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The Butler

by Wil Haygood

A mesmerizing inquiry into the life of Eugene Allen, the butler who ignited a nation's sympathy and inspired a major motion picture directed by Oscar nominee Lee Daniels, The Butler--which stars Oprah Winfrey and eight Oscar winners (including Forest Whitaker, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr. , and Jane Fonda), and is already being hailed as epic and buzz-worthy. Coming this fall from The Weinstein Company. Acclaimed Washington Post reporter Wil Haygood had an early hunch that Obama would win the 2008 election and when he did he wanted to publish an article about a black person who had worked in the White House as a servant, someone who had come of age when segregation was so widespread, so embedded in the culture as to make the very thought of a Black president inconceivable. He struck gold when he tracked down Eugene Allen, a butler who had served no less than eight presidents, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan-and in so doing became "a discreet stage hand who for three decades helped keep the show running in the most important political theatre of all. " While serving tea and supervising buffets, Allen was also a witness to history as decisions about America's most momentous events were being made. Here he is at the White House while Kennedy contemplates a moon landing; here he is again when Kennedy's widow returns from that fateful day in Dallas. Here he is when Johnson and his cabinet debate Vietnam and here he is again when Ronald Reagan finally got tough on apartheid. Perhaps hitting closest to home was the Civil Rights legislation that was developed, often with passions flaring, right in front of his eyes even as his own community of neighbors, friends and family were contending with Jim Crow America. Also included in the book is an essay in the vein of James Baldwin's jewel, The Devil Finds Work, that explores the history of blacks in Hollywood as well as over 45 pictures of the butler, Eugene Allen, and his family, the Presidents he served, and the remarkable cast.

The Butler: A Witness to History

by Wil Haygood

From Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellow Wil Haygood comes a mesmerizing inquiry into the life of Eugene Allen, the butler who ignited a nation's imagination and inspired a major motion picture: Lee Daniels' The Butler, the highly anticipated film that stars six Oscar winners, including Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey (honorary and nominee), Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Redgrave, and Robin Williams; as well as Oscar nominee Terrence Howard, Mariah Carey, John Cusack, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Alex Pettyfer, Alan Rickman, and Liev Schreiber. With a foreword by the Academy Award nominated director Lee Daniels, The Butler not only explores Allen's life and service to eight American Presidents, from Truman to Reagan, but also includes an essay, in the vein of James Baldwin's jewel The Devil Finds Work, that explores the history of black images on celluloid and in Hollywood, and fifty-seven pictures of Eugene Allen, his family, the presidents he served, and the remarkable cast of the movie.

In Black and White

by Wil Haygood

He was, for decades, one of the most recognizable figures in the cultural landscape, his image epitomizing a golden age of American show business. His career spanned a lifetime, but for years he has remained hidden behind the persona he so vigorously generated, and so fiercely protected. Now, in this surprising, illuminating, and compulsively readable biography, we are taken beyond the icon, into the extraordinary, singular life of Sammy Davis, Jr. In scrupulous detail and with stunning powers of evocation, Wil Haygood takes us back to the era of vaudeville, where it all began for four-year-old Sammy who ran out onstage one night and stole the show. From then on it was a motherless childhood on the road, singing and dancing his way across a segregated America with his father and the formidable showman Will Mastin, struggling together to survive the Depression and the demise of vaudeville itself. With an ambition honed by poverty and an obsessive need for applause, Sammy drove his way into the nightclub circuit of the 1940s and 1950s, when, his father and Mastin aging and out of style, he slowly began to make a name for himself, hustling his way to top billing and eventually to recording contracts. From there, he was to stake his claim on Broadway, in Hollywood, and, of course, in Las Vegas. Haygood brings Sammy's showbiz life into full relief against the backdrop of an America in the throes of racial change. Sammy grew up trapped between the worlds of blacks and whites, with so much invested in both. He made his living entertaining white people but was often denied service in the very venues he played. Drafted into a newly integrated U.S. Army in the 1940s, he saw up close the fierce tensions that seethed below the surface. Dragged into the civil rights movement, he witnessed a hatred that often erupted into violence. In his broad and varied friendships and alliances (with Frank Sinatra; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Richard Nixon; Sidney Poitier; Marilyn Monroe, to name just a few), not to mention his romances (his relationship with Kim Novak and his marriage to the blond beauty May Britt drew death threats), he forged uncharted paths across racial lines. Admired and reviled by both blacks and whites, he was tormented all his life by raging insecurities, and never quite came to terms with his own skin. Ultimately, his only true sense of his identity was as a performer.Based on painstaking research and more than 250 interviews, Wil Haygood brings us a sweeping and vivid cultural history of the twentieth century, chronicling black entertainment from its beginnings and the birth of popular culture as we know it. In Black and White transcends simple biography to become an important record, both celebratory and elegiacal, of a vanished America and its greatest entertainer.

Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson

by Wil Haygood

Sugar Ray Robinson was one of the most iconic figures in sports and possibly the greatest boxer of all time. His legendary career spanned nearly 26 years, including his titles as the middleweight and welterweight champion of the world and close to 200 professional bouts. This illuminating biography grounds the spectacular story of Robinson's rise to greatness within the context of the fighter's life and times. Born Walker Smith Jr. in 1921, Robinson's early childhood was marked by the seething racial tensions and explosive race riots that infected the Midwest throughout the 1920s and 1930s. After his mother moved their family to Harlem, he came of age in the post-Renaissance years. Recounting his local and national fame, this deeply researched and honest account depicts Robinson as an eccentric and glamorous-yet powerful and controversial-celebrity, athlete, and cultural symbol. From Robinson's gruesome six-bout war with Jake "Raging Bull" LaMotta and his lethal meeting with Jimmy Doyle to his Harlem nightclub years and thwarted showbiz dreams, Haygood brings the champion's story to life.

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