A Dancer’s Life: Meet Lawrence Merritt, Part III

It is with deep sadness that while finalizing this article and working with Lawrence to document his story and memorabilia, we lost a great dancer. A wonderful friend and storyteller with a quick sense of timing and incredible experiences, Lawrence entertained as many while off stage as he did on. The John Hemmer Archive, and other organizations, such as Dancers Over 40, will ensure his legacy continues. Please keep reading for Part III of this article series on a gifted performer who will be greatly missed.

If you missed earlier installments, please visit these link to read the full story in chronological order:

To read Part I, https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-lawrence-merritt-part-i/

To read Part II, https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-lawrence-merritt-part-ii/

Part III:

Scrapbook Page: Walton Hall postcard, newspaper clipping, Lawrence Merritt partnering Ginger Rogers, London Palladium, UK. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt Estate. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

JHA: At this time you meet Larry Fuller in London after partnering Ginger Rogers at the Palladium. Take me to this point in time. What happens now?

LM: Okay. Larry Fuller – Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, that’s our [Harold] Prince. I said, “What the hell are you doing? You’re in London?” He said, “Well I worked in New York with this chap and now I have his flat and his sports car. And I’m here doing research on a new show I’m going to be doing with Harold Prince. Based on the life story of Eva Peron. Beginning of a journey, okay. And you’re closing tomorrow, and I’ve been invited this weekend to go up to a place called Walton Hall.” Walton Hall at the time was owned and run by Danny La Rue. 

Postcard: Photograph, Walton Hall, Warwickshire, United Kingdom, unknown date. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright law. Please do not appropriate.

Danny La Rue was the most famous female impersonator in England. He had his own club at one point, Noel Coward, Marlon Dietrich, among others used to go there. Okay, so we get in a sports car Larry has, we join up with a friend of mine that I met, who was one of the writers on Dames at Sea with Ann-Margret – television special. Don’t ask. So, we’re going up the highway – the super-highway, we make a right turn where all of a sudden we’re in fields, with the stones and forests and sheep. We took a corner and there’s this place Walton Hall. It was like Downtown Abbey, a little smaller. With its own chapel, a stone bridge, cattails, swans, okay. I said, “This is like we’re in some technicolor musical.”  So, here’s Larry Merritt staying for the weekend. First night, we go to Stratford. Thank you, Harold Prince. Center seats in the mezzanine for the very famous Peter Brook production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I didn’t know. I wasn’t that into acting then, as an actor. We see that at the interval, very lah-di-dah.  We have drinks with the theatre manager in his office. Back to Walton Hall. The next night we go to Coventry, to see Danny La Rue’s show.

It’s fabulous. He’s amazing. He’s got a chorus and his boyfriend played the piano. Amazing. For the last number he says, “Ladies and gentlemen…lights up, please.” Larry Fuller and I are dressed to the teeth. I buy a velvety new jacket on bow tie, whatever. We’re like five rows back from the stage on the right. He goes, “Ladies and gentlemen, a very well-known famous American dancer is here who just closed at the Palladium with Ginger Rogers. Please stand up.” So, up I go.

Paper note: List of notable Evita reception guests at Chasen’s, Los Angeles, CA, written by Lawrence Merritt. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt Estate. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Danny goes on, “And we have a famous American choreographer, Larry Fuller. Please stand up.” Okay. “And ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you’ll know the next person.  Liberace.” And there’s Liberace up in the balcony. He was staying at the Walton Hall too. We had no idea. We get into the cars, all of us go back… Danny and his boyfriend who played the piano says, ” We’re hungry.” It’s after a show. It’s late. So, they called one of the chefs, and a waitress and there weren’t any issues. They wouldn’t have anything huge, but there were like twelve of us including Liberace, and Larry, and me, and Danny, and a few other people we went to the dining room and had food. It was wonderful.

And then I had been to LA and Evita opens. I had seen the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion production. Patti [LuPone] was out that night, but I saw it. And a few months later Larry Fuller calls, he says, “Hi, I want you to be the lead dancer at Evita. We’re doing the first national company.  We’re going to rehearse out in LA and we’re going to open the Shubert Theater in Century City. Do you want to do it?” I was like, yeah. He said, “Well, come on so-and-so day. You don’t have to audition dear. You’ll be lead dancer, just come dressed up cute. You’ll meet the musical director.” I asked, “Who’s that?” He replied, Rene Wiegert who had done Dear World or Pivot, one of those. 

And so, I show up and the boys had auditioned that morning and they’d gone to lunch, and they’re sweaty and nasty and I’m standing there. A voice said, “Lawrence could you stand up? Boys line up according to height next to Lawrence.” So, I was 43 and I was the lead dancer in Evita. And I just studied the role of Magaldi. And that would be my last Off-Broadway show, whatever. I got hurt on stage, however. Anyway, opening night was at Chasen’s. You went through the restaurant to this special room and there’s Harold Prince dancing with Lauren Bacall. In the restaurant was Michael York, Rita Hayworth, Charles Bronson and Jean Simmons. It was incredible.

You were injured in Evita. What happened?

Evita. Yes, the understudy girl, we did the Tango, and I did a big overhead lift, and my regular partner was out, and the understudy girl had done it several times. So, I went to lift her over my head, and she took a wrong preparation, and she was coming down as I was struggling and it tore my back out and it was like, “Okay bye.” I’ll just take my workman’s comp settlement.  Luckily at that point, I had already started catering, another successful reincarnation, or whatever. Because for the life of a dancer, being the lead dancer at 43-

That’s a long run

Yep. That was a long career. That’s 22 years.

Scrapbook page: Invitation to Evita, Patti LuPone, Shubert Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 1980. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt Estate. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.


What was that transition like for you? Your whole life and most of your relations were the world of dance. I imagine it as such a unique and immersive lifestyle that a dancer can’t just turn off like a switch.

I never thought of the future. Dancers do “now”. They don’t do “tomorrow”. [Some performers] go well, “Let’s put some money away for a house and we’re going to be in the play for the next ten years, or can I do the opera for twenty and that’ll pay for our retirement”.  We didn’t think that way. And I’m sure people would get tired of hearing, “Well it was the golden age in musicals, and it was because you didn’t have Disney, you didn’t have to make sure you made your millions back with 40 producers.” People took chances on ideas though.

I’m stating the obvious here, but live entertainment has changed dramatically between then and now. It will never be what it was.

No, it never will. I mean, I go to see shows and I would see dancing. By then I was out of that loop, so I didn’t know all those names, but I would see things.  It’s like my God they’re just extraordinary the things that they do now. The tricks, but everybody has a trick. I was limber. I could do the Can-can. Somebody else could spin. Somebody else could sing a higher note or whatever. And so, you look at those few and oh my God, your technique’s just amazing, but you are boring as hell. 

Back then, we got jobs and we worked all the time because we were performers. I worked all the time because people like Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse knew my work and I didn’t have to audition for them. Eventually they called me and asked if I would be free to do a special or… and that felt wonderful. And I never took it for granted. Ever.

Scrapbook page: Invitation to Evita and post reception at Chasen’s, Patti LuPone, Los Angeles, CA, 1980. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt Estate. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I knew that I was 6’1″.  I had a pretty good face, the nose was straight, my eyes weren’t crossed, I was tall enough to make the leading lady look good and they paid me a lot of money for that.  But the nature of the game is that there’s always somebody behind you biting at your ass, who kicks higher, has a better leg, who sings better, who’s cuter, so what do you do? When somebody asks you if you’re free, you say, “Yes.” And you keep putting one foot ahead of the other. That’s all. Try to keep learning, stay on top of your game, and I have had this blessed career that I could never ever have imagined. Places I’ve been, to people I’ve met, the things I did.

Things kept falling into place for you. You built a reputation based on your work and in the process, built relationships.

Exactly.  That’s how it worked. A friend of mine was the Peter Gennaro of the Ed Sullivan Show. Fine. There were four men and four women who were contracted usually.  Whenever they needed a fifth boy, I was one of the first boys they called. I did a lot of embarrassing numbers on the Ed Sullivan Show, but it was over at nine o’clock live.  You’ll get your check next week, you have tonight and all day tomorrow off and then Tuesday we’ll see if we need you. Bobbie Gentry, Peggy Lee, Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki, and Roy Rogers. Dionne Warwick, Carol Lawrence. They were all there.

I have stories, you know. I’m doing my memoir. I adored Ann Bancroft. Same with Ann-Margret. We [Ann-Margret] did the act and then we did it at The Concord and we did it one day at Montreal Expo and flew back and in the middle of that, we were doing Dames at Sea. During the productions we left the Dames at Sea rehearsals because she was booked at The Concord. There were three of us, or two of us, or four of us, or whatever, that were going to just do backup.  Roger [Roger Smith, Ann-Margret’s husband] and Allan Carr and Ann-Margaret, and the chauffeur got into a limo on Broadway and took off to the West Side Highway. 

My partner and I were in another car. So we’re driving up the West Side Highway, there at the divider is the limousine with the hood up and there’s Roger, Allan and the limo driver standing on the Island.  We stopped, and it’s like, “Okay, well, come on.”

Ann-Margaret and Roger Smith sat in the back of this Chevy Impala. Roger had white pants and white patent leather Guccis and this chartreuse lace Tom Jones shirt. The big open sleeves and the huge collar looking like a tablecloth at a Puerto Rican wedding. And Ann-Margaret’s in shorts, sunglasses, with her hair stringy because she didn’t have hair pieces then. We get to The Concord and it’s like a concentration camp in reverse.  There’s a chain link fence all the way around the property and a guard house with the black and white thing. The toilets I’ve played.

Scrapbook page: Publication clippings and photographs, Dames at Sea, NBC-TV special, Lawrence Merritt (Center) with production dancers, Ann-Margret, Los Angeles, CA, 1971. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt Estate. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

What’s the title of your memoir?

Paris on the G-string.

And I have pictures of my entire career. From the time I was 17 at Kennebunkport [theatre community in Maine] to the last play I did. 

When you transitioned out of dancing, you got into –

Catering with my partner at the time. “God, you guys you always cook well when we come to your house. You should cater.” I was like, “Okay, we’re catering.”  First party we did was for 125 people, I had worked in a flower shop, so, “Okay. We’ll do flowers.” We waited until the day before, shopped and started cooking. And we did twelve appetizers in this big house with waterlilies in the hot tub pool. And it’s like, “That’s pretty stupid. We’ll never do that again.” But we used to rent chairs and tables and, “Oh, you’re the bride, you want pink tablecloths with pink flowers, and you’re going to have ten tables for ten people, and we’ll rent that. And I’ll do a $40 arrangement on each table in pinks and lavenders and whatever. And then I’ll do like a $250, $300 floral piece for the buffet.” We ended up getting quite big. We made the LA Times, Sunday magazine, front cover layout. We did the food styling and got the credit.  We did all the food on the front cover picture and all the stuff on the inside.

The car accident happened two years later. I ended up with a spinal cord injury, which is why I walk with a cane now. Spinal cord injury, ended up in the spinal cord injury ward and this young girl said, “There’s this place down here in Anaheim, near Disneyland where they treat spinal cord injuries.”  I was like, “Okay.” The ambulance took me down there and it ended up being the best spinal cord injury facility in the state of California. Many therapists in the East, also know the place for spinal cord injury, head injury and children’s arthritis.

Do you want to say anything else about the accident? You were out West.

Yes, the injury happened when out West. Drunk, stoned, hit a parked car, passenger seat, car folded, I folded. But I was too drunk and stoned to know what was going on.  I ended up in the hospital for two months, instead of three. Four months with full body brace.  And then I had a shorter one, and then I had the rubber collar.  I got rid of it a couple of months later and started with the crutches and leg braces. Those are really a pain in the butt.  I was doing therapy at the hospital. 

Anyway, we were catering a cookout at a ranch a week after I came home from the hospital.  I had the body brace for four months because they took a piece out of my hip and fused four vertebrae in my neck.  My injury’s like Christopher Reeve’s, but his was a complete spinal cord injury and mine was incomplete.

Photographic prints: (Left) Lawrence Merritt personal portraits, c. 1950s. (Right) Lawrence Merritt headshot. c. 1980s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt Estate. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

After your recovery, which only a dancer’s determination could get through, you also began acting.

I had done a couple of local musicals, whatever. I didn’t really start acting immediately. I mean, you act when you dance but… it’s still different. 

At that time, I was thinking about getting out of LA, freeways are like parking lots, drive-by shootings, smog. I had stopped smoking by then. My partner and I decided to find a place.  We were both working as chefs. I had gone to cooking school for two years.  We went near Burlington [Vermont] where I knew we could both get jobs and he’s like, “You’re drinking an awful lot.” It’s like, “Screw you I’ll stop drinking.” January 10th, 1990.

Scrapbook page: Photographs, Gypsy production, unknown venue, unknown location, 1992. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt Estate. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

You stopped.

I stopped drinking. I have my coin over there. I still go to AA meetings. I’ve been sober for 25 years. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I was still working as a chef, relationship ended, Upstate New York, moved down near Poughkeepsie, then I started acting. It’s like, “maybe I’ll retire from cooking and maybe I’ll help somebody make costumes for a tap dance show for something.” I got a part in a play at Skidmore College. This Jacobean Drama was like, “What the hell is that? Oh, like Shakespeare, somebody’s doing Gypsy down there.” Sprayed my hair, applied mascara. “We’ll give you the part of Herbie” No – I did Herbie, but I’m not Herbie, I’m King or John Barrymore or… “.  And, it was like, “This is wild. I like this.” And then somebody in AA said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you ended up back in New York City.” Down the line, around the year 2000 I moved into this place where I live now. I thought, “Can I go back to New York City and see if I can get arrested with the big guys as an actor?”

I’m always positive. I don’t know how I got that. I never had any great sort of burning ambition for this. Like I said, I kept saying yes when, “Could you be in LA for this TV special for three days?” I’d say, “Sure. I’m free. I can be there.”

More recently, I’ve work with a theatre called TBTB, which used to stand for Theatre By The Blind.  Years ago, they opened it up to other disabilities, of which I have one, and retitled it Theater Breaking Through Barriers. We did a couple of weeks of five short of one act plays. The play I was in was written by David Henry Hwang, Neil LaBute was a writer, John Guare, Bruce Graham. Tonya Pinkins was in the play, who was then in I think Rasheeda Speaking with Dianne Wiest. And it was very successful. 

