John Hemmer Archive

John Hemmer and the Showgirls

The John Hemmer Archive documents a unique period in live entertainment history. Illustrated by way of a documentary film, a digital and physical collection from a wealth of record types, this project chronicles stage performer experiences during the nightclub era of the mid-20th century.

Told through the eyes of singer/entertainer John Hemmer, the documentary, John Hemmer & the Showgirls, interweaves the broader New York nightclub phenomena with Hemmer’s personal and artistic journey and that of his community’s.

This website makes available the film for community screening events and film festivals. It offers to site visitors oral histories and various memorabilia and text journaling this cultural history.

The John Hemmer Collection consists of material on this site and physical artifacts. These assets are currently being cataloged for gifting to an appropriate library or archive to ensure its availability and long-term preservation.

First Prize, Rhode Island International Film Festival
Best Music: Culver City Film Festival 2017
2018 Official Selection, Cinema on the Baou

ScReenings

opening date city theater name
06/18/2019 Shelter Island,  NY Shelter Island Public Library
01/24/2019 Liverpool,  New York Liverpool Public Library
01/17/2019 Gainesville,  Florida Library Partnership Branch
01/12/2019 Miami,  Florida Miami-Dade Public Library Main Branch
01/04/2019 New York,  NY Edie Windsor SAGE Center
11/27/2018 Utica,  New York Utica Public Library
11/10/2018 Alexandria,  Virginia Alexandria Film Festival
11/06/2018 Bloomfield,  NY Bloomfield Public Library
11/04/2018 Delray Beach,  Florida Delray Beach Public Library
11/05/2018 Yonkers,  New York The Yonkers Film Festival
10/23/2018 New York,  NY Greenwich Village Film Festival
10/21/2018 Ridgefield,  Connecticut Ridgefield Independent Film Festival
10/20/2018 Milford,  Pennsylvania Black Bear Film Festival
10/07/2018 Laughlin,  Nevada Laughlin International Film Festival
09/23/2018 Jersey City,  New Jersey Golden Door International Film Festival
09/21/2018 Amelia Island,  Florida The Rendezvous Film Festival
09/16/2018 Englewood,  NJ Lillian Booth Actors Home
09/15/2018 Gallup,  New Mexico Gallup Film Festival
08/17/2018 Port St. Lucie,  Florida Treasure Coast International Film Festival
07/13/2018 Bellmore,  NY Long Island International Film Expo
06/22/2018 Far Rockaway,  NY St. John's Episcopal Hospital
04/28/2018 New York City,  NY Manhattan Film Festival
04/27/2018 Muskogee,  OK Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival
01/26/2018 Lafayette,  LA Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival
12/08/2017 Culver City,  CA Culver City Film Festival
08/10/2017 Providence,  RI Rhode Island International Film Festival

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With a career that spanned over 60 years, John Hemmer found creative purpose throughout his life. His reflections on the American nightclub era captured in the documentary, John Hemmer & the Showgirls, and its respective archive, illustrate a vital and under-documented side of performing arts. As an organizer of a reunion of entertainers, John worked for decades alongside dancers, Janie Thomas Freed and Chickee James Kulp to safeguard the legacy of a lost period. His place in our cultural history and the importance of art and community are recorded and reinforced through John and his cohort’s experiences.

Far Rockaway

Born in 1934, John grew up in the town of Edgemere on Far Rockaway Beach in the borough of Queens in New York City where he attended Far Rockaway High School. Living on an isthmus exposed John to outdoor recreation such as swimming and fishing. Its beachside boardwalk featured entertainment and games. John was a subway ride away from Manhattan where he would take in The Great White Way and walk along Swing Street, listening to the jazz pulse from the basement clubs along the strip.

In the Army

After being drafted in 1957, John found himself applying his athletic and entertainment talents in the service, enjoying his time in the U.S. Army despite some of the rigors of military life.

New York City

Having lived in his New York apartment for over 50 years, John Hemmer entertained many friends from comedian Rip Taylor (pictured) to singer Johnnie Ray to columnist / socialite Dorothy Kilgallen and many others. He witnessed vast changes in the city and his neighborhood over the decades, but even so, greeted neighbors and visited local businesses who have been there just as long.

John the Model

Following a stint in the U.S. Army, John sought work in a number of fields, including modeling, while he pursued employment as a singer and entertainer. He appeared in print ads and periodicals between stage work throughout the mid-1950s and early ’60s.

