Lucille Ball Sings Wildcat

In 1961 singer John Hemmer was enjoying success as a new member and replacement singer in The Four Voices, a Columbia Records signed all-male harmony quartet first formed in the 1950s. The group won popularity through appearances on the Arthur Godfrey Show, later touring across the United States, and also appearing on other broadcast variety shows of the period.

Between out-of-town performances, John Hemmer and Four Voices founder and friend, Frank Fosta, along with pal, fellow Columbia Records singer, Johnnie Ray, spent their off-time in New York City, where each lived.

At the same time, Lucille Ball was in New York performing in the musical production of Wildcat (1960), which would mark the film and television star’s Broadway debut. The show, with book by N. Richard Nash, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, music by Cy Coleman and produced by Ball and Nash, was originally staged in Philadelphia where is opened to positive reviews in October of 1960. The show moved to the Alvin Theatre for it’s New York City opening in December of 1960. The Broadway premiere was not met with as much enthusiasm as in Philadelphia. The show would close in the spring of 1961 due to a variety of complications, including a ski accident Ball suffered leaving her in a leg cast.

Here Hemmer recalls an evening in Manhattan he’d never forget. He would often recall how the show business community was small back in the day and that everybody knew everybody. “If you were in the business”, he’d say, “sooner or later you’d cross paths”.

*Please let us know about any suggested edits or fact corrections to this article. We care about accuracy. Contact us through the John Hemmer Archive Credits page.

Honoring Lloyd Kolmer (1930-2019)

Silver gelatin photograph: Lloyd Kolmer, c. early 1960s. Courtesy The Kolmer family and Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

Lloyd Kolmer, who carved a name for himself as a pioneer of celebrity endorsed advertising, climbed the entertainment industry ladder at an early age during the 1950s and ‘60s.

A native New Yorker, Kolmer was the son of William and Birdie Kolmer and attended Kohut School for Boys in Harrison, New York. Upon graduating high school, he served in the U.S. Navy in the China Sea at the onset of the Korean War.

Following two years in the military, he attended Syracuse University and worked at Kolmer-Marcus, an upscale haberdashery on Broadway in the Garment District that his father co-founded. Regardless of the security that a career in the family menswear business may have promised, Kolmer dreamt of a life in show business and so he set out on his own.

He started to realize his vision in the mailroom at William Morris Agency in New York City at the age of 23. It was in the mailroom that Kolmer took on secretarial tasks to all the agency’s executives. From there he was promoted to a position working for George Woods. It was under Woods’ mentorship that Kolmer became close to one of the infamous agent’s biggest clients.

Silver gelatin photograph: Sailors Lloyd Kolmer (right) and friend, c. 1949/50. Courtesy The Kolmer Family & Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

As secretary and Jr. Agent to Woods, Kolmer formed a kinship with Frank Sinatra often acting as Sinatra’s secretary by way of Woods. This was during the nightclub era when Sinatra was a returning favorite at The Copacabana club among many other venues across the US and overseas. Kolmer would always remember the crooner fondly, siting Sinatra’s generosity and humor, remaining a life-long friend and fan to the entertainer.

At William Morris he continued to hone his skills and soon enough moved up to agent status in the Television Department where he booked talent on network shows, as well as programming on local affiliates. Kolmer stated in a manuscript he drafted in recent years, “In this period there were approximately 35 live and taped TV shows at the three networks plus syndicated programs. 7 to 10 Variety shows; 4 to 6 Panel shows and many dramatic programs. My job was to book WMA clients on these shows.  It was great work for me for approximately 7 years.  Then I started to get bored..”

Eventually Kolmer opened the agency’s Commercial Department, signing well-known actors and celebrities to commercial products. He had a way with the pitch that made him a stand-out. Actors and their agents listened and trusted his sense of what would work.

Magazine advertisement for William Morris Agency: Lloyd Kolmer (far left) appears in ad with coworkers, c. 1960s. Courtesy The Kolmer Family & Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

Deals Kolmer brokered include, Catherine Deneuve for Chanel, Marcel Marceau for Xerox, Milton Berle for Goodrich tires, Victor Borge for AT&T, Edward G. Robinson for Wilkinson blades and even Dr. Joyce Brothers’ mother for Mueller macaroni.

In a 1979 Commericals Monthly article, he recalled his breakthrough. “I made the very first overscale deal that was ever made in commercials.” He stated. “It was Barbara Britton for Revlon in 1957.”

Celebrity endorsement was a new concept at the time. The common attitude toward product advertising by actors was that it would sink one’s career. Actors considered themselves artists, not pitchmen or sales women, and pawning goods would under value them at the box office.

Agency policy for any incoming offers was to submit them to the artist’s contact first, but due to the outlook toward commercial work, more often than not offers were never transmitted to the actors or they were explained by their representation with a negative slant.

Kolmer paved the way in making this type of work acceptable and actually sought after by actors, removing the stigma the business often associated with a singular actor selling a product, outside of television show sponsorship, such as “Colgate Comedy Hour” or the like. “In the 1960s most actors were reluctant to do them.” Kolmer stated in a 1975 interview with the New York Times.

