A Dancer’s Life: Meet Sal Angelica, Part I

Having enjoyed an illustrious and long career in musical theatre, dancer Sal Angelica’s list of credits are lessons in performing arts history.  His story began at a time and place of artistic fervor in America, and in particular in New York City.

Sal, you’re currently living in Las Vegas where you have worked many shows, but you began life on the east coast.

Photographic print: Sal Angelica portrait, 1942, New York, New York. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I was born March 22nd, 1940, at Kings County hospital in Brooklyn, New York. My family first lived on the lower east side of Manhattan. I grew up at 42 Eldridge Street. We were in the heart of a very Jewish area, which was also just walking distance from Chinatown at Canal Street and Little Italy’s Mott and Mulberry Streets (lots of Italian feasts!). I recall hearing Connie Francis singing on a tenement building fire escape. There were also lots of Polish people living in the area – a real melting pot.

My mother, Jennie, was a single working parent. She and my Aunt Sadie both worked in the Garment District making belts for dresses.  Grandpa owned and ran a tailor shop on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn where my mother and aunt learned how to use a sewing machine.  My Aunt Sadie could sew anything from chiffon to burlap and even made hats. My mother, aunt, and cousin, Jenny (same first name as my mother’s), always had the latest styles for themselves through my grandfather’s shop. The three were knock outs.  They’d get dressed up on weekends to go out dancing. Watching them getting ready was the closest I had ever been to the dance world!  At least up until that time.

At twelve years of age, I wanted a gold cross. Knowing the only way that I could get one was to work and make enough money to pay for it myself. I swept and mopped five flights of tenement stairs and halls.

Photographic print: Sal Angelica with mother and God Father, Paul Fabian, Confirmation Day, Brooklyn, New York, 1948. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

When I was sixteen, my mother’s girlfriend Helen, and her family had moved to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.  Helen was mom’s friend since the Eldridge Street days. She and her husband were super intendants and needed supers for the adjoining twin building.  We took the job which included free rent, as long as I was willing to do all the work needed such as collect the garbage, whitewash the basement walls, sweep and wash the halls, change out the screens and more. I did all of it.

As far as dance classes, my mom was all in favor of it if all my chores were done.   She never paid for any classes or instructions. I took two jobs to be able to afford it. This schedule required a lot of juggling because I was still going back to Manhattan every day to finish out my school year. Erasmus Hall High was a very prestigious school, and I didn’t want to start at a new one in the middle of the year.

One morning as I was heading to the subway, I ran into a woman named Judy Filingeri, who lived in my building.  She was very- pregnant and asked me if I would make sure she got to the train on time since we took the same one. That was the beginning of a very nice relationship. While doing my daily chores, Judy and her husband would invite me to dinner as a “thank you”.  Her husband, Sal, was a butcher, so I was in heaven.  Judy also corrected my very bad English, which I am extremely grateful for to this day. We would always joke about who was “Big Sal” – Judy’s husband, or me.  He was older, but I was taller!


Who were your early influences that steered you toward a career as a performer?

Most dancers say they were inspired by Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, but for me it was Gene Nelson and Gower Champion.  I loved the way they partnered and danced with the ladies, making themselves and their partners look so good. Don’t get me wrong, Gene and Fred were terrific – FYI, Fred is not the only one who partnered Ginger Rogers {See Ginger Rogers on The Dean Martin Show). My real early influences, however, are watching my mother, Aunt Sadie and cousin get gussied up on the weekends to go out. Their excitement and glamour intrigued me about the nightlife world.

Photographic print: Sal Angelica, his Aunt Sadie, Cousin Jenny, and her daughter Jenny.  Ben Maksik’s Town & Country Club, Brooklyn, New York, 1959. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

When I was sixteen years old though, it was 1956 and I began to emulate what I was seeing in the movies. On the way home from seeing a musical, I would jump over puddles, not ever realizing that I was doing jetes. I didn’t know the word yet, or even “pirouette”, but I was soon to learn.

Photographic print: First dance partner, Rosemary with Sal Angelica, the Little Theatre School, Brooklyn, New York, 1957. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

You studied at the Little Theater School with Allan Byrnes. What prompted that?

I was always dancing the Jitterbug and the Lindy with the girl next door, Geraldine Chalupa on Eldridge Street. On 21st Street in Brooklyn it was with Sheila Katz.  Sheila had two girlfriends and the four of us would walk home from Erasmus Hall High School together, which was just two short blocks from our house when we were on East 21st. One day one of the gals asked if we could stop at the Little Theater School.  It was directly across the street from our Erasmus. She wanted to see what it was all about.  There we met Allan Byrns who sold us all on taking classes. I was the only one that continued there, however. To this day we are still very close friends. I am happy to say that Allan Byrnes’ claim to fame is that he taught me as a performer. He’s very proud of what I’ve accomplished and that it started with his teachings. I studied for two years with Allan. Then when he left to do a show, I realized that the gal that replaced him was teaching what she had learned earlier in the day from Manhattan choreographers.  I didn’t particularly care for her and wanted to learn firsthand, so I went to the June Taylor School. There I learned from terrific dancers and choreographers one-on-one.

