Bennett family history, Hollywood would have had no use for them.
(Image: Constance, Joan and Barbara Bennett)
Lewis Morrison (born Morris W. Morris) was a Jamaican immigrant who fought in the Negro troops for the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War. He became the first black and Jewish officer in the Confederate Army. When Louisiana passed a law that prevented blacks from serving, Morris’ Louisiana Native Guard changed sides and he became the first black and Jewish officer in the Union Army. After the war, Morris pursued what would be a life- long career in acting and changed his name to Lewis Morrison. He became a worldwide icon for his portrayal of “Mephistopheles” in Faust, which opened in New York in 1889. Morrison played “Mephistopheles” for fifteen years without a break until his death of complications from stomach surgery in 1906.
Morrison’s great grandson, late talk show host Morton Downey Jr. said Morrison changed his name to draw attention away from his black and Jewish background. His grand daughters, Barbara, Constance and Joan were able to avoid the scrutiny that other black actresses faced even though their appearance was also white. Some black or biracial actresses of the time who could have passed chose not do so. Morrison apparently saw the benefits of passing for his family and disappeared into white society. Ironic that Morton Downey Jr. appeared to embrace his ancestry (at least he was not ashamed of it) spending lots of time in Africa and aiding Biafran refugees with his wealth. Many people had great disdain for Morton Downey Jr. As he was the first shock jock on television. He said that the producers of the show were on him to do something more outrageous than the day before. The pressure was more and more intense. It was truly a ratings game and we know how that works.. In reality Morton Downey Jr. appears to have been a good guy and was not ashamed of his African roots as his great grandfather Morris appeared to be.
Morrison’s great-great grandson Phil Downey verifies that his great-great grandfather indeed did attempt to erase his black and Jewish heritage. I don’t blame Morrison for trying to live an easier life for his himself, family and career. People who could pass did, but Morrison successfully erased his black (and Jewish) heritage and obviously passed the acting bug down to his daughter Adrienne Morrison Bennett (with British actress Rose Wood) and his granddaughters Barbara, Constance and Joan. I doubt highly that the Bennett sisters would have seen the Hollywood success they did had it been known that their grandfather served in the Negro troops (on both sides) during the Civil War. Morrison’s attitude was not to let any racist policy keep him from success on stage. He rejected the one drop rule and successfully “passed” on it.
Adrienne Morrison Bennett
Adrienne Morrison Bennett
Morton Downey Sr. and wife Barbara Bennett
Joan Bennett as a natural blonde
Morton Downey Jr.
Lorraine Spencer is a resourceful, inspiring and motivating relationship coach who helps those in various stages of their life journey. A Christian wife and mother, Lorraine is also an accomplished mentor, life coach strategist, songwriter/lyricist, and author. She is also known as “Swirl Queen” and “Forensicmommy”. Lorraine is a Hoosier by birth. She has lived in many states lending her experience to meet many people from different regions of the country and world. Lorraine has made a home with her family in Los Angeles, California. When not coaching, writing, in conferences or out on long walks, Lorraine enjoys spending time with her family and watching movies.