Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Diana Ross is one of a kind. No disrespect to the pop stars of today (well, that’s not entirely true. I have plenty of disrespect for the pop stars of today, but this isn't the forum), but take away their wigs, costumes, and multi-million dollar stage pyrotechnics, and Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, and even personal fave, Janet Jackson, all look like suitable candidates for the “&” half of any '60s girl group (à la, Martha & The Vandellas, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans).
Diana Ross, on the other hand, is nobody’s idea of a backup ANYTHING. She couldn't blend in if she wanted to—which, to hear childhood friend and former Supreme Mary Wilson tell it, is something Diana was incapable of even as a skinny teenager in Detroit’s Brewster projects. Take away Diana Ross’ wigs, makeup, and costumes (unimaginable, I know, but try), and you've still got yourself this thoroughly unique, almost bizarre little lightning rod of a woman with a thoroughly captivating, slightly nasal, honey-coated voice; that extraordinary, CinemaScope smile; enormous, Keane-size eyes; and a body I'd always likened to a satin-draped straight-razor.
In short; an original. Someone so unlike anyone else that she easily stands head-and-shoulders above the crowd…as is…without even trying. Add to all this a genuine talent and charisma capable of holding one’s attention without need for a phalanx of dancers and laser beams behind her, and you've got yourself Grade A star-quality of the sort conspicuously absent in today’s breed of homogeneous pop music androids culled from TV “talent” competitions and assembly-line image-stylist laboratories.
As someone who grew up with the music of The Supremes and always thought Diana Ross looked and acted like a full-fledged movie star (read: Diva) long before she actually became one; I viewed the Academy Award nomination she received for her film debut in Lady Sings the Blues (1972) as the realization of a professional inevitability. To some, Lady Sings the Blues was just the successful film debut of another singer/actress along the order of Barbra Streisand's breakout performance in Funny Girl. But to the Black community, Diana Ross making it as a movie star was recognized as the wholly auspicious, thoroughly inspirational landmark it was.
All Bow Down to the Goddess
I love how in this screencap she isn't flattered, flustered, or even embarrassed by the hand-kissing.
Diana just accepts it as her due. Like the Pope. 
The '70s Black film explosion was a culturally polarizing era in which the gain of increased onscreen visibility for Black women was mitigated by the fact that all too often in these films - specifically those that fit the Blaxploitation paradigm - their participation was limited to that of sassy sexpots or badass kung-fu mamas.
The mainstream success of Lady Sings the Blues signaled a growth and evolution in Black cinema, while Diana Ross' natural crossover appeal (a classy, sophisticated soul that didn't alienate Black audiences; an exotic-yet-familiar Eurocentric glamour that appealed to whites) served as a harbinger of a new age for Black actresses in film. Hollywood, after having dropped the ball with Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, and Diahann Carroll, appeared at last ready to bestow upon a Black leading lady, the status of motion picture superstar.
Throwback Stunt Queen / Diana. Doing the Most. Always.
(Someone online described her in these hilarious terms, and I've never forgotten it)