Photographic print: Sal Angelica and companion, Naomi, New York, NY, 1957. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

What was your first taste of performing before an audience? Was this at Kiamesha Lake in the Catskills, or was there something before that?

I had met Rosemary Gabrielle in Allan’s class and he partnered us up. I was hooked. I loved it.  On June 18th, 1958, I did a show at Temple Beth Emeth in Flatbush, Brooklyn.  Dancing with her was my debut. On December 14th, 1958, we did the Tango and a modern jazz number for the Bensonhurst Jewish Community Center audience in Bay Parkway, Brooklyn. There were other local performances but Kiamesha Lake was my first paid job.

If you’re curious as to how I remember all this stuff, it’s because I have scrapbooks of everything that I’ve ever been involved in. 50+ would be a rough guess. From all the opening night congratulations telegrams (thanks to family and friends) to productions stills, programs, and my own personal photographs of life on and off stage.

Paper program: Center page detail, Sky High production, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter Nightclub, New York, New York, 1959. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright laws.

Moving chronologically, we’re now in 1959. You’ve been cast in Donn Arden’s production of Sky High at the Latin Quarter in New York City. Will you describe how that came about? Do you remember what your audition was like?

Copy of photographic print: Dancers Rudy Menchacka and Sal Angelica backstage in costume, Sky High production, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter, New York, NY, 1959. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Auditioning for Donn Arden‘s Sky High at the Latin Quarter nightclub was an experience I will never forget. I had auditioned but was not chosen. He was looking for only one male dancer to add to who he had already cast, Don (Stefan) Zema and Tony Mack, Rudy Menchacka. Donn also asked if I had any hair on my chest.  I was very proud to point out the three hairs that I did have.  Little did I know he was looking for hairless. Hawaii had just become part of the U.S.A. and the show was a tribute to it the new state. One number included shirtless male dancers wearing Paleos, men’s sarongs.

I not only remember my audition but the first callback as well. I had heard that one should always wear the same outfit when going to a callback, so that they would remember you.  While getting ready to go to the Latin Quarter callback, I was ironing my short-sleeved shirt and scorched the arm – not to panic, I just cut off both sleeves – (I may have started a trend), but I was still wearing the same burgundy shirt. I thought that was pretty fast thinking for a beginner.

Donn ended up asking me to come to watch rehearsals just in case he decided to add another dancer.  I watched the rehearsals from the overhead catwalk. I not only learned all the routines, but I had a bird’s eye view of the guest magician, Channing Pollock. This gave me the unique vantage of seeing all his tricks! And, as strange as things turn out, Don Zema hurt his knee and was out, and just like that, I was in. It sounds like an old MGM musical story, “Star Injured, Understudy Goes On!”

There are a few dancers I worked with at the Latin Quarter, I would go on to work with again and again. In fact, Latin Quarter dancers Don Zema and Lynne Londergan now live in Las Vegas.  We still see each other often.


What were Donn Arden and Ron Lewis like to work with at this stage in their careers?

Copy of photographic print: Sal Angelica backstage in costume, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub’s Sky High production, New York, NY, 1959. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Back in 1959 Donn Arden was fine to work with.  We had daytime rehearsals and his assistant Bonnie [Bonnie Hunt] was the person we dealt with, and of course Ronnie Lewis. Since we had no dinner breaks, there were no aftermaths of Donn’s “two martini” ranting and ravings he was later known for. He was ok to work with on Sky High.  He must have gotten more ornery as the years went by working with different people and situations because my experience with him in Vegas was something else.

Ronnie [Ron Lewis] did all of the choreography and was brilliant as usual and his gimmick at the time was having us use split bamboo reeds in setting the number. It was very Hawaiian, slapping our bodies and the floor in rhythms, while wearing only Hawaiian pareo’s. During rehearsals everything was fine, but when we took off our shirts for the performance, the split bamboo would cut razor slices into our bodies.  He didn’t change the choreography, we had to just learn not to hit ourselves as hard.

Ronnie was never a dancer in our show, even though he’s listed as one in the program.  When Don [Don Zema] got hurt Ronnie filled in for him for a few performances.

The opening number was Sky High, and we were supposed to be aviators.  The second was a gypsy number. It was a very Russian type number performed to Ochi Chornya. The finale was the tribute to Hawaii with no specific music.


There were headliners and special guests for every Latin Quarter production. The Sky High program lists the acrobatic troupe, the Gimma Brothers, the illusionist Channing Pollock, and well known comedian Shecky Greene.  