Recording & Touring

The Four Voices and Winged Victory took John Hemmer all over New York state and across the U.S. and Canada where he took to the stage at both large and small scale nightclubs. As a member of the Four Voices, John was introduced to many other vocalists on the Columbia Record label and beyond. Because of these opportunities, he crossed paths with a variety of influential artists, entertainers and literary agents of the day. His experiences reflect a fascinating cultural history of Manhattan as well as the broader club circuit of the day.

Wonder World

The 1964 New York World’s Fair boasted over 600 acres in grounds covered by many pavilions, restaurants, corporate exhibits and displays representing countries from around the globe. It also staged the water and performance extravaganza, Wonder World, produced by Radio City Music Hall giant, Leon Leonidoff. The production employed hundreds of performers and crew, including the talents of John Hemmer.

The Latin Quarter

Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter was a hotspot supper club in its heyday from the 1940s through the 1960s, attracting both celebrity clientele and performers who took to its stage. John Hemmer enjoyed its spotlight and the experience forever changed the course of his life.

Theater

Through the 1970s and beyond, John Hemmer joined theatrical productions as both crew and performer, such as a staging of Kismet and Sound of Music at Lincoln Center as well as three U.S. tours of Man of La Mancha, among others.

The Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc.

The Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc. became a nonprofit charity following an early ‘80s reunion of former Latin Quarter performers and employees. The group raised thousands of dollars in donation moneys for children in need.

Social Club

Formed after the Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc. nonprofit closed its doors, the social club, organized by master and mistress-of-ceremony, John Hemmer and Janie Thomas Freed, is an annual gathering of Latin Quarter community.

Meet The EnteRtaineRs

Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub was internationally known in its day. Walters, the impresario of its three locations, was known to host some of the most lavish live productions in the business where the everyday guy and gal rubbed elbows with famous clientele over dinner and cocktails, while taking in the biggest headliners live on stage. But it’s singer John Hemmer, along with dancers Janie Thomas Freed, Chickee James Kulp and their community, who have ensured the Latin Quarter’s legacy by keeping their collective together. Working during the height of the nightclub era in the mid-20th century, their stories detail a cultural history like no other.

Jane Thomas Freed

A native New Yorker, Janie studied dance as a little girl and at 16 years of age became a dancer at the Latin Quarter. She continued at its Times Square club, as well as the Florida-based location, until 1961 when she left to begin a family with husband, Bob Freed (a Latin Quarter Maitre’d). Jane also performed for producer/choreographer, Donn Arden at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, where the opening act was Louis Prima and Keely Smith. As Co-Founder of the Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc., she reunited with Latin Quarter colleagues to form a charity that staged performances for over 16 years. In 2006, she was first runner-up in Ms. Senior America, New Jersey. Janie currently dances with Broadway Ziegfeld Entertainers. She and Bob enjoy three sons and eleven grandchildren.

Chickee James Kulp

was born in Brooklyn at the very same hospital as her future husband, Richard Kulp. As a young woman she performed at Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter beginning in 1955. Over the course of her time there Chickee became a notable dancer and MC at the famous nightclub. In 1962 she left to join LA PLUME DE MA TANTE on Broadway. Chickee also appeared on the television in such shows as WHAT’S MY LINE?, guest starred on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and toured the U.S. with actors Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie to promote bonds during the Korean War. She resumed her acting career in the 1980s with appearances in films such as THE FLAMINGO KID, FALLING IN LOVE and PRIZZI’S HONOR. Formed in 1984, Chickee co-founded the Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc., along with dancer, Janie Thomas Freed. The nonprofit charity staged performances which raised funds for children in need for over 16 years.

Margo Mayor

danced her way from Detroit to New York City in the early 1960’s, becoming an Actor’s Equity member at the age of 17. She has been featured in On and Off-Broadway and summer stock productions, such as WEST SIDE STORY, LI’L ABNER, THE BOYFRIEND, WHAT A KILLING, INFIDEL CAESAR and OKLAHOMA. Margo performed as “the mermaid” in WONDER WORLD, the 1964 New York World’s Fair water show extravaganza. Here she would form her friendship with John Hemmer and work alongside Chita Rivera and Gretchen Wyler. She has appeared in television and film, including Mike Nichol’s WORKING GIRL. Margo has also been one of the top fitting models in New York City and ran a modeling agency for a number of years. She is an honorary Latin Quarter alumni and began her involvement by performing with the Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc. charity. Today she works as a supernumerary at The Metropolitan Opera.