Unfortunately for all but lovers of camp, drag queen aesthetics, bad acting, risible dialog, and above all, haute couture excess (i.e., yours truly); Diana Ross’ follow-up to her promising debut film was Mahogany: a problem-plagued production of a creaky "suffering in mink" romantic melodrama that's a virtual 1975 soul-food gumbo of every “women’s picture” cliché of the '30s, '40s, and '50s.
Diana Ross as Tracy Chambers
Anthony Perkins as Sean McAvoy
Billy Dee Williams as Brian Walker
Jean-Pierre Aumont as Christian Rosetti
Mahogany tells the story of Tracy Chambers, an aspiring fashion designer from the slums of Chicago who finds fame and fortune, but not much in the way of happiness, as Mahogany, international supermodel. Or, as the ads proclaimed, “The woman every woman wants to be – and every man wants to have!” 
Were this a rags-to-riches tale about a man, the predominant conflicts would undoubtedly be of the professional sort…obstacles impeding the hero’s achievement of his goals. As Mahogany is a film with a female protagonist, it falls into the usual trap of career woman movies: it filters all of her professional struggles through the prism of her personal relationships with the men in her life. Mahogany inadequately juggles a trio of suitors, each progressively creepier than the last.  Let’s see what she has to choose from: there’s Brian, the local Chicago politician who's an old-school chauvinist who thinks everything he is about is the shit, while everything that means anything to Tracy is ethically suspect; there’s controlling, sexually-confused photographer/Svengali, Sean, who resents any attempt by Tracy to achieve independence from him; and last, there’s 60-something Christian, a rather sweetly smarmy Italian Count who financially supports Tracy’s goals so long as she is open to a little hanky-panky payback. She can really pick 'em.
Tracy to Brian: "Something tells me there's more to you than that."
I wish the writers of Mahogany' had felt the same about their title character. In lieu of fleshing out Tracy Chambers' story (what happened to her parents?) or providing deeper insight into what makes her tick, Mahogany is all surface gloss. The film is satisfied with merely presenting Diana Ross as a glamour icon.  

On paper, the casting of Diana Ross as a top fashion model must have seemed like a cinematic slam dunk. The former Supreme lead singer had long ago established herself as a thoroughbred clothes-horse whose beauty and flamboyant stage persona had launched a thousand drag shows. And indeed, had Mahogany been designed as a Vogue photoshoot, all might have gone swimmingly, for when we're asked to gaze upon the luminous Miss Ross, all is right with the world. Lamentably, this being a motion picture and all, it's only when people start to walk and talk that things start to fall apart.
Calgon, Take Me Away
Mahogany, clearly enjoying Sean's fumbling, stranger-in-paradise amorous attentions
For starters, the script is a disaster. The dialog is tin-eared, and it's hard to fathom the presence of so many post-Valley of the Dolls / The Best of Everything career-girl cliches stockpiled in a film not intentionally conceived as parody or satire. Secondly, the performances are all over the map. No two people seem to be appearing in the same film at the same time. The clashing acting styles of Ross (over-modulated), Williams (laid-back), and Perkins (twitchy), have the feel of one of those international productions where each member of the cast speaks in their native language, only to be dubbed later.
This fluctuation in tone is perhaps due to the film's original director, Tony Richardson (A Taste of Honey, Look Back in Anger) abandoning the project - fired or quit, depending on the source - and directing neophyte/veteran control-freak, Berry Gordy taking over the reins. Ross and Gordy, former lovers, apparently clashed frequently on the set, resulting in Ross staging a walkout of her own.
Everybody's a Critic
Mahogany, here debuting one of her "originals," gets a taste of the kind of critical drubbing Diana Ross would later receive upon the film's release.

Most grievously, Mahogany fails to make good on any of the opportunities posed by Tracy being an African-American woman daring to dream outside of the narrow social confines of poverty, sexism, and racism with little to rely on but her determination and drive (successful Black models were still rare in 1975). While there are a couple of token scenes broaching the complex and controversial issues of racial authenticity, selling-out, and the European acceptance/eroticization of Black women, the film clearly prefers to spend its time fueling the Diana Ross success myth.
At every juncture, Mahogany invites us to subconsciously blend Tracy's life with that of Diana Ross. Sometimes intentionally: Ross studied fashion design as a teen and grew up in a poor neighborhood. Sometimes unintentionally: Tracy's relationship with the psychotically possessive and controlling Sean McAvoy hits awfully close to home with what's been written about the Ross/Gordy pairing. In its determination to give Diana Ross fans the Diana they love and want to see, Mahogany ultimately avoids being about anything in particular and winds up just being another diva vanity production on par with Streisand's The Mirror Has Two Faces and A Star is Born.
Get used to Diana's throat. You're gonna see a lot of it in this film.