Catherine Deneuve in Chanel ad, c. late 1960s. Source, Google image search. Image subject to copyright laws.

Catherine Deneuve’s agent was unreceptive to the idea of his client appearing in a commercial and thought it would hurt Deneuve’s career, but Kolmer was dogged. Convincing the agent to join him on the streets of New York, the men randomly stopped pedestrians in midtown, asking if they knew who Catherine Deneuve was. No one recognized the actress by name. Kolmer made his point. “Commercials bring actors into millions of households.” he said. Kolmer also contacted the actress directly. They met at her hotel where he explained how Chanel was a perfect match for her and its product would enhance her image. Deneuve’s foray into the promotion of couture was secured. Deneuve and Chanel enjoyed a long and successful relationship. It was this kind of creative hard labor he became known for within the field.

William Morris Agency, considered to be the first great talent agency in show business, represented much of Hollywood during its over 100 years of history. To become an agent under its banner was no small feat, but Kolmer had his eye on an even bigger prize.

In his manuscript he describes his experience with the agency, “My superiors were very pleased with my abilities in the TV area and gave me the go-ahead to form this new department, combined with becoming head of the entire Commercial Department. It was very successful but again after several years, I became bored. The reason was that I could not deal with all the bureaucracy… I decided at that time to leave William Morris Agency (May 1971) and form my own company. My departure was very amicable and I was wished well by all at the agency.”

Newspaper clipping: Lloyd Kolmer Enterprises & celebrity endorsements, including Marcel Marceau for Xerox, c. 1970s. Courtesy The Kolmer Family & Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

After 18 years at William Morris Agency, Lloyd Kolmer Enterprises, LLC was formed. With his one-man business, Kolmer didn’t represent any one actor, athlete or any entertainer, but instead became an intermediary between the agent and the adman and he preferred it that way. He knew how to roll up his sleeves and make deals happen, but in this new role he made his own rules, which created a path for the future of advertising.

Boasting a Rolodex of over 7,000 names and contact information for actors and their representation, Kolmer had immediate access to just about anyone. When the famous mime, Marcel Marceau’s agent quoted a price too high for Xerox’s ad agency’s budget, Kolmer came to the rescue. Stating in a 1977 Wall Street Journal interview, “I located Marceau at the Park Lane Hotel in New York City and went right over there…. I told Marceau, ‘I’m not talking about soap suds or toilet tissue. This is an incredibly prestigious corporation called Xerox. It’s a 90-second commercial that will be seen by 60 million people.’” This coup resulted in a Clio award, Madison Avenue’s highest accolade.

Kolmer wore many hats in this arena. He often acted as a casting director when Mad Men searched for a certain face. Kolmer would flip through his Rolodexes of actors, comedians, cartoonists, astronauts, spots figures, political analysts and others. He could see opportunities and tie-ins where others couldn’t and wasn’t afraid to confront a challenge. These characteristics proved a formula for success.

Rolodex brand paper file cards & rotating device: Lloyd Kolmer’s Rolodexes, c. early 1960s – 1990s. Files cards open to Esther Williams & Marlon Brando. Courtesy The Kolmer Family & Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

Marjorie Wallace, the former Miss Indiana and Miss USA lost the Miss World title in 1973 after refusing to accept the beauty pageant’s requirement that contestants be accompanied on dates by arranged chaperones, claiming it an archaic policy.

Marjorie Wallace in Wella advertisement, c. early 1980s. Source, Google image search. Image subject to copyright laws.

The immediate aftermath of this stance brought criticism against Wallace, but Kolmer recognized the possibilities. He contacted Wallace who in turn became the face for Ultra Brite toothpaste, Wella Professionals hair corporation among other products.

Kolmer leveraged the storm, telling the press that Wallace’s position shames those who thought she should be forced to be chaperoned. Wallace eventually became one of the first hosts of the popular TV magazine show, Entertainment Tonight.

Kolmer was the first to forecast the use of computer databases as encyclopedic references for entertainers and the industry, helping to marry celebrities with products through a tech-based platform. Computer on Media Personalities and Celebrity Talent (COMPACT) was a ground-breaking use of technology, which Kolmer spearheaded in 1979. The system developed an interface with user generated content capabilities, pre-IMDb, allowing actors and other show business professionals to enter their own credits and awards to their “profiles”. Ad agencies and other related businesses could access COMPACT through a subscription fee.

Color photographic print: Lloyd Kolmer & Margo Mayor celebrating Margo’s birthday at Estiatorio Milos on 55th Street, New York City, c. 2016/17. Courtesy Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

Many will never know Kolmer’s impact, even those within the field, as so much of what he developed is taken for granted as common place in the business today. Dancer and model, Margo Mayor, Kolmer’s girlfriend for the past 20 years, said that despite his incredible success, he was often dismissive about all his accomplishments and the personal relationships he maintained with so many show business greats.

Mayor stated, “Lloyd didn’t say a lot about what he did or who he knew. He was very modest and always wanted to know more about what other people were doing. He was smart and funny, and incredibly gracious.”

