dona drake

A month or so back, I watched the 1949 movie The Girl From Jones Beach on TCM.

It was of interest to me because I’m a fan of the late actress Virginia Mayo.

Plus, it was written by the acclaimed writer I.A.L. Diamond, who was movie legend Billy Wilder’s script-writing partner for many years and movies.

The Girl From Jones Beach also starred Ronald Reagan, Eddie Bracken, and an actress by the name of Dona Drake.

Drake was also a singer.  In the early 1940s, she toured across the United States under the name of Rita Rio  with her “All Girl Orchestra.”

She was officially married to Oscar-winning dress designer William Travilla for 45 years, although they separated in 1956 after 12 years together.

In The Girl From Jones Beach, she played Eddie Bracken’s girlfriend.

From the above picture, you can see that Dona Drake was a very attractive woman.

Stunning even.

But everything was not as it seemed with Dona Drake.

You could say she spent her entire career living a lie.  Pretending she was who she appeared to be, but not who she really was.

Was she a reformed con looking to hide her past criminal record?

No, and no.

For her entire movie career, Drake passed herself off as being a Latino.  The resume that Paramount sent out about her said she was of Mexican, Irish and French descent and was born and raised in Mexico City.

But it was a lie.  Drake was born to Eunice and Joseph Westmoreland of Arkansas. Both Eunice and Joseph were black.

I can only imagine how stressful it must have been for Dona. Pretending you’re not really who you say you are.  Worrying that a gossip columnist would one day discover that the actress studios were hiring to play the girlfriend of a white actor was really a black woman.

For whatever reason, the situation Drake faced reminded me of what Oscar-winning and extremely loveable actress Hattie McDaniel said when someone asked her if she was tired of always playing the part of the maid in movies.  McDaniel said,” I’d rather play a maid than be one.”

McDaniel was following her passion and doing what she had to do to survive.  As was Drake.

Today, there are still many people who, like Dona Drake, hide who they really are for fear of the repercussions.   And it causes them great duress.  Many even commit suicide.  They feel a future filled with nothing is better than a future filled with bullying and taunting.

All they really need is understanding.  And love.  Two things that don’t cost anything and are so easy to give.

Dona Drake passed away on June 20th, 1989, at the age of 74, from pneumonia and respiratory failure.

She never broke through as an A-list actress. Arguably, her most prominent role was a supporting role in the 1942 film The Road to Morocco, starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

But she had a certain charisma about her.  And a smile and beauty that the years will never fade.

For me, she reminds me of how far we’ve come and how very far we’ve yet to go.