March 7, 1976
There were certainly two Elton Johns to be seen on March 7, 1976, when Madame Tussaud added a wax effigy of Pinner’s favorite son to her collection – the first rock figure to be added since 1964, when the Beatles appeared there as of wax.
But there seemed to be plenty more sightings from Diana Ross, who wanted to impress the world on the virtues of her self-titled new solo album, which featured two chart cuts in Theme From Mahogany – the title track. of his latest film – as well as Love Hangover, produced by Hal Davis, an attempt to reach out and touch a new disco-inclined generation. She was also due to embark on a UK tour which started at Birmingham Hippodrome on March 14 and ended in Manchester on March 27.
Those who couldn’t get enough of the Motown Diva were cared for at London’s Plaza Cinema, where Mahogany played to good audiences but negative reviews. Additionally, she was scheduled to perform in front of the Hollywood crowd at the Academy Awards on March 29. The fact that Diana was still in Europe didn’t prove to be an obstacle; at 4:30 a.m., a fur-clad Ross climbed into a horse-drawn carriage and weaved its way through Amsterdam, syncing the Mahogany theme, nominated for Best Song, with her performance sent via satellite to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. , where he lost to Keith Carradine’s I’m Easy.
“It received the worst reviews in movie history.”
There was to be no Ross nomination for Best Actress. Her role as rags-to-riches model Tracey Chambers didn’t even come close. But if she could have picked up anything in the Costume Design category — she designed all of her 25 costumes herself — Mahogany was a loser in most departments. Even original director Tony Richardson was fired, with Berry Gordy taking over because “He (Richardson) didn’t quite capture the feeling of darkness – the black point of view”. Not that Berry didn’t pull out all the stops in terms of production. The original budget of $2.5 million was increased to $3.75 million. He worked like a fiend to finish Mahogany, even though he realized he was a critical loser and thought about pulling the film. However, Mahogany grossed nearly $7 million in its first week. Even so, it took a critical hit. Berry later recalled, “It received the worst reviews in movie history”
Writer Vivien Goldman, who met Ross over a champagne breakfast in a London hotel during her UK tour, recalls: “Enriched with black coffee, we all obeyed the exhortation of the publicist to stand and applaud when That Lady entered the room. Everyone was seated around small tables and Diana moved from table to table spending a few moments at each, revealing everything and nothing at once. She’s beautiful, not just with what the good lord gave her, but the kind of grooming that means MONEY and the lessons well learned at the legendary Motown Charm School.
At another table, Miss Ross chatted with a reporter who inquired about her shift in attitude towards music, away from traditional Motown sounds for something much closer to Broadway. Diana paused briefly and replied, “I’m getting older, I’m 31 and I’ve changed. I like the sound of my voice now and I like to sing different songs. I still sing soul – but really, I just want to entertain. Asked about Florence Ballard, the ex-Supreme who died in near-poverty a few weeks earlier, Ross argued, “You can’t help some people. Not that she cared. She set up a trust fund for Flo’s three daughters, one of which was in the six figures.
The gigs in the UK went well. Impressive from a production standpoint, they featured a 38-piece orchestra, five backing vocals and five mime artists, and worked amid sets fashioned by Tom John, designed by Broadway. As the singer worked her way through Broadway standards, minimal hits and homages such as Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith, audiences responded appropriately. Some soul fans railed – “Ms. Ross has turned her back on black music,” Black Music magazine said. “Diana now flirts with the empty world of born showbiz and theatrical schmaltz,” but their readers clearly disagreed. In a poll held that month, they voted Diana Ross second only to Millie Jackson as the best soul singer of the moment. And before the end of the year, Billboard magazine duly named Diana Ernestine Earle Ross as Female Artist of the Century.