I don’t think that Shecky Greene ever said hello to any of us, maybe the girls, but he was a good comic. Channing Pollock was very warm and open.  His wife was his assistant in the act. She was a beautiful blonde that wore a dark brown bubble wig during the performance so as not to take away from him.  The Gimma Brothers were really brothers and worked a lot in Vegas.


Copy of newspaper clipping: Review of Lou Walters’ Latin Quarter nightclub’s Sky High production by Lee Mortimer, New York Mirror, New York, NY, October 11th, 1959. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

What were the audiences like at the Latin Quarter?  Reviews hint that Sky High, was a hit. The Latin Quarter was still a big draw and productions were continuing to be more lavish.

The Latin Quarter audiences were very receptive, especially the males seeing girls on stage for the first time wearing pasties – a real- eye opener!  In Donn’s productions there was always water involved – either waterfalls, boats sinking, or floods with dams breaking. At the Latin Quarter there was a rain trough around the front of the stage. Sometimes female patrons sitting at tables around the stage would put their fur stoles and coats across the trough.  Most times the performers would tell them about it and at other times, just to be ornery, they would laugh as the furs got wet.

Copy of photographic print: Dancer Sal Angelica backstage in costume, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub’s Sky High production, New York, NY, 1959. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

You were pretty green to the business in ‘59. Was this your first nightclub gig? What was the working environment like?

Most of the cast was from the previous show and they all knew each other.  Being a newcomer, I was left out a lot. For example, when Tony, Lynne and Barbara would come back from their lunch beak they would (as a trio) be wearing the matching t-shirts that they had just purchased, leaving Rudy and I out.  We didn’t let it bother us though, or our performance. We took it as them just being buddies.


If you were to describe the Latin Quarter shows, how would you paint a picture?

They was lavish, semi-nude shows with lots of music, costumes, good acts and a very interesting fast paced upbeat scenario. It was often compared to The Copacabana but, it was actually much better. There were beautiful showgirls and girl dancers, as well as handsome, talented male dancers.   Yeah!!!


You have attended the Latin Quarter reunions. Who did you work with on Sky High that you kept in touch with over the years?

Tony Franco and Don Dellair were the lead singers at the Latin Quarter [for Sky High production].  All these years I have stayed with Tony when visiting New York City.  He had a two-bedroom condo on 57th Street and Broadway and insisted that I stay with him. Of course, I was happy and honored about that, so I cooked for him every night, which he enjoyed.  Don never came to any of the reunions, but Marti Hespen did.  I believe you’ve met her.  As well as Margo Mayor (Margo and I did the 1964 New York World’s Fair).  I see Lynne Londergan and Stefan (Don) Zema a lot, since we all live in Las Vegas. Then there was Ronnie Lewis and Donn Arden. They came out here too, and we ended up working together again 15 years after Sky High.

Photographic prints: (Left) Sal Angelica in costume on rooftop of the Mark Hellinger Theatre; (Right) Three dancers including Sal Angelica (foreground) in spontaneous dance from Fade Out- Fade In, exterior Mark Hellinger Theatre, during production, New York, NY, 1964. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image may be subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

New York City was a cultural mecca during the 1940’s, ‘50s and ‘60s. How was the performing arts scene in New York City when you were there?

During the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, New York City had a lot of musicals going on, West Side Story was one of the biggest and most enjoyed hit shows.  Most of the dancers stuck together – except if you were both auditioning for the same job.  You could be walking down the street (you’ve got to remember, I lived on 50th Street and Broadway, right in the heart of the showbiz area) and run into another male dancer. They would never tell you that they were going to a particular audition.  You might get the job and not them.  Of course, when they saw you at the audition, nothing was ever said.  I had a roommate that I met while doing 110 in The Shade.  He would always get angry when I was chosen rather than him.  I explained to him that we were totally different types, if they were looking for the “all American type” they would choose him, being a blonde with blue eyes and pink skin. If they were looking for a Latin, Greek or Italian type, I would be chosen, because of my dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin.  He eventually did get the fact that it was not his dancing or singing that got in the way.

When I had auditioned for Fade Out – Fade In as a replacement there were three of us left, the other two were carbon copies of the guy being replaced and one of the guys and I even congratulated him.  He had done such a good job, but I got the part instead (totally different look).  I asked the dance captain who gave the audition, “Why me?”  He said that one of the guys was always a troublemaker and he would never hire him (lesson learned). He said as far as the other one went, I was just the better dancer. That always stuck with me.  When teaching or working with anyone, I advise to “Just do your job and don’t make problems. Your reputation (good or bad) will always follow you.”

Photographic print: Sal Angelica with dance partner on rooftop of Mark Hellinger Theatre, Fade Out-Fade In Broadway production, New York, NY, 1964. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Other than some natural competitiveness, what was the community of performers like in the early 1960s in New York City?  I’ve heard that in some ways there was a greater sense of support among dancers, actors, singers, etc.

