Black History Month starts tomorrow, so I thought I’d start publishing some excerpts from The Queen of Comedy. TQOC is a generational and historical novel about a family of entertainers. Their craft is comedy, and while the book does include romance, the focus is more on the black celebrity during segregation, and what they had to go through.
I use the love/hate relationship between a woman who was cast as a maid in a number of films, and her nephew, a man who becomes a stand up comedian during the 60s.
Brilliant comic. Flawed woman. One legendary career.
Most people recognize the face, if not the name. That apple cheeked, rich brown face with the inviting smile that adorns baking products worldwide. Older movie goers fondly recall her role as the friendly, wise cracking maid in over one hundred films. But to her family and spurned lovers, the tongue of Honi Hawkins was brutally uncompromising and anything but funny, as she fought to become THE QUEEN OF COMEDY. ©
It was like James Brown sang, “This is a Man’s World.” David even did his own grass. He bought one of those riding lawn mowers, and when he wasn’t at the studio he raced around on it like a cowboy sitting tall in the saddle. He started wearing slouchy cardigan sweaters like Bing Crosby always wore, and carrying a pipe like Bob Hope. He even insisted that Contessa have a martini ready for him when he came home from a long hard day at the studio. They were almost happy, almost content. So when David read in the paper about the growing violence in the Negro community, he found himself agreeing with the intellectuals that blamed the unrest on the poor and uneducated. His people became “those” people, because in his mind he was being treated just fine. The race problem didn’t affect him outright. He was living the American Dream. So this was no time to be trippin’. At the studio he found himself hard pressed to explain the actions of other Negroes. The studio even sent a memo, cautioning him against associating with “troublemakers,” reminding him of the morality clause in his contract. So he suffered in silence, unwilling to explode because if he did, he knew his dream world would come crashing down around him.
The man standing in David’s driveway wore Bermuda shorts and carried a drink. A small paper umbrella was lodged at the bottom of his glass like a sunken ship. His chest was bare, paunchy and hairy. And he was in David’s pebbled walkway dripping a trail of water. “Just got out the pool,” the guy said with a grin, reading the question on David’s face. “Thought it was time I introduced myself.” He extended his right hand and David shook it. “My name’s John Graham. Just stopped by to say hello.”
David cracked a wide smile. “Well, I’m glad somebody ‘round here thinks progressive. My name’s David Latimore and I’m glad to meet you, John.”
They both stood there while John cleared his throat a few times before he spoke again. “Yep. I’ve been admiring this house for some time. Almost bought it myself. It’s the best looking piece of property in this area. You’re doing a real fine job of keeping the yard up. A real fine job. I’m sure your boss is happy with your work. By the way, how much do you charge?”
David’s grin quickly faded. Okay, maybe he’d heard him wrong. That was a possibility. Naw. Don’t fool yourself. You heard him loud and clear. He thinks you’re the gardener. Contessa could hear raised voices so she pulled back the blinds and looked out the window. She couldn’t tell what David was saying to the visitor but whatever he was saying made the guy turn redder than his tan. David’s arms were going ‘round like a windmill for emphasis. She hurried to the couch once she saw her husband turn and storm back toward their house.
“I see you’ve met our neighbors,” she said, pretending to be interested in a copy of Jet magazine when David barged in. With one Capri pant leg crossed over the other, swinging back and forth like a pendulum, she casually told him, “We can always call Hal. He hasn’t rented our New York apartment yet.”
David ignored her, walking over to the bar and drinking straight from a bottle of Johnny Walker Red. “We’re staying,” he said, after gulping liquor that burned his throat as it went down. The pain felt good.
“We don’t belong here—”
“We belong wherever the hell I say we belong!” he suddenly roared, slamming the bottle on the bar top.
“Did you know they’re starting a petition to get us out of the neighborhood? I can’t even sit on my own front lawn with our baby without somebody driving by and calling me a nigger!” she cried.
David was unsympathetic. “Then keep yo black ass in the backyard, because we ain’t leavin. They ain’t gonna make us leave—”
“They don’t want us here, David!” Her words poured endlessly. “What can’t you accept that? Why can’t we go back and live among our friends?”
“And what am I supposed to do in New York? Be Mr. Contessa Earl? Change your sheet music for you? That’s what you want, right? To have me sitting under you while you make your grand return to the Big Apple. ‘Hey everybody, Contessa Earl’s back!! Now we know who really wears the pants in the family.’ ”
“Is that what you really think?”
It was too late to back down now. He took another long drink from the bottle and turned to face her. “I think you wanna go back to New York to be with your friends. Especially your male friends.”
~~~~~ End of Excerpt ~~~~~
Read a five chapter excerpt here