Photograph: Lawrence Merritt, during On the Town production, Boston, MA, 1971. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt Estate. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I’d been working with this company doing readings and this and that, and whatever for years now.  I was sort of part of their repertory company.  There are able-bodied people and disabled people, people with prosthetics, people like me who have a spinal cord injury, or walk with a cane now, people in wheelchairs with MS. All kinds of things.

And because of this reading of this Agatha Christie play, which is called The Unexpected Guest, we did a full production.  I got paid a couple of  pennies, at The Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row.  I played Inspector Thomas, so I whipped out yet again, my English accent, since I’m a big Anglophile and then I’ll go on vacation or something like that.

I’m on the board of Dancers Over 40. I keep as active as I can. I stay involved.

What can I say, despite some unexpected obstacles, life has been a cabaret. 

End of Part III

To read Part I, https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-lawrence-merritt-part-i/

To read Part II, https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-lawrence-merritt-part-ii/

The above interview with Lawrence Merritt was conducted in 2015 with the John Hemmer Archive. It was edited with Merritt in 2022 and 2023. Part III of A Dancer’s Life: Meet Lawrence Merritt is the final installment. This article series is dedicated in loving memory of Lawrence Maranville Merritt (1939-2023).

Watch Latin Quarter performers Jean Preece, Juanita Boyle, Teak Lewis, Francine M. Storey, Lawrence Merritt & Darlene Larson reflections,  John Hemmer & the Showgirls documentary screening & panel event, Edie Windsor SAGE Center, New York, NY, 2019.

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

The John Hemmer Archive’s The History of An Era, documents lived experiences of the nightclub era. This is the third installment of a three-part series on performer Sal Angelica.

To read part I, please visit https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-sal-angelica-part-i/

To reference part II, visit https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-sal-angelica-part-ii/

Paper Program: Guys and Dolls production, The Meadows Playhouse, Las Vegas, NV, 1981. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

SA: I am happy to say the 1980s had quieted down for me a bit. I danced in the production, Celebration for Ron Ruge in Guatemala in ’80. Ron was the choreographer on The Frank Rosenthal Show that I worked on a few years earlier.

There was Guys and Dolls in Las Vegas at The Meadows Playhouse. I choreographed and danced in it. That was in ’81. Then Paul Shrier backed out and I stepped in as Harry (all the way from Brooklyn) the Horse. I did Sweet Charity and Oklahoma for the Theatre Arts Association (TASI) at Nevada Theater Guild of Las Vegas. Mary and John Knight were the co-founders of TASI. They were the money and the nicest people that you could ever meet.

I was also involved with the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) program, choreographing and giving classes. I taught dance and theatre. As I mentioned in part II of this article series, CETA was a government run program that paid artists to take dance classes to help maintain and further their careers.

So, students were actually getting paid to attend the classes and learn a trade. One incident that made me feel bad was that one of the gals, a real smart-ass, showed up for class in shorts, flip flops and her hair in curlers. She was certainly not prepared properly to take a dance class. I asked her if she had other clothes and shoes to dance in. She said, “No”. She only had what she was wearing. I excused her and told her that because of the situation, she would not be paid for the day. Of course, she didn’t like that. I felt bad about the missing out on the money, but it was a good lesson for her to learn. Always be prepared and respect what you are doing, and also the instructor and CETA program that is paying you to do it.

JHA: And following those productions you were in Hot Hawaiian Nights as Assistant Choreographer and Company Manager.

In 1984, my friend Al Gossan asked me to assist him with putting together a show. I stayed with him in Hawaii as we set Hot Hawaiian Nights with a local cast. We then took the show to Wildcoast Theatre in South Africa, which was actually just south of Margate and over a bridge into the Transkei. The government had given the land back to the black people there and gambling was allowed. We had the best time. The food (briaa) and the people were terrific. The show went over well.

Photographic print: Performers, Hot Hawaiian Nights, 1984, Las Vegas, NV, Transkei, South Africa. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

The manager from The Rennies (comparable to The Deere Co. here) had asked if we would do a show for them at their convention. I negotiated a good salary for the cast and myself. Al had hit a wall and ask me to take over the rest of the choreography and rehearsals. No problem! Unfortunately, the producer was such a jerk and made big problems that he was literally put on a plane and sent back to Hawaii.

Paper Program: Credit page, Hot Hawaiian Nights production, Wildcoast Theatre, Transkei, South Africa, 1984. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Another incident occurred when we had all Black stagehands. One day I witnessed the stage manager kick one of them as he was trying to climb the ladder to the overhead fly. Yes, I had him fired. Little did I know that when we had to leave, he was the person from the main office that we all had to deal with. It turned out that he wasn’t a big problem. The big problem was getting the money out of the country. No one knew that you could not take their money when you leave. What?!?!

Being the company manager, I had thousands of dollars that belonged to the production company. This happened on a Sunday when the banks were closed. I thought, “Who do I get in touch with and how?” I asked a security guard (with rifle in his hands) if he would contact the bank’s manager. He did and the manager showed up with his little 6-year-old son to help me. He cut me a cashier’s check, and all went well until we got back to the states. We had all the costumes with us, but had no paperwork to prove to customs that we had originally brought them with us to South Africa. After explaining everything, the custom official thought that our story was so absurd that it must be true and let us by. Whew.

What was the impetus for Paper Moon Greeting Card & Gift Shop?

Business card: Paper Moon, A Unique and Gift Shop. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

When [my partner] Max and I returned home from South Africa in 1984, he went back to work as an elementary school teacher, and I had nothing to do. No show biz jobs available.

{We purchased what would become the] Paper Moon, A Unique Card and Gift Shop in 1984. It closed in 1989. We may have initially come across the information in the newspaper. It was in a very huppie area of Green Valley. A very nice location. The realtor met us there and it looked good. It was full of old English type merchandise and cards, and lots of tea sets. We made an offer to get it going and negotiated a year’s free rent to help get us started. After selling off most of the stock at a big discount, most everything was emptied out but the fixtures and card racks. We used the huge sales as leaders. Afterwards we brought in some new merchandise and cards. We had the only XXX rated cards available in Las Vegas.

Going to the LA Mart gift shows in Los Angeles was terrific and it opened-up a whole new world to us. We were happy to know and see that our clientele liked the merchandise that we picked and chose to sell.

There was a pizza shop on one side of us and a cooking shop on the other, a beauty salon a few doors away. All of this resulted in some very heavy traffic and business for us, I’m happy to say. We built up a nice clientele and had a good rapport with them to the point that they would call up and let me know that their kids were coming in to buy gifts and had “X” amount of money to spend and that they will stop in after they get off work to pay me. Nice! And the house wrap was free with whatever you purchased. We used very obvious gift wrap – clear cellophane with colored balloons that read, “For Your Special Day”.

We soon found out that the signature wrap became a “must” for the kids to want to use and the party person was disappointed if they didn’t see our wrap on their gift. Wow.

Between all the show biz contacts I had the and roster of schoolteachers that Max worked with, we were very busy. The teachers all appreciated the discounts that we offered to them.

Business card: Bernard Brothers A Musical Comedy Act. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

When I decided to go back to do The Bernard Brother’s Act, Max thought that the shop would not be the same without me running it, so we decided to sell. What a shame. The Act was staged in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

So, we sold Paper Moon because I was getting back into shows. Unfortunately, we [the number within the The Bernard Brother’s Act] did not go over well in Atlantic City.

The people who hired us knew what the act was all about and still offered us the job. They put us in the show just after the opening number, which was a bad choice. The show started off in the 1940s and progressed through modern times. Our act was very ‘40s/’50s – Nelson Eddy, Jeanette McDonald, The King and I, etc. We just didn’t fit after seeing all the modern stuff and then going back to the ‘40s. C’est La Vie! That’s showbiz. In reality they should have known better.

While running Paper Moon you continued to perform and choreograph. What are some examples of your entertainment work during the remainder of the decade?

The choreographer, Rene De Haven, whose claim to fame was that he danced in the Elvis movie, Jail House Rock, was the choreographer for the Saloon Sweethearts breast cancer shows. The numbers were performed by the ladies who were bartenders. They were used as props and fill-ins.

I donated a Bob Mackie evening purse to be auctioned off. A man bought it for $500.00 and then gave it back. A woman bought it for $550.00, equaling $1050.00. Not bad.

During this time I also worked with students for the University of Las Vegas production of West Side Story. They weren’t professional dancers, but were all terrific, especially performing the Pas de Sies ballet (Somewhere dream ballet). I was so pleased with them and proud.

And what about the AIDS Benefit shows?

Newspaper Clipping: AIDS benefit Ribbon of Life show article, Breck Wall, Las Vegas Review Journal, 2003. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Thanks to Breck WallBottoms Up producer and star, [obit] I had the privilege to perform in 13 or more of the AIDS benefit shows beginning in 1989 until 2016. Breck had organized all of us and we were a hit every time we performed. No one could ever say no to Breck. He did a lot for our industry and Las Vegas entertainment.

Most of us knew each other from working together but some were new. The red, white and blue costumes were for the Elephant Walk number from The Will Rogers Follies. It was the slap number that we had the best time with learning and knowing. We would get a standing ovation all the time. Made all the practicing worth it. I’m happy to say we made a lot of money for the AIDS benefit cause.

Photograph: AIDS benefit Ribbon of Life show, cast with Breck Wall (center foreground), 2004. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

My scrapbooks indicate the following productions for Golden Rainbow, Ribbon of Life AIDS benefit shows

Paper poster: AIDS benefit True Colors show, Luxor Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV, 1998. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

1998 Luxor Hotel, 12th anniversary show, True Colors

1999 13th anniversary

2001 Mandalay Bay, 15th anniversary show, Our Show of Shows

2003 Paris Hotel, 17th anniversary show, The Ultimate Raffle Ticket

2004, Bally’s Hotel, 18th anniversary show, Ribbon of Life

2006, Paris Hotel, 20th anniversary show

2007, Bally’s Hotel, 21st anniversary show, A Red Carpet Affair

2008, Paris Hotel, 22nd anniversary show

2009, 23rd anniversary show

2011 Paris Hotel, 25th anniversary show

2012 The Smith Center, 26th anniversary show, Ovations

2015 Rio Hotel, 28th anniversary show

2016 Tropicana Hotel, 30th anniversary show

There were lots of different choreographers on these shows, who I worked with such as Ronnie Lewis, Jerry Jackson, Cary La Spina, Rene de Haven, among others.

You got involved in senior performers groups. the Encore Follies, Las Vegas Follies, and the Branson Follies are well known revues.

Photograph: Promotional postcard, The Encore Dancers cast, 2010. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I started with the Rich Rizzo senior group the Las Vegas Follies in 1990. By mid-2000s it was Walter Painter’s Branson Follies. I had heard that he [Painter] was doing a show (from who I heard, I don’t remember). I called and asked when and where the auditions would be. He said, “You don’t have to audition for me. You have the job if you want it.” Yeow, Great!

Photographic print on paper: Sal Angelica in Marine costume & Carol Channing, Branson Follies, Branson, MO, 2005. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I had worked with Painter’s wife on Broadway with Carol Burnett in Fade Out – Fade In. I knew only one other singer/dancer – Jerry Antes. He worked at the Dunes in Vive Les Girls. It was a lounge show, and I was in the big room with Casino De Paris at the time.

Lois Mazgaj is a dancer who got me connected with Mary Ann [Arcadipane] who produced, choreographed, and danced for the Encore Follies. Their production, One Broadway, Our Way, again, I knew none of the ladies except for Lois. She lives about 10 minutes from me here in Las Vegas, but I had to go all the way to Branson to meet and work with her. We became great friends. We performed at libraries, any openings and senior retirement facilities. It was a nice feeling being able to give back to the community and see the smiling faces of the retirement crowd. They loved us. It’s too bad that these wonderful days are gone, and Las Vegas is no longer what it was.

Photograph: Promotional postcards, The Encore Dancers, (left to right) MaryAnn Arcadipane, Sal Angelica, Lois Mazgaj, Las Vegas, NV, 2012. Courtesy Sal Angelica, please do not appropriate.

You also became a Dance Host for cruise ships.

I was a dance host for Holland America Line cruises starting in 2004. I was able to travel the world again doing this. Ports we harbored at on their Prinsendam cruise ships were many. My first cruise was New World Adventure. It sailed to Lisbon, Funchal and Ft. Lauderdale. In 2006, on the Grand Amazon Experience World Voyage 2006, Circle of the Sun, we sailed to Antarctica, the Amazon, Ushuaia Argentina, Rio, and Brazil. 2010, on the Ms Rotterdam the 30-day circle included Hawaii, Tahiti, Marquesas, San Diego, and Bora Bora. The next two were also on a Ms Rotterdam. One was a 30-day cruise to the Incan Empires, which stopped at Ft. Lauderale, Lima, Peru and San Diego. The last was in 2012, which went to The Netherlands, São Miguel, Portugal, Trinidad and Croatia.

Photograph: Sal Angelica, Dance Host for Holland America Line cruise ships, c2000s. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Most of the cruise guests were under the impression that we were being paid for our services. That this was our job on the ship. Wrong. The dance hosts paid To Sea With Z to get placed on the ship. It was a nominal fee (approx. $150.00). It was certainly worth it.

Photographs: Dance host, Sal Angelica and passenger, Holland America Line cruise ships, 2012. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

How could I ever be able to go to all those exotic places and have room and board for that price? Some cruises were for 30-days. The food was terrific and the buffet was open almost 24-hours a day. What a treat. I met lots of wonderful people from all over the world. Then Holland American Line (HAL) decided that the male staff that was being paid and who were just sitting around doing nothing would learn to dance and would partner the ladies. That knocked us out of our positions. Such is life. We had a great time while it lasted.

Publication page: Head Custodian voting appeal, Clark County School District, Las Vegas, NV, 1995. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image may be subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Can you give some examples of professional positions you held in more recent decades that were outside your dance and choreography career?

In 1993/94 I had been working as a limo driver for Bell Limo. I started with the night shift and a year later they put me on days. I gave my notice when I went to work for the Clark County School District as a custodian at Las Vegas High School.

A year after that I interviewed for the head custodian position at Mendoza Elementary School and stayed there for 4 years. On rainy days when the kids were kept in, I taught them line dancing in the auditorium. They loved it and so did their teachers and the parents. We had a lot of fun. I met a lot of nice people that way. One of the third-grade teachers was a Hollywood movie dancer in her younger years. Her SAG card was #2! I’m sure that Shirley Temple’s card was #1.