While Mahogany’s somewhat sour subtext will always prevent it from being one of my top favorites (handsome or not, Billy Dee Williams’ Brian is a genuine jerk. And I can’t get past the film’s, “Men are allowed to be passionate about their jobs; women are only allowed to be passionate about men,” ideology), I do confess to having grown extremely fond of this movie over the years. For all the wrong reasons, of course, but fond of it, nonetheless.
As movies grow increasingly dumber, blander, and more market-researched, good camp is becoming increasingly hard to find. Most bad movies today are bad because they are unimaginative and lazy. Give me an old-school trash movie that jumps the track because it’s carrying a full cargo of ego, pretension, hubris, and delusion. Mahogany has plenty of the aforementioned to spare, plus the added bonus of a lead actress who never really knows when to tone it down, and a parade of ghastly, gaudy, gorgeous fashions. 
A few of my favorite Mahogany moments-
The Kabuki Finale
Mahogany's "stressed out" face
The homoerotic gun battle
These Extras
The Nip Slip
The Interview

Sean playing "Dunk the Diva"

What makes Mahogany so enjoyable for me is first and foremost, Diana Ross, who I could watch doing a crossword puzzle. And lucky for me she is so fascinating to watch, because for whatever reason, the sensitive, compellingly natural actress from Lady Sings the Blues (or The Wiz, for that matter) is nowhere to be seen except for in brief flashes between scenes of self-conscious, Great Lady suffering, or cringe-inducing histrionics. That and carrying on like she’s lampooning her own public image by behaving like a Diana Ross female impersonator. There are several times when Ross is actually very good (she has a good rapport with Williams in their scenes) but for the most part I'm left with the feeling that she's willing to give a performance, but isn't being given much help or guidance.
A favorite of mine is late-great actress and Oscar nominee (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) Beah Richards, who appears oh-so-briefly as Tracy's Aunt Florence
When it first came out, I was just disappointed in Mahogany and its waste of a one-of-a-kind natural resource like Ross. Now, given that she has made so very few films, I find myself grateful that there exists at least one film where Diana Ross gets to delve into Joan Crawford/Faye Dunaway territory and give her fans exactly the kind of excessive, camp-tastic drag show her recording artist persona has always played upon.
Miss Ross    Killin' it.
Beyonce, JLo, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry...the whole lot. They should be thankful as hell young Diana isn't around.  They'd all be eating her dust and chilling in her shade.
The single best performance in the film is given by Anthony Perkins playing to type (once again) as the psycho photographer. He's one of the few in the film who doesn't seem to be striking well-rehearsed attitudes, and as such, his scenes have an electric, edgy, unpredictability to them. Sure, he's a tad hammy, but in this cheese-strewn milieu, he fits right in.

There are two bits of perfection in Mahogany beyond 8th Wonder of the World, Diana Ross. The Oscar-nominated theme song, "Do You Know Where You're Going To?" and the amazing, much-imitated fashion montage sequence that accompanies the instrumental version. The montage is credited to Jack Cole and it's literally the most striking bit of filmmaking ingenuity in the entire movie. It could have been released as a stand-alone film or music video. It's brilliant, it's exhilarating, and I just love everything about it. (Maybe Jack Cole should have directed the whole film!)
Because the full title of the song is Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To?) I always assumed it was composed for the film. While researching this post I found out that Thelma Houston actually recorded the song first (with slightly different lyrics), back in 1973! You can listen to it HERE

All Wrapped Up
Diana Ross in Mahogany (top) and Barbra Streisand (bottom, from Funny Lady) channel Modern Dance legend Martha Graham's 1930 dance piece, "Lamentation" (center).