Not all of the showbiz community got along.  There were some (mostly singers) that were vicious.  I was in a show where the dancers shared a dressing room with the singers.  Our costumes were what was dividing us, so we could hear everything that went on (one could write a book). Being the newbie, and not really knowing anyone, I just kept my head down and my mouth closed for fear of being verbally attacked. I couldn’t believe the acid mouths I shared a dressing room with.  I had the opportunity to work again with one of the same singers when I did Mame with Juliet Prowse.  Once again, I stayed clear of him.

We were all striving very hard to find our niche and get jobs to pay the rent. I think that auditioning and getting the show was the feather in our cap and proof that we deserved it.  Someone I know put it very well. He said, “Dancers are not judged by how much money we have or what kind of car we drive, but with what shows we’ve done and the people that we have worked with.” Amen. I’m proud to say that there are some people that I very much enjoyed working with and we are still friends and keep in touch.

Living on 50th Street and Broadway was right in the center of all that was showbiz.  Not only the theatres, but all of the rehearsal studios and auditioning centers were all within walking distance.  Some auditions were at the theatre themselves and others at the studios. Lots of us got jobs from choreographers just seeing us in a class.  That’s why we always did our best and worked our hardest, gaining knowledge as we went along.

All the best (i.e Claude Thompson) choreographers taught at the June Taylor dance studios. After an audition (whoever was chosen or not) we would all meet at my apartment.  We’d pick up some beer and a pizza – or maybe some sandwiches from Chock Full o’ Nuts, which was on the corner, and party.  On the other corner was the Winter Garden Theatre and the drugstore where everyone bought their Max Factor, or Mehron makeup.  The store was very busy after midnight when the show-folk would stop to buy make-up and hang out. (Trivia – Milton Berle would stand on the corner for hours joking to anyone who would listen).

Black and white photographic prints: Sal Angelica at Kiamesha Lake with dance partners. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

Tell me about the productions at Kiamesha Lake.

Paper program cover: The Boy Friend at Monticello Playhouse, Kiamesha Lake, New York, 1959. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws.

I saw the call in either Show Business or Variety. I auditioned at Variety Arts Studio on on West 46th Street, June 27th, 1959. I got the job, which was at Monticello Playhouse in Kiamesha Lake. We did The Boyfriend (7/20/1959) and Finian’s Rainbow (7/28/1959). I learned about showbiz at Kiamesha Lake.  Afterwards, I went back to working my 9-to-5 job as a credit account checker in an office for Burlington Mills.

While at the lake I met the cast of The Jewel Box Revue (JBR). Later on, I would audition for Andre Tayir of the JBR and ended up joining the cast in Chicago in April of 1960. I got there by getting on an airplane. It was my first time flying.

What a terrific experience that was. I was met at the airport by a friend of a friend who drove me to the hotel. My friend was a customer I met while serving at a Pam-Pams restaurant in Brooklyn Heights. They knew this person from Chicago and asked them if they’d be willing to show me around the city when I got there. My tour guide was a radio announcer – he looked nothing like what he sounded – what a shame! Nevertheless, he was a very nice person and very helpful with showing me around the city of Chicago. I then met more of the cast. Ronnie Morales (aka Nicholas Dante of A Chorus Line) and I started an adage act together. He was no light weight either, but we had our own act and spot in the show.

I had a lot of fun and took lots of photos with my little Kodak Brownie Hawkeye box camera. I stayed with the JBR for a year and signed a new contract around the same time I auditioned and got the job for Jerome Robbins West Side Story European Company tour. I approached the JBR producers, Danny Brown and Doc Benner and explained the situation.  They agreed to let me out of my contract, as long as I found a replacement they approved of and taught the replacement my spot in the show. I did, and we all lived happily ever after.  And I flew off with West Side Story to Israel, Paris, Italy, Germany, and Holland!

Paper ephemera: Souvenir patron photograph cover, Ben Maksik’s Town & Country nightclub, Brooklyn, NY, circa 1950s. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright laws.

Before we get into West Side Story, can you expand on the Jewel Box Revue? When you were with them, what venues did you perform at? How were the shows structured and who were some stand out performers?

04-11-1960   Robert’s Show Club (bar), Chicago, IL.

06-01-1960   Savoy Theatre, Asbury Park, N.J.

09-09-1960   Tivoli Theatre, Chicago, IL.

09-30-1960   Royal Theatre, Baltimore, MD.

10-13- 1960  Howard Theatre, Washington, D.C.

10-21-1960   Apollo Theatre, Harlem, New York City

11-11-1960   Ben Maksik’s Town & Country Club, Brooklyn, N.Y.

01-06-1960  Ben Maksik’s Town & Country Club, Brooklyn, N.Y.