From 1996 through 1998, other hats I’ve worn were for Harrah’s Casino Entertainment as a Slot Clerk, Retail Warehouse Associate, and

Housekeeping Floor Supervisor. There are many more hats in the closet. You have to pay the rent.

Paper Certificate: Performance Management completion certificate, Harrah’s Casino Entertainment, 1998. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Chronologically my extracurricular jobs look something like this – and often doing to 2 to 3 jobs while performing nightly.

Airport Meet & Greet for several destination management companies.

Bartender at The Still on Boulevard Mall, and Tivoli Gardens which was owned by Liberace.

Bell Transportation as a limo driver (lots of stories there).

Black Mask in the show, Geish’erella.

Captain at Jubilation, owned by Paul Anka.

Company Manager for Hot Hawaiian Nights in the Transkei, South Africa.

Around this time is when I held the Custodian positions at Valley High School and Head Custodian at Mendoza Elementary.

Docent at Spring Mountain Ranch.

Caesars Palace and Bally’s Hotel, I was an Account Executive for Encore Productions.

At Harrah’s Hotel I was a slot clerk, retail associate, housekeeper, and floor manager.

I oversaw projects, pick-ups, and deliveries of everything at Kazar Interior. I was a long-distance semi driver, moving from New York to Las Vegas, and Las Vegas to the Midwest, and from the Midwest back to Las Vegas. After that was the Paper Moon Greeting Card and Gift Shop that we owned and operated from 1984 through 1989. Then I was a financial backer for Regency Pool Service. At the Thalians, I handled the raffle tickets and guardian of the cash. I was employed by several destination management companies as a tour guide. From about 2016 to 2019 I worked the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) for Canon camera company. As a model for people interested in trying and buying the latest, up-to-date equipment. We were filmed while tracing and cutting patterns. It was a very cushy job. There were three of us and we worked 20 minutes on and 40 minutes off. The money was terrific as well. That just about sums up all of it.

Photograph: Headshot print, Sal Angelica, New York, NY, 1960. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Turning back to your dance career, have you seen significant change in the performing arts community over time?

Las Vegas, “Home of the Showgirls and Showboys” – with all of the big shows closed. This town has laid off not only the performers but put all the musicians, stagehands and wardrobe people out of work, as well as costume designers, choreographers, dance teachers, vocal coaches, hotel staff, valet service etc.

I doubt very much if anything in the future will bring back the excitement, the stars and the entertainment that Las Vegas had once offered in the 60s and 70s. Especially the headliners. Nothing will ever compare to those glorious days.

Paper program: Page from Casino de Paris program, the Dunes Hotel & Country Club, Las Vegas, NV, 1965. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

As I’ve said, I’ve been in Las Vegas for the past 57 years. I am not up on what’s happening in New York City anymore. I do know that the industry’s show ticket prices are way out of line, even in Las Vegas.

If the public refused to pay those outrageous prices it would make sense to lower the cost and have more people enjoying the entertainment and having a nice night out. I can remember seeing a show in New York City, sitting in the first few rows for $3.50 a ticket. Not $3000.00 – Thank you, Hamilton. Just ridiculous.

With the changes in the shows in Las Vegas there is a big void in patronage. No more topless showgirls, no more oglers and money spent. All the other employees involved hurting as well. I hope that live entertainment – shows, not just headliners, makes a comeback. However, even the prices have gone way out of line here [in Las Vegas]. Why would someone pay those prices when you can put a CD or DVD on or get on the Internet and enjoy them in the comfort of your own home? You don’t have to worry about traveling or getting into an accident or paying garage fees – another bummer. You’re paying to see a show and have to pay to park your car as well. Needless to say, I have lots of CDs and DVDs.

Do you perceive the 1960s and ‘70s as a special time for performing arts? Will you describe this era further?

I can’t imagine getting the same kind of entertainment that the ’60s and ’70s gave us, and then there were also the lounge acts, which were very popular and the show biz performers and staff were able to see them between or even after they finished their second or third show.

I am so happy that I was part of all of that and do hope that some of it returns one day. Don’t get me wrong, I still do love the business and everything about it, including the memoirs.

Photographic print: Sal Angelica partnering fellow dancer, Susan, Summer Stock, Finian’s Rainbow, 1963. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

You enjoy a prolific dancer’s life, both in terms of quality and quantity of work. What wisdom from your life and profession would you offer to those just beginning their dance career?

What would I say to someone just starting? Be dedicated. If you are going after a show biz career, do and learn as much as you can from everyone. Take class from various teachers to learn different dance styles. Remember the choreographer wants you to emulate his work. Copy their style and you will get the job. Claude Thompson was very big on doing his choreography your way, not like a Tiller Rockette Line.

Also, have enough confidence in yourself to be the first to audition. I recall someone saying by the time the first 10 dancers are seen, they know who they want. Be aggressive with your talent. Remember that not all shows make it and some even close during the out-of-town tryouts, so have a back-up plan. Have another way to earn money to pay for the classes and your rent. Figure out what else you are good at and like to do to subsidize your dance career.

Photograph: Portrait, Choreographer, Claude Thompson, circa 1970s. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Try to get scholarships or the like. If a choreographer sees that you are good enough and trying hard but can’t afford classes, they will offer them. I know from experience. Thank you, Claude!

I can’t tell you how many performers I know also double as restaurant servers. Another thing is, don’t be a “know it all”, even if you are better. Remember there is always someone not as good as you or even better than you. Even if you do know more than the others, or more than the person auditioning you. They need dancers, you need the job. Do and be your best to awe them. If you are asked to the call back, wear the same clothes that you had originally auditioned in. They will remember you better by doing that.

Who and what are/were the biggest influences in your creative life?

The biggest influences where the choreographers and their work. See the dancers performing on stage and wanting to be one of them was my goal.

What about your life so far are you most grateful for?

I am grateful to all the people, coworkers, friends, and family, that believed in me and always supported me. My family didn’t support me financially. I usually worked two jobs while still going to school to earn money to pay for my [dance] classes, but I had their love behind me.

Photograph: Sal Angelica and partner, Max with terrier dogs, circa 1980s. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I have my partner Max and Father, Jim Story (an ordained minister) at TASI to thank for convincing me to go back to school and get my high school GED diploma. He was the backbone of TASI and put everything together. I was in my 40s at the time. That helped when I was looking at another career. My advise to everyone is, “Get that piece of paper”. You may be a jerk or even an educated idiot, but they will hire you if you have the credentials.

Photograph: Headshot print, Sal Angelica, New York, NY, 1960. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I have been very fortunate and happy with the way my professional dance career has gone, and where it took me. I am not only proud of myself for being able to do so, but I am in awe of the people (celebrities) that I have worked with and the places that my dance career has taken me. Most of them would have never met or visit if it wasn’t for the fact that I was in a show or act that not only paid me a salary but paid to take me to places (on their dime) that I would have never dreamed of going to on my own. Getting paid to do what I was extremely happy to do was a win-win scenario.

Photograph: Family members with Sal Angelica, 1944. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Growing up in the slums of Manhattan I had never dreamed that I would have left Broadway to live in Las Vegas, Nevada for the past 56 years. Las Vegas has been very good to me. I kept my two-bedroom apartment on 50th Street and Broadway for over 2 years sublet and got burned many times, but with the rent only being $72.00 a month, I could live here and still afford to maintain it.

What do you think is the biggest sacrifice a dancer makes for their profession?

As far as I’m concerned there was never any sacrifice – only pluses adding to my life. Once again, be diligent, work hard at what you do and be kind. You will then succeed.

Is there anything you would like to relay in this conversation that we haven’t yet covered?

I have been around and have worn many different hats. It is definitely a bore being retired and having lots of free time, but being a homeowner, there is always something around that needs to be done. Between taking care of all the plants, the hummingbirds (who stay year around), it keeps me pretty busy. That and all the doctor visits.

Watch Sal Angelica and Lili Belle Lopez in conversation with Head of Special Collections, UNLV, Su Kim Chung at Clark County Library District. Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter, Donn Arden, Las Vegas, and more.

I do participate in a lot of the University of Las Vegas Special Collections Department’s events. Su Kim Chung asks me to speak about working The Strip and sharing experiences. I am her go to person. Of course, I love every minute of it.

This is the final installment in this three-part article series which was edited in collaboration with Sal Angelica and the John Hemmer Archive in 2022. It is based on Sal’s lived memories and memorabilia from his career spanning many decades.

To read the first installment of this series, please visit: https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-sal-angelica-part-i/

To read the second installment of this series, please visit: https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-sal-angelica-part-ii/


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

The John Hemmer Archive’s The History of An Era, documents single and multipart articles to bring lived experiences of the nightclub era to light. This is the second installment of a three-part series on performer Sal Angelica, who began his life and career in New York City before traveling abroad and eventually landing in Vegas. To read part I, please visit https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-sal-angelica-part-i/

Paper program: Casino de Paris production, program cover, Dunes Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, 1965. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

JHA: In 1965 you travel to Las Vegas where you joined Casino de Paris at the Dunes Hotel. This was your move from the east coast to Vegas.

SA: A good friend of mine, Candy Raye, was working in Las Vegas and kept trying to persuade me to come out here to find work. I was always employed in New York City and couldn’t see why I would go there without having a job or prospect of one.

Another friend, Jimmy Weiss, who I worked with in Fade Out – Fade In on Broadway in ‘64, had just signed a contract with Donn Arden for a show at the Desert Inn. He was also coaxing me to try Las Vegas. Once again, I thought, “Why?”. Then Jimmy called and said that Ronnie Lewis was in New York City looking for dancers for the Dunes Hotel’s Casino de Paris. I had worked with Ronnie at the Latin Quarter in New York back in ’59. Jimmy suggested I give him a call, so I did and mentioned that I was not 6 feet tall, just 5’10”. Ronnie said I was a good dancer (what every dancer wants to hear) and to come to the audition. I was offered the job with the condition that I make just a six-month commitment. Ronnie agreed. Two years later I went back to New York City to close-up my apartment that I had been subletting for $72.00 a month. 57 years later I’m still here [in Las Vegas] and love it.

Candy Raye and Jimmy Weiss changed my life for the better, forever, by convincing me to try out Las Vegas.

Photographic slideshow of the Casino de Paris production from the Sal Angelica Collection.

You’ve mentioned differences between working in New York versus Las Vegas. One of those differences being union support.

Paper poster: Juliet Browse as Mame, Las Vegas, NV, circa mid-1960s. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

All of the unions in New York City were there to help and benefit the actor, as well as management, whether It was AEA, AGVA, SAG, SEG or AGMA.  They had everything under control and if you had to do anything out of the ordinary you were paid extra for it. In Las Vegas – nothing. Later on, the stagehands and musicians were represented by unions. If an Equity (AEA) show came into town, they were covered by them.

For example, When the book show Mame, starring Juliet Prowse, came to Vegas, John Bowab, the producer, realized the show would be performed seven days a week and that was against AEA rules. To remedy this, it was decided to hire additional dancers from New York City.

My good friend, Candy Raye, was invited to see the opening night performance by the gal that put the show together and quickly said that it was not necessary [to go to New York for dancers] because there are many good dancers in Vegas with Broadway credits. That’s where I came in. Candy, who I affectionately call “Miss Mouth”, gave them my name and John called and offered me the job on her recommendation. That’s also how I got to do Juliet’s [Prowse] act for many years.

Casino de Paris was produced and directed by Frederic Apcar and opened around 1963. It was the first Casino de Paris production to get licensed outside of France and mounted in a newly constructed showroom at the Dunes. How did you come into it?

In 1965 I was flown to Milan, Italy to join the cast. The new show was rehearsed and set there. We all stayed at the same hotel and rehearsed in the ballroom. We were all on call in case Ronnie got frustrated or tired of working with a group that wasn’t coming through for him. The only thing we couldn’t work on was the octuramic stage. It was in Las Vegas. An eight-armed disc stage that moved all over the place. It was a terrific piece of artwork and wowed the audience.

Photographic print: Production still, dancer Sal Angelica foreground, third in from left, Casino de Paris production, Dunes Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, 1965. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

This was the first time you reunited with Ron Lewis since the Latin Quarter. There were other performers on this from the Latin Quarter as well.

Francois Szony and Nancy Claire were the featured act in the show [also performed many times at the Latin Quarter]. There were several headliners, but none that anyone would call “stars”. Larry (Lawrence) Merritt was also front and center all the time. He didn’t stay. I think he thought that Ronnie should have featured him more and so he just moved on. That opened up the door to have Ronnie use me as his lead dancer in the following jazz production, which would have been Larry’s if he had stayed. My gain this time. Thanks.

Photographic print: Publicity image, dancer Sal Angelica & Virginia Justice pose for the Folies Bergère production at the Tropicana Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, 1967. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

1968 and ’69 kept you busy. An Ed Sullivan CBS special telecast live from Circus, Circus, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, Jerry Jackson’s Folies Bergère at The Tropicana Hotel and Barry Ashton’s Wonderful World of Burlesque at the Silver Slipper.

We rehearsed for one week and for one live performance on January 1st, 1969, for the CBS special. I partnered Gina Lollobrigida singing Walking Happy. Our billing was “Gina Lollobrigida and dancers.”

At the end of 1967 I joined Folies Bergère for a brief stay. Dave Johnson was the company manager, Ruth Christensen, the show captain, and the choreographer was Jerry Jackson.

They asked to see me after watching the Dunes’ Casino de Paris show. I had never met any of them before and I was asked if I would consider being Jerry’s lead adagio dancer in a new number that they were putting into the show. It was a French Quarter, New Orleans themed number. i partnered Virginia Justus and Billi Buche’ on a 5-foot table-top and she had never done adage work before. I also had to be filtered into the existing show.

There was a comedy routine that was very slapstick at the end of the number. I was captured and shot out of a canon. I was on a tether and flew out over the audience and back. All went well until the guy who was my counterweight had his night off and the person replacing him weighed less than I did. I hit the deck going out, which caused me to spin and hit it again when I returned. That was very scary and I complained. As I mentioned before, there were no unions here back then. I called Penny Singleton (from the television show, Blondie) who was the AGVA president in New York City at the Time. She came out and saw what I was complaining about but could do absolutely nothing about it. Then they fired me. My standby refused to go on as well. They chose someone else to do it. As for me, no big deal. I went straight into Barry Ashton’s show at the Silver Slipper and was never unemployed.

