An eye-opening interview from a veteran Hollywood star
When I invited Ernest Harden Jr. to be a guest on my show, my expectation was that we would focus solely on his impressive career: his role as Marcus Henderson on the groundbreaking '70s TV series The Jeffersons; his co-starring role with cinematic superstar Bette Davis in White Mama; his roles in movies such as Three Days of the Condor, White Men Can't Jump, and Stanford and Son; his acclaimed stage performance in Beethoven's Misfortune Cookies; and of course the obligatory question about his upcoming projects. He ended up delivering much, much more than I could ever have hoped for.
Yes, of course, I planned to ask him whether he had seen any improvement in recent years, in terms of racial diversity in Hollywood casting. And I thought I could anticipate his response. Frankly, I did not anticipate the depth and breadth of insights and analysis that this wonderfully open-hearted celebrity provided. His interview turned out to be a master class on the impacts of racism in America - not only for Hollywood actors, but for everyone.
Ernest spoke about his youth growing up in a predominantly black neighbourhood in Detroit. He recounted shocking examples of racism he and his family encountered. He spoke about the appalling letters his White Mama co-star Bette Davis received from "fans" who were outraged that she made a film with a black co-star.
In response to my question about whether there were more opportunities today in Hollywood for black actors, Ernest held nothing back. He made an impassioned plea for Hollywood producers and casting directors to cast American black actors instead of British black actors when casting roles portraying iconic black Americans such as Harriet Tubman and Aretha Franklin. He said, "Do they really think there are no American black actresses capable of portraying these American legends? It's insulting." He asked, "Do the British film makers cast American black actors to portray British blacks? No, they don't. So why are we using British actors to play American blacks?" He has a valid point. And I suspect it is a point that not many people have ever stopped to think about.
Ernest's take on the current Black Lives Matter climate in the USA was compelling. He said it's high time that the "sheet of racism" be pulled off of America once and for all. He said this is a difficult and painful but necessary national conversation. And he expressed faith and optimism that there will be healing and redemption, and that "things are going to get better for everyone". And throughout this difficult conversation, his bright, beautiful smile and warm eyes were glowing and actually radiating a kind of healing energy. He was mesmerizing.
Ernest also provided an up close and personal look at what it's like to be in show business. Going to what he thought was an audition for a legitimate film role, only to find out it was for a porn film - and having the guts to trust his instincts and walk away, despite the fact that he was "a starving actor". He unabashedly referred to the ups, downs, and career droughts - and through it all, his remarkable determination to succeed and his faith in a higher spirit guiding and protecting him. He told me that throughout his life he's always believed "God has his hand on me." And somehow you just know that it's true.
Ernest's tribute to Bette Davis was another highlight of this interview. He provided an intimate view of this iconic cinematic legend, from the perspective of a young actor just starting out. His words about his beloved friend brought tears to my eyes. I found myself loving and respecting Miss Davis even more than I did before.
I am extremely proud of this interview. And I'm immensely grateful to Ernest Harden Jr. for candidly and so generously sharing his life experiences and wisdom with our audience. By the end of the interview, I felt like I had made a new friend. And I felt like my life had been enriched immeasurably by the time we spent together. Thank you Ernest. You are not just a star. You are a beautiful human being and a class act. And yes, you are my friend.