Representation matters. And if a film as seriously flawed and inherently silly as Mahogany matters at all (and it does), it's as an alternative vision of African-Americans onscreen. I always like thinking back on how powerful and inspiring the glamorous images in Mahogany must have appeared to young people in the 70s (I didn't see it until the '80s), raised exclusively on blacks in films depicted as maids, butlers, slaves, and criminals. That's why I always give this movie a great deal of credit even while not considering it to be very good. And yet, while I greatly admire Diana Ross as a role model, Mahogany has never earned any points for the double-sided message it sends to young women. 
In the 70s, feminism in the movies liked to talk a good game, but when it came to love stories, a great many films ended with the female characters doing all the adapting, while the males pretty much retained the lives they led when we first meet them. In 1974s Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Ellen Burstyn’s character makes a very good point when she declares, “It’s my life!  It’s not some man’s life that I’m here to help him out with!” Yet by fade-out, Kris Kristofferson still has his ranch and horses and no immediate plans to move to Monterey, while Alice, on the other hand, tables her dream of becoming a professional singer. The not-so-subtle implication being that her dreams were the fantasy of a young girl, her relationship with Kristofferson is the real (grown-up) thing. 
That's comedy writer Bruce Vilanch under all that hair
In Mahogany, Tracy Chambers dreams of being a fashion designer. And although her behavior in every way suggests a professional ambition backed by considerable drive (she devotes every free moment to working on her designs, she attends night classes, she takes her sketches to dress manufacturers), the screenplay seizes every opportunity to minimize her goals, subtly characterizing them as the superficial dreams of a socially unenlightened woman. 
Especially when compared to the lofty, “uplift the race” ambitions of smug, self-satisfied, defender of the downtrodden, small-time politician, Brian Walker. A man who, when not reproaching Tracy for actually having thoughts and ideas that are not specifically his own, spends his time using one arm to pat himself on the back for his altruistic impulses, the other to start brawls with political hecklers. Instead of Brian and his dismissal of her dreams representing the kind of narrow-minded people Tracy needs to get away from, Brian is presented as the savior of her literal and figurative "soul". And so, at the film's fade-out, Tracy, having left behind Rome and her successful career, is (I can only assume) to be applauded for being mature enough to choose love over a job, and for taking Brian’s Curse of the Cat People proclamation: “Success is nothing without someone you love to share it with!” to heart. 
The film ends with Brian exactly as we found him; His career path unbroken. Tracy now makes a vow toward “putting her imagination to work” for the cause both she and her man believe in. The message is clear: Women have fantasies and dreams that are self-centered and superficial / Men have ambitions that are righteous and benevolent.

I guess in In a way, it's kind of good that Mahogany isn't a better film. Were it a movie people took seriously, they might actually have paid attention to its message. As it stands, Mahogany is much like a great many real-life fashion models: exciting, beautiful, stylish, a tad overdressed, but without too much to say that's of substance. 

A fun and informative review of Mahogany can be found here at Poseidon's Underworld

Diana Ross plays a haughty, arrogant, nightclub performer (surprise!) harboring a dark secret on the 1971 Danny Thomas sitcom, Make Room for Grand-Daddy.

Mahogany lip reading: There are a couple of re-dubbed scenes in Mahogany that, thanks to the wonders of HD TV, one can easily make out. In the big argument scene between Tracy and Brian (in which Brian subtly tells her that she needs to face the fact that she has no career and is unlikely ever to have one) Diana Ross's voice says, "Forget You, Brian!" while her lips reveal "Fuck you, Brian!" My thoughts, exactly.
Similarly, in a scene set in Rome where Tracy buys Brian a snug-fitting Italian suit, Brian can be heard complaining (in long shot), "I feel like an old sissy in these clothes!" Moments later when Brian mimics Tracy's high-pitched voice, Diana Ross can be heard saying, "Now, you sound like a sissy!" but a look at her mouth reveals she is actually saying, "Now, you sound like a faggot!" Clearly repeating the word Billy Dee Williams said (and later re-dubbed) in long shot.
Shame on you, Mahogany!

Ever the professional, Diana practices her dialog from The Wiz...three years early

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2013


  1. Wow - great thoughts and great writing! I'm going to watch it again now (I haven't seen it for decades). Thanks! Michael

    1. Thank you very much, Michael! Very happy you enjoyed the post and that it inspired you to perhaps re-visit this film again. It's not the greatest film, but it IS a lot of fun.