Photographic prints: Publicity images, dancers Sal Angelica & Mikki Sharait, Wonderful World of Burlesque production, Silver Slipper, Las Vegas, NV, 1967/68. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

This is where I was lead dancer and partnered Mikki Sharait in Wonderful World of Burlesque at the Silver Slipper’s Gaiety Theatre. Mikki had never done adage work before, but she was a trooper and would do anything to be the star. Barry loved her and was a great help, even giving us a couple of lift pointers. He was a very nice man to work with & we all loved him.

Photographic print: Wonderful World of Burlesque producer, Barry Ashton with dancers Mako Ohta, Sal Angelica, Candy Raye, Silver Slipper Casino restaurant, Las Vegas, NV, 1968. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

During this time and into 1969, you went to Los Angeles where you danced in several variety shows of the day.

For The Smothers Brothers, I commuted each week. If we didn’t have a number in an episode, we didn’t have to be at rehearsals until Wednesdays. We’d tape on Fridays. The credits were always “live action”. If we did have a number that week, we had a 10a.m. rehearsal call on Mondays. I always stayed with friend and choreographer, Claude Thompson while I was in LA.

Even though the show had earned many, many, awards for new and creative stuff, CBS felt that the context of the show was too political, which it was. Very much so. They made fun and mockery out of lots of rules, and it was not appreciated by most.

The guests were terrific, and the choreography was brilliant. Ron Poindexter even received awards and lots of fun times were had by all of us. Tom and Dick were not overly friendly, but nice to us and easy to work with.

Our closing number for the last Smothers Brothers was a big to-do. The costumes were very basic, but elegant. Black jumpsuits with white ruffled shirts and red bolero jackets with black jet studded accessories. One of the girl dancers (Sam) asked if we could keep them. I think Tom and Dick were so angry [from getting] fired, they said, “Yes!”. I still have mine.

One thing that amazed me was when I received residuals for the show from being aired again. That was a shock and a nice surprise.

Photographic prints: Carol Burnett signed headshot, Hollywood, CA, circa late 1960s/early 1970s. Carol Burnett & Sal Angelica, The Carol Burnett Show reunion, Hollywood, CA, circa 1990s. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

When we were cancelled, I went directly to The Carol Burnett Show on the Monday after our last shoot of the Smothers Brothers that Friday. There were only two more episodes to shoot for The Carol Burnett Show for that season.

Decades later, I attended a get together for the show’s 33rd year reunion on stage 33 at CBS. Stan Mazin (another regular on the show) called to let me know that there was just one ticket left. he asked if I wanted it. of course, I did. it was terrific seeing all those people after all that time.

The variety shows included a couple stints on The Dean Martin Show where you partnered Juliet Prowse and Ginger Rogers.

While doing Juliet Prowse’s act, I found out that she was going to be on The Dean Martin Show – her business manager Mark Mordoh never mentioned it, or ever got us (her dancers) any work. Jaime Rogers, who I knew, was the choreographer. I called him and he hired Michael Darrin (also in her act) and myself to help with partnering her. I’m sure that made Juliet feel more comfortable with two of her guys being there. Jaime asked us if we would stay for the next episode to partner Ginger Rogers. I stayed on, but Michael didn’t.  I can say that Fred is not the only one that has partnered Ginger. I am lucky to have it taped for posterity on a DVD.

Photographic prints: Scrapbook page, backstage photographs, Jonathan Wynn, Connie Stevens, Sal Angelica, Connie Stevens’ act, touring/various venues, circa early 1970s. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Around this time, you joined Connie Stevens’ act.

Claude Thompson asked me to do Connie Stevens act. Joe Layton directed, and Hugh Lambert choreographed. I had previously worked with Hugh on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York City. Connie and I were the token whites (she even made a joke of that). Jerry Grimes, Cheryl Weinberg, Frances Davis (aka “Elizabeth Taylor/her real name, later married Miles Davis) and I had the best times together. Connie who is also from Brooklyn, New York, was a dream to work with.

We played at the Flamingo Hotel here [in Vegas] and the Crystal Room at the Desert Inn, the John Asquagas’ Nugget in Reno; the Palmer House in Chicago; The Persian Room in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. [The show] had several very funny opening comedic acts. When working at the Flamingo at night, I was also doing two afternoon shows of Geisha’rella, [a topless revue of Japanese women] at the Thunderbird hotel in black mask.

Photographic prints: (Left) Dancer Sal Angelica, Connie Stevens, performer. (Right) Connie Stevens & cast, backstage, Connie Stevens’ act, tour, 1960. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

You followed this with another Claude Thompson production, Flesh. This was in August of 1969 and first staged at the Bonanza Hotel. This was followed by a run at Caesars Palace and then to King’s Castle Hotel in Lake Tahoe.

Paper ad: Newspaper advertisement, Flesh and Flush productions, Bonanza Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, 1968. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Flesh at the Bonanza Hotel was an XXX rated show. Claude had done some outrageous stuff with us. Line Renaud, who was from France and producing the show, loved all of it. During the photoshoot my only costume was an elastic g-string to cover myself and Claude stopped the shoot to have me take it off – saying that I can still see it, snickering all the time. He was ***bad*** but great. We were back-to-back with another production, Flush, at the Bonanza Hotel, which eventually became the MGM Grand. Now it’s Bally’s.

Newspaper clippings: Photographic images, (top, left to right) dancers Sal Angelica, Tulsa Cullins, Don Stoms Vic, (bottom) Don Stops Vic, Tulsa Cullins, Sal Angelica, Flesh production, Bonanza Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, 1968. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

After the Bonanza, Flesh moved over to Caesars Palace, but when it closed there, I was asked to go with the show to Lake Tahoe at King’s Castle in Incline Village. It was to open the hotel and there were celebrities there (including Lana Turner), but they were going to cut my salary. Of course, that did not set well with me. I went to the company manager. who was once a performer/dancer and complained. He said that he would then only use one lead dancer (there were two of us). I knew this was wrong so I called Claude knowing his contract stated that the show would have to stay as originated. They hired two others, but one of the dancers had an accident (drugs) and couldn’t open the show. By the time they had called me, I couldn’t make it. I was literally watching the last flight to Reno take off from Las Vegas. Wanting to keep Claude’s work exact, I offered to teach the guys the routines gratis. When I got there, the choreography had changed the number to the point that it was all messed up. I spent the next day learning all of the new stuff.

By the way, meeting Lana Turner was a trip. We met on the beach and she was just another grandma looking person. We had a few drinks, not too much. I had to work that night. I had met her assistant too and we organized a meeting between shows. Lana never showed up so we planned on meeting after my second show. still no Lana, but as we were having a drink, and suddenly this fabulous image passes by. She had pulled herself together and was the gorgeous star that she always was. She wanted to go to the Cal-Neva hotel, so off we went. Let me tell you, I was in heaven – jitter bugging with the one and only- Lana Turner. Yeow mama!

In this period, you worked with Lorna Luft’s act as well.

Once again, Claude Thompson hired me. In the Lorna Luft act he paired me with Harvey Cohen. It was very Do-Whop/Afro-Cuban style. Later on, choreographer Walter Painter added some of his stuff. That was sacrilegious to alter or change any of Claude’s work, but it happens. We never could figure out why Walter was ever brought into the picture. Lorna was lazy and had a Brat Pack attitude, but of the three of them [Judy Garland’s children], Lorna had the best voice. Not the charisma as Liza [Minnelli] did, or the charm of Judy, but talented. Lorna could not only sing well, but dance and was very comedic, thanks to her mother.

Gene Palumbo was our music director and conductor. He also worked with Judy Garland.

Photographic print: Production still, dancers Sal Angelica, Lorna Luft, performer, Lorna Luft act, tour, 1972. Courtesy Sal Angelica. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In 1972 we opened for Danny Thomas at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Then we went on to the St. Regis hotel’s Maisonette [Russe] in New York City, The Palmer House in Chicago, The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in the Venetian Room and somewhere in Ft. Lauderdale.

While in Florida, we were invited to go out on a yacht that Lorna called Sid Luft (her father) to ask if it was okay for her to go. She always called to consult with him about anything. We met Lorna’s Aunt Jimmy too and had a great after-hours night of singing around Gene as he played the piano. Jimmy, Judy’s sister sounded just like Judy. It was eerie.

Liza, who showed up occasionally never talked to anyone and never joined us. With Lorna, however, we spent a lot of time listening to “Mama stories” that were hilariously funny. Most of the family were already in the public eye and considered [to display] strange behavior. It was about a 3-to-4 month engagement, and a terrific time.


Our Crowning Glory, by Francine M. Storey

Photographic print: Dancer Francine M. Storey, in costume, Age 10, Van Nuys, CA, circa 1950s. Courtesy Francine M. Storey. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I was a 14 year-old dancer living with my family in Long Beach, California when I was invited to join the Long Beach Civic Light Opera Company, which was a semi-professional organization at that time. I was thrilled. Not only did I get to dance, but as the youngest member of the company, I was lovingly taught by the older members how to build scenery, sew costumes, apply my own make-up and do my own hair. The beautiful older dancer who helped me with my hair styling had long blond hair down to her waistline and she was fond of saying, “Your Hair Is Your Crowning Glory!” How true it was and is.

Yes, all performers know that hair style is an important part of both our personal appearance and our professional Look. However, while a personal hair style may last years, our professional look changes for every show. At the highest professional level of the Performing Arts, namely Broadway, Opera, Nightclubs and Ballet, HAIR STYLISTS are responsible for the hair look of the production and they style the hair for stars and soloists. The chorus members are usually coached by the stylists on how to achieve the hair look themselves, and/or are helped by the wardrobe staff. Instructive drawings are often taped to dressing room walls.

Photographic prints: dancer Francine M. Storey, backstage, in costume, To Broadway With Love production, 1964 New York World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows Queens, New York, 1964. Courtesy Francine M. Storey. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Sometimes, performers are required to wear wigs. As a New York City dancer, I wore wigs both at the 1964 New York World’s Fair extravaganza, To Broadway With Love and at the World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub. But, generally, my hair, both personal and professional, was my responsibility. I was always armed with electric curlers, regular curlers, curling irons, rubber bands, hair spray, shampoos, combs, brushes, hair pins, bobby pins, styling gel, hair pieces and scissors. I was an expert at doing my own ballet buns, French rolls, pig tails, pony tails, pixie bangs, flips, spit curls, big curls and long sexy hair styles – à la Veronica Lake. At one point, I was ironing my hair on the ironing board trying to make it hang straight. Whatever worked at that moment. Whatever would get me the job. Whatever would help me keep the job.

Photographic print: Dancer Francine M. Storey, Headshot, New York, NY, circa 1960s. Courtesy Francine M. Storey. Photograph by Martin. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

However, all of my personal hair tricks were not necessary when, in 1966, I became a Copa Girl at the legendary Copacabana nightclub. The Copa required that all Copa Girls wear The COPA HAIR do, which was hair swept up into large, round and firm curls on top of your head affectionately called a Beehive.

Scrapbook page: Photographic print & nightclub flyer; (top) Francine M. Storey (Standing, 2nd in from right) & performers, in costume, backstage, the Copacabana nightclub, New York, NY, circa 1966s. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

To maintain this glamorous hair style, The Copa sent us everyday, all expenses paid, to the Larry Matthew’s Beauty Salon at the Great Northern Hotel on W. 57th Street. Larry Matthews was New York City’s famous chain of 24 hour a day beauty salons. In the city that never slept, they never closed and since they never closed, there was never any rush unless you were rushed.

Refreshments were served. No matter what time you arrived, the stylists embraced you. They looked at you. They discussed your hair color. Mine was a dark brunette. They discussed your eyebrows, but since Liz Taylor didn’t pluck her eyebrows, I didn’t pluck mine. They discussed your eye make-up and eyelashes. How can your eyes look bigger? By wearing double eye lashes and extending your black eyeliner out towards your temples. They discussed your lips. What could be done to enhance them? No Botox then. Try Revlon’s Fire and Ice lipstick outlined with a darker color and made more luscious by a provocative lip gloss. Stylists massaged your head, shoulders, back, arms and hands and they gossiped! “Where did you go in-between shows? Did you go to Danny’s Hideaway or the Playboy Club or Jilly’s? Where are you taking Dance Classes now? June Taylor, Richard Thomas, Ballet Arts, Luigi’s or Matt Mattox. Who are you dating? Anyone new? Is he attractive in all the right places? Is he married or single and, most importantly, is he rich? Does he pick you up in a limo? Does he give you cab fare? Or is he your high-school sweetheart?”

Photographic print: Dancers (from foreground) Susan Sigrist; unknown; Juanita Boyle; Francine M. Storey; unknown, dressing room, Minsky’s Follies, Marine Dining Room, Edgewater Beach Hotel, Chicago, IL, circa 1960s. Courtesy Francine M. Storey. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

My own personal stylist was an extremely handsome blonde guy named Sergai. He lavished enormous amounts of time on my curls. He slowly wound each curl on his magical fingers and placed it carefully on top of my head. It took me years to realize that he was probably stoned. Sometimes, after a wash, I sat under the big metal helmet hair dryers and closed my eyes while having my fingernails and toenails manicured. Notice I said, “under the dryers” because blow drying hair in salons was still a novelty. One Copa Girl thought it was a dirty joke. “Hey,” she said, “did you hear that they’re ‘blow drying’ your hair in the Village!” Anyway, the whole experience at Larry Matthews was heavenly.  I relaxed. I stopped worrying about my future and when I would meet Mr. Right, I became addicted. I was convinced that if I went to the beauty salon, everything would be ok.

After my stint at The Copa ended, I continued to go to Larry Matthews Beauty Salons for the rest of my theatrical career and beyond.  Larry Matthews helped me to get jobs on Broadway, at Jones Beach, in Minsky’s, in TV Commercials, at Hair Shows and exercise studios and even at Bloomingdales spritzing perfume. True, it wasn’t free anymore, but it was always reasonable. And it was always relaxing. No therapists needed. At one point, I even sported a fashionable Afro but the perms took a toll on my hair. At another point, I cut my hair very short in the Gamine style inspired by the famous French Ballerina, Zizi Jeanmaire.

Photographic print: Dancer Francine M. Storey, backstage, costume, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, NY, circa 1960s. Courtesy Francine M. Storey. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

As the years went by, Larry Matthews salons began to close down as other trendy hairdressers and salons came onto the scene. I occasionally modeled for stylists at these new salons and got a reduced fee, or a free haircut. But one memorable day, I went to a salon which had advertised for models and I was rudely rejected. They said that I didn’t have the right type of hair for them, and it was then that I quietly realized that I was no longer a Copa Girl or a Latin Quarter showgirl or any kind of “Girl” at all. I was a middle aged woman. True, I was still getting my color done at the Revlon labs for free, but they always allowed for an age range.  Other older show-biz types were going to beauty schools, which always needed customers. I went and they were fine, but it was hard to get an appointment when you needed one.     Finally, after getting married and divorced, I got a very good job at the Metropolitan Opera where I worked long hours and I needed to find a Beauty Salon close to Lincoln Center. Enter SUPERCUTS!  They were courteous, efficient and cheap. They weren’t relaxing, but then, I didn’t have time to relax anymore. However, because of intensive competition, they too began closing their doors.

