Wednesday, December 17, 2008

LEGENDARY: Josephine Premice - La Bombe!

It would only be proper for WSOIC to officially kick off with a posting on the inspiration for the title of this blog, the late Josephine Premice.

If you were to look up the word "glamour" in the dictionary, you'd most likely find a photo of Ms. Premice dressed in one of her many Givenchy gowns next to the entry.

Born in Haiti on July 21, 1926 and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Ms. Premice was a Tony nominated actress and one of the premiere calypso singers in the U.S. and Europe in the '40s and '50s. Some of you may remember her as Desiree Porter, the husky voiced landlord of Dwayne Wayne, Whitley Gilbert and Ron on A Different World, or as Louise Jefferson's sister, Maxine, on The Jeffersons, but Ms. Premice's career expanded way beyond special guest appearances on Black sitcoms.

Ms. Josephine's road to Divadom began as a dancer under the tutelage of Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham. From there, Ms. Premice ventured to Broadway with performances in various productions such as Blue Holiday in 1945 (which also starred Ethel Waters and Josh White), House of Flowers in 1954 (starring Pearl Bailey and her best friend, Diahann Carroll), Jamaica from 1957-58 (starring Lena Horne), A Hand Is on the Gate in 1966, and Bubbling Brown Sugar from 1976-77 just to name a few. Ms. Premice received Tony Award nominations for her performances in Jamaica and A Hand Is on the Gate.

Ms. Josephine was also an accomplished singer, recording her first calypso song in 1949. She went on to record two calypso albums: Josephine In Paris (Verve) and Calypso (GNP Albums). She garnered international fame performing in nightclubs in Europe and South America, affectionately known as "La Bombe" in Paris and "Madonna Negra" in Italy.

Now, Ms. Premice may not have fit the American standard of black beauty -- light skin, European features -- but she didn't let that stop her from being a fashionista. She turned the definition of beauty on its ear and became the muse to legendary fashion designers Jacques Fath and Hubert de Givenchy.

"I got over thinking I was ugly. A friend told me to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and repeat over and over, 'I am beautiful.' It worked. I began to feel beautiful, which is very important."
A connoisseur of luxury, Ms. Premice took great pride and pleasure in turning her family's humble Upper West Side apartment into lavish living. Josephine turned simple walls into works of art by simply using bed sheets as wallpaper! How's that for overcoming in couture!

It was during her stint in Jamaica that Ms. Premice met her husband, Timothy Fales. Ms. Premice's marriage to Mr. Fales caused quite a stir in 1958. You see, not only is Mr. Fales white, but he was a bona fide WASP coming from a long line of "blue-blood" stock which included wealth, prestige and Mayflower settlers. As you can imagine, this marital union didn't sit well with the Old Money Set and thus, Mr. Fales was removed from the infamous Social Register. Personally, I don't think he was too upset about it, seeing as though he shunned aristocracy, preferring to hang with the brothas and sistas.

Shortly after their marriage, Ms. Premice moved to Rome with her husband, where their children, Enrico and uber NYC socialite, Susan Fales-Hill were born. They returned to the States after a six year hiatus, where Josephine resumed her acting career.

Sadly, Ms. Premice passed away on April 13, 2001 after a long battle with emphysema. But ye though she walked through the valley in the shadow of death, Ms. Premice was not about to give up glamour! In her memoir about her mother, Always Wear Joy: My Mother Bold and Beautiful, Ms. Fales-Hill wrote that everyday Ms. Premice fought the disease like a true Diva Soldier: in "a silk blouse", "palazzo pants", wig and "full makeup".

Although Josephine Premice isn't a household name like other Black Divas of her generation, she still had a significant impact on the legacy of Black women in entertainment, and their roles as style icons. Thanks to her daughter's memoir, more people will learn about this extraordinary woman and how she couture!


Divalocity said...

I'm so glad that you have written a post about one of my absolutely favorite icons. This lady oozed class and grace, she was one of the original socialites. She along with Eartha Kitt(RIP)were trés chic in every form. She also had a voice that was unforgettable. Her daughter Susan has taken after her Mother when it comes to style, she is always on the best dress list.

We Shall Overcome.....In Couture! said...

Susan Fales-Hill is just too fabulous for words!