Dana Lorge

was raised on Long Island. As a singer/comedienne, Large performed in leading nightclubs earning rave reviews from New York to Tokyo. In Atlantic City she appeared with Sal Richards, Kaye Ballard, Sheila MacRae and Larry Amorus at the Showboat and headlined in the Follies, a revue at Bally’s Grand. Dana performed at Don’t Tell Mama in New York and in COUGARS ON THE PROWL at the Provincetown Cabaret Festival. Theatre credits: GRIND with Ben Vereen on Broadway and the title role in AUNT CHOOCH’S BIRTHDAY, Off-Broadway. Film credits: PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981); MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON (1984); OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (1998) and THE PRODUCERS(2005) and CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC (2009). Dana produced and hosted variety shows in Manhattan, both at the Iguana, Wednesday Night at the Iguana and at The Metropolitan Room.

Bob Freed

was the Maitre’d at the Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter in New York City. He began his hospitality career at the Quarter in 1954 and was promoted to Maitre’d in ’57. He remained at the supper club until its closure on New Years’ Eve in 1969. Bob saw many cast, crew and famous headliners and clientele come and go throughout his years at the Latin Quarter. Bob met his wife Janie on her first day on the job in 1956. After Bob’s career at the Latin Quarter, he held positions at various New York restaurants including the Russian Tea Room, and The Riverboat before he and Janie acquired The Gatsby on 1st Avenue and 48th Street. Bob eventually transitioned into the wine and liquor businesses where he stayed as a distributor for twenty-nine years until his retirement. Today Bob supports Janie with the Latin Quarter reunions, her work with Ms. Senior America and Broadway Ziegfeld Entertainers. They enjoy their active lives in Florida and any time they can spend with their children and grandchildren.

Jackie Miller Abrams

was born in Washington, D.C. Jackie was discovered on a Florida beach by famous art and pin-up photographer, Bunny Yeager. Yeager was also a booking agent for Lou Walters’ Latin Quarter nightclub in Miami. Jackie eventually moved to New York where she modeled for Irving Klaw and other photographers. She’s appeared in a number of films, television shows, theatrical productions and modeled for corporate brands. Additional credits: Sherry Britton’s, THE BEST OF BURLESQUE, comedic performances in Manhattan and the Catskills, co-hosted a the radio show, BROADWAY AFTER DARK, and produced and hosted local television cable series, JACKIE LEE’S BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE and SUPERSTARS OF ’76. Jackie married Producer, Charles Abrams. They enjoyed homes together in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida and were members of the Republican Presidential Roundtable. Years following Charles’ passing, Jackie married a long-time friend and is currently living happily ever after.

Sal Angelica

performed at the Latin Quarter in New York City at the age of 19. He toured Europe in the international production of WEST SIDE STORY and in summer stock shows of WEST SIDE STORY as “Snowboy,” choreographed by Michael Bennett. Additional credits: FIORELLO with Tom Bosley; PAL JOEY with Dorothy Lamour; SHOWBOAT with Keely Smith and Andy Devine; FADE OUT-FADE IN with Carol Burnett. Sal worked with Chita Rivera in the 1964 New York World’s Fair production, WONDER WORLD. Las Vegas credits: CASINO DE PARIS at the Dunes Hotel and LIDO DE PARIS and FOLIES BERGERE at the Silver Slipper Casino. Sal appeared regularly on television in SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW and THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. He’s partnered Juliet Prowse, Ginger Rogers, Rita Moreno and Liza Minelli, and performed with the likes of Connie Stevens and Lorna Luft.

Carla Arndt

joined Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub when she was 19 years of age after coming to New York City in the 1960’s to audition for the June Taylor Dancers. When the auditions were cancelled, Carla noticed an ad for a Latin Quarter. At over 6 feet in height, Carla worked at the Latin Quarter for three years and claims it was the best time of her life. She considers her fellow Latin Quarter alumni her family.

Adelle Gordon Cohen

moved to New York from her hometown in Massachusetts, when she joined the Colley Claire Dancers. At 18. Adelle toured the East Coast with the Bob Conrad Dancers. In 1956 she joined Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus as a lead dancer with her own elephant and learned trapeze. In the late 1950’s Adelle worked on Broadway and toured with the Ziegfeld Follies. She was a dancer at Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub in both New York and Miami Beach. In 1960 she toured with Jimmy Durante and danced in Las Vegas at the famous Dunes Hotel and Casino; The Copa Room at The Sands Hotel; The Riviera and toured with the show, VIVA LES GIRLS. Adelle eventually took a job at Columbia Records in New York City, married and a son, David, who is a scriptwriter in Los Angeles.