  2. I've been longing to see "Mahogany". I will check to see if it has been released on dvd. It sounds in your review like a film I want to see - a rags to riches story, full of 70's fashions starring Diana Ross in wide screen format! It will be interesting to see what the film could have´been like if it had dared to be more feminist.

    She made too few movies. I wish she had made more since she is so gorgeous and beautiful! She's a good actress too. I saw her in "Out of Darkness" and she was really good.

    1. Surprised "Mahogany"somehow got by you! I think you will enjoy it, specifically for the things you list. The clothes alone are worth your time, but just watching some of the misguided performance choices Miss Ross makes are a great deal of fun as well.
      The film is so old fashioned in structure and so "false" in intent (I don't really know if anybody believes in the story they are telling...it's melodrama, pure and simple)I'm not sure it ever would have really worked, but I would have liked to have had the film stand up for Mahogany's character a bit.

      And it's true, she did make too few films. When I saw the glamorous Leslie Caron in the brilliant "The L Shaped Room" recently, it made me think that Diana Ross needed a film like that. One that rooted her rather other-worldly beauty in the real world by way of a gritty, realistic story (and a good director). I've heard "Out of Darkness" is like that somewhat. Since you brought it up, I think I'll take a look at it (the whole film is on YouTube).
      Thanks, Wille!

  3. As usual, perfectly wonderful analysis of a movie with attention to its time and context of release. Thanks, too, for including my own post in your "Bonus Material!" The only bad thing is that now, after finally having gotten rid of it, I have that theme song as an aural earwig again! I love it, but it gets in there and won't go away... Best wishes!

    1. You're too kind, Poseidon! It's strange how much I like this film now after dismissing it wholly when it was released. It's also a great film to see in the theaters, as audiences (as you might guess) really howl at almost every line of dialog and plot point.
      And, per the song...I know what you mean. It stays with you and starts upon a marathon and runs around your brain (where have I heard that before?)
      Thanks, Poseidon!

  4. OMG, I can't believe you did it. I am bowing down to you right now, but mostly I am bowing down to MISS ROSS. Ken, I was a little white girl in the 70s when I saw this, and it just sticks with me. I think it IS the camp factor that draws me in so much, and you are right, we just don't have this kind of movie anymore. I think of "Mahogany" in tandem with another fashionable favorite, "The Eyes of Laura Mars." And much like that movie is a great example of the Italian giallos, "Mahogany" is in so many ways a Douglas Sirk retread for the 70s.

    But putting aside the bad parts (and yes, there are many!) I am left with the fantabulous Kabuki fashion show (I mean, whose idea was THAT?!), the montage to end all montages, and most importantly, the queen herself. You can't take your eyes off her. The scene with BDW were she is all "what are you going do about my old man?" is genius, and shows a natural chemistry that could have been better put to use if Tracy and Brian actually worked together instead of the chauvinistic overtones. Oh well, have things really changed that much?

    I don't know. I am rambling. But thank you for this, you have made my day. I don't have cable, but with my antenna I do get the BOUNCE channel. And whenever this movie is on, which is often, I stop everything and watch it again.

    1. Well, a big thanks to YOU for re-sparking my interest in it. I wanted to write about it some time ago, but i had such a lousy copy of it.Anyhow, it was a blast to revisit, and a lot of laughs, too.
      I wish someone here in LA would team Mahogany and Eyes of Laura Mars on a revival theater double-feature! I love them both...STYLE with a capital S.

      I always crack up at that "Kabuki" fashion show. The clothes look like costumes from a Japanese remake of "La Cage aux Folles" and are striking in their awfulness. And that's the films first two minutes!

      And indeed, things really haven't changed much, chauvinistically speaking. In real life I know several women who have tabled their careers for their husbands. But here in LA they call it "raising a family", and as we all know, that requires the man keeping his job and the woman relinquishing hers.
      So, I'm pleased you're happy with the "Mahogany" post and hope you don't mind it not receiving the customary thrashing. The film has MORE than enough to make fun of, but when I listen to young people like yourself who saw this film as kids, and I am reminded how bad movies can sometimes still inspire. Especially when Miss Ross is involved.
      Thanks, Tanya!