Lloyd Kolmer was an avid sports fan and loved listening to his favorite performer and friend, Frank Sinatra. He was a life-long New Yorker.

*Please let us know about any suggested edits or fact corrections. We care about accuracy. Contact us through the John Hemmer Archive Credits page.

The Latin Quarter Social Club, 2019

Unidentified paper publication fragment: Comedian poses as waiter gag at the Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, New York, c.1950s. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

Live entertainment enjoyed a great high in the United States from vaudeville of the late 1800’s to the rise of the Cafe Society following the end of Prohibition in the early 1930s. The mid-20th Century represents the beginning-of-the-end of this particular social tradition.

Although photojournalism soared in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, documentation from performers of the genre remain scarce, yet whispers of what was permeate certain communities today.

Those who were there haven’t forgotten and although living the life of an entertainer had its challenges, it was in many cases the best of times for artists who performed during this era.

In New York City, work was plentiful for those who harbored both talent and extreme determination. Auditions were still competitive, and some took non-industry jobs between showbiz gigs to make ends meet. Nevertheless, work was out there, and an abundance of Broadway and off-Broadway theatres enjoyed both short and long runs. Nightclubs were filled with New Yorkers and tourists alike year around. Live performance was on a high for a long stretch and New York City was a nucleus for the art form.

Entertainment hubs such as The Copa and the Latin Quarter were considered destination hot-spots where a visitor to the city might get an opportunity to hob-knob with a celebrity over dinner and a show.

Jack Silverman’s International Theatre Restaurant and other establishments, including the Latin Quarter, not only hosted elaborate musical productions, they ran radio shows from their locations, broadcast television specials and game shows and drew attention from newspapers across the United States and abroad with listings of the latests stars to appear on stage and in the audience on any given night. Some clubs produced traveling revues under their moniker.

Digital Photograph: Showgirl, Darlene Larson (left) in conversation with dancer, Francine M. Storey, Latin Quarter reunion, New York, New York. October, 2019. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

On a Sunday afternoon this past October, a cohort gathered to celebrate this special aspect of the performing arts. During the nightclub era, thousands of dancers, showgirls, singers, comedians and novelty acts entertained America from the stages of many-a unknown “gin joints”, to world renowned supper clubs, to The Great White Way.

Approximately 25 performers assembled at the Olive Garden, Times Square this fall to recognize the one-time location of Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter. From 1942 until New Year’s Eve, 1969, the Latin Quarter, located on 48th and Broadway in New York City, boasted full-scale productions complete with a cast of male and female dancers, showgirls, production singers, guest novelty acts, comedians and headliners, wowing an audience packed into over 400 seats (other Latin Quarter locations included Boston and Miami).

Silver gelatin photograph: Patrons Rita and Peter Antonucci enjoy a show at the Latin Quarter, New York, New York, 1958. Courtesy Carl Antonucci. Image subject to copyright laws.

During the Latin Quarter days, the space was filled with patrons at dining tables squeezed into every available corner. Wait staff milled about, balancing large food trays and pushing dessert carts. Camera and cigarette girls made their way through the crowds offering a commemorative picture or a post dinner cigar. A popular souvenir for your time was a photograph proving your Manhattan experience included a night-on-the-town.

The Latin Quarter and its competitors promoted their respective brands through slogans like, “As much a part of New York as Broadway… Latin Quarter,” and consumer trinkets. Patrons could leave the club with customized matchbook covers, souvenir programs, cocktail stir sticks, drumsticks, postcards and more – all of which featured the club’s name.

Promotion was key and Lou Walters, Jules Podell and other impresarios were famous in their own right, but the real attraction were the productions featuring beautiful dancers and showgirls and some of the biggest entertainment names in the business.

Photographic negative: A showgirl graces the stage at Lou Walters’ Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, New York, c.1940s. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

At the height of the club’s popularity, the Latin Quarter supported its own costume house where some of the best costumers of the day, such as Freddy Wittop and Erte, were engaged for various productions. Top Broadway choreographers such as Michael Kidd were brought in to create ambitious dance sequences.

Each production was built around a theme. The Venus Touch was conceived around Roman mythology, other themes featured unlikely fusions, as in the case of French Dressing that showcased both French inspired costume and American West attire. It’s a time that is often reflected upon romantically. That type of live spectacle no longer exists nor does it bring out crowds in cocktail attire.

Digital Photograph: Performers gather for snapshots at Latin Quarter reunion, New York, New York, September, 2016. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

Decades following the club’s closure, former performers of the Latin Quarter and their larger community of entertainment industry veterans have met to honor this period in their lives. A time that has yet to be surpassed in its historical iconography.

The earliest congregation took place in the mid-1980s when former Latin Quarter dancers, Chickie James Kulp and Janie Thomas Freed placed an ad in a paper, inviting others to reunite. Singer John Hemmer responded to the call and a movement began.

For 15 years the group staged charitable productions benefiting a variety of causes focused on the support of children while keeping the spirit of the era alive through performances inspired by the celebrated clubs. They partnered with similar groups formed in Florida and Los Angeles, offering shows in the New York State area as well as on the west coast. Their reboot has since ceased, but through continued reunions the Latin Quarter Social Club transpired with Freed, her husband Bob, and Hemmer at the helm.