Darlene Larson

grew up on a Canadian mink ranch. As a girl she attended vaudeville shows and cinemas where she fell in love with performing. Darlene was a cigarette girl at the Prince Edward Hotel in Toronto, before becoming a magician’s assistant as one of the two-personal act, MANDRAKE AND DARLENE. At the Elmwood Casino she was a showgirl. Later, Darlene traveled to New York and auditioned for Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter. She graced its stage with the likes of Eddie Albert, Sophie Tucker, Jayne Mansfield, Johnnie Ray, Bobby Vinton, Charro, Marie Wilson, Eleanor Powell, Mamie Van Doren, Lily St. Cyr and Buddy Hackett. Darlene toured with MINSKY FOLLIES, performed as a showgirl in Vegas, and in other productions nationwide. She was a model for Rudi Gernreich. Darlene enjoyed performing in the Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc. charity productions. She continues to perform in theater and performs as a showgirl with the Ziegfeld Society. She loves her job as a New York City tour guide.

Teak Lewis

attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. He later served in the Air Force before returning to his life as a dancer. Teak performed during the late 1950’s in Guber, Ford & Gross Music Fairs’ productions of LI’L ABNER; OKLAHOMA; REDHEAD AND CAROUSEL, among others. In 1961 he joined the national tour of DESTINY RIDES AGAIN and in 1962, CARNIVAL. By the mid-60’s Teak danced in NY City Center’s MOST HAPPY FELLA; GUYS & DOLLS; CALGARY STAMPEDE and more. He began at the Latin Quarter in 1967 before leaving for a role in a Puerto Rico based production at the Old San Juan Hotel. Teak returned to the east coast where he danced in various large scale shows. He was a part of the national tour of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and other shows where he toured all over Europe. After retiring from dance in 1973, Lewis began a successful career in hospitality.

Lili Bell Lopez

was born and raised in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania where as a girl she dreamt of becoming a singer and did so in productions staged in her hometown. As a young woman, Lili traveled to New York in 1956, auditioned for Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter and began her career as a showgirl at its Times Square location. She would work as a showgirl into the 1960’s in Florida, Boston, Las Vegas and again in New York. Lili Bell wed Bobby Lopez at St. Patrick’s cathedral in Manhattan. Lopez operated the famous Chateau Madrid supper club. They had two sons, one who presently lives in New York, and the other in California. Lili joined the Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc. charity after the nonprofit was formed in the 1980’s and performed as a showgirl in many of their productions, which raise thousands of dollars for organizations supporting children in need. Today she enjoys her two shitzu dogs, as well as singing and performing in local theater where she lives just outside of Las Vegas.

Lawrence Merritt

emerged from a small apple orchard town in upstate New York, where his imagination found drawing. School drama and glee clubs, along with visits to the local cinema where he watched Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, would influence his life’s direction. After a full scholarship at a performing arts school, Lawrence headed to New York City where he danced everywhere from small clubs, to Broadway productions to the big screen, working in New York, Vegas, Hollywood and Paris. Under choreographer, Ron Lewis, he danced at Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter. Credits include, On-Broadway, PIPPIN; EVITA; NO STRINGS, Off-Broadway, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING; THE WINTER’S TALE. Lawrence toured with Ann-Margret, Ginger Rogers, and Raquel Welch and also danced at the Casino de Paris in both Paris and at the Dunes in Vegas. He’s appeared in the films MAME (1974) and NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977). Lawrence remains active in New York theatre.

Mollie Fennell Numark

was born in Blackpool, England, famous for its Blackpool Tower. She began ballet at the age of 8 and studied the system of The Royal Academy of Dance and all forms of dance arts. She joined The Children’s Ballet in the Tower and would graduate to shows at The Opera House, Winter Gardens, and the Blackpool Tower Circus. In 1947 she performed for a Royal Command performance at the London Palladium for King George 6th and Queen Elizabeth. She danced in shows at London’s West End Adelphi Theatre, where she became a John Tiller Girl. In 1951 she auditioned for Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter at the Prince Of Wales theatre. She sailed to America on The Liberty in 1952. After performing at the Miami Latin Quarter, Mollie traveled to St. Louis and Las Vegas. She finished at The Latin Quarter on Broadway where she stayed for five years. Mollie continued to dance as a teacher of The Royal Academy Of Dance system for many years.