My one-year salary at the JBR was $106.50 (it never changed). It was also my first AGVA contract.  The show was performed as a revue, so there weren’t any sets or scenery – just one act after another.  Everyone had their own “gimmick” – singing or dancing, with Lynne Carter as the star act doing comedy and Pearl Bailey impersonation skit material – and sang a bit too. Tai [James Tai ] did his bamboo rhythm stomping routine. Tai was very traditional with his ancestry and choreography, and we all participated in his act. Ronnie Morales (Nicholas Dante) and I danced to Belle of the Ball. We did lots of lifts – my poor back. And everyone was always involved with bettering themselves. No one ever lip synced. They used their own voices and were terrific  – very talented.

Paper program cover: Jewel Box Revue, Savoy Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ, 1959. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Bobby Lake was a trip. Not only was he a terrific dancer, but beautiful in drag, very Jane Russell. But when he left his dressing room with the make-up off, backstage he looked like a truck driver. Magic.  Chunga [Chunga Ochoa] was a very mystical sort of performer, always trying something new.

The show was advertised as 25 Men and a Girl. Stormé [Stormé DeLarverie], the emcee/singer was the only female in the show.  Everyone had their own spot.  Jan Britton did his ballet act in point shoes – on toe.  There were six male/male dancers in the show. One of the men has since had the operations and is now a woman. We still communicate, along with a another JBR alumni, after 61 years.

Stormé DeLarverie was a light skinned black lesbian singer who did her act and at the end revealed that she was the only girl in the show.  She had a girlfriend that was always with her. I can remember, Storme was very quiet and just came and went doing her job. Nothing more.

(to see more Jewel Box Revue imagery from Sal Angelica’s scrapbook, visit: https://www.queermusicheritage.com/fem-cl82f2.html_)


Paper program pages: Excerpt performance photos, Jewel Box Revue, Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In 1960 you joined the European tour of West Side Story. You worked with Jerome Robbins, Alan Johnson, and other notables.

Photograph: German show poster, West Side Story, International Tour, 1961. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I also auditioned for the movie of West Side Story in 1960, choreographed by Jerome Robbins and his assistant Howard Jeffrey (the inspiration behind the character Harold in Boys in the Band). Jerome (I never knew him well enough to call him Jerry) Robbins assisted after hours with auditioning lots of other dancers.  I was not kept, however, but as I was leaving (already out in the street), Howard ran after me and said that Jerry wanted to see me again.  Jerry put his hand around the back of my neck and said, “A Shark. Definitely a Shark.”  At the call back there were hundreds of dancers there from the original production, and every touring and summer stock company cast member.  I figured that they must need at least 20+ dancers so I had a shot.

Long story short, I did not get the movie.  Acing the Shark choreography was a breeze, however, I guess that I was not strong enough to pass the Jet movements.  Later on, I worked with a lot of the dancers that were in the movie who were also in the touring cast I ended up with, such as Yvonne Othon, Marilyn Cooper, Jay Norman, Jaime Rogers, Jerry Norman, Nick Navarro, Andre’ Tayir, and more.

One day the phone rings, and it was Howard asking me if I I would like to audition for the International Touring Company. “I will be there with bells on” was my answer.  Again, lots of male dancers showed up at the rehearsal studio, but this time I got the job – handpicked by “JR”, who only showed up on the first day of rehearsal.  Later it was Howard [Howard Jeffrey] and Alan Johnson that taught the choreography for the rehearsals, and Alan that had “cleaned us up” when we were in Israel, Paris, Italy, Germany, and Holland.  What a terrific trip and on their dime no less.

JR had instilled the attitude that he always shared with the cast – The Sharks and the Jets are enemies.  In our cast – The Jets lived that during our everyday lives. It was sad.

Photographic prints: Dance hall scene, West Side Story, International Tour, (left photo) Sal Angelica 3rd in from left clapping hands, (right photo) Sal Angelica in black, foreground, 1961. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Being West Side Story cast members, we were invited everywhere.  We were stars in tee-shirts and blue jeans.  We (the Sharks) always had a great time. When we left an area and moved on to the next city, we always left a lot of broken hearts.  The people we met were wonderful.

Newspaper Clipping: Italian publication highlights Italian American performers of the West Side Story European Tour ,(Left to Right) Caesar Tamborino, unknown, Michael Bennett (back), Marlene Dell, Sal Angelica, Milan, Italy, 1961. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Somewhere in here you worked as a go-go dancer at the infamous Peppermint Lounge.

Being a go-go dancer was a trip – lots of “stage door Johnnies”’ and interesting offers.

I met someone who worked at the William Morris Agency. His name was Ed Limato, and he owned and drove a car in New York City.  That was unheard of back then.  We stayed friends for many years after I came to Las Vegas and he moved to Los Angeles. He was still with the William Morris Agency.  He had a terrific, unfurnished house and a butler.

I had met a dancer, Sally Avena, who also wound up in Las Vegas as part of a lounge act. Fun memories.

You performed at Jacob’s Pillow with Claude Thompson. You wrote about this in a previous John Hemmer Archive article where you honored Claude’s work (See article here). The Pillow has a long history. What did you do there?