Well, I’m retired now and entering my 8th decade and the Crowning Glory of my hair is, as the poet TS Eliot said, “growing thin.” It also grows very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that I only need go to the beauty salon three times a year. And, because of the Covid lockdown, my old salon closed down, but my stylist, Jolie, moved to a great new salon on Columbus Avenue that has an astounding decor of white marble floors, mirrored walls and a diamond disco ball hanging from the ceiling. Pure glitz! But, in spite of its disco atmosphere, most of the cliental are over 40. Jolie is a lovely woman with children, but I rarely discuss my past with her because I’d have to explain too much. And it’s not relaxing. You must arrive exactly on time and leave exactly on time. That means only one hour for shampoo, cut, and blow dry. Thank god, there’s always some kind of gossip! Last visit, Jolie told me that the shiny long black hair of the younger woman sitting next to me was all hair implants and had cost a fortune. I was stunned. Of course, my appointment isn’t free either. The salon’s prices are average by today’s standards but still, with tips, it comes to almost $100.00. And, if I decide to change my color to platinum grey, it will be another $100 or more!

Digital photograph: Dancer, Writer, Francine M. Storey, Greenwich Village Film Festival, New York, NY, 2018. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

As the new age gurus teach us, I do have choices. I occasionally use some of my old personal hair tricks and cut my hair myself. It doesn’t look too bad, but I’ve lost my knack. Or I could bus it over to the last SUPERCUTS in town where the senior rate is $26.46 plus tip, or I could join another retired friend who goes to a salon in Chinatown where the whole process of wash, cut and blow dry, which was $28.00 plus tip has now inflated to $36.00 plus tip. Very cheap, but cheap doesn’t work for me anymore. Too much running around wears me out and I still need a little touch of glamor. What I need is to find an inexpensive fashionista beauty salon where I can hang out, and just for a while, relax and get lost in a dazzling reverie of handsome beauticians, big curls, dance classes, singing classes, dressing rooms, double eye-lashes, French-cut leotards, g-strings, pouty lips, sequined costumes, body paint, rhinestone jewelry, live music and dancing in the bright lights for happy audiences. Because, in spite of being a senior citizen, I’m still a Copa Girl at heart.

This article was written by dancer, writer, Francine M. Storey. Copyright June 28, 2022. To learn more about Francine’s life and career, watch her oral history video here.


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 stairs for $2.00.

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, 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.

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 again (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. (Trivia – Milton Berle would stand on the corner for hours joking to anyone who would listen).  The store was very busy after midnight when the show-folk would stop to buy make-up and hang out.

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.


A Dancer’s Life: Meet Mollie Fennell Numark, Part II

Paper program page: The Latin Quarter nightclub, featuring impresario Lou Walters supervising auditions in Paris and London, circa 1950s. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright laws.

I took the train with Betty [fellow dancer from Aladdin. See Part I of this article series] to London.  We arrived at the Prince of Whales Theatre where the auditions were to be held. Walking into a mob of female dancers, we thought we had a fat chance of getting the job. All morning groups of girls had to walk and stand on stage, and audition for Lou Walters. A few were asked to stay, and the rest dismissed. It was our turn, we were asked to stay and come back tomorrow with music to dance.

Lou Walters was a nightclub producer and impresario who staged shows at nightclubs in Boston (c. 1937-55), New York City (1942-1968), and Palm Island (1939-1959). He also produced touring shows that traveled across the United States. Mr. Walters would regularly travel to Paris and London to look for talent to bring back to his clubs in the U.S.

The call for dancers to audition was to go to Miami for three months, and it sounded very good, 30 pounds a week, round-trip transportation, hotel accommodations. I thought “Three months. Why not?” The tryouts lasted three days. Hundreds of girls were there. I mean, you can imagine – we’ve just come through a war, and now we have a chance to go to Miami, it sounded pretty good.

The next day I had to tap dance and was asked to come back the following day. Betty didn’t make it. I was so upset and thought we would travel together. She encouraged me to return the next day.

I noticed a girl waiting in the seats and said, “Oh! You are still here too.” It was Thelma Baker Sherr.

I didn’t see her again until we were on the ship. We had to dance for a choreographer all together and someone took our information. Then we were told we would receive a contract. So, I was chosen, but to go there was going to be almost another year. In the meantime, the John Tiller group asked me if I would go back to London and be in another show.  I contacted Mum and Dad and they were so excited about Miami, they put an article in the Blackpool paper.

Paper program page: London Laughs production featuring Jimmy Edwards, Vera Lynn and the Tiller Girls, the Adelphi Theatre, London, England, 1952. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

A few weeks later I received the contract for America which was months away. Aladdin ended and Tiller offered me a contract for the Adelphi to be a John Tiller girl. London Laughs was the production. I was thrilled to be going back to London and to join the famous John Tiller Girls. John Tiller created precision dancing in 1890. Decades later, New York’s Rockettes were heavily influenced by the John Tiller Girls. The first day of rehearsals I climbed the stairs into the rehearsal hall and there was my Tiller friend from Blackpool. “Irene!” I yelled. “Mollie”, she replied.

The first rehearsal began. I was not used to a kick line and wrenched my ankle. Irene helped me down the stairs and met me next morning helping me up again. I knew I had found a true friend. My digs were in Brixton a bus ride away. There were other theatre people living there, a comedian and a girl from ballet school in Blackpool who was a dancer at the Leicester Square theatre.

The show was with the famous Vera Lynn. Our opening number was a Covent Garden scene. The Tiller kick line was called Black and White. It was grueling performance with all different kicks. One night I was in pain with stomach cramps. When we exited someone gave me a shot of brandy so I could finish the show.  The finale was a tribute to George M. Cohan, Give My Regards to Broadway. There was one lift up to the dressing rooms and reserved for the stars, not us girls who sometimes after our kick routine used to crawl up the stairs.  I complained, and was in trouble until Vera Lynn heard and said, “Of course the girls can use the lift.” She was a true lady.

Irene and I sat next to each other in the dressing room, and one day she said she had met a chap at a party. His name was David English. On rain free days I would save some bus fare and walk part way to the theatre through my favorite park, St. James. With a great view of The Palace and the lake had different kinds of water birds and gardens full of flowers. In my digs we couldn’t use the bathtub, we had to wash in a sink which was difficult because we wore leg makeup. I used to ask the female stage management to let me use the theatre tub. She allowed me to arrive early some days and take a soak. I was fond of my landlady and her husband, Ethel and Charlie Penn a good cockney couple. When I lived in the States, I kept in touch with them for years and visited with Marshall [my husband] when we were in London.

Irene and David decided on a summer wedding in South Hampton. Irene asked me to be her Maid of Honor. Most of the Tiller girls and I took an early train down to the wedding, English style, Minister, photos a toast and refreshments. Then back on the train with the bride for the evening performance. David used to joke he went on a honeymoon by himself.

Promotional postcard: Comedy duo Tony Rayne and David Evans. Image source: Google search. Image subject to copyright laws.

Soon after their wedding David bought a flat in Kent and they would invite me for a weekend. We had great times walking down the country lanes and spending evenings talking about world events. David was busy ghost writing and working for The Daily Mail.

Fayne and Evans was a famous radio and theatre comedy act. Vera Lynn had a morning show with the two comedians. It was fun to attend and watch behind the scenes of a wireless broadcast show.

David English asked Irene and me if we would like to be newspaper models for The Daily Doctor series of The Daily Mail with pay. Off we went every morning to model for the sketch artist often wearing each other’s ration book clothes trying to make them look different in each newspaper. Also, we modeled for Blighty Magazine. We were glad of the extra pay because we only earned eight pounds a week for two shows a night, six days a week.

It was fall and London was hit with a killer fog. It crept into the theatre during a performance, and we couldn’t continue. I hopped onto my bus which only traveled a few miles and stopped. Policemen stood on the streets directing people to hold onto walls or railings. I finally found my digs and Mrs. Penn screamed when she opened the door. I was black with soot. London shut down for three days until the killer fog lifted. Hundreds died and the following year when I was in America another deadly fog hit London and thousands died. Burning coal in home fireplaces was banned.

Paper program detail: Opening number for London Laughs production, Adelphi Theatre, London, England, 1952. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

My happy time at the Adelphi was coming to a close and I had to visit The American Embassy in Grosvenor Square for a Visa to the States. My last night on stage was one I’ll never forget especially the finale, Give My Regards to Broadway.  The stagehands and Tiller girls had collected some money and gave it to me after the finale for my adventure.

I took the train home for a few days with my family and Mum had a small party for my upcoming 21stbirthday. The Crook family came and a few of my Blackpool dance friends. I received a 5 pounds note from Mum and Dad, which to them was a paycheck. They had bought me a large cabin trunk for the ship. They must have watched an old Hollywood movie. Nobody traveled that way anymore. I kissed everyone goodbye and said I’ll see you in three months which was the length of my contract.

Photochrome postcard: The SS Liberté ship arriving in New York City harbor, New York, NY, 1952. Source, Google image search.

I stayed at my landlady’s overnight and boarded the boat train to South Hampton for the ship named The Liberté which the French had captured from the Germans at the end of the war. There were many of us going to the Latin Quarter, fourteen English girls, eight French Can-can dancers and their manager, the French Chailvel Trio acrobatic act, a male drag performer and a Turkish belly dancer Nejla Ates (I had never seen a belly dancer before performing at the Latin Quarter and she was amazing).

We were told we had to board a tender boat to reach the ship which was out at sea. I sat next to one of the girls and lit a cigarette when someone called us for a photo shot. She didn’t want to go so I asked her to hold my fag. The girl was Sally Mills. She was a dancer in a show at the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square.  We approached the ship which was enormous from the small boat. I asked Sally how we would get on board.

She said, “They throw down a rope ladder.” I asked, “How do I get my luggage up?” She replied, “You put it under one arm and climb with the other.” The side of The Liberté’ opened. We walked onto the ship. November 14, 1952.

I was given the top bunk in a tiny cabin with two English girls and my luggage took up too much space. We were told to go to the Life Guard Station when the bell rang. My roommates said it wasn’t’ necessary, so I didn’t go. We all met for the evening meal and were shocked to know we were in Steerage Third class. We saw the poor immigrants seated on long tables in the bowel of the ship. One of the girls said she would speak to the purser about getting us moved to Cabin Class.  I made friends with Sally [Mills, dancer], Moya [McCormack, dancer] and Thelma [Baker Sherr, dancer] and we stayed together during the voyage.

We were told we could move into Cabin Class if all the performers would put on a show for the passengers. Everyone agreed and we moved. Being green I went to the Purser’s office to send a telegram to Mum and Dad and my friend David Evans. I told them I wasn’t’ sea sick. When I was told how much it cost me, I did feel sick. It was almost the five pounds I was allowed to bring. Too late. I couldn’t’ reverse the telegrams.

On the third sailing day the storm hit with force. There was no more talk of putting on a show. Sailors came into our cabin and tied up the drawers in the chest and ropes were installed on the staircases to hold onto. The curtains in the cabin stood out as the ship rolled. To sleep, I had to tuck my feet under the rail of the bunk to stop falling out. In the dining room the waiters walked like Charlie Chaplin and tables had metal tops to put dishes in. The gift shop on one deck collapsed and one afternoon we went to a writing room with musicians playing. Some chairs fell down, the ship lurched, and a violinist fell across the room trying to hold onto his violin.

We tried to watch a movie about the sinking of a ship, The Kon Tiki. I bolted from the room holding my mouth and just made the cabin before vomiting. No one was permitted outside so we took a look from one of the windows to witness enormous holes in the ocean and a water sky. It was terrifying so we returned to our cabins. The storm was a hurricane and written in the English newspapers that two ships were caught in the storm. Poor Mum read about it in the newspaper. The storm lasted until the day before arriving in New York and we were too seasick to go on deck to see The Statue of Liberty.

Sally and I were the only ones left on the dock and everyone else had been met. I had to wait for my suitcase to come up from the hold of the ship, but I had my cabin trunk. Stupid me. I told Sally I would love a cup of tea. She asked me if I had any money. I said, “No.” Sally’s reply, “Well, I guess you can’t have a cup of tea, can you?”

Finally, someone from the Latin Quarter arrived and took us to a crummy hotel on 42nd street. We were impressed with Yellow cabs after the classy cabs in London and checked into the hotel. Sally had some money because she was smart. I had given all my money to Mum. She bought a loaf of bread and some butter, and that was our first meal in fabulous America. For the next few days Sally paid my food and I kept an account how much I owed. We ate many meals in The Automat for pennies.

My right leg started to be painful. Sally said it looked infected and she lent me money to see a doctor. My Small Pox vaccination had become infected and I had to visit a doctor’s office for almost a week.

Rehearsals started on stage at the Latin Quarter in Times Square. The choreographer was a tiny Russian woman, Miss [Natalie] Kamerover. She would say, “Do me such a step.” We would show her something and she would use it.

Photographic print: Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub exterior, Palm Island, Miami, FL, circa 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In December, we boarded a train for Miami, sleeping in our seats. On arrival we were mesmerized looking through the window at people dressed in bright colorful clothes. We were not in London anymore. We were taken to Palm Island and the Latin Quarter. Our digs were in a large dormitory in a building across from the night club along with scorpions and tarantula spiders. We were shocked to see racist signs in Miami – “Black” beach or “White Only.”

Photographic print: Stage production with singer Ralph Young (center), dancer Mollie Fennell and other performers, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, Palm Island, Miami, FL, 1953. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Newspaper clipping: Thelma Baker Sheer highlighted in unknown publication, circa late 1950s, early ’60s. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive. Image subject to copyright laws.

I was in a room with two American girls along with Sally, Thelma (formerly a Television Toppers dancer of early British TV), Moya (Who became one of our Dance Captains at the Latin Quarter), and Billy True. We unpacked our clothes to hang on a rack. The American girls hung beautiful cocktail dresses, and looked at our ration book clothes and said, “Is that all you brought?”