    2. My friend Tanya (above) passed on your article. I miss the 70's movies and will drop everything to watch one. I also miss that cowboy town feel that NYC had in the 70's where life was cheap and 'herron' (accent on the 2nd syllable) was plentiful. It was an added character in some of my favorite movies - 'they just don't make 'em like they used to.' I'm thinking you could get Quentin to run a double bill of Mohagany and Eyes at the Beverly that kind of pairing is right up his alley. Maybe we should start a petition.

    3. Nice of Tanya to pass on the post and for you to drop a line. Yes, the kind of gritty look you speak of is one of the things I like about 70s films too. Those set in NYC, especially. Even in film as intentionally glass as "Mahogany", the look they achieve for Chicago is surprisingly stark.
      And should a petition for a Mahogany/Laura Mars double bill, I'd be the first to sign! Thanks, Lisa!

  5. Thank you for mentioning my favorite thing in this movie - that great extra behind the chain-link fence who is actively following their conversation. He turns his head to whoever's speaking, then looking at the other one of them, waiting for their answer - it's just too wonderful. I kept waiting for him to say something.

    Possibly the best moment for a random extra ever. Shame I can't find it on YouTube.

    1. My favorite name: Neely O'Hara
      Ha! It's amazing how that guy pulls the focus in that scene! If you've ever seen this film in a theater, he is literally where your eyes stay. I never thought of it until you brought it up, but I wish they HAD given him something to say!

  6. I really enjoyed your entertaining, affectionate post -- and I really take your point about the enjoyment of camp and the subversive bliss it offers. (A friend once scolded me for enjoying an Ed Wood movie by telling me how bad it was; to which I replied, "yes, but that's the point!") And what another great point you make about how movies about ambitious women always end with their giving up their careers for-love-of-a-man, while he gets to keep both career and woman. (I think the only movie I saw where that doesn't happen is 'My Brilliant Career,' where Judy Davis resolutely sticks to her dreams and rejects her suitor to do so.) And why is it that only Brian's political career is seen as race-positive? Why wouldn't Tracy's success also been seen as an uplifting model, particularly for black women? She's not only talented, but is a hard-working, creative entrepreneur -- today Tracy would be Oprah Winfrey. It's curious how Hollywood movies of the 70s absorbed the feminist movement of that era and yet still managed to turn it upside down and revert it back into more regressive images of women. In spite of all the talk of the 'new' 70s cinema, it was still a man's game.

    1. Hi GOM
      One day someone will write a book about what it is that makes the public feel it only enjoys that which is "good", when all of pop culture is a running account of how people embrace the awful as passionately as they do the remarkable.
      I've never seen "my Brilliant Career" (but love Judy Davis) and should seek it out. I love the point you make about why it was overlooked how race-positive Mahogany's success was. It seems so obvious now. She accomplishes quite a bit, and at fade out, Brian still couldn't even be elected Alderman.
      And yes, 70s cinema rarely accounts for itself in terms of how retrograde some of its sexual politics were. I say it each time you write, but you consistently bring up points that offer so much good food for thought. Thanks!

  7. For those who are interested, "Mahogany" is indeed available on DVD. Speaking as one who has yet to see this movie, I'll have to add it to my list.

    I too, was reminded of "Eyes of Laura Mars" from reading the review, due in part to the emphasis upon the fashion industry--but also because Anthony Perkins uses the same brand of camera as Faye Dunaway! Could well be the exact same model, too. Did the folks at Nikon have some sort of deal going here?

    Speaking of which, I know that Perkins also plays an unhinged shutterbug in "WUSA"--any others?

    I'm not certain if a double feature teaming "Eyes of Laura Mars" and "Mahogany" would be possible as they came from two different distributors (the former distributed by Columbia, the latter by Paramount). Then again, the rights might have changed hands over the years, and maybe regulations about such things differ depending upon the country (here in Australia, the films need to come from the same local distributor to be paired as a double feature).