In December of 1963, Michael Gray, a dancer that I met called and asked me what I was doing.  “Not much” I told him.  I had left the Peppermint Lounge to go with him to do a show in Puerto Rico.  The choreographer, Kaye Gorham had us in turtle-neck costumes for a Christmas show in the middle of the Puerto Rico heat.  Hurray for air conditioning!

Copy of newspaper clipping: Kaye Gotham dance troupe Christmas show revue, unknown publication, December 27th, 1963. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

We were at the Americana Hotel performing with Sophie Tucker the first week and Louis Armstrong the second.  There was another revue going on in another nearby hotel that had six dancers in it.  One of them was Jaime Rogers, who I knew from WSS.  It was here that I meet Claude Thompson, who had choreographed their show. Claude, Jaime [Rogers], Stan Mazin, Sterling Clark, Arline Woods, and Shari Green were the dancers.

When we all returned to New York City in March of 1964, Claude asked Shari Green and I to be in the Talley-Beatty Dance Company show at Jacobs Pillow.  They needed a “token white” couple for their production of Migration and The Road to Phoebe Snow.  There were no sets or scenery. It was concert style with just music and hard-working dancers!.  This was the beginning of a long and wonderfully close friendship with Claude over my career.

Of course, there is a story behind this concerning my introduction to Paula Kelly.  Within the storyline, I am supposed to rape Paula and beat up Claude.  During rehearsals she had kneed me in the groin several times and swore that she would control herself for the performance.  Well, she didn’t and connected – you could hear the audience gasp as I had the wind knocked out of me, and I still had to beat up Claude. His take was that he had to thrash himself and throw himself to the ground, letting me “beat him up”.  The show was a huge success but there was never a mention of Claude who starred in and choreographed it.  He was a wreck that some newbees got all the accolades, even though they deserved it, it did not help.

Photographic print: Summer stock auditions, Guber, Ford & Gross productions, Storrowton Music Fair, West Springfield, MA, April 6th, 1963. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In the early ‘60s you did a lot of Summer Stock at the music fairs of Guber, Ford & Gross. The royal producers of music fair entertainment.

I worked for Guber, Ford & Gross music fairs for two years. During 1962 and ’63, I did five music fair shows, each at six different venues, all in round tents.

It was certainly a proving ground to hone our/my theatrical experiences.  All the people I had met were terrific and I learned a lot from all of them, as well as the different choreographers and stars that we worked with.

In ‘62 I did Fiorello! with Tom Bosley. This was my first role with lines. I played the part of Mr. Lopez, an army soldier/dancer. That same year I was in their production of Do Re Mi with Jerry Lester and Peggy Cass headlining and the rest of the cast was the same as Fiorello! I danced as a waiter and a mobster in Do Re Mi. Oddly enough, my roommate Tom Rolla and one of the girl singers had the same birthdate. I remember we partied with a very luscious cake (years later, Tom Rolla was the chef/owner of The Gardenia in LA, a very posh restaurant. As a roommate – he never even boiled water.   Go figure).

Photographic print: Summer stock cast photo with Sal Angelica (4th from left, foreground), Fiorello!, Guber, Ford & Gross production, West Springfield, MA, 1964. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Show Boat was in ’63. That was with Keely Smith as Julie and Andy Devine as Captain Andy. They were terrific. His sense of humor was special.  Once during a performance, some planes flew over the tent. The noise was so loud that Andy had to stop talking.  When they had passed, he looked up, and then to the audience, he said, “I’m glad they’re ours.”  They loved it.  Keely was always cracking up the cast with adlibs.  Just after lunch during a matinee performance, the gal who played Magnolia was complaining to Julie that he wasn’t noticing her. Keely (Julie) came back [off script] with “If you keep eating that much garlic, no one will.” Nobody could keep a straight face.  She would pick a group of us up in front of The Plaza hotel to drive us to the theatre in her very long yellow Cadillac convertible.  She put the peddle to the metal.  If we were late, she wouldn’t wait.  We all knew that.  No one ever missed the ride.  At the time she was dating a fellow that looked like Clark Kent, so of course we all called him Superman.

Then I danced my way through Finian’s Rainbow with Grace Olsen (Gale Storm was originally signed) and David Daniels; Pal Joey with Dorothy Lamour as Vera and Swen Swenson as Joe.  Normally a company does only two shows per season, but for some reason or another, our cast was selected to do a third show. We were in heaven.  It gave us six extra weeks of work.

Paper program covers: Guber, Ford & Gross productions (clockwise), Fiorello!, Finian’s Rainbow, Do Re Mi, Show Boat, Storrowton Music Fair, West Springfield, MA, 1962-63. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

The gals in that show were very apple pie girl next door types, so they brought on two more gals that were more showbiz looking.  Candy Raye and Diana Saunders.  They were knock outs.  They came to see our performance all decked out with their hair in up-dos – yeow mama! The minute I saw them I said, “Here comes trouble.”  After the show, we all went out to eat at the only place open that late at night. As it turned out the two of them were already there – uh-oh.  I sat down to order and received a pat on my shoulder.  The voice asked, “Are you Sal Angelica?” I said, “Yes.”  She said, “Kiki (who I had done WSS with in 1960) says that I should meet you and sends his regards.” Well, that broke the ice. I don’t know which one of them knew Kiki, but that was okay.

