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Falana circa 1972.
|Born||Loletha Elayne Falana|
or Loletha Elaine Falana
11 September 1942
Camden, New Jersey, U.S.
|Education||Germantown High School|
|Home town||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
Feliciano Tavares, Jr.
(m. 1970; div. 1975)
Loletha Elayne Falana or Loletha Elaine Falana (sources differ) (born September 11, 1942), better known by her stage name Lola Falana, is an American singer, dancer, model and actress.
Early life and career
Born in Camden, New Jersey, Falana was the third of six children born to Bennett, a welder and Cleo Falana, a seamstress (1921–2010). Falana's father, an Afro-Cuban, left his homeland of Cuba to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, later becoming a welder shortly after meeting Falana's mother who was African-American. By the age of three Falana was dancing, and by age five she was singing in the church choir. In 1952, Falana's family which by this time included two more siblings, moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By the time she was in junior high school, Falana was already dancing in nightclubs to which she was escorted by her mother. Pursuing a musical career became so important to her that, against her parents' wishes, Falana dropped out of Germantown High School a few months before graduation and moved to New York City.
In 1958, Falana's first dancing gig was at age sixteen during a Dinah Washington nightclub appearance in Philadelphia in which Washington gave Falana the opening act slot to perform. Washington, dubbed the “Queen of Blues”, was influential in fostering Falana's early career. While dancing in a chorus line in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Falana was discovered by Sammy Davis Jr., who gave her a featured role in his 1964 Broadway musical Golden Boy. After the musical, Falana launched her music career later in 1964. Her first single, "My Baby", was recorded and released for Mercury Records in 1965. Later in her career, Falana recorded under Frank Sinatra's record label. In the late 1960s, Falana was mentored by Davis.
In 1966, Davis cast Falana, along with himself, Ossie Davis, and Cicely Tyson, in her first film role, in A Man Called Adam. Falana became a major star of Italian cinema beginning in 1967. In Italy she learned to speak fluent Italian while starring in three movies, the first of which was considered a spaghetti western. She was known as the "Black Venus". During this time she was busy touring with Davis as a singer and dancer, making films in Italy, and reprising her role in Golden Boy during its revival in London. In 1969, Falana ended her close working relationship with Sammy Davis Jr., though the two remained friends. "If I didn't break away," She told TV Guide, "I would always be known as the little dancer with Sammy Davis Jr. ... I wanted to be known as something more." In 1970, Falana made her American film debut in The Liberation of L.B. Jones and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year - Actress for her performance. That same year she posed for Playboy magazine. She was the first black woman to model for the Faberge "Tigress" perfume ads. In those early years, she also starred in a few movies considered to be of the blaxploitation genre. She appeared at the Val Air Ballroom sponsored by Black Pride, Inc., in 1978.
American TV audiences became familiar with Falana during the early 1970s. She often appeared on The Joey Bishop Show and The Hollywood Palace, displaying her talent for music, dance, and light comedy. These appearances led to more opportunities. She was the first supporting player hired by Bill Cosby for his much-anticipated variety hour, The New Bill Cosby Show, which made its debut on September 11, 1972 (her 30th birthday) on CBS. Cosby had met Falana in his college days, when he was a struggling comic and she was a 14-year-old dancing for $10 a show in Philadelphia nightclubs. Throughout the mid-1970s, Falana made guest appearances on many popular TV shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Muppet Show, Laugh-In and The Flip Wilson Show. She also starred in her own television specials. In 1975, Falana's disco record There's A Man Out There Somewhere reached #67 on the Billboard R&B chart. That same year, she returned to Broadway as the lead in the musical Doctor Jazz. Although the production closed after just five performances, Falana was nominated for a Tony Award and won the 1975 Theater World Award.
With help from Sammy Davis, Jr., she brought her act to Las Vegas and became a top draw there. By the late 1970s, Falana was considered the "Queen of Las Vegas". She played to sold-out crowds at The Sands, The Riviera, and the MGM Grand hotels. Finally The Aladdin offered her $100,000 a week to perform. At the time, Falana was the highest paid female performer in Las Vegas. Her show ran twenty weeks a year and became a major tourist attraction. While still playing to sold-out crowds in Las Vegas, Falana joined the cast of a short-lived CBS soap opera, Capitol, as Charity Blake, a wealthy entertainment mogul. In 1983, Falana was appearing at Bally's hotel and casino in Atlantic City and, while playing baccarat, won a minority stake in the New York Mets, a stake she held until she sold it in 1988 for 14 million dollars to Frank Cashen.
Later career and life
In 1995, Falana recorded the song "Don't Cry, Mary" with Catholic artist Joseph Lee Hooker. No longer performing, she now tours the country with a message of hope and spirituality. When not on tour, she lives a quiet life in Las Vegas working on the apostolate she founded, The Lambs of God Ministry. The ministry is focused on helping children who have been orphaned in Sub-Saharan Africa, and works closely with the group Save Sub-Saharan Orphans. Falana's last known musical performance was in 1997, at Wayne Newton's theater in Branson, Missouri.
