Hilda-Simms

The groundbreaking Minnesota-born actress Hilda Simms (1918-1994) in a scene with Van Heflin from the 1954 film, “The Black Widow.” Ms. Simms was best known for her starring role in the first all-black, American Negro Theater production of “Anna Lucasta” on Broadway in 1944. Despite the tremendous momentum provided by the publicity behind the show, she only made two films (“The Joe Louis Story” in 1953 and this film) and just two more appearances on Broadway (including Langston Hughes’s “Tambourines to Glory” in 1963). Ms. Simms is in the “Sepia Dreamgirls, Pin-ups, & Hollywood Starlets” chapter of my book, Vintage Black Glamour, available at vbgbook.com and Amazon.

Dorothy Dandridge photographed by Philippe Halsman.

Halsman photographed Dorothy numerous times including her appearance in Esquire magazine’s when she was selected as Lady Fair for the June 1954 issue, her historic cover shot and spread for the November 1954 issue of Life. He was once again selected to photograph Dorothy for Ebony Magazine’s January 1955 issue on the “Five Most Beautiful Negro Women in the World.” Also featured were Lena Horne, Hilda Simms, Eartha Kitt, and Joyce Bryant. According to Halsman, Dorothy was very tense and self-conscious. “Besides beauty and elegance, Dorothy has an unusual intelligence. Intelligence is an admirable quality, but in a studio it can be a hindrance. It is hard to reach the real Dandridge hiding behind the iron curtain of her intelligence.”

Hilda Simms and Lena Horne in the late 1940s. It drives me crazy that I have not been able to find a legitimate source/photographer behind this photo. It’s one thing to find it on a random website (like I did last year) but it’s another thing to share it and properly credit it for a wider audience. Sigh…

Hilda Simms was born Hilda Moses to Emile and Lydia Moses in 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She briefly studied teaching at the University of Minnesota before relocating to New York where she met and married William Simms and gained professional acting experience at Harlem’s American Negro Theater.

In 1943, two years after dissolving her marriage to William, Simms made her debut in the title role of the theatrical play Anna Lucasta, becoming the first leading African American actress to appear in the Broadway hit production. Originally written for an all-white cast, Simms portrayed a middle-class woman struggling to regain her respectability after falling into a life of prostitution. The theatrical version of Anna Lucasta is considered the first drama featuring African American actors to explore a theme un-related to racial tensions. When the play toured abroad, Simms maintained the title role while enjoying a dual singing career in Paris.