We were told never to go down the palm tree lined road from the club and heard Al Capone had lived there in a large mansion. It was probably now used by the Miami mafia because they were everywhere. One of the American girls would disappear some nights and we found out that was where she spent some evenings.

Rehearsals started in the club with a stage that lighted through the floor and a ceiling that opened at night to see the stars. The De Castro Sisters were also in the show along with acts from the ship.

Opening night, I was a nervous wreck never having performed so close to an audience. It bothered me to see people eating while we were performing, but I had to get used to it. We were told to mingle with the customers in between shows. We were furious and would sit in The Mademoiselle Room listening to strolling violinists and order scrambled eggs. The only thing we could afford. If we needed any food we had to pay for it in the club. We were told to join the AGVA union, even though some of us were Equity members.

Photographic print: Dancer Mollie Fennell and adagio dancer Francois Szony, in costume backstage, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, Palm Island, Miami, FL, 1953. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

One day I complained about having to mingle [with the patrons]. The next day, Lou Walters, [the impresario of the Latin Quarter locations] came into the dressing room glaring in my direction. He threatened to send me back to England without a passage. We continued to eat our eggs and ignored the customers who were mafia types.

Moya had a terrible experience. She had refused to go out with one guy and had an ice bucket poured over head in the lounge. We quickly took her to our room, and I spoke to our manager. He said he didn’t see a thing even though he was standing nearby.

I was asked to dine one night and was tired of eggs, so I said yes. The dinner was delicious, and I went back to the dressing room and one of the showgirls told me I had dined with the White Russian and Charlie, The Blade, fresh out of Sing Sing Prison. Scrambled eggs tasted delicious after that mafia experience.

Gloria Swanson came in the dressing room one night following her successful movie, Sunset Boulevard. She took a photo with all the girls.

Photographic print: Actor Gloria Swanson backstage with dancer Mollie Fennell and other Latin Quarter cast, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter, Palm Island, Miami, FL, 1953. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Our next destination was Las Vegas for six weeks. Mr. Walters flew the American girls, and we were put into cars with the French act. We drove across country. I was with Moya in The Chailvel’s car, dragging a boat behind us. Walters gave us $3.00 a day to travel. Sally was in a car with a French singer who only had a driving license for a few weeks and she started driving over a Mississippi bridge the wrong way.

What a trip. The cars would only stop when they needed gas and we had to use outhouses. Some of the cheap motels were near railroad crossings and the building would shake like a Lucille Ball television episode. Traveling through mountains round bends one could see grave markers down the side of the mountains, and we had to look to see if the boat was still behind us.

Paper program: Latin Quarter Revue, Parisian Mardi Gras production, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, Desert Inn, Las Vegas, NV, 1953. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

We arrived in Vegas days later, walked into the Desert Inn and told the manager who we were. He took one look at dirty tired dancers and shook his head. We found a motel room opposite the Sands Hotel. Moya, Sally, Thelma, and I took up housekeeping. The Desert Inn was famous in those days with a beautiful stage and of course a gambling casino. We would watch gamblers lose their money between shows. Everyone dressed well in those days, so we had to buy a cocktail dress.

Paper program insert: Latin Quarter Revue, Parisian Mardi Gras production, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, toured Las Vegas, NV and St. Louis, MO, 1953. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate

We liked Vegas better than the mafia Miami except for the sand storms and Moya making us sweep the sand out of our rooms. Vegas was full of stars. We would see Frank Sinatra every day and when at the Sands swimming pool we sat near Van Johnson. The desert was beautiful and stretched out to the mountains. Sometimes with friends we would drive up the mountains, get snowballs and drive back hoping they wouldn’t’ melt.

The day before we left for St. Louis, I started to vomit in the dressing room. Management sent me to the hospital, and it was Cowboy Week in Vegas, and all the doctors were dressed in cowboy outfits. One doctor said I had appendicitis and should have an operation, when he left the room, I jumped out of bed to join the girls.

Our next venue in St. Louis was at The Chase Hotel. This time Walters put us on a plane which looked like an ex-military machine. One of the girls gave Sally and me a sleeping pill to survive the trip and we woke up hours later to discover we hadn’t left the ground.

Again, we roomed together, and I was given a Murphy Bed. One rehearsal night the girls found me asleep in the Murphy Bed inside the wall. We were invited to go horseback riding one day. My horse bolted through the woods, and I had to lie flat so not to have my head chopped off.

The hotel was crazy. We had to walk through the kitchen to reach the stage. Waiters were carrying trays yelling, “Hot stuff.”

Photographic print: Dancer Mollie Fennell in costume backstage, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, NY, circa early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Sally and Thelma decided to return to London after St. Louis. My contract was renewed for New York [the Latin Quarter Times Square location] with Moya and we decided to stay. I went on the ship to say goodbye to my friends, felt seasick and was sad to see them go, but I did want to try Broadway. Moya and I checked into a small hotel near the statue of Grant. Our one room had a cupboard with a hot plate, and one window which looked onto a brick wall. We had to sit on the windowsill and lean out to see the sky. It was a nightmare during the hot months. The Latin Quarter was large, and our dressing room was up a winding spiral staircase with one toilet. Our costumes were beautiful, and we were sent for fittings to the costume factory.

We had two shows a night and three on Saturday. The audience was always in evening dress with waiters and captains also in formal wear. Sophie Tucker was the star. One of her quotes was, “I have been poor, and I have been rich. Rich is better.” Her dressing room was near the stage. She never said hello to any of us.

The Can-can was the main dance and it was fun especially as we could yell during the dance. I began to enjoy the work having the freedom to express one’s self on stage after the regiment of English theatre.

I volunteered to be the swing girl for an extra $15.00 a week, which means you learn everyone’s place on stage and work seven days a week.

Photographic print: Latin Quarter dancers Mollie Fennell (left) and June Day, Las Vegas, NV, 1953. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I met June Day from Canada. June sat near me in the dressing room. She was a well-trained dancer who became a lifelong treasured friend.  She had danced at The Riviera in New Jersey before joining the Quarter, and she lived in the same hotel.

One Saturday after three shows, Walters booked us for a benefit at The Waldorf Astoria. We were to dance the Can-can. Halfway through, my shoe flew off and landed in someone’s dinner and I had to continue with one shoe on and one off.

David English used to send me money to buy Irene dresses because England was still rationed. I could buy her beautiful dresses for $15.00 on Broadway.

We had many stars in the shows. Jane Morgan was a favorite and I was chosen to be featured during her act. Walters asked me to do a fill in one day to dance alongside a pianist while scenery was changed. No rehearsal, no choreography. He made me go on stage.

Photographic print: (Left to right) Dancer Terry Dee, Singer/Entertainer Jane Morgan, dancer Mollie Fennell, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, NY, circa early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Photograph by Pat Rich. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

One evening Elizabeth Taylor was seated center ringside. I was eye-to-eye staring into her violet eyes. Corky, our captain, dancer Jane Freed and I were chosen for a photo in Lou Walters’ office, and we were featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Magazine Article Photograph: Lou Walters with Latin Quarter dancers Corky Baysinger, Janie Thomas and Mollie Fennell, Lou Walters office, New York, New York, circa early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In one number with the showgirls and male dancers I was dressed in a green gown trimmed in fur. At some point the boys had to unzip the gowns and we were revealed in a semi nude outfit. The zipper stuck one night. I froze and didn’t know what to do. “Don’t just stand there. Do something!”, one of the boys yelled. I’m sure the audience heard him and looked at me parading around in a broken gown with a red face.

Magazine Article Photograph: Latin Quarter dancers take to the stage, Mollie Fennell (far left, green gown), Lou Walters office, New York, New York, circa early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Barbara Walters spent many evenings backstage. We befriended her sister, Jackie [Walters], who had a learning disability. She would spend time in our dressing room, and we would teach her songs and rhymes. Barbara Walters and Roy Cohn the lawyer during the McCarthy Hearings were on friendly terms backstage. We would wonder who would be next after careers of famous performers were damaged. Orson Wells, Lena Horne, Lee Grant, Charlie Chaplin and many more.

Paper program page: Dancers Mollie Fennell (3rd in from left, foreground/Tulip costume) Sally Mills (4th in from left/black costume), and cast on stage, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, NY, circa early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I used to mail The Daily Worker newspaper to my friend David English who was a well-known English reporter because he needed to know what was happening in America. I wondered if I would be next on The McCarthy hot seat.

Moya left to marry in Miami, and I moved into dancer Chris Carter’s apartment because she wanted to go back to Vegas and onto Hollywood. She had two cats and roaches. You can imagine how miserable I was. She did well and we saw her dance in the movie Can-Can with Shirley MacLaine. I moved into a brownstone house somewhere in the 70s. I had a one room walkup.

Photographic print: (Left to right) Dancers Dale Strong, Mollie Fennell and Chis Carter, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, NY, circa early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Photograph by Pat Rich. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Sally wrote to ask if she could get her job back with the Latin Quarter because she had married Hugo and they were immigrating to the States. Lou Walters gave her a job then told many of us we were to go to Vegas again at the Desert Inn. I had arranged to room with June Day before Sally arrived, so Sally roomed with another girl. After six weeks we returned to New York, and I moved in with Sally and Hugo to save us money.

Paper program detail: Made in France production, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, NY, early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Copy of photographic print: Dancer Mollie Fennell on stage, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, NY, early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Mae West arrived in the show. One of her quotes was, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” We would come down our spiral staircase and were greeted by the boys in her act flexing their muscles trying to impress us. We had many stars such as Pearl Bailey, Johnnie Ray, The Andrew Sisters, Buddy Hackett, and Joey Bishop from Sinatra’s Rat Pack. One night we were thrilled to hear The Shah of Iran was in the club with his Queen Soraya. We could see him on the balcony in his glittering uniform. We thought they were the most handsome couple we had ever seen. Another time, management caught a man who had been living in the attic of the club because chicken bones would fall from the ceiling into the club in the morning.

The whole show was booked to appear on The Colgate Comedy Hour. For most of us it was our first time in front of television cameras. We were excited to experience this new medium. Jane Morgan had to put fabric into her gowns because they were too low-cut. Now we see TV anchors with plunging necklines. We were in a few dances from the Quarter, and I was with dancer Terry Dee, and singer Johnnie Ray in his Walking My Baby Back Home.

There were three of us chosen to be on the CBS Morning Show with host Will Rogers, Jr. I remember he was a funny little man and used to quote his father, “Everyone talks about the weather, and nobody does anything about it.”

Television paid well and the broadcast also aired in California, so we had a double salary. My parents, sister Pat and Binty our dog emigrated in 1954 and settled in Connecticut. I was thrilled to be reunited with my family and with the money from television I was able to buy my parents their bedroom furniture.

Photographic print: On stage, Mollie Fennell (center) and cast, Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub, New York, NY, circa early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Photograph by Pat Rich. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I married and stayed at the Latin Quarter until 1957. Then left to start a family and raise my two beautiful daughters. I followed with my career in dance arts teaching The Royal Academy of Dance and The Imperial Society, in New Jersey for 30 years. Sally Mills joined the school as the tap and acrobatic teacher.  I’m now a life-time member of RAD. My two daughters, Lesley and Dana trained with RAD and ISTD exams and danced in many local shows. One student of mine went on to open her own studio in Evanston, Illinois. Beatrix “Béa” Rashid’s Dance Center Evanston is one of the largest schools in the Chicago area.  I also choreographed local musicals in my area, such as GypsyJohn Travolta was one of my boy dancers in that production.  He would come early to rehearsals and ask, “How do I get into showbiz.” I told him to go to New York City and take every class he could get, and he did. The next thing I knew he was in a Broadway show with The Andrew Sisters. Another student Monica Reiner,  went on to perform in A Chorus Line. So, when you visit a theatre or a performance remember, there are stories behind the makeup.

I owe my career to my mum, The Royal Academy of Dance, Miss Annette Schultz [Blackpool dance director, See Part I] and my dance teachers.

End of Part II

Part I in this article series: https://www.johnhemmerarchive.org/a-dancers-life-meet-mollie-fennell-numark-part-i/

This article was edited in collaboration with Mollie Fennell Numark and the John Hemmer Archive in 2021. It based on Mollie’s 2017 memoir, Looking Through My Window and from a 2018 live presentation at the Shelter Island Public Library in Shelter Island, New York. Part II is the last installment in this article series, A Dancer’s Life: Meet Mollie Fennell Numark.

A Dancer’s Life: Meet Mollie Fennell Numark, Part I

Born in England at the onset of The Great Depression, Mollie Fennell Numark embarked upon a dancer’s life under unlikely circumstances. Shaped by experiences from a world faced with vast uncertainty, her disciplined career brought her from the great stages of England to the most renowned American nightclubs of the mid-20th century. Mollie remembers her emersion into theatre and the artform’s perseverance to entertain despite wartime dangers, and coming to the United States with the hopes and dreams that a country in peacetime promised.


Mollie Fennell Numark: During the year of 1939 my sister and I were very young and were hearing adults talking about a war. We lived in England. Europe and America had been living through an economic depression since the Stock Market crash in New York on October 1929. The 1930s dawned with the bleak reality of the Great Depression. Neville Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1937-1940. His name is associated with the policy “Appeasement” toward Germany. In the years before the World War II, he tried to detach Italy from Germany with an Anglo-Italian agreement of April 16th, 1938. The Munich agreement from September 30th, conceded Hitler all of his demands and left Czechoslovakia defenseless. Chamberlain returned a hero after his visits with Hitler, quoting, “Peace in our time”. During this period, we would hear Mum and Dad say “the war is on”, “the war is off”. We were thinking it was some sort of game they were all playing.

Black & white print: Fennell family portrait, left to right, George, Mollie, Pat and Sibyl, Blackpool, England, circa early 1940s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

When Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia on March 15th, 1939, the appeasement was over. The Germans attacked Poland on the 1st of September. Our fateful day arrived on September 3rd, 1939, when Great Britain declared war on Germany.

Photochrome postcard: Blackpool Tower, Blackpool England, circa 1940s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws.

As soon as Dad heard the news, he asked Mum for any available money we had in the house. I had to empty my savings box. He took the collection and bought canned food at the store across the street. I’m sure it wasn’t very much, but we appreciated his quick thinking in anticipation of further hard times ahead.

It seemed that overnight the local factories turned into making munitions. Workers in certain jobs were put into these factories including Dad. He went to the one in the next street where we used to buy lollipops when it was a sweet factory.

