Buckley, Gail Lumet 1937–
Gail Lumet Buckley 1937–
Gail Lumet Buckley is the author of two books and a contributor to many periodicals. She is the daughter of Holly wood’s first black star, Lena Home, and she was married to the famous director, Sidney Lumet. Buckley grew up in a privileged black middle class family that paved her entry into the elite society of the rich, famous, and politically connected. Despite the obvious benefits of such a lifestyle, including an Ivy League education and world travel, Buckley was not immune to racism in America. In 1986 she published her first book, which chronicled her family’s history along with the story of the black middle class in America. Her second book, published in 2001, is a history of African-American involvement in the American military.
Gail Lumet Buckley was born Gail Horne Jones on December 21, 1937, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her father, Louis Jones, was a publisher and her mother, Lena Horne, was a famous singer and actress. Buckley’s family was part of the old black middle class. Her great-grandparents were descendants of slaves who settled in New York. Among black society they were known as the Homes of Brooklyn. Great-grandfather Edwin Home was the co-founder of a black political lobbying group called the United Color Democracy. His wife, Cora Horne, was a suffragette. Their second of four sons, Teddy, was Buckley’s grandfather.
Teddy Horne’s fun-loving lifestyle made him a black sheep in the family. According to Buckley in The Hornes, “Teddy Horne, unlike his brothers, always rejected and thumbed his nose at gentility. He believed that fun was more important than middle-class morality and a good name.” Teddy Horne married Edna Louise Scottron and their daughter Lena Mary Calhoun Home was born in 1917. Teddy Horne tried to be a respectable family man and he landed a job as the first black member of the Claims Division of the New York Department of Labor. However, after three years of marriage, Teddy Horne divorced Edna and moved to Seattle. Lena Horne was then raised primarily by her grandmother, Cora.
When Lena Home was 19 years old she met Louis Jones through her father, Teddy Horne. Jones was a
At a Glance…
Born Gail Home Jones on December 21, 1937, in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of Lena Home and Louis Jones; married Sidney Lumet, November 24, 1963 (divorced); married Kevin Buckley, October 1, 1983; children: (with Lumet) Amy and Jenny. Education: Radcliffe College, BA, 1959. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Democrat.
Career: Marie-Claire magazine, Paris, France, journalist, 1959-63; National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students, student counselor, 1961-62; Life magazine, New York, journalist, 1962-63; contributor to periodicals, 1980s; author, 1986–.
Awards: University of Southern Indiana, honorary doctorate, 1987.
Address: Office—c/o Lynn Nesbit, International Creative Management, 40 West Fifty-seventh St., New York, NY 10128.
college graduate with good manners and a sense of humor who recently settled in Pittsburgh. Much to her mother’s dismay, Home married Jones and the following year their daughter Gail was born. As Home’s acting and singing career began to take off, her marriage was falling apart. Jones disapproved of Home’s career and the time that she spent away from home. The couple tried to keep their marriage together and they had another child in 1940, a son named Edwin Fletcher, whom everyone called Little Teddy after his grandfather.
Soon after her son’s birth, Home decided to leave her husband. She found work in New York and returned to Pittsburgh for her children. However, Jones would only let Lena take Gail with her and he refused to give up his son. “I remember quite vividly leaving Pittsburgh, forever, with my mother—of course at the time I didn’t know it was forever,” Buckley wrote in her family biography called The Homes. “I remember being dressed up in my pink coat and hat, and I remember being surrounded by grown-ups’ knees.” Lena’s cousin, Edwina, was recently widowed and she agreed to move to Brooklyn to help raise Gail while Lena pursued her career.
Daughter of Hollywood’s First Black Star
As a young child Buckley often traveled between New York and California as her mother began to make a splash in Hollywood. Eventually the Homes settled in California and Buckley became neighbors with some of Hollywood’s elite, such as Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Vera Caspary. Buckley went to school with Natalie Wood, as well as the children of famous actors such as Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Buckley’s brother occasionally joined the family in California and the two Homes were the only black children in their school. As a child Buckley enjoyed ballet and piano. She also wanted to be a Brownie, but at that time the troops were segregated and the nearest black Brownie troop was too far from the Home home for Buckley to be able to attend.
Buckley’s life changed in 1946 when her mother, the first black Hollywood star, decided to marry Lennie Hayton, a white composer and conductor. “My mother and I therefore entered the great ‘white’ world, where we lived not as white people, but ‘like’ white people,” Buckley explained in The Homes. Since interracial marriages were illegal in California at that time, the new family moved back to the east coast. Home and Hayton married in Paris in 1947.
Buckley’s life at this time was filled with celebrities and travel. The family bought a house in Nichols Canyon, New York, but Buckley only spent the summers and holidays there. During the academic year she lived with the family of Dick and Aileen Morford and she attended a progressive New York middle school. The Hornes traveled extensively throughout Europe and Buckley grew up valuing the European culture and lifestyle more than the American. Much of their travels were spurred by the desire to escape the segregation and racism in 1950s America. “I thought that we left home for ‘fun,’” Buckley wrote in The Hornes. “We actually left home because of race and politics.” Buckley went to high school at a Quaker boarding school in upstate New York, which was chosen by her parents because of its policy of integration. Very few American boarding schools at that time accepted black female students.