Sometime during 1965–1968, Falana had an affair with her then–mentor Sammy Davis Jr. which became public knowledge after Davis' confessed it to his then–wife May Britt, which led to their divorce in 1968. Falana was married to Feliciano “Butch” Tavares Jr., one of five brothers of the popular R&B/soul vocal band Tavares in 1970; later divorcing in 1975.
In 1987, Falana suffered a severe relapse of multiple sclerosis. Falana's left side was paralyzed, she became partially blind, and her voice and hearing were impaired. Her recovery lasted a year and a half, during which she spent most of her time praying. Falana attributes her recovery to a spiritual experience which she described as "Being able to feel the presence of the Lord." Falana converted to Roman Catholicism in 1988 and worked her newly found spirituality into her daily life. Though she performed again in Las Vegas shows in 1987, Falana's practice of religion and faith became the center of her life. After another bout with multiple sclerosis in 1996, Falana returned to Philadelphia and lived with her parents for a short time.
- During a scene in D.C. Cab, Tyrone (played by Charlie Barnett) asks the character Denise "When you goin' out with me?" Her incredulous response of "Why should I go out with you?" is met by a defiant "Because I'm black and I'm beautiful." Denise deadpans, "Well, so is Lola Falana, but you don't see me goin' out with her."
- In A Different World, Whitley Gilbert makes numerous references to Lola Falana throughout the six seasons.
- The SCTV character Lola Heatherton, played by Catherine O'Hara, was derived from the names of Lola Falana and Joey Heatherton. The character spoofed both women, especially in their later career television variety show appearances in the 1970s.
- In Barbershop 2: Back in Business, barber Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) admonishes his boss Calvin (Ice Cube) for making him take down his picture of Lola Falana from the wall of his booth.
- In Family Matters, Eddie (Darius McCrary) wants new high-tops that cost $70, but Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) "would not pay $70 for shoes if Lola Falana was in them."
- In Marvel Comics's Tomb of Dracula #58 (published in July 1977), the vampire hunter Blade says "That's why I was watchin' that clock like it was a Penthouse pin-up of Lola Falana!"
- In The Escorts, Season 5, Episode 19 of Sanford and Son, February 17, 1976, Fred played by Redd Foxx is hired by Lola Falana and returns from the date exhausted and disheveled.
- A Man Called Adam (1966)
- I'll Try Tonight (1967)
- Lola Colt (1967)
- When I Say That I Love You (1967)
- The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970)
- The Klansman (1974)
- Lady Cocoa (1975)
- Mad About You (1990)
- Mary's Land (2013)
- Sabato sera (1967) - Italy
- The Flip Wilson Show, Season 1, Episode 8 (1970)
- Teatro Dieci (1971) - Italy
- The New Bill Cosby Show (1972–1973)
- Hai visto mai? (1973) - Italy
- The Streets of San Francisco, episode "A String of Puppets" (February 7, 1974)
- Ben Vereen... Comin' at Ya (1975) (canceled after 4 episodes)
- Lola (1975)
- The Lola Falana Show (1976) (four variety show specials that ran between January and March on ABC)
- Liberace: Valentine's Day Special (1979)
- The Muppet Show, Season 4, Episode 11, 1979
- Fantasy island, "Spending Spree", Season 2, Episode 19 (1979)
- Lola, Lola y Lollo (1982)
- Made in Italy (1982) - Italy
- Capitol (cast member 1984–1986)
- S. Richter (2013). "Women, Pleasure, Film: What Lolas Want". Google Books. Springer. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- Thomson Gale (2005). "Falana, Lola 1942–". Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- Jan Onofrio (1999). "Pennsylvania Biographical Dictionary". Google Books. Somerset Publishers, Inc. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- Kathleen Fearn-Banks, Anne Burford-Johnson (2014). "Historical Dictionary of African American Television". Google Books. Rowman & Littlefield. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- S. Torriano Berry, Venise T. Berry (2015). "Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema". Google Books. Rowman & Littlefield. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- S. Torriano Berry, Venise T. Berry (2009). "The A to Z of African American Cinema". Google Books. Scarecrow Press. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- Jessie Carney Smith (1996). "Notable Black American Women, Book 2". Google Books. VNR AG. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- "Cleo F. Twine". Find A Grave. 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- "CLEO F. TWINE". Legacy. 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- Tia Williams (August 18, 2011). "Vintage Vamp: Showgirl Lola Falana". Essence. Essence Magazine. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- Catholic Exchange, "Former Entertainer Lola Falana Founds New Catholic Apostolate", August 31, 2002
- "May Britt Keeps Kids, Divorces Sammy Davis Jr". Google Books. JET Magazine/Johnson Publishing Company. January 9, 1969. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
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