Digital Photograph: Jackie Miller Abrams and husband Rey, Latin Quarter reunion, New York, New York, October 2019. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

In 2019 they carry on the effort to keep their community together, despite setbacks of loss (James Kulp passed in 2015, Hemmer in 2017 among others along the way). On a recent afternoon men and women milled about the Olive Garden restaurant recollecting the original layout of the club as it was when they were there (The original building was torn down in 1986).

Some worked together on the same production at the Latin Quarter back in the day, while others met for the first time at a reunion past. Most had worked at least one show there, while others knew one another from their stints at The Copa or as a June Taylor Dancer or any number of Vegas productions. One woman was once part of an adagio act that performed on stage and television.

It was a joyous occasion for these entertainers, some of whom are still working in the field, transitioned to other careers, and still others enjoy retirement. To this day, newcomers find their way to the luncheon to seek out a former colleague or to reminisce with those who they know through common connections, “I worked with Donn Arden in Vegas, but not in New York”, “I was in a production there a year later”, “Oh, I know her, we worked ‘Minsky’s’ in Chicago”, and so on. A lot of the attendees are life long New Yorkers, but some drive from surrounding cities and states, or fly in from Florida or Las Vegas.

Digital Photograph: Latin Quarter performers share memorabilia, New York, New York, October, 2019. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

Books and photographs were shared between dancers and showgirls. One performer has written a screenplay about her life, others have written articles and shared their stories through public speaking. A few have gone on to other careers so completely outside the industry, they don’t have another opportunity to talk about their time on stage with others who understand what it was like back then. “I’ve always been a gypsy,” a dancer declared. “Once the lifestyle is in your blood it never leaves.”

A costumer attended to solve mysteries around some costume designs. In an effort to identify a Latin Quarter production they originated from, he brought photographs of illustrations from the show in question. A showgirl helped him identify what staging the illustrations were created for. He was thrilled.

A social club newsletter maintained by Hemmer and fellow performer and friend Teri Paris kept a list of over 100 members for decades. Today the newsletter carries on through the John Hemmer Archive efforts and reaches around 70 or so.

Digital Photograph: Dancer Janie Thomas Freed (left), Singer, John Hemmer (center) and dancer Adelle Gordon Cohen, Latin Quarter reunion, New York, New York, September 2016. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

Naturally the numbers have gone down over the years as people pass, move or limit their travel due to health and/or budget, but the beat goes on. “I’ll keep coming as long as these reunions take place” a radiant New York showgirl exclaimed.

To learn more about the nightclub era and performer experiences, visit our Meet the Performers page.

If you performed during this era or have a connection through family or friends and would like to be on the Latin Quarter Social Club newsletter list or this site’s email list, contact us through the John Hemmer Archive Credits page.

 

*Please let us know about any suggested edits or fact corrections. We care about accuracy. Contact us through the John Hemmer Archive Credits page.

Honoring Rip Taylor (1931-2019)

Charles Elmer Taylor Jr. was born in 1931 in Washington D.C. and was raised by his mother. As a young man he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. It was during his time abroad in the service that Taylor embarked on his career in comedy.

Silver gelatin photograph: Rip Taylor and showgirl beauty, Rusty Rowe at Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub in New York City, c. mid-1960s. (Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws)

During his military stint, Taylor experimented with pantomiming to recordings of famous vocalists. Following his two years in the Army, he took the act to Atlantic City and other entertainment capitals.

Eventually he dropped the lip-sync idea and brought standup performances to many clubs in the northeastern United States and performed everywhere from burlesque shows at tiny watering holes to nightclubs that boasted headliners of the day, to the summer resort circuit in the Catskill Mountains. He took to the spotlight, branding his unique stage presence. He began to get noticed and gradually developed a following.

At Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter in Times Square, Taylor appeared a number of times as the featured comedian. Friend and singer John Hemmer remembers the comedian’s generosity during a run at the Manhattan club during the late 1960s. Hemmer often recalled Taylor as being as warm and sweet as he was hysterical.

The two performers crossed paths earlier in their respective careers and remained life-long friends. Taylor was a regular face at John’s New York apartment in Hell’s Kitchen for decades.

Color gelatin photograph: Rip Taylor (left) receiveing birthday cake from friend, John Hemmer (right), New York City, c. 1965 (Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws)

Initially gaining national attention as “the crying comedian,” Taylor’s nightclub gigs led to guest appearances on television shows including appearances on The Jackie Gleason Show and The Ed Sullivan Show as this character.

An excerpt from Taylor on The Jackie Gleason Show where the comedian interrupts Gleason’s monologue, reveals his self-deprecating approach to humor. With every punch line, Taylor dabs his face with an oversized handkerchief and continues exaggerated sobs on Gleason’s shoulder as the host dryly rolls his eyes.

Rip Taylor to Jackie Gleason: I’ve tried everything in showbiz. I’ve been a failure til now. Thank gosh for you.

