Tag Archives: Billy Strayhorn


Pink is the navy blue of India. — Diana Vreeland

Long before her international fame as editor-in-chief of Vogue in the sixties and the “Empress of Fashion” at the Met’s Costume Institute in the seventies and eighties, Diana Vreeland was a legend in Manhattan creative circles. As Harper’s Bazaar‘s fashion editor, she was the inspiration for Allison Du Bois in the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin-Moss Hart musical Lady in the Dark (1941). And Kay Thompson played Maggie Prescott, a version of Vreeland, in the dazzling Paramount musical FUNNY FACE (1957, directed by Stanley Donen).

Upon discovering Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn), a lovely, philosophical clerk in a Greenwich Village bookstore, Prescott and photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire, in a role based on Richard Avedon) sweep Jo uptown for a test shoot. Maggie orders her office minions to chop off Jo’s hair and paint her with a “marvelous mouth.” Jo resists, but gives in once she realizes her new modeling gig comes with a paid trip to Paris, home of Jean-Paul Sartre.

This weekend, as part of its series Runaway Hollywood—Global Production in a Postwar World, the UCLA Film and Television Archive will screen FUNNY FACE, followed by the black-and-white Paul Newman-Sidney Poitier vehicle PARIS BLUES (1961, directed by Martin Ritt). The story of two American jazz musicians in Paris, the tourists they fall for (Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll), and the Latin Quarter dives at the center of their expat scene, PARIS BLUES features a score composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.


Saturday, July 27, at 7:30 pm.

Billy Wilder Theater—Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.

From top: Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face; Kay Thompson performing the “Think Pink” number; Thompson, Fred Astaire, and Hepburn after wrapping up “Bonjour, Paris!”; Verve album cover; Diahann Carroll and Sidney Poitier in Paris Blues; Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman; Louis Armstrong (left), Poitier, and Newman on set.


“He was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine… Strayhorn does a lot of the work but I get to take the bows!” — Duke Ellington*

Songwriter and pianist Billy Strayhorn (1915–1967) was Ellington’s alter ego who wrote and arranged many of the significant works in the Ellington catalogue, including “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Chelsea Bridge.”

Cushioned by a loving circle—Lena Horne was his best friend and Ellington covered all of his living and wardrobe expenses for many years—Strayhorn is best remembered for his café-society standard “Lush Life,” which brilliantly captures the gay composer’s tragically romantic, cocktail-infused view of the world.

The world premiere of HALFWAY TO DAWN—choreographer and director David Roussève’s tribute to Strayhorn—is on REDCAT’s stage for three nights and a Sunday matinee. This psychological investigation in dance is an essential engagement on the fall calendar.


Thursday through Saturday, October 4, 5, and 6, at 8:30.

Sunday, October 7, at 3 pm.

REDCAT, 631 West 2nd Street, downtown Los Angeles.

See David Hajdu, Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996).

Duke Ellington, Music is My Mistress (New York: Doubleday, 1973).

Top: Billy Strayhorn (right) and Duke Ellington.

All performance photos: David Roussève, Halfway to Dawn. Photographs by Rose Eichenbaum. Image credit: Redcat.