Tailing Harry Belafonte
by Barbara Young
(Greenbelt, Md. USA)
Many years ago, around 1953, I went to Las Vegas as one of three young women who shared a house and worked at the same place in San Jose, CA.
We went for a lark, a short vacation where none of us had gone before. We stayed at the Riviera, which was brand new at that time but which may no longer exist (I don't know).
On our floor in the Riviera we spotted Harry Belafonte walking down a hall. Later we saw him again, on the same floor, so I suppose he was staying there. He was lean and gorgeous. He walked like a panther.
The weather was its usual dry-hot self, and we spent a lot of time at the pool. There he was again! Harry Belafonte! Cruising around and talking to his then-girlfriend (obviously) who was one of the dancers at the hotel and who looked marvelous in her bikini. Her name was Julie (we overheard) and the two were married some time later.
Every day, there they were at the pool. We tried to be inconspicuous, but I think Harry eventually realized that we were the ones peering at him on the Riviera floor where we all stayed. He was not unfriendly, which was nice.
A year or so later, I was sitting with a friend in the lobby of the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco, and who strolled in, gorgeous as usual, but Harry Belafonte. I was thrilled again.
Subsequently, of course, he became deeply involved in many civil rights issues, fighting always for the underdog. I developed a great respect for a man who was in his youth a great entertainer but who matured into someone who laid aside the pleasures of ego in favor of the pleasures of helping others.
At some point, Belafonte found out that Martin Luther King, Jr. had no insurance of any kind for his family of wife and four children. (He didn't believe in it.) Quietly, Belafonte made sure the insurance was provided.
Not too long after, Martin Luther King was murdered. I shall always remember shedding a tear or two when on TV I saw the sad, drawn face of Belafonte as he walked with the mule-drawn wagon bearing King's body after the funeral in Atlanta. His hand was on the coffin as he walked along.
Now Harry Belafonte is very old, a bit older even than I am. When I see him on television, I'm still thrilled, but for different reasons than when I was young. I remember his lovely singing and beautiful face, but I love more the absolute national treasure the man has become.