Rip Taylor toward audience: I had my own trained flea circus. You know what I mean? One day I’m rehearsing my fleas and a dog walked by and stole the whole show!

Later dropping the “crying comedian” moniker, Taylor fittingly began his paper confetti and props focused acts that had lasting effects and would propel Taylor to regularity on talk, variety and game shows of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

Taylor appeared in narrative television shows. A regular on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters as Sheldon the Sea Genie, and as a neighbor and performer on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, he enjoyed many guest appearances and returning character roles on television throughout this period. Having secured a name for himself through his distinctive sense of comedy Taylor voiced a number of successful animated series characters on such favorites as The Addams Family and The Jetsons.

Paper postcard advertisement: c. 1980s. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

Continuing with live performance, Taylor did acts in Las Vegas for many years where he worked with other performers such as long-time friend Debbie Reynolds. Later he penned his own one-man show reflecting on his life, surviving bullying and other challenges in It Ain’t All Confetti (2010).

Broadway credits include Sugar Babies (1979-82) where he replaced Mickey Rooney as well as national tours of several musical productions, character work in a number of fiction films and at one point hosted his own competition show.

*Please let us know about any suggested edits or fact corrections. We care about accuracy. Contact us through the John Hemmer Archive Credits page.

A Friend and Mentor, Claude Thompson

There is no way that I could talk about my dancing career without being totally grateful to Choreographer/Dancer, Claude Thompson.

I met Claude fairly early in my professional career. I had been in a production of Finian’s Rainbow in 1958 at Kiamesha Lake, a popular resort area in the Catskills. A year later at 19 years of age, I performed at Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter in New York City. Around the same time, I was a dancer in the Jewel Box Revue (various nightclub locations), along with a few other shows before joining a West Side Story (1961) tour.

Color gelatin photographs. Dancer Sal Angelica in costume backstage, multiple venues, stage production, JEWEL BOX REVUE (1959) tour. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Images subject to copyright laws.

In 1963 I found myself in Puerto Rico doing a Christmas show at the Americana Hotel. Can you imagine a holiday show in 100°weather, wearing sweaters? Claude was performing at another hotel, possibly the El Dorado or Del Prado. One of his dancers, Jaime Rogers and I had toured Europe with West Side Story. Jaimie was my intro’ to the group, which included Arlene Woods, Shari Green, Stan Mazin, Sterling Clark and Claude.

From the moment we met, there was a certain connection. We just hit it off right away and that friendship lasted for many years and many, many jobs.

When we returned to Manhattan following the Puerto Rico run, I was taking classes at June Taylor’s Dance Studio when Claude asked me to come to his class too. I explained that since I was not working at the time, money was a bit scarce. He offered me a “scholarship” and of course I accepted.

Soon after, he asked Shari Green and I to be the “token whites” in his upcoming all black cast concert for the world-renowned Tally Beatty at Jacob’s Pillow. This was the beginning of a very long working career and cherished friendship.

Claude’s choreography and personalized style he brought to his work I found easy to emulate and felt very comfortable doing his “stuff”. I always felt his work was as sensible and as comfortable as it was artistic – at least it was for me. He had a way of making me feel as though I could do anything – that nothing was too difficult and that made me up for any challenge.

The support he showed to performers extended well beyond his generosity toward me and my career. While working on the Sammy Davis, Jr. act, Claude was setting the numbers for the family singing group, The Sylvers. Claude asked Sammy if he could talk to the group, so Sammy invited all of us to his room at the Sands. Claude was brilliant in the way that he directed them – gracious, respectful and honest, congratulating them and validating their talent as a family and a singing act. It was a terrific meeting and it ended up furthering their careers.

During our work together on the Lorna Luft (1972/73) production at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, as we finished rehearsals, I realized there hadn’t been any discussion of wardrobe. I mentioned this to Claude who asked me to take care of it.

At the time, fellow lead dancer, Harvey Cohen and I were working a lot in Los Angeles and were often costumed by Joe Cotroneo (known as “Tailor to the Stars” and of Cotroneo Costumes). Coincidently, Harvey and I were practically the exact same size, sans sleeve length. Joe had all our measurements and whipped up the combination of costumes I asked for and so we had a wardrobe for the Lorna Luft act.

As far as our friendship, it just happened naturally. Claude and I would laugh and gas and scratch about everything. We had a special camaraderie and enjoyed a similar sense of humor.

Silver gelatin black & white publicity photograph for FLESH (1969). Left to right, Sailors Sal Angelica, Tulsa & Don Stomsvik. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

During a newspaper photo shoot for Flesh (1969), I had to remove what little there was of my costume in order to get the perfect photograph. A provocative production staged at the Bonanza Casino in Las Vegas that Claude was choreographing, Flesh, was one of the first fully nude shows to premiere in Vegas. The second look of the set included four ladies and me. My back was to the audience but the elastic strap that concealed my front was visible through the photographer’s lens, so I took that off amidst the snickering and giggling of Claude. We had a good laugh over it. And the end result was that someone swiped that photo and it was never seen again!

