Treasures of a Bronx Warrior

Photographs and Memories of a Devout New Yorker,

Movie Star Hopeful and Loving Mother 

Written by

L.D. Sargent

Photographs courtesy of the Doris Banbury

Private Photo Collection

Excerpts from the 3-book Collection for

Treasures of a Bronx Warrior.

(Available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble)

PREFACE

I started this book in 2004 to express my devotion, affection, and love to a capable and talented woman of courage, my mother Doris Banbury (1930-2015), a devout native New Yorker.  By way of example, she taught me and my younger brother how vital creativity is to one’s personal lifestyle.  She taught us that being creative can become one’s salvation and source of comfort.  Doris embraced that lifestyle with all her heart. 

The photos in this book (and a few negatives of photos) are Doris’s cherished “treasures” that she shot in Manhattan, New York City and environs during the 1950s between 1950 and 1958.  The photos are of legends of feature films, theater, radio, and television.  I believe my mother’s unpolished photographic style is poised, candid, and honest, which is why I created this book in her honor.  Unfortunately, Doris has never expressed interest in turning her beloved “treasures” into anything other than a cache of memories that she stashed neatly in an old military trunk, which she kept hidden in her closed closet in her locked bedroom.  I was, however, very excited about Doris’ pictures and I was determined to see them to fruition.

Doris Banbury, SF MOMA - https://www.sfmoma.org/search/?q=doris+banbury

Treasures of a Bronx Warrior (Photo Exhibit) - https://www.instagram.com/treasuresofabronxwarrior

 

Excerpt, Collection One

 

One day when Doris was in a fairly good mood, organizing her photos with her bedroom door opened, I peaked in. 

 

      “Hey, how’d you get that photo of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller in a club, Ma?  Did they let black people into clubs back then?”  I teased Doris of course.

 

      “Look, Miss I Could Kill You, but I Would Only End Up in Jail daughter of mine…I am pretty sure I was let in by a kind waiter or someone from the kitchen, and then I got the shot and left.  I mean, everyone was fascinated with Marilyn, of course, we weren’t the only ones my friends and I.”

Arthur Miller, Author/playwright with wife, Marilyn Monroe, Actress

 

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel - New York, December 18, 1956.

The Millers attended the after party of the film premiere of Babydoll, 1956

(Photo was developed January, 1957)

      “Was Marilyn drunk in the picture?”

 

      “You ask the damnedest questions!  How would I know if she was drunk?”

 

      “I would have asked, hey, are you drunk, Miss Monroe?”

 

      “And if I was the waiter I would have thrown you out into the street!  Head first, of course.” 

 

      “Ha, ha, funny, Ma.  What if I got a concussion?”

 

      “In your case it might have been an improvement.”  Doris chortled.  “Ah, good one, Doris.”  She said to herself.

 

      “You’re weird, Ma.”

 

      “Well, like mother like daughter.”  Doris chuckled.

      I had done very little research and had merely learned, from watching old films on television rather than reading books, about how black people could only party in certain areas, including clubs, restaurants, and bars.  And Doris never talked to me about club life for blacks in New York during the ’50s.   But, one day she shared some information.

 

      “Blacks could go to the same clubs whites went to, of course; we could by then.”  Doris continued.  “Although I am sure we weren’t allowed in some of the trendier spots.  I frequented Porta Rikkun house parties; that was MY thing.  But, that was New York, doll, everything was open to the public.  You could photograph a star anyplace. There were no stalkers or paparazzi back then.”  Doris said.

 

      “Except for you.”  I giggled. 

 

     Doris blew me a raspberry.

Excerpt, Collection One

 

      Carmen Jones was one of the first black films I had heard of from the 1950s.  I hadn’t even heard of its star, Dorothy Dandridge, until Mom showed me the photos she took of her.  I had read about Harry Belafonte in Miriam Makeba’s autobiography, Makeba, My Story, and knew of him from his music and films.  Belafonte starred with Miss Dandridge in Carmen Jones.

