Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Original Dreams aren't Happy

Jennifer Holiday, who made the role of Effie White famous in the broadway hit, Dreamgirls is speaking out. She feels pushed aside by the film's producers who apparently use her rendition of, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" in the film's promo's but give her no credit.

In a candid interview, Jennifer tells the Boston Globe how she has unwittingly become a reflection of her most famous role. She's upset that the producers never approached her to be involved in the film. "Why is it necessary for them to wipe out my existence in order for them to have their success?" Holiday has publicly pondered. "It's scary that they can be so cruel. I know it's business, but why do they have to go to this extreme? I'm a human being. Why do I have to die to make them a winner?" Holiday's life has taken some Effie-like turns. She suffered from severe depression, had two failed marriages, and tried to commit suicide on her 30th birthday. She later lost a whopping 200 lbs. and started recording again but it's been an uphill struggle.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, the original Deena is just as miffed. "When Tom Eyen who is the creator, had this idea, he said that the Dreams have to be three obviously black girls," Ralph said in a recent interview. "Why? Because America will always go for that light, bright, long-haired black girl because they will feel comfortable building her up, since they see themselves in her. But for the obviously black girl, if she makes it, she deserves to be right there...So, when they cast Beyoncé in the role of Deena Jones, I said, 'Wow, this is exactly what Tom Eyen said would happen. They are going to take to that light, bright blackish blond girl because they feel comfortable with her. That's the reality.'" - OUCH!!

The only former Dreamgirl to appear in the film was Loretta Devine.

I understand how the former Dreamgirls would be bitter about being excluded. But I wonder if they made these comments before actually seeing the movie. Admittedly, I never saw the stage version featuring Ralph or Holiday, but I thought both Beyonce and Jennifer did an amazing job making these roles their own and encourage any and all to see the film.

Meet the real Effie White

I just saw the film Dreamgirls. What a movie! I was captivated from the moment it began until the very end, and then I wanted to rewind it and watch it all over again. I left the theater wondering to what extent art imitated life. It's widely known that the film is a loose depiction of the iconic group, the Supremes.

It took very little digging on the Internet for me to meet the real Effie White. Well, at least the person that the character is in memory of. The real Effie White is the deceased Florence Ballard. This revelation will be of little shock to Supreme enthusiasts but if you are new to the story as I am, you may be fascinated.

Florence was incredibly talented and blessed with an awesome voice. It was said that she had to stand 17 feet away from the microphone when recording with the Supremes, while Diana Ross and Mary Wilson stood right up on the mic to produce the same sound.

Ballard was discovered by Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Temptations when she was only 14 years old. They referred her to their producer/manager Milton Jenkins who built a group around her, pulling in fellow Brewster Project residents, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson. The group eventually signed with Motown, but the road to stardom was bittersweet for Flo.

In the group's early years, Florence was the group's central figure although all three girls were given an opportunity to sing lead. Convinced that it was Diana Ross' higher register that would be accepted by the larger white audiences, Gordy reconstructed the group as a vehicle for her alone, reducing Ballard and Wilson to little more than backing singers. Many thought the change had more to do with Gordy and Ross' relationship behind the scenes then her crossover appeal.

Ballard resisted this change, only to find herself a constant victim of criticism and abuse from both Gordy and Ross. Unable to cope with the situation, she gradually retreated into alcoholism. This lead to weight gain and unreliability, providing Gordy with an easy excuse to expel her from her own group in 1967. The group was subsequently re-named Diana Ross and The Supremes, with vocalist Cindy Birdsong taking Ballard's place.

After the Supremes, Florence severed her relationship with Motown and sued the label for royalties owed to her. She went on to sign with ABC Records but after two flops, ABC dropped her. Things only got worse as Ballard lost her home to foreclosure, separated from her husband, and delved deeper into alcohol and drug use. Eventually Ballard found herself on welfare, raising her three daughters in the same projects she grew up in.

In 1975, the ex-Supreme received a large settlement for a personal injury incident that helped her get back on her feet. She overcame her addictions and reconciled with her estranged husband. Unfortunately, before she could reignite her career she died of heart failure at the young age of 32.

Not exactly the happy ending portrayed in the movie. After learning more about Florence, I am left wondering why a biopic film based on her life hasn't been made.