 

 

Newspaper fragment from FLESH (1969) production review, Claude Thompson. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

Claude always helped out anyone of his friends. While I was working on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69) on CBS I’d stay with Claude, since I didn’t have my own place in Los Angeles. To pay him back for his hospitality, I’d cook and clear up his apartment for him, although I soon found out he could never find anything I put away.

Turbot fish filet was inexpensive at the time. I recall getting it at The Mayfair market for .57cents per pound. I knew Claude loved his mimosas too. I’d pick up a bottle of Andre’s champagne (about .99 cents at the time) whenever I could. After rehearsals, we’d invite all the other dancers over for dinner. 5lbs of fish can go a long way. Claude was a very social and hospitable person, but he never cooked – with one exception. He cooked me dinner once and it was a treat.

If anything upset him, he concealed it well, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t hurting at times. The Diahann Carroll television special comes to mind. We went over to her house in advance, sat on the floor and reviewed everything. She was quite cordial then, but on the day of the shoot, something went wrong. She arrived two hours late, causing everything to get rescheduled and increasing the production cost exponentially. I know Claude was upset, but he never let on. He was always professional.

Photocopy of Photograph. Claude Thompson (center/glasses) with dancers. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

Later in life, when Claude was in the hospital, I paid him a visit. It was sad to see him flat on his back and inactive. I was used to seeing a very healthy, vibrant and funny friend. It’s emotional thinking about it, but at the same time I am grateful for his friendship. I own him a lot and all my love.

Productions I was fortunate enough to work with Claude on include:

Talley Beatty concert (1963), Jacob’s Pillow, New York City, NY. Choreographer/Lead Dancer, Claude Thompson/Dancer, Sal Angelica

Photocopy of performance photograph, Caesars Palace stage production, ROME SWINGS (1966). Courtesy of Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

Rome Swings (1966) Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV. Featured dancer, Claude Thompson/Assist Choreographer, Sal Angelica (set duet between dancers Claude and Paula Kelly)

Performance photograph, Bonanza Casino stage production of FLESH (1969). Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

Flesh (1969) Bonanza Casino, Las Vegas, NV. Choreographer, Claude Thompson/Lead Dancer, Sal Angelica

 

The Diahann Carroll television special (1971) Los Angeles, CA. Choreographer, Claude Thompson/ Assist. Choreographer, Sal Angelica

 

Lena Horne television special (1970) Los Angeles, CA. Choreographer, Claude Thompson/Assist. Choreographer/Dancer in the ‘Cissy Strut’ number, Sal Angelica

 

Pipe Dream (1972) International Hotel, Las Vegas, NV. Choreographer, Earl Barton. Special Choreographer for George Chakiris, Claude Thompson/Dancer, Sal Angelica

 

Guys and Dolls (1972) Off Broadway Theatre, San Diego, CA for Choreographer, Jim Hibbard. Dancer, Sal Angelica (Thanks to Claude, who recommended me to Jim Hibbard)

 

Silver gelatin black & white performance photograph. Singer, Lorna Luft with dancers Sal Angelica (left) and Pat O’Hara (right). Lorna Luft act (1972/73). Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image may be subject to copyright laws.

Lorna Luft (1972/73) Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, NV (opening act for Danny Thomas); John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel, Reno, NV; Palmer House, Chicago, IL; Plaza Hotel, New York, NY. Choreographer, Claude Thompson/Lead Dancer, Sal Angelica

 

Connie Stevens (1972/73) Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas, NV; Desert Inn, Las Vegas, NV. Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas, NV; Harrah’s Club, Reno, NV. Choreographer, Claude Thompson/ Dancer, Sal Angelica

 

Ed Sullivan television special (1974) Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV, Choreographer, Jaime Rogers, Dancer, Sal Angelica (Thanks to Claude, who mentioned Jaime was choreographing the tv special. He told me to give him a call. I did and the next morning I was in rehearsals)

 

Silver black & white gelatin photograph. Connie Stevens with dancers Jonathan Wynn (left), Sal Angelica (right). Connie Stevens’ act (1972/3). Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope (1972) Huntington Hartford Theatre, Los Angeles. Choreographer, Claude Thompson/ Assist. Choreographer, Sal Angelica

 

Sammy Davis, Jr. (1972) Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, NV. Choreographer, Claude Thompson/Assist. Choreographer, Sal Angelica

 

~A Friend and Mentor, Claude Thompson is written by dancer, Sal Angelica. To Learn more about Sal Angelica and his performance career, visit Meet the Entertainers: Sal Angelica. See Sal’s performer oral history video here.