Jo Schlags

is a Dancer, Choreographer, Showgirl, Dance and Tap Teacher. She has danced professionally since the age of 16. In 1953 she won the coveted crown of Miss Detroit. Jo has danced with Detroit Civic Light Opera; Miriam Sage Dancers; G.E. Industrial Shows; and Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter in New York City, California and Florida. She has appeared in many National Television commercials, including the principle lead for Pertussin baby products. She also appeared as a dancer on The View and the Rosie O’Donnell shows. In 2009 she was a winner in the Ms. Senior Pageant of Florida. Jo currently performs with The Original Florida Follies.

Betty Jo Spyropulos

was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana where she enjoyed her first taste of performing with a charity event, THE ARTIST AND MODELS BALL in 1959. Following this experience, she was cast as a showgirl in a Detroit, Michigan production, THE IDLEWILD REVUE where she worked with Jackie Wilson, Roy Hamilton, and The Four Tops. Betty Jo performed with THE LARRY STEELE REVUE in Atlantic City, performing along side Sammy Davis Jr., Sam Cooke, Johnny Nash and Adam Wade. She was a showgirl at Lou Walters Latin Quarter in New York City. In 1966 she joined Martha Raye in a Summer Stock production of MINSKY’S FOLLIES, and the Broadway cast of GOLDEN RAINBOW, starring Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. She was a Showgirl Consultant for the Off-Broadway show, ON KENTUCKY AVE. Betty Jo is a mother of two sons and lives on Long Island with her husband, John.

Kenneth Urmston

comes from Cincinnati, Ohio where he began dancing at the age of six. Ken made his first professional appearance with the Cincinnati Summer Opera Company, then joined a nationwide tour of the San Carlo Opera Company. Ken joined the cast of the musical comedy by Gower Champion, MAKE A WISH. He appeared on Broadway in 18 shows, including award-winning BALLROOM; FOLLIES; ON THE 20th CENTURY, and PIPPIN’. Other roles: Bill Calhoun in KISS ME KATE; Tommy Keeler in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN; the Jailor in REDHEAD, and Harry Beaton in BRIGADOON. Off-Broadway: GREENWICH VILLAGE U.S.A.; CORIOLANUS as Titus Lartius. Television: THE ARTHUR MURRAY SHOW; JACKIE GLEASON SHOW; THE GARRY MOORE SHOW; THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. Ken performed at the Latin Quarter in New York City, in Ann-Margret’s act at the Riviera and was a featured dancer at The Desert Inn in Vegas.

John Hemmer

was born in Far Rockaway, Queens where he performed in school plays, sang on radio shows, in his church choir and community musical revues, before being drafted into the U.S. Army. John recorded and toured for Columbia Records as one of The Four Voices, and sang with Winged Victory Singers. He appeared at top supper clubs throughout the U.S. and Canada. In WONDER WORLD, the 1964 New York World’s Fair extravaganza, John performed with Chita Rivera and Gretchen Wyler. He was a production singer at Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter in New York City. In Lincoln Center’s outdoor productions John performed in KISMET, SOUND OF MUSIC and joined the tour of MAN OF LA MANCHA with Howard Keel and its National Bus and Truck tour with David Atkinson. John co-produced and performed in shows for the charity Latin Quarter Showgirls, Inc. where he served as president. In his retirement he co-organized Latin Quarter reunions and worked at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Credits

film

  • Mark Mori Producer
  • Kirsten Larvick Producer/Director
  • Randy Stulberg Cinematorgrapher
  • Tedd Firth Original Music
  • Judd Blaise Editor/Graphics
  • Alex Keipper Additional Editor
  • Ray Parada Additional Camera/Graphics
  • Laura Petrella Additional Camera
  • Madeline Kennedy Assistant Editor
  • Spencer Nachman Outreach Research

website

  • Kirsten Larvick Archivist/Producer/
    Story Editor
  • Matt Frost Graphic Design
  • Miriam Frost User Experience & Code
  • Judd Blaise Video Editor/
    Graphics
  • Alex Keipper Video Editor
  • Cynthea Mazur Diaz Video Animation

We continue to research mid-century Manhattan nightclub culture.

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