    Billy Dee Williams, enacting the role of Brian Walker, complains about his outfit, you say? Is this not the same man who would appear as Lando Calrissian? I mean, the man wears a cape and boots, for crying out loud.

    Aunt Florence...Florence Ballard? Or am I reading too much into this? Also, what's one to make of the (rather surreal) sight of Diana Ross and Anthony Perkins in bed together? Actually, forget about that, I was surprised to learn they're in the same FILM together. It just seems like an odd pairing--but now I REALLY need to track down this one!

    PS: I'll be seeing "My Brilliant Career" on the big screen sometime during the next few weeks--hey, I'm Australian, and I've yet to see it, too!

    1. Hi Mark
      I'm not sure if Perkins plays a shutterbug in any more films, but the list of "unhinged" roles he took on extends from here to the moon.

  8. It seems to be available (complete) on YouTube -- at least right now!


    1. Thanks for sharing that info, Peter!
      Yes the complete movie in wide screen is still up and running on YouTube. I'll think I'll embed your link in the body of the post for folks who don't read the comments section and might miss it.
      On behalf of Diva Hunters, I thank you!

  9. Wonderful article on a not-so-wonderful film headlined by one of show business's most fabulous stars. I adore Diana Ross and the Theme from Mahogany is still on my iPhone playlist of retro favorites--along with her amazing Supremes hits and '80s anthems like I'm Coming Out. She is indeed a super-Diva and I wouldn't have her any other way.

    She is a fine actress too, as her nuanced performance as Billie Holliday proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. But this film killed her movie career before she had a chance to do much else. I liken this film failure to the similar crash-and-burn movie career of another talented singer actress, Liza Minnelli, who, after her Oscar-winning turn in Cabaret (winning out over Miss Ross), became box office poison because of bad films like Lucky Lady and A Matter of Time.

    I love the films you referenced in relation to Mahogany - particularly The Best of Everything...I would add Imitation of Life to the mix, too. Handsome John Gavin's character is a lot like handsome Billy Dee Williams's--chauvinistic lunkheads who want their women (Lana and Diana) to give up their careers.

    Who can resist the glamour, though? Not me. You've actually made me want to give Mahogany one more try--though I may (again) regret it. I always want it to be better than it turns out to be. Unlike this faaabulous blog.

    I can't get enough of your engrossing film commentary, Ken. You are an inspiration!

  10. Hi Angelman,
    Yours is a very kind and extremely generous comment that I hope to really live up to. I thank you.
    I've heard from a great many people since I posted this, and most feel like you. Diana Ross and her talent are undeniable, but it's a pity they are so ill served by this movie. Your bringing up Liza makes a good point. Both are extremely talented women whose white-hot film careers fizzled out rather soon.
    Thanks to a recommendation from another reader, I had the opportunity to see Diana in the 1994 TV movie, "Out of Darkness" (thank, YouTube) and it stands as a reminder of how good she can be if the material and director are right.
    "Mahogany" is indeed a lot like "Imitation of Life" which I find annoying for similar reasons (your "chauvinistic lunkheads" comment sums it up). It's a tiresome trend the spoils otherwise camp-fun entertainment.
    i think I have resigned myself to "Mahogany" being what it is, but like you, I know for the longest time that I would watch the film and could only focus on how much i wished it were a better movie. Maybe you're better off with your memories of "Mahogany" rather than re-visiting it again, but I am very grateful you revisited my blog. Always terrific to hear from you and learn your personal take on some of the films write about. Thanks!

  11. I don't just love, I LUV Mahogany! As a little gay boy in the early-80's. this ran on the CBS Movie of the Week (remember such a thing?), and I was entranced by it. Yes the movie is crazy (Diana Ross is stunning and a fabulous clothes horse, but a world famous supermodel at 5 feet nothing, really? The fashions inspired by, apparently, a Chinese restaurant! The epic homoerotic "gun-fight" between Tony and Billy Dee!), but it's also SO AWESOME!! Thank you for your very intelligent and articulate review of this amazing movie!