Buckley graduated from high school in 1955 and decided to go to college at Harvard, the elite Ivy League school that she believed would allow her to become “worldly.” Buckley pursued a degree in French and she was also active in the Harvard Dramatic Club. In 1957 she won the best acting prize at the Yale Drama festival. After her second year of college, Buckley spent the summer working on a newspaper for a resort in the Catskills. The following summer she worked in public relations for Air France.
In 1959 Buckley graduated from Harvard and began working for Marie-Claire magazine in Paris. The following year she returned to New York to play in a musical called Valmouth, despite the fact that she had little professional training. The show received mixed reviews and Buckley quickly tired of performing every night. Instead she decided to get a “regular” job in advertising. She also briefly worked on a speech-making tour in support of John F. Kennedy.
In 1961 Buckley went to work for the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students in search of a more meaningful job. She was assigned to work as a counselor for black students who were applying for scholarships to predominantly white schools. In 1962 Buckley landed a job at Life magazine. “It was the fulfillment of an earlier aspiration,” Buckley explained in The Hornes. “I had always listed Edward R. Murrow and Dorothy Thompson as the public figures I most admired—two crusaders for truth and justice.” Buckley worked at the clip desk where she clipped newspapers and monitored the Associated Press and United Press wires for news stories. When she came across interesting news she would present them to the magazines editors for consideration as a story.
While working for Life Buckley met Sidney Lumet, a television and movie director who directed such movies at Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Pawnbroker. Lumet was fourteen years older than Buckley and he had already been married twice, so Lena Horne was not thrilled with her daughter’s choice of a husband. “But the more Lena tried to dissuade me, the more I dug in my heels,” Buckley explained in The Hornes. “Sidney was my idea of the perfect older man.” Unfortunately, Buckley’s wedding was marred by tragic national events. Buckley and Lumet were married on November 23, 1963, a day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Many of the famous guests, who also knew the Kennedys personally, did not attend the wedding and it was a somber event.
Buckley and Lumet had two children together. Daughter Amy was born in November of 1964 and her sister, Jenny, was born in February of 1967. The family split their time living in London and New York supporting Lumet’s film career. Buckley devoted herself to being a wife and a mother. She had several hobbies, such as needlepoint, tennis, jogging, ballet, and yoga, but she did not have a career of her own. “‘Director’s Wife’ was a dream part for a former teenage voyeur,” Buckley wrote in The Hornes. “Each cast and location brought wonderful new friends.” Buckley especially enjoyed being a mother.
Despite her carefree lifestyle, in the 1970s Buckley found herself in search of more meaning in her life. As she explained in The Hornes, she was “part ‘brown bourgeoise,’ part Hollywood brat, and part Ivy League. It had become imperative to find out who Gail Horne Jones Lumet really was, to discover what lay beneath the mask of race, gender, and class.” Buckley divorced Lumet, went to therapy, and rededicated herself to her religious beliefs. On October 1, 1983 Buckley married her second husband, editor Kevin Buckley. She also continued to pursue her writing career.
In the early 1980s Buckley stumbled across her grandfather Teddy Horne’s old trunk of photographs, newspaper clippings, and souvenirs. The remnants of her family’s past inspired her to write a book about her family history. In 1986 Buckley published The Hornes: An American Family, in which she traced six generations of her family’s history. In a review of the book, Robert Leiter of Smithsonian magazine explained that Buckley “uses her family as the lens through which to tell a larger tale: the little-known history of America’s black bourgeoisie.” Buckley provides insight into what it was like for middle class blacks to live in America prior to and during the civil rights movement. She includes a special emphasis on her mother’s trials and tribulations as the first black female star in Hollywood.
The Hornes was not the only book that stemmed from Buckley’s grandfather’s trunk. She also came across a photograph of her great uncle who had served in World War I. This inspired her to write Blacks in Uniform: From Bunker Hill to Desert Storm in 2001. This book is a history of black Americans in the military. “I wrote this book for people like myself who didn’t know anything about the military,” Buckley explained to Malcolm Jones of Newsweek. “I was interested in the people and how they got into the wars, and what happened once they got in and how it affected the civil-rights scene and history as a whole.” It took Buckley fourteen years to research the book, but in the end she discovered many powerful stories in the lives of black soldiers. In the introduction of the book, Buckley explained that “American history is full of heroes. For a long time, it seemed that none of them were black. Yet there have been black heroes from the beginning; they were simply cut out of the picture.” Buckley’s book was an attempt to fill in some of these holes and it was well received by both critics and the public.
The Horne: An American Family, Knopf, 1986.
American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm, Random House, 2001.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 15th ed., Gale Group, 2002.
Writer’s Directory, 18th ed., St. James Press, 2002.
America, November 23, 1996, p. 2.
Newsweek, June 25, 2001, p. 89.
Smithsonian, August 1986, p. 126.
“Gail Lumet Buckley,” Contemporary Authors Online, www.galenet.com (February 12, 2003).
—Janet P. Stamatel
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