|Mar 25 2011
Confidential magazine, more so than other mid-century tabloids, could be counted on to report upon Hollywood’s interracial romances. Generally, the editors took no definitive stance on the divisive issue, but by placing such stories front and center were clearly pandering to their mostly conservative readership’s prejudices. In this issue from March 1956, it’s Billy Eckstine and Denise Darcel who are put under hot lights. Eckstine was a popular crooner sometimes referred to as the “black Sinatra”, the “sepia Sinatra” or even the “bronze balladeer”; Darcel was a French-born actress. When they met he was separated from a wife he would later divorce and was enjoying the NYC party circuit; she was an émigré from France circa 1947, newly divorced, and trying to establish a film career.
What broke them up? Even Confidential doesn’t know for sure, but career pressure is a likely culprit. Eckstine lost a movie contract when word got out that he was spending time with Darcel. It was a significant blow, because leading movie roles for African-Americans—rare today—were pretty much non-existent back then. Eckstine had already carved out a pan-racial popularity in music, but was denied a chance to do the same in cinema. He wouldn’t appear in a movie as an actor until 1975’s Let’s Do It Again. His music career survived, however, and he remained a hitmaker for another ten years.
As for Darcel, she made some Hollywood films, but never broke big. On a few French websites we learned that her career was possibly damaged by Howard Hughes after she refused his advances, but we can’t confirm that in a language we’re actually fluent in, so don’t quote us. We do know that at age forty she went on to a career in burlesque, which you see below. Asked why she had made the move into erotic dance, she replied, "Because that's where the money is." However, that period didn't last long—three years, more or less. In any case, Eckstine and Darcel certainly look happy on the cover of Confidential. The photo is from the party where they met. Asked that night about Eckstine by a reporter, Darcel said, “Billy is sooo wonderful!”