 

      “Oh, Harry Belafonte was very handsome, um-hmm!  Now, my mother— your grandmother—liked him the most.  He was West Indian, like my father, your grandfather, you know.  Well, he wasn’t from the same island.”

 

      “Did you ever speak with Dorothy Dandridge?”

 

      “Who, Dorothy?  Oh, no, my encounter with her was very brief.  Beautiful woman, by the way.  Had to have her daughter committed, you know.”

 

      “Why?”

 

      “She wasn’t well—the daughter, I mean.  I think about that from time to time. Committing YOU, that is.” Doris said with a smirk.  “I recall what a shock it was to see so many black people in one film—you know, for that time, especially.  And it was a good film, an attractive film.”

 

      “Did you go to the movie premiere of Carmen Jones?”

 

      “Oh, I could not get in, it was so crowded.  And you know I’m short, so it was really hard to get a shot.  But luckily I happened to see Ms. Dandridge leave the premiere.  I saw her get into the car and she graciously.  Lovely woman.”

Dorothy Dandridge

Photographed at the Rivoli Theater for the film premiere of Carmen Jones -

New York, October 28, 1954

Harry Belafonte

Photographed at the Rivoli Theater for the film premiere of Carmen Jones -

New York, October 28, 1954

Excerpt, Collection Two

I watched Doris scatter her photos on the table, pick at them, and arrange them in no particular order.  I stood near her.

 

      “Gosh, she’s pretty,” I said. 

 

      Doris was inspecting a picture of Elizabeth Taylor. 

 

      “Elizabeth Taylor was a beautiful woman.” Doris replied.  “Stunningly so.”

 

      “Was she friendly?”

 

      “She was polite, and I am not telling you any more stories!”

 

      “Why not?”

 

      “Because I don’t want them in a book.”

 

      “But, Ma, this is your legacy.  Your old photos are what you will eventually pass down to me and David.”

 

      “David and me, and you will wait for that inevitability. Until then, leave me alone.”

 

      I pointed to another picture of Elizabeth Taylor wearing a tweed suit against the backdrop of downtown New York high-rises.

 

      “I can’t get over how pretty Elizabeth Taylor was.”

 

      “No, dear, Marilyn Monroe was pretty; Elizabeth Taylor was breathtaking.  I had never seen such a beautiful woman in my life.  Funny thing, she wasn’t vain about her looks.  Well, neither was Marilyn Monroe.

Elizabeth Taylor, Actress - New York, 1950s

      Doris released her tight grip on the photos.  She sat on the couch, looking tired and contemplative.

 

      “As a matter of fact, Elizabeth Taylor was quite modest and shy. I remember, when I asked to take her picture, she posed graciously, but she was cautious; she didn’t talk much.  Marilyn didn’t mind talking, but Elizabeth was quiet.”

       Excerpt, Collection Three

      One day, Doris picked up a photo of multi-faceted actor, singer and dancer Sammy Davis Jr. wearing an eye patch.  I had read about his accident in his autobiographical book.  Doris had read plenty of famous people’s autobiographies, and had their books all over the house.  When the mood hit I grabbed a couple to read.  In Sammy Davis Jr.’s book, titled Yes I Can, he described the horrific car crash on November 19, 1954 that lost him an eye.  Doris had always told me about that accident and how upset it made a lot of Davis’s fans.  She told me about her encounter with Davis when she took his photo and, to her surprise, what an upbeat and positive person he was.

 

      “Oh, he was very nice, yes!  I asked Mr. Davis if I could take his picture, you know.  He was kind of shy at first—well, you know, with his eye patch.  So, he said, Well, you know I’ve only got the one eye.  And I said, Well, that’s better having than no eyes.  And he said, You know, you’re right.  Then we both laughed and he let me take the picture.”

 

      I had always loved that story.

Sammy Davis, Jr., Singer/dancer/actor - New York, 1950s

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