 

Program page, Claude Thompson, A Celebration of Life, Straight from the Heart (c. 2007) stage production. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

Claude Thompson (1934-2007) enjoyed a 57year career that included performing, choreography, directing, designing and teaching. Born in Brooklyn, he graduated from the High School of the Performing Arts in New York and continued his education in the U.S., Europe, Mexico and Japan. His first job was hoofing and singing in small nightclubs at the age of thirteen. He then made it to the Broadway chorus of My Darlin’ Aidaat age fifteen, while simultaneously attending high school and continuing his nightclub work. From that show, in which his dance partner was Diana Sands, he went on to appear in Jamaica with Lena Horne, House of Flowers with Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll, Shinbone Alley with Earth Kitt, Mr. Wonderful with Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bravo Giovanni. Claude Thompson choreographed a tour of Kiss Me, Kate and played the role of Paul in the show. After working for a year with the great Mexican comedian, Cantinflas, he partnered with Nora Kaye for the Cannes Film Festival Gala and toured Europe as a dead dancer. He later opened Caesar’s Palace with Paula Kelly. Mr. Thompson also had his own dance company. After this, he followed Hermes Pan as choreographer of the film version of Finian’s Rainbow (1968), which earned him critical raves. According to Thompson, the highlight of his performing career occurred when he danced the role of Porgy entirely on his knees in the ballet version of Porgy and Bess for The Gershwin Years, an NBC television special. Other choreography credits for stage television specials include Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horn, Diahann Carroll, and Robert Goulet. Nightclub acts include Diahann Carroll, Connie Stevens, George Chakiris, George Hamilton, Sammy Davis, Jr., among others. His company of dancers, known as The Claude Thompson Dancers, toured Vietnam with Sammy Davis, Jr. for the Government’s Drug Abuse Awareness Program and later appeared with Mr. Davis at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Mr. Thompson broke barriers on the NBC television special Petula, starring Petula Clark and Harry Belfonte. The staging of their duet broke the color-line in network variety television when the two stars touched. To view additional images of Claude Thompson, visit the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University here.

 

Remembering Manhattan nightclubs

Over the years the New York City area has had its fill of nightclubs and supper clubs.

Paper fragment circa 1950s from publication “Cabaret Yearbook, Volume 2” article, “Night Club Guide to New York”. Image courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright.

Brooklyn had Ben Maksik’s Town and Country. By the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey was Bill Miller’s Riviera. There was the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. The Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel and the Maisonette at the St. Regis. Even the Waldorf Astoria had a showroom, then there was the Stork Club, and Versailles, just to name a few.

What they all had in common was that they featured a main attraction. If you were a lucky patron there might be an opening act for the STAR.

The Hawaiian Room was located in the basement of the Lexington Hotel and first featured a male Hawaiian singer with the house orchestra. Later the venue boasted two Hawaiian ladies doing the hula. The food they served was Polynesian, but the cooks were Swiss.

Over time the show grew until The Hawaiian Room offered a line of girls. In the late ‘50s the attraction started to wear off and finally in 1966, the supper club closed. The cost of renovation to the fire prevention system proved too costly.

Photochrome postcard, circa 1950s. The Hawaiian Room at the Hotel Lexington at Lexington Avenue & 48th Street, New York, NY. Image courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image is subject to copyright.

In the basement of a building on 61stand 5thAvenue was Jules Podell’s Copacabana. It was a tropical Brazilian themed room and they were know for their line of beautiful female dancers. They might do a number or two and interact with the main attraction. They eventually went to Las Vegas.

Paper fragment circa 1950s from publication “Cabaret Yearbook Volume Two” article, “Night Club Guide to New York”. Imagery courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright.

Only the Latin Quarter featured a full fledged show with its girl and boy dancers, showgirls, and a production singer, which was independent of a star attraction.

At the Latin Quarter we had variety acts, seals, dogs, monkeys, magicians, comics, roller skaters, bicyclists, ventriloquists – you name it, the Latin Quarter had it.

During my time there in the late 1960s, we opened the show with the first of three major production numbers in which the girls had to change part of their costumes three times. Then the variety acts came on, followed by another big ice number with the girls in floor length velvet capes that made them look like they were ice skating.

Photochrome postcard, circa 1940s. Exterior of Lou Walters World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub at 48th & Broadway, New York, NY. Image courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright.

Out of the capes that stood up like tee pees, a waltz with the boys and a Russian song by the production singer proceeded. Then the girls returned to their capes to finish the number. At last the headliner came on for his or her turn. The closer, a jazzy gogo number in silver lame and all of a sudden 75 to 90 minutes had gone by.

There was a show at 8pm and the second at midnight. It was the same type of show you would have seen at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and indeed that was Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter’s inspiration.

~ “Remembering Manhattan Nightclubs” is written by dancer, Teak Lewis. To learn more about Teak, visit Teak Lewis at the Latin Quarter and Meet the Entertainers: Teak Lewis.

Imagery courtesy of John Hemmer Archive and subject to copyright.

Honoring Juanita Boyle (1939-2019)

Juanita Boyle, far left foreground on stage at the Latin Quarter, NYC, circa 1960s (Courtesy F.M. Storey. Image subject to copyright)

Beloved Latin Quarter dancer, Juanita Boyle, passed away peacefully in her sleep on April 24th, 2019 at The Upper East Side Rehabilitation Center in Manhattan, following a short illness.

Juanita attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She went on to perform at Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter, the legendary Copacabana and Jack Silverman’s International Theatre and Restaurant.

Her long and successful dance career included national companies of Sweet Charity and Carnival! and summer stock appearances in the Guber, Ford and Gross productions of Carnival! and The King and Ias well as a stint with Minsky’s Follies at the famed Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago.