We have stayed very close friends to this day.  Diana and I see each other all the time and Candy (who was the one of the main reasons why I came to Vegas in the first place) lived here until a few years ago when she died of cancer of the throat.  Those damned cigarettes…  Kiki, Diana and a singer from the show, Michael Harrison, and I still keep in touch and I love it.

Dorothy Lamour was wonderful to work with on Pal Joey.  When we played her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, she had the cast over for crab bakes with her husband and sons.  I had an angel watching over me on Pal Joey.  I got to do all of Swen’s dancing and partnered Wisa D’Orso, who was not only well known as a terrific dancer, but she was also pregnant at the time.

Photographic print & newspaper clipping: Dancers Wise D’Orso and Sal Angelica partnering in a Guber, Ford & Gross production of Pal Joey, Storrowton Music Fair, West Springfield, MA, September 20th, 1963. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

When the show ended, Michael Harrison and I drove back to New York City in Swen’s very expensive Rolls Royce.  I shared the back seat with a seal (sea lion).  No joke.  Swen’s hobby was collecting carousel animals! he lived in Greenwich Village on a very posh cobble stoned street.  It certainly was a trip to remember. I still wonder why I was doing all of his dancing, except for that it was the way Gus Schirmer Jr. had directed it.  I keep thinking that Swen might have been trying to gain recognition as a singer/actor, rather than still being known as a dancer, but I’ll never know.

Leon Leonidoff’s production, Wonder World was at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. This was a water spectacle and highly produced variety show.

Leonidoff’s Wonder World was staged at the original Billy Rose (aquacade) Amphitheater, which was a huge hit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Wonder World opened on April 22nd of ’64 with lots of labor related problems. Actually, the show was jinxed from the very beginning even though it had a great cast.  The audition and rehearsals for Michael Kidd were a joke.  During rehearsals he would ask the drummer and pianist to play something.  He would then ask all of us to improvise some steps and would choose what he liked and embellish on it.  It was not his original choreography, but it worked.  The fact that we were working around a pool in the middle of Flushing Bay made the atmosphere, and us very damp, causing us to sweat a lot, especially because we were wearing wool costumes for the numbers.  I guess that Leon Leonidoff was used to all the air conditioning at Radio City Music Hall.

Photographic print: Performers Chita Rivera and Francois Szony during rehearsals for the production of Wonder World, New York World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York, 1964. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

The stars Chita Rivera and Gretchen Wyler were wonderful to work with, as well as Francois Szony, Nancy Claire, Margo Mayor and John Hemmer.  John was a swimmer in the show.  The actor Morgan Freeman was also in the production, but I can’t recall if he sang or danced or both.  Of course, this was before he became famous.

The show included a guy dressed as an astronaut that started outside of the theatre and flew in over the pool by way of a jet-pac strapped to him.  He literally almost killed himself doing it.  No one realized that the water in the pool would separate as the wind pressure from the pac hit it.  If he would have touched the water, he would have been in trouble.  He came close more than once. Scary, but it all turned out well.

The theatre sat hundreds of people and we were lucky to have twenty at time. We must have received our closing notice not long after opening.  We all started looking for other work.  I remember going to the audition for Fade Out – Fade In around the 4th of July.  Got the job and opened in it on July 13, 1964.


From Wonder World to Broadway.

Paper program cover: Playbill for Fade Out – Fade In Broadway production, featuring Carol Burnett, Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York, NY, 1964. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I got -into Fade Out –Fade In through Dance Captain Eddie Pfeiffer who handled the audition.  There were three of us left and Gene Foote and I both congratulated the other person. We were certain it wouldn’t be either one of us. This is what I was referring to earlier. The other dancer did a great audition and we thought he had the job.  The other two looked (same type) like the person being replaced, but I got it.  When I asked Eddie why, he said that I was the better dancer.  He also said the other was a troublemaker.  Just a reminder, do your job, keep your nose clean and your mouth shut.

I was the first replacement in the show Fade Out –Fade In for Bill Stanton – he was previously in She Loves Me on Broadway and it was going on its National Company Tour. Stanton’s wife was in the show, and they wanted to tour together. My opening night was wild.  It could have been a horror story, but Carol Burnett saved the day.  My job included covering five characters in the show, the three Marx Brothers, Tarzan and Louis the 14th. That night, the guy (Roy Smith) called in sick – (hmmm !?).  I had to go on as Harpo Marx.  The staging was very fast with a lot of gimmicks (especially in his jacket) going on with Carol’s character, which I had yet to learn (who knew that on my opening night I would have to portray Harpo). Instead of me throwing Carol around, she threw me around and did all the “stuff” that I was supposed to do.  What a trouper and star she was.