Every house was instructed to tape up all windows as a precaution against broken glass. Curtains and drapes had to be made of black material and hung in every window. The whole country went into a blackout for the next 6 years. Street lights were kept off. Every night wardens would patrol the streets and yell, “Put that light out!” if they saw a chink of light anywhere.

My hometown was Blackpool, in Lancashire county in North West England. It’s famous Blackpool Tower was built in 1854 and remains to this day. Inside the Tower is a classic Ballroom and a Circus with all Victorian architecture, as well as an Aquarium, Aviary and Menagerie. The Zoo and Aviary were regarded as one of the finest collections in the country for some time, and included lions, tigers, and monkeys.  The music heard from the Tower ballroom came from a Wurlitzer, and it’s been playing for many, many years. An amazing instrument. It sounds like an orchestra. The Tower became a significant part of my youth and influenced the course my life took.

Black & white print: Mollie Fennell, Blackpool, England, circa late 1930s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

As a child, I was sick for two years, which made me a physical wreck. At about five or six years old, my long illness of ear troubles began. It started with an ear ache, and antibiotics didn’t exist. I developed a mastoid and needed an operation behind the ear.  The bone had to be removed. It was a very dangerous procedure because of it being close to the brain. The whole period is a blur of pain. During those couple of years, I was in and out of the Victoria, and Infectious Disease Hospital. The operations were a nightmare, fighting the ether mask as it was put over my face and going under with a terrible noise pounding in my ear. I wasn’t even able to attend school. I was also a little knock-kneed and pigeon-toed as a kid. If we were off for a walk, my mother would walk behind me, yelling, “Mollie, turn your feet out,” and I’d walk smack into a lamppost. In response to this problem, my mother enrolled me into the Theatre Arts School in Blackpool, which taught the Royal Academy of Dance and ISTD theatre [Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing].

Not long after starting at the school, a ballet teacher told me that I should start walking on the outsides of my feet to strengthen them. My sister said I looked like a penguin gone wrong. While learning to dance at the Theatre Arts School, World War II was in full force in the United Kingdom. One of the many horrific aspects of the war included the Blitz, which was a strategic aerial bombing campaign designed by the Germans to attack and destroy industrial cities in England during 1940 and 1941. Even after 1941, I remember carrying gas masks in a box to our dance lessons.

The Tower Ballroom, a Victorian style venue, is where I started my dance career. Today, it’s the international venue for ballroom dancing competitions throughout the whole of Europe. And the music, you see the white instruments in the middle on the stage, that’s the Wurlitzer, where you heard that music. And there are two little doors on side of the stage, we would come out from those doors onto the dance floor.

Photochrome postcard: The Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, England, postcard dated 2003. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws.

After years of taking ballet and tap exams [at the Theater Arts School], I was asked by the director, Annette Schultz, if I would like to be in the Tower Children’s Ballet. You had to be twelve years old, and the show consisted of a hundred children from twelve to maybe fourteen. That was the tradition there for many decades which began in the early 1900s. We rehearsed in the Zoo area of the Tower. Miss Schultz used to scream at everybody, usually me. If you couldn’t get a step immediately, she’d always yell at somebody. She’d be screaming and the lions would be roaring trying to drown her out. That was what our rehearsals were like. It was pretty traumatic.

Paper program page: The Blackpool Tower Circus program, advertisement for The Blackpool Tower entertainment, Blackpool England, mid-1940s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In 1942 I was twelve years old, and it was my first show for the Children’s Ballet in the Tower. The traditional Christmas show was Jingle Bells, and it involved lots of dancing toys. My week’s pay was seven shillings and sixpence in an envelope. It was given to Mum and out of that amount I was given bus fare and on matinee days, money for a meal between shows. The only meal we could afford with rationing was beans on toast, mushrooms on toast, chips on toast, or peas and chips with a cup of tea. Dancers were always hungry.

Salute to Happiness was my first summer show. One scene was a beautiful white ballet to Chopin’s Minute Waltz. There was a little girl in the company who could play classical music, and there was a beautiful white piano on the ballroom floor. We were all dressed in gorgeous white tutus. We’re halfway through the performance and my frilly knickers, attached to my tutu came undone and started to slide down my legs. Well, try to do classical ballet with your knickers sliding down, it’s a little difficult, so I practically had my knees together trying to keep them up. And finally, they fell to the floor at the end of the music, so I stepped outside, picked them up and went off the stage, ran up the stairs and Miss Schultz grabbed me – and I thought I was a dead dancer.

These productions were staged as war raged on and we all faced daily reminders of its lurking danger. Sirens would go off nearly every night. That dreaded wailing sound gives me shivers even today when it’s used by the fire departments. When the nearby towns were being bombed, we would sleep under the staircase. We could always recognize the German planes flying overhead by their chugging sound if they were being chased after a raid. A street close our my house was bombed, as well as the local railway. People died. We played in the rubble later.

It was a challenge to be out at night with the continued blackouts. It was almost like having your eyes closed. Our town took in 2000 evacuees. All along our beach front in my hometown, steel poles were driven into the sand every few yards and put there to prevent ships from landing on our beaches. Gone were the donkey rides on the sands, the Punch-and-Judy show, the ice cream, and shrimp vendors. All street and direction signs were taken down throughout Britain in case we were invaded so the enemy wouldn’t know their way around. Neither did we.

Concrete barriers were built along the promenade. Air raid shelters were built in many streets and in the school yards. We were assigned to one in the next street, Selbourne Road where our neighbors the Crook family lived. During World War I, the Germans had used gas and the allies were afraid it might be used again, so everyone in each family had gas masks. The children’s masks were in the shape of Mickey Mouse in little square boxes with string attached to wear around the neck when leaving a building. During school hours we would have practice drills to try breathing in them. Dad found this very useful when pickling onions.

Paper ration book cover: Example of ration booklets distributed by the British Ministry of Food during World War II. Source Google image search. Image subject to copyright laws.

By 1944 the blackouts continued, and we were still on ration books. Ration books were small booklets given to everyone during and after wartime for shopkeepers to log individual purchases. This was done in order to ration certain foods and clothing that were scarce during the war years. Food items such as dairy products, meats and other goods were limited. Each person or family was only allowed so many of these products during a set period of time.

We were grateful that the air raids had ended. Unfortunately, the buzz bombs, also knowns as Vengeance Weapon Attacks were striking England. The German born engineer, Wernher von Braun, was the orchestrator of those V-2 rockets – buzz bombs (He would later develop rocket and space technology for the United States after surrendering to the Americans).

Churchill’s famous speeches from the underground War Rooms in Whitehall gave the people courage. STAY CALM AND CARRY ON. And so we did

The following winter the show was Christmas Cracker. The local paper review wrote, “A Christmas Cracker burst in The Tower Ballroom on Saturday afternoon and showered a hundred children into a forty minute cascade of song and dance.”  The finale was the arrival of Father Christmas in a sleigh drawn by reindeer dancers. Myself and a group of other girls dressed in blue skating costumes danced a ballet on roller skates. We were chosen because we could skate, having spent years roller skating up and down pavements in our home neighborhoods. After falling on our butts and knees many times we mastered the art. Once we heard the applause, we forgot the pain.

Spring 1945 finally arrived. The war was over in Europe and Britain. May 8th, 1945 was VE Day [Victory in Europe Day]. Germany was defeated. Dad took us out for dinner on the promenade. We were still on rations, and we probably ate beans on toast. No more blackout. Britain turned on the lights and Blackpool could have the famous Illuminations along the promenade and our munition workers left.

The last show I ever did at the Blackpool Tower signified the end of the war. The Tower summer show was called Over the Rainbow. Beneath the bells of peace, we danced our way through thunder, lightning, wind, and rain and into sunshine and a rainbow. We ended with The Sunny Side of the Street. The theme of the show was heartwarming and appropriate to celebrate the end of the war in Europe. September 2nd, 1945 the war in the Pacific was over and it was time for the world to recover from the horrors.

Colorized photographic print: Mollie Fennell in costume, the Children’s Ballet, Over the Rainbow production, Blackpool Tower, Blackpool, England, 1943. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

The costume pictured on the left here was for Over the Rainbow. I was a French girl dressed in red, white and blue and danced with other girls to Mademoiselle from Armentières. And the finale of that production was a salute to the Royal Navy.

The Pageant of Thanksgiving and Remembrance was in The Opera House with military dignitaries and armed forces in attendance. I was thrilled to be asked to represent Russia as one of the allies. My costume was magnificent, black and red with the Russian emblem on the front of the gown. A huge memorial was center stage and other girls from my ballet school were also dressed as the allies. There were regiments of British forces, choirs and prominent politicians. And that was my last show there. It was a tribute to the war and all the people who died as a result. It was a sad remembrance, but also beautiful.

Miss Schultz asked Mum if she would allow me to audition for the summer show at The Opera House. I couldn’t believe I could be in a number one show. Dad sat me down for a serious talk. He asked if I wanted to continue my education or leave school for show business. I didn’t have to think of the option. “Dad, I promise to work hard and keep studying dance if you will let me try for the show.” He wished me good luck.

I finished the Children’s Ballet at fourteen. The Opera House Theatre in Blackpool was part of another entertainment complex that included Winter Gardens. It’s a famous opera house, and Tom Arnold’s 1946 revue Starry Way, was my first show there. George Formby was the famous British comedian from stage and movies and was known for his ukulele and comedy songs. Joseph Locke the Irish tenor, opera star May Devitt and Mexican movie star Movita were also on the bill. Movita had survived a bombing of a row of houses when visiting a friend and awoke one morning to find an article in a newspaper saying she had survived.

The opening number was Stairway of Gold, which involved a staircase that slowly came down from the back of the stage. All of us girls were dressed in gold sequined military costumes with high plumed hats. For weeks we practiced with silver maces, which we learned to spin walking down a gigantic staircase slowly lowered from a flat wall onto the stage. We came down row after row, after row with those batons. Three other girls and I were chosen to be in the front of the wall at the beginning of the number. Then the three of us would exit and run backstage to climb the back steps and make our entrance with a line of girls and descend the staircase. One night, we just walked off the stage and it came down with a smack. It was so frightening. The poor man that was operating it, all his ribs were broken, and he had to go to the hospital. The stagehands pulled it back up again, and we ran around, and came down the staircase, smiling like nothing ever happened.

One number I can still remember was named Hot Chocolate. We had to jump out of a cup of hot chocolate and slide down a slide trying not to land on our bums. Joan Davies was the choreographer. An American dance act, The Hightowers were amazing. Robert Hightower, an ex-Broadway dancer had been a fighter pilot during the war and was shot down by the Japanese. He had stomach wounds, four broken ribs, a cracked skull and multiple injuries to his neck and arms. Doctors in America didn’t think he would live. With a silver plate in his head and a steel belt to protect his muscles, he was now dancing with his sister Marilyn to applauding audiences. Robert Hightower was what show people call, “a real trouper”.

One performance during the Venice scene, Joseph Locke was singing to the opera singer who was on a scenery balcony. We were dressing the scene when the balcony started to sway forward, he didn’t miss a note. Our mouths were ready to scream when some bright stagehand managed to pull the balcony back.

Blackpool had a hospital fundraiser every summer. All the shows were in the parade with parts of scenery on trucks and all the cast in costume. We would hold out containers and people would toss coins for the hospitals. I was thrilled to be in the event remembering how the hospitals had saved my life.

Miss Schultz told Mum I needed to be a full-time dance student. Mum said she couldn’t afford to pay the tuition. Miss Schultz offered to cover half the tuition if I would help with the younger classes. Before my Saturday classes I would help the dance teachers with the little ones.

I wanted to go with some of our dancers to other cities in a pantomime for the Christmas season. Dad said I couldn’t go until I passed The Elementary Ballet Exam, which is a membership exam for The Royal Academy of Dance. I took classes daily to be strong enough to take the exam. To my disappointment when it was time, Miss Schultz said I wasn’t ready. I was devastated. I think she was afraid I’d leave her. I didn’t take the exam until I was in the USA in 1972.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Mollie Fennell and cast, Red Riding Hood pantomime production, The Opera House Theatre, Blackpool, England, circa mid-1940s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

The next show at The Opera House was a pantomime. The pantomime shows were always around Christmas, and they were always a fairy tale adapted into a production. This one was Red Riding Hood. The stars were Joseph Locke, Sandy Powell and Beryl Reid. The choreographer asked for volunteers to do flying ballet. The British company called Kirby’s Flying Ballet was the same system used in Peter Pan. Us dancers were promised an extra ten shillings if we learned to fly. I put my hand up immediately. For this, you’d wear a harness with the wires behind you, and you have the Kirby men backstage pulling them. We’d fly across the stage as mystical figures over the ballet below. In rehearsals you would get dropped a few times but, you have to carry on.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Mollie Fennell (center back) and other dancers, Blackpool Tower Circus, Blackpool England, circa 1940s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright. Please do not appropriate.

The following summer Miss Schultz booked us in the Tower Circus as the Circusettes.  The circus that first opened in 1884, was a hippodrome style stage ring. The one-ring circus within the Tower is an amazing thing. During any production’s finale, the ring lowers and is filled with water, and a water spectacular unfolds. There was a distinct finish for every show. We rehearsed a roller skating ballet, which was more difficult than the one we did in the Children’s Ballet. Our costumes were blue satin with white roller boots. Every show started with a parade, and I was thrilled to lead some of the ponies into the ring. Of course, doing ballet in roller skates, it’s a little different experience. We fell down a lot, but as always, when you heard the applause, you’d forget the pain. It was lots of fun.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Mollie Fennell (left) and fellow dancer in costume, Every Time You Laugh, Winter Gardens, Blackpool England, circa mid-1940s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

My first show away from home was in Manchester at the Palace Theatre. It was a pantomime. The tradition of the pantomime is that the male role is played by a female and the comedy Dame a man’s role. We did an adaptation of Babes in the Woods based on the story of Robin Hood, and again I was flying. I remember our digs. The landlady didn’t know how to cook.

The next summer show was in 1947. I was booked at the Winter Gardens performing in Every Time You Laugh, starring Dave Morris, Nat Jackley and Joseph Locke. Produced by Robert Nesbitt. This time we had to learn to play castanets for The Lady of Spain number, which opened the second half of the show. It was fantastic and we were dressed in black lace Spanish gowns. One night, the singers were singing, and everything was happening as usual. The theatre had a fire curtain that came down at intermissions. One night after intermission, the fire curtain stuck and wouldn’t raise. The orchestra leader started and we were all standing backstage talking to each other and forgetting what we’re supposed to do. Suddenly up went the fire curtain, and we’re all still standing around talking to each other. The orchestra leader did not stop and start from the beginning again, so we had no idea where we were at in the music. The castanets are going and everybody’s singing in the wrong place. We all started to laugh.