    1. Hi Percy
      I think your simultaneous (and hilarious) appreciation / vilification of "Mahogany" is really about the only way one can see this film. Diana is an amazing personality and the film is loopy. That combination can certainly make for a rather fabulous result, which I think it does.
      Thank you for sharing your 80s tale of encountering "Mahogany" as a Movie of the Week (I remember them well).

  12. I had seen parts of the movie, but never in full. I was 11 years old when I saw the second half of the movie.....and actually found it a bit creepy (well, I was young), and Perkins would scare the crap out of an adult, let alone an 11 year old. after reading your review, I watched it tonight. everything you said is true. my favorite scene (melodramatic guy I am) is Mahogany's plea to go home. And he tells her he will get the plane ticket. Ross has a phenomenal and unique gift. It's too bad that she didn't make more films. (yeah, what DID happen with that?) the film is campy, but Ross' performance is hearfelt, sad at times.....and...can I say, inspirational? thank you again for all your reviews. please continue to write!!!! Your reviews always give me new perspective on films. :)

    1. What a terrific comment! It is sometimes interesting to see a film again many years after an initial childhood impression, and it's sometimes rewarding to revisit a film after reading someone else's take on it. I grew up loving the film reviews of Pauline Kael, John Simon and Stanley Kauffman chiefly because even if i disagreed with their opinion, they often provided interesting perspectives.
      I took a quick look at the scene you mentioned (on YouTube, and just from you having noted that it stood out for you, for that brief moment I saw it through fresh eyes and did indeed see a kind of touching sadness in that scene where I had heretofore only seen Grande Dame melodramatics.
      I love that about the shared film experience.
      I agree that Diana Ross had a special quality onscreen. There are any number of guesses as to why her film career went south, but from my own take, with a little less ego, a little less Berry Gordy, and some genuinely good parts (not movie star vehicles) she could have been something. She is certainly not lacking in charisma.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this film. It's refreshing that you came it from a place that looked beyond the surface camp.
      And once again, thank you so much for your kind words about my writing. Now THAT'S inspiring!

  13. Hi Ken-
    My partner and I are in the middle of making our way through Miss Ross' brief film career. Unlike other singers turned thespians, it's truly a shame she didn't get to act more, and in much better material. The diva actually has some tools in her kit, especially visible in Lady Sings The Blues.

    Mahogany is as you state a mixed bag, with some truly campy delights in store (hello, scenes in the fountain and the sports car) bumping right up against the oddly-out-of-sync-with-the-times anti-feminist romance, which was also part and parcel for the still male dominated industry. Oh the fantasies one can conjure if this project actually was what it should be rather than the surface gloss it is. I suppose it wouldn't be nearly as much fun though.

    I find myself revisiting the film purely for the fashions (the kabuki finale kills me every time) and the amazing montage, which spawned so much music pop culture re-appropriation it's mind boggling. Sadly I don't think my partner appreciated the latter nearly as much as I do, but that's fine. I now chuckle to myself upon viewing it, as another friend dubbed one of her looks "Hardware Cleopatra", which I love to this day.

    1. Hi Pete
      OMG...I don't think I'll ever forget "Hardware Cleopatra"!!It's perfect.
      As you note, since the majority of this film's benefits are visual, I really wish it would come out in Blu-ray. The romance is glamorous, but the sexist minimizing of Tracy's goals grows more galling with each passing year. Miss Ross and those outlandish fashions are the most alluring and hypnotic aspects.
      You make an excellent point in citing that the film, mirroring Ross' film career, is fraught with unrealized potential. Also, I too have been aware of how much pop culture has been glommed off of the film's fashion montage which is a major highlight. I always like hearing how you and your partner share films even when they are not always to each others' individual tastes.
      Some of the most sharpest (and funniest) observations I've heard have been the result of my partner struggling through one of my recommended favorites. Thanks, Pete.