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Gertrude Hadley Jeannette

Playwright, producer, director, and actress of the stage and screen, Gertrude Hadley Jeannette, was born in Urbana, Arkansas, on November 28, 1914, to Willis Lawrence Hadley and Salley Gertrude Crawford Hadley. Jeannette was raised in Arkansas where she attended Dunbar High School in Little Rock. Just before her high school graduation, Jeannette decided that she wanted to get married instead of attending Fisk University, as she had previously planned; she and Joe Jeannette, II, a prizefighter and the president of the Harlem Dusters, a motorcycle club, eloped to New York City in 1934.

In New York City, Jeannette learned to drive; in 1935 she became the first woman to get a license to drive a motorcycle. In 1942, because of the shortage of male taxicab drivers caused by the war, Jeannette became one of the first women to drive a cab in New York City. During this time, Jeannette decided to further her education; she took bookkeeping classes in the basement of Abyssinian Baptist Church, and speech classes at the American Negro Theatre in order to remedy her speech impediments. In 1945, Jeannette was cast in the lead role in Our Town; in 1950, she performed in her first play, This Way Foreward. That same year, Jeannette and Fred O’Neil appeared on television in James Weldon Johnson’s Gods Trombone on CBS’s General Electric Hour; she had replaced Pearl Bailey, who was originally cast in that role. As a result, Jeannette continued to work both in the theatre and in film and television; she went on to play roles in Broadway plays such as Lost In The Stars, Amen Corner, and The Great White Hope. Some of Jeannette’s film credits included Shaft, Black Girl, and Cotton Comes To Harlem.

In 1979, Jeannette founded the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players (Harlem Artists Development League Especially for You) in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The mission of the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players was to give artists a chance to develop their talents and skills in the theatre, and to enrich the cultural life in Harlem. Jeannette went on to direct, produce, and write her own plays, as well as the works of other playwrights.

Jeannette was presented with several awards for her work and accomplishments. In 1991, Jeannette was honored as a living legend at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and in 1998, she was honored with the Lionel Hampton Legacy Award. Jeannette was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2002, she received the prestigious Paul Robeson Award from the Actor’s Equity Association. Jeanette, though retired, remained an active and celebrated member of the New York theater scene well into her nineties.

Jeannette passed away on April 4, 2018 at age 103.

Accession Number

A2005.133

Sex

Female

Interview Date

6/9/2005

Last Name

Jeannette

Maker Category
Middle Name

Hadley

Schools

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

College Station Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Gertrude

Birth City, State, Country

Urbana

HM ID

JEA01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Arkansas

Favorite Quote

Go Well And Stay Well.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/28/1914

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Greens (Mixed), Cornbread

Death Date

4/4/2018

Short Description

Actress, stage director, and playwright Gertrude Hadley Jeannette (1914 - 2018 ) founded the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players theater company in Harlem, York City.

Employment

City of New York

Various Broadway Plays

Favorite Color

Purple

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gertrude Hadley Jeannette's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her maternal ancestors' life on the Cherokee reservation

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her experiences in grade school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls her high school experience in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls eloping with Joe Jeannette, II

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes reconciling with her parents after her marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls continuing her education in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers becoming the first female motorcyclist in New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers becoming the first female taxi driver in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes joining the American Negro Theater

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls working in summer stock theater

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her experiences with New York City's American Negro Theater

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls her friendship with Frank Silvera

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls appearing in 'Lost in the Stars' on Broadway

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls touring with the musical 'Lost in the Stars'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls early African American movie stars

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls the McCarthy Era

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes performing in 'The Little Foxes'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers Paul Robeson, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers Paul Robeson, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls appearing in James Baldwin's play, 'The Amen Corner'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette reflects upon her Broadway acting career

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her acting philosophy

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes founding the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes running the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players in New York City, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes running the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players in New York City, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her concerns for African American theater

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls African American prizefighters

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette reflects upon her family life

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette narrates her photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

6$8

DATitle
Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers becoming the first female taxi driver in New York City
Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes founding the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players
Transcript
When was it that you became the first woman to get a (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Taxi driver?$$Yeah, woman taxi driver.$$That was in '42 [1942].$$Okay. Now that's the same--$$You see that was when World War II [WWII] started.$$That's '41 [1941].$$They advertised in the paper, they said that so many men were being taken, and that they were gonna have to train women to drive the cabs (background noise). Women were going into plants and everything else, taking over jobs that men, you know, and I said, "Well I know one thing, I can drive a car. I don't know nothing about working over there in those plants and things." But I went down and got an application, and they gave me a book about the city and whatnot, but I had ridden all over Brooklyn [New York], and everywhere on that motorcycle with my husband [Joe Jeanette, II] and in the cars. I pretty much knew more than the cab drivers knew anyway. But I took the book, and I'm a quick study. I got the main streets in Brooklyn, the main streets and whatnot. So when they came up for the test, I took the oral test and then they--now the men don't have to do this. If they get a driver's license, they don't have to take the test. And you know these drivers, these cab drivers today, they--you have to tell them where to go and how to get there because they don't know anything. But we had to take a test and they would say such and such. "If I'm on Central Park West at 86th Street and Central Park West and I wanna go to 120 Broadway. How would you get there? What is the nearest way?" And I would--I would tell 'em. I said, "If you wanna go through the city, that will be the nearest way. The quickest way would be to go and get the drive, then go down and you'll come off at South Ferry [Street], and then you go to Broadway, and then you go down to 120." And I passed the test. That day, thirty-two of us took the test and only two of us passed. But the other girl didn't get her license because she had citations on her driver's license. And so I, I was the first. And I made every paper in New York [New York], we had six papers. We had the Journal [New York Journal-American], the [New York Daily] Mirror, The [New York] Times, the New York [Daily] News. I made every paper.$$That's wonderful--$Tell me about the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players. Now when did the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players start, and we know how it got named, right? Those who have heard the first part of this interview know that Hadley is your maiden name and your father's [Willis Hadley] name, right?$$No, well when we organized, when we left the Our Theater and we went over to the place, rented the--over at St. Philip's.$$St. Philip's Episcopal Church [New York, New York]?$$Yeah.$$Okay.$$We got the whole basement down there. And we gonna be closing down for the summer for some new renovations and whatnot. But they said, what are we gonna call this group? Cause we're gonna--this group is--we're gonna hold onto this group. Well I had been teaching in the CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] program, and when that closed down, I got some of the people, you know, from that to come in with me. And we were thinking of a name. And they didn't wanna use Our Theater. They said, "Ms. Jeannette [HistoryMaker Gertrude Hadley Jeannette], why don't we call it the Jeannette Theater?" I said, "No, we're not gone make it personal. We're gonna make it something that everybody, all of us, it will belong to all of us." They said, "What is your maiden name?" I said, "Hadley." They said, "Why can't we call it the Hadley Theater?" I said, "No, won't call it Hadley." So they said, "Well give us some time to think it over." So they went out and they came back and they said, "How 'bout Harlem Artists Development League Especially for You?" I said I'll buy that.