We also did a TV show in the mornings called, The Entertainers with Bob Newhart and John Davidson.  We were double dipping and the money kept rolling in.

Paper program cover: Playbill for Fade Out – Fade In Broadway production, featuring Betty Hutton, Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York, NY, 1964. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

At a certain point in the run, Carol had hurt her neck in a cab accident and was out of the show. Betty Hutton came in to replace her -and OMG..  She was not suited for the role.  Management was going to sue Carol saying that if she was well enough to do The Entertainers, she was well enough to be back in Fade Out –Fade In.  In the meantime, I had auditioned for 110 in the Shade and went to join the National Touring Company.  All this in 1964. It was quite a year.


The Entertainers television show ran in 1964 and 1965. 

Doing The Entertainers was for some reason like a dream.  I know I did it with some of the other dancers that were in Fade Out – Fade In. However, I have no recollection, photos or announcements from it. It’s like it never happened.

I do remember doing a lot of Ed Sullivan shows around the same time.  Dolores Gray, Rita Pavone and Van Johnson were some of the guests.  He sang The Girl From Ipanema.  The set and choreography were so far advanced that they never broadcast it, saying that “it was too sophisticated for the television audience.”  They just canned it and stored it.


How long were you with 1964 National Tour of The Agnes de Mille choreographed 110 in the Shade?

Paper program cover: 110 in The Shade production, National Tour, featuring Will Geer, Minneapolis,MN, 1965. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Doing 110 in The Shade was another very interesting story.  The auditions were on June 4th,1964, which I did not go to.  Hello Dolly was also auditioning for the Broadway Company.  Ironically, I still have the Friday, June 5th,1964 copy of Backstage.  One morning I woke to a call. The voice on the other end asked me, “Where are you?”  I knew who it was.  We had worked together in [Summer] stock.  I asked, “Why?”  He said he noticed I wasn’t at the audition for 110 in The Shade. Turns out the production was looking for one male dancer to replace Frankie DeSal [Joseph “Frankie De Sal” Giovinazzo] on tour. Even though I was late, I got the job. Sometimes it’s also who you know as well as your talent.

I actually felt bad because the other guy who was considered for the part as well, was very good and a better tap dancer.  It was for the 4th standby and the original would never be off.  The next time they needed someone he was called and got the job.  Frankie, who I was replacing, he and I looked so much alike, down to wearing the same costumes.  And of course, for the rest of the tour everyone called me Frankie – my name being Sal also helped me fit in.

I have a program dated June 6th, 1965, so it was about a year that I did the show touring everywhere. It was amazing.  I would have loved doing Dolly Broadway, but 110 was touring and I wanted to see the world.  I had already spent most of my first 25 years in New York City.

De Mille’s choreography was very earthy and the girls that we had to do the lifts with were very healthy.  No “slim Janes” there.  My poor back.  The cast people were a lot of fun and Will Geer (Grandpa Walton) was terrific. Leslie Ann Warren was terrific as Snookie, but just difficult to work with – so – when she wanted out, to do the television production of Cinderella, management was happy to let her go.


Did you leave 110 in the Shade for West Side Story?

Yes, in June of 1965 I did West Side Story for Michael Bennett.  I had gone to an audition at Variety Arts Studio on west 46th street and learned that Michael was downstairs with Leland Palmer.  I went down to say hello and when I was leaving, they both called after me and asked me if I wanted to do the show.   My answer was, “Not as a Shark.” I had done the European touring show as a Shark and it’s not very rewarding.  It’s a “Jet boy and a Shark girl” show.  I was hired to do Snowboy, the character famous for the song, “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

Photographic print: (Left to right) Marcia Gregg, Sal Angelica, Christopher Walken perform Cool, West Side Story production, Lenny-Debin circuit, 1965. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I was very happy with that role and Christopher Walken was our Riff.  Jo Jo Smith was in the show, and also Assistant Choreographer to Michael. Leland was our Anybodys.  We were all friends and had the best times together.  I also wound up as Bernado’s understudy.  I’m glad that I never had to go on.

Christopher was out of control as far as his movements go, especially in the rumble.  Stan Mazin was Bernardo.  I knew how to avoid him, but if I had gone on, Chris would have probably killed me.  It was bad enough he slapped us all around doing Cool.  He was totally out of control, but a nice guy. He just let his character get in the way. Anna Maria Alberghetti was our Maria.

I believe we’ve come to a big transition in your life and career. You received a calling out west where you reunite with Ron Lewis and join a smash hit show.  Stay Tuned for A Dancer’s Life: Meet Sal Angelica, Part II




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About the Author


Kirsten Larvick is a documentarian and archivist. She is influenced by interests in mid-century political and cultural history, non-fiction filmmaking and the preservation of personal heritage and cinema art legacies.