Juanita Boyle, circa 1980s/’90s (Courtesy F.M. Storey. Image subject to copyright)

After retiring from dance, Juanita focused her talents and beauty on the business world as Director of both the John Robert Powers and Barbizon modeling schools. Later she became an award-winning Sales Representative for the New York Daily News in their advertising department.

Between all these activities, she continued to share her skill and passion for dance. Juanita taught Creative Pre-School Ballet and Jazz at the Montclair Academy of Dance owned by fellow Copacabana Showgirl, Judy Alexander.

Montclair Academy of Dance. Juanita second in from left, circa 1980s. (Courtesy F.M. Storey. Image subject to copyright)

Juanita lived happily throughout retirement, attending dance and theatre performances and visiting with loved ones. She is survived by many grieving family and friends.

On January 4th, 2019, Juanita participated in a John Hemmer & the Showgirls documentary post-screening panel at SAGE in New York City with fellow Latin Quarter performers. Watch the recording below.

Janie Thomas Freed at the Latin Quarter

Janie Thomas, Age 4.

How I got to Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter starts way back when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My Aunt took me to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Show. I was mesmerized by the production. In the Christmas Show were of course the wonderful Rockettes. At the end of the show I declared, “That’s what I want to be”.

By the end of the next week, I was enrolled in a terrific dance school. I was very lucky in that my parents supported my dreams, despite the fact that neither of them came from an arts background. My mother worked at a variety of places during my youth, including a cafeteria worker at my school, among other jobs. My father enjoyed a long-time career with the Department of Unemployment until his retirement. Before that he worked for the Navy during World War II, loading and unloading ship cargo. I was an only child with unusual career aspirations, but they were there for me, encouraging me all the way.

Janie Thomas recital portrait, Age 9.

And so I committed completely to learning dance and because of that, I performed in numerous recitals and continued to hone my craft throughout grade school and into my teenage years. And although my parents had challenges during their married life, made sure I was happy and could support myself before they eventually went their separate ways. And since I started my performing arts path early, it wasn’t long before I was finding independence and bringing in my own income.

I always reasoned that even if I was unable to become a working dancer, I could teach dance, which I quickly learned I enjoyed doing. By the time I was about 13 or 14, I was providing dance lessons to the “babies” – 3, 4, and 5 year old kids. This helped to pay for my own lessons.

The summer I turned 16, Radio City was looking for season replacements for The Rockettes who would be taking vacations. Off I went to become a Rockette.

Russell Markett was in charge of the auditions. My dancing was fine. All was going well until I was measured. I was told dancers were required to be at least 5’5” and I was only 5’3”. Well, I felt that my life was over. Sure, you can take more dance classes, but how do you make yourself grow 2 inches? Now, as fate would have it, as I was leaving the stage door, several of the girls were going to another audition. This one was at the Latin Quarter at the 48th Street location, managed by Lou Walters. Mr. Walters, father of the journalist, Barbara Walters was the impresario of the world-famous Latin Quarter nightclubs.

Janie Thomas (Age 13) & parents

The other dancers invited me along, I went and got the job as a dancer at the Latin Quarter and the rest is history. We started rehearsals within a few days. I made lot of friends. It was an exciting time. About a week before opening, however, I was informed that to work in the nightclubs that served alcohol in those years, performers were required to obtain a police license and had to be 18years of age in New York to acquire one. In Florida it was 21years of age. Do you think that stopped me? No. I went for my license, said I was 21. No one questioned me. The rest is history.

Until this time, we were rehearsing in rehearsal studios. Now the show is about to open and rehearsals moved to the nightclub itself. On the evening the show was to open, I was sitting on the some stairs to the side of the stage, when this very handsome man approached me and started a conversation. That man, Bob Freed has been my husband for the past almost 59 years. Bob was the maitre d’ at the nightclub. He remained there until the club closed in the late 1960s. So for many reasons, my time at the Latin Quarter is a beloved and cherished memory. It changed the course of my life and out of it grew a wonderful family, full of kids, grandkids and even great grandkids.

Latin Quarter dancers Sandy Keyes & Janie Thomas, Miami Beach Sun, 1958 (subject to copyright)

In addition to the Latin Quarter, I also worked the Town and Country club in Brooklyn, the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. I never worked at the Boston Latin Quarter location, that was before my time, but I did dance in productions at the Latin Quarter in Palm Island, Miami, Florida.

I worked for Clairol when they launched their promotion, If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde.

These days I am a permanent resident in Florida. I’m very involved with The Broadway Ziegfeld Entertainers. In 2006, I entered Ms. Senior New Jersey and was honored with First Runner Up.

The Latin Quarter days bring back fond memories and I’m proud to write they also brought great lifelong friendships with my fellow dancers and performers that I continue to hold dear. Dance has remained a significant part of my life to this day.

Watch Janie Thomas Freed and other Latin Quarter dancers, showgirls and employees recall the mid-century nightclub era at a 2018 event.

“John Hemmer & the Showgirls” panel, Delray Beach Public Library, Delray Beach, Florida from KirstenStudio on Vimeo.