Jennifer Merin reviews “Been Rich All My Life”

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SILVER BELLS SPARKLE

Heather Lyn MacDonald’s documentary, “Been Rich All My Life,” is about the Silver Belles (Bertye Lou Wood, Cleo Hayes, Marion Coles, Elaine Ellis, Fay Ray and Geri Kennedy), a troupe of spirited hoofers who tap danced in the chorus lines at the Apollo Theater, Cotton Club and other famous 1930s Harlem venues, and toured to Europe and South America with big band headliners.

Now in their 80s and 90s, their friendship having endured for some 70 years, these inspiring women are still performing in NY concert halls, where their spunky routines and feisty attitude garner standing ovations.However, delightful a film it is, “Been Rich All My Life” isn’t all joy– it also candidly reveals the hardships these dancers faced and overcame as young women of color, and those they now face in aging. The engaging individual stories of their lives and careers cover almost a century of one aspect of New York’s African American history and culture– including how they headed the strike against the Apollo Theater for higher wages that initiated establishment of the American Guild of Variety Artists, the nation’s first integrated performers’ union.

There’s fascinating historical footage, too.

“Been Rich All My Life‘s” pure 80 minute infusion of spirit. A must-see. (Published in New York Press)

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).