Between rehearsals and performances, we would go to a café, The Palm Court for food. All the dancers from The Opera House, Winter Gardens and the London Tiller Girls would meet. The London girls wouldn’t have anything to do with us Northern girls. They were snobs except one Tiller Girl who would sit with me and chat. Her parents were Scots so that made a difference. Her name was Irene Manning, and she was a beautiful brunette, and we were friends forever.

Summertime I returned to the circus. In the water finale before the ring would lower and flood with water and fountains, I had to climb a ladder onto a huge whale and hold the reins as if it was swimming in water. Some of the girls appeared in large scallop shells while other girls swam in a water ballet. One performance I was walking by the polar bear cages and a bear grabbed my arm. A trainer managed to get the bear to let go of my arm. No harm done, I felt sorry for the bear in a cage.

In 1948 I was in a pantomime in Liverpool. It was Cinderella. I was to share digs with a girl named Monica, whose parents later in life sponsored my family to move to America. In the aftermath of the war, Liverpool streets were still piled with rubble from the Blitz. It was so bad in Liverpool, it was practically destroyed. We’d climb over the rubble with our ration books to get some food and take it to our landlady. Our digs had a broken window, and this is the dead of winter, stuffed in with a piece of cardboard and covered by moldy blinds. It was awful.

Cinderella with George Formby and his wife Beryl was a lavish show with ponies pulling the golden coach and I was in the flying ballet again. This time I had to spin from the stage up to the flys and somersault across the stage. One night my wires got caught on the scenery before I was supposed to land. Back and forth I flew across the stage yelling in the wings, “Get me down!” The orchestra kept playing the same piece of music and the audience followed me as if at a tennis match. The finale was the wedding scene, and we were Cinderella’s attendants.

We used to have Christmas Day off so we would catch the last train Christmas Eve to go home for the day. Most times we had to sleep on the floor of the train because the Army had all the seats.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Dance line, Mollie Fennell third in from right, Blackpool Tower Circus, Blackpool, England, 1948. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

For the Summer of 1948, I returned to The Tower Circus as one of the Circusettes again. Our director, Miss Schultz, always had brilliant ideas. One particular season, she put the small girls on trapezes and bareback horses, jumping on and off, doing ballet on the horses. I was grateful that I was too tall. Then she decided all the tall girls were going to learn to juggle. We started by learning to juggle with three hoops. The hoops would cut us between the thumb and the finger, and we bled all over the place. Finally, we said, “We can’t do this. This is awful. We’re bleeding to death.” It took a long while to persuade the director that we were not going to do this. In response, she ordered some new ones which were smooth, so we were able to use them. We continued to rehearse for weeks learning how to juggle. And it was all done in precision, and we’d have to throw a hoop to the girls, and they’d throw them back, and it was quite amazing once we perfected it.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Dancers performing, Blackpool Tower Circus, Blackpool, England, 1948. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In the circus I was asked to be a part of the famous clown Charlie Cairoli’s act. I had to be in a large box and wear a boxing glove and hit Charlie through an opening in the box. At the end, the box would open and I would parade across the circus ring. No extra pay, but at the end of the summer, Charlie gave me a five pound note and a bottle of perfume.

Left: Paper program cover featuring Charlie Cairoli. Right: Black & white gelatin silver print, Mollie Fennell in costume, Blackpool Tower Circus, Blackpool England, 1949. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Images subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In the water finale we looked like creatures from outer space because we were covered with silver sparkles over our skin and even our faces. We were listed as The Crystal Girls while the Colberg Christal Wonders performed their amazing acrobatics. It was hard to remove the silver sparkles at home with one bathroom and multiple boarders in the house.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Water finale, Blackpool Tower Circus, Blackpool, England, circa late 1940s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

The Circusettes and many performers from the Blackpool season were invited to perform in The Royal Command performance for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at The London Palladium in November of 1948. This was thrilling because if you’re in show business in England that’s the top of the line. New costumes were made of pale blue satin.

Julie Andrews was there with her little pig tails. She was just thirteen at the time and was part of the performance. Danny Kaye was the headliner. Our digs in London were at the Theatrical Girls Home in Soho, which was the middle of the prostitute area. The home was run by an order of nuns. I think they ran it to keep us from “The Wicked Life Upon the Stage” [A song from Showboat]. The building was full of tiny little rooms with big crosses over the beds. The nuns were all in black with lots of chains and keys around their waists. And if you wanted a bath, they would come in and measure it with a measuring stick. We were only allowed two inches of water. We had to get food from the little hutch by the kitchen, it was like Oliver Twist, “Please, may I have some more?” That was really what it was like. The rehearsals, however, were in the Palladium. Danny Kaye was always nice. He would often come and talk to us.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Circusettes, Mollie Fennell third from right kneeling, Royal Command Performance, London, England, 1948. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

The Palladium had official Royal Box seats for the royals where the King and Queen, Princess Margaret and Duke of Edinburgh watched the performances. Princess Elizabeth was home because she was pregnant. The performers were told not to look at the Royal Box. It was a big ‘no-no’. The big night arrived. We were so nervous opening the performance and worried about dropping a hoop. The curtain opened and we were almost blinded with the jewels in the audience. We didn’t drop one hoop. The applause is a wonderful memory. For the finale, everyone was on stage. I said to myself, “If I don’t take a peek at the Royal Box, I’ll never have another chance.” I turned and looked up at the box. The show finished with There’s No Business Like Show Business followed by the national anthem. The next day the newspaper published a finale photo with two heads turned to the Royal Box. Danny Kaye and me. I was terrified someone would notice and I’d be in trouble, but nothing happened.

Newspaper clipping: Cast takes the stage at Royal performance, London Palladium, London, England, 1948. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws.

We took the train back to Blackpool where we were booked into The Palace Theatre to perform our Royal Command performance for a week starting the following day. At the end of that week, I asked, “Aren’t we getting our paycheck?” I was told, “It’s an honor.” I replied, “But I have to get paid. I help my mother at home. I need to get paid.” “No, it’s an honor. It’s an honor.” So, I found out about the British Actors’ Equity. I signed up with some other girls and we got paid.

In 1950, I was at the Winter Gardens production, Take It From Here with the stars of the radio hit show, Jimmy Edwards, Joy Nichols, and Dick Bentley. Produced by George and Alfred Black and Jack Hylton. We were billed as Annette’s 16 Dancettes. The John Tiller Girls were in the Opera House show. Irene (my friend from the Tiller Girls) and I would meet for a cuppa in The Palm Court and continued our friendship.

Paper program cover: Take it From Here production program, Winter Gardens, Blackpool, England, 1950. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

I was given a dance partner in this show for the first time. He was six feet tall, and we’d have to do lifts. I had to do one lift where I’d spring from a sitting position on the floor onto his shoulder. He’d pulled me up, I’d hit him – boom, on the floor. We tried it quite a few times, but he could never do it. We eventually had to change the lift. The show ran through the whole summer season. It was then sent to the Adelphi Theatre at The Strand in London. So, I found myself back in London again.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Dancers, Mollie Fennell third in from right, Take it From Here production, Winter Gardens, Blackpool, England, 1950. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

There was a beautiful white ballet with my six foot partner. We also did a precision tap routine. A new number was added to the show from High Button Shoes, It was the scene originally inspired by silent era slapstick films of Mack Sennett. It was a riot, we laughed all through rehearsals. My role was Mama Crook. I had a green face, black wig and long green fingernails. After all the work the show was too long, and the number was removed. Harry Dawson was our lead singer and sometimes I’d take his lovely daughter for a walk in a park. Her name was Lesley, and I named my first child after her.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Dancers, Mollie Fennell & partner standing left, Take it From Here production, Winter Gardens, Blackpool, England, 1950. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

The show was mostly done barefoot, which was another painful experience because I had a problem on the sole of my right foot. In one scene, which was a Native American dance, we had to leap off a ramp with spears. I was sent to a foot doctor for a few weeks. Another number we had to perform knee slides across the stage. One day during a high kick I pulled some muscles and was sent to a hospital for therapy. The theatre paid the bills. No day off because we still had to work.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Scene from Take it From Here production, Winter Gardens, Blackpool, England, 1950. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Our digs were in the town of Barns over the Hammersmith Bridge. Our hosts were people who rented out their homes to theatricals, and this time we had a giant and seventh dwarves, and one bathroom. So, you can imagine the queue, trying to get by a giant and all these dwarfs. And you had to light your own heater to get some water. One time I lit it incorrectly and it blew out the window, so I lost all my week’s pay in the wind that morning.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Scene from Take It From Here production, Mollie Fennell back far right (upside down), Winter Gardens, Blackpool, England, 1950. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

On our day off friends and I would become tourists. Some of my favorite trips were the Thames boat ride to Hampton Court, The Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey. I finally talked Mum into coming to London for a few days to see the show and the sights in London. It was her first visit to London, and we had a memorable time.

I returned to Blackpool after that to audition for The John Tiller group and landed a contract for the City of Oxford. Aladdin was the pantomime. Oxford was beautiful. I loved watching all the guys on their bicycles in their robes, bicycling away to the university. I was assistant to the choreographer for this show and I had a minor speaking role as Hi Ki. I danced in all the numbers too. After the choreographer left, I ran the weekly rehearsals and took notes.

Black & white gelatin silver print: Scene from Aladdin production, Mollie Fennell as “HI KI”, far left, The John Tiller Girls, Oxford Theatre, Oxford, England, early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

During that production, the principal dancer, Betty, and I became friends. She asked instead of staying in the digs if I would like to stay at her home in Henley, which was beautiful, and by the Thames River. She had a little old car she called Lizzie. Every day we’d go back and forth from Henley-on-Thames to the Oxford Theatre. There was no heater in the car, so we used a blanket. One day Lizzie decided to break down. Now, you can never be late for the theatre, you just can’t, so we hitchhiked. Somebody rolled along with a car, and two men got out and we explained our problem. “Oh yes, we’ll take you to the theater,” they said, “No problem.” They took us to the theatre, dropped us off, everything was fine. Intermission, the police came in, the two men had just escaped from prison and they went back to try and fix the car as another getaway car. The two of us wound up at the Old Bailey. The Old Bailey is the most famous courthouse in Britain. It was intimidating being there. Even if you’re innocent, you feel guilty because the Barristers are there with the white wigs, and it’s very scary. For two days we had to be there, two whole days, back and forth. Finally, the men were convicted and were returned to jail. My friend got her old car Lizzie back. I haven’t hitchhiked since.

My Last Show in England was London Laughs at the Adelphi Theatre. The famous Vera Lynn was the star of the show. She was the best known during the war years for keeping British spirits alive. Her radio show, Sincerely Yours, helped bridge the gap between fighting soldiers and their families. This was the first time I did a real kick line and the first time I rehearsed I wrenched my ankle. My friend and fellow Tiller Girl, Irene, helped me down the stairs and met me the next morning to help me up again. I knew I had found a true friend. I was very proud to be a John Tiller Girl.

Paper program cover & page: London Laughs production, the John Tiller Girls, Adelphi Theatre, London, England, circa early 1950s. Courtesy Mollie Fennell Numark. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Theatre people all read The Stage paper, which gives all the information for upcoming calls to audition. One day, Betty saw an advertisement. It was for the nightclub producer, Lou Walters.


Lou Walters requires England’s best girl dancers and showgirls for The Latin Quarter, Miami Beach Florida, U.S.A. 


New York, Nov. 25th, 1952. Open Florida Dec. 18th

Salary 30 pounds weekly plus hotel accommodations and roundtrip transportation.


Prince of Wales Theatre, London

Friday, Jan. 25th, 1952 11am


“We could go and still be back for the evening performance,” Betty said. I looked at her, thought for a minute, “Thirty pounds a week, let’s go.”


End of Part I

This article was edited in collaboration with Mollie Fennell Numark and the John Hemmer Archive in 2021. It based on Mollie’s 2017 memoir, Looking Through My Window and from a 2018 live presentation at the Shelter Island Public Library in Shelter Island, New York. The second installment in this article series is at A Dancer’s Life: Meet Mollie Fennell Numark, Part II

A Dancer’s Life: Meet Lawrence Merritt, Part II

At this time, you were in Philadelphia rehearsing the upcoming Broadway show Nowhere To Go But Up and during all this the Cuban Missile Crisis was unfolding. You didn’t know what was going to happen, but you returned to New York City to open. The show must go on.

Lawrence Merritt: Well, the show flopped so in this case it didn’t go on for very long. We played nine performances, and that was it. I said to Ron Field, “I hate this. I thought the show was so good. The dancing, the choreography, the singing.” I said, “I just need to get out of this damn town, somehow or other.” That was in the fall of ’62. A couple months later Ron called and said, “Guess what? I’m going to Paris. I’m going to choreograph Casino de Paris.” I had no idea what that was. He went on, “and I need an assistant. You want to come? It’ll pay the equivalent of $300 in French francs every week.” Yup. I’m there, and off I went. The Casino de Paris is still running. It is as old and venerable as the Folies Bergère. Many people played there. Yves Montand, Maurice Chevalier, Josephine Baker and the list goes on.

Paper scrapbook page: Black & white photographic print, Lawrence Merritt (left) with Josephine Baker (center) and cast. television special, Paris, France, circa mid-1960s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

It was spring. I fell in love. I’m French. They put me in the show as the lead dancer. I decided to stay. I learned the language. I studied opera, and I danced there for a year. I learned how to do the Can-Can. When the Can-Can star took off for two weeks, I did the Can-Can. Jump splits over three girls. Ouch.

While there I did TV during the day. I was on a television show with Petula Clark and another with Josephine Baker that was choreographed by Geoffrey Holder. I did other nightclub acts also and played toilets in Barcelona with this ex-patriot American girl who was, again, very weird. My partner, at the time, he was a dancer too. Now lives in the West Village.

Paper scrapbook page: Black & white photographic print, Lawrence Merritt, Casino de Paris production, Paris, France, circa mid-1960s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Paper scrapbook page: Paper program, Casino de Paris, the Dunes Hotel & Country Club. Lawrence Merritt, Las Vegas, NV, 1966. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Then, I was asked to be one of the stars of the Moulin Rouge. Here’s little Larry Merritt from out in the apple orchard performing at Moulin Rouge now. The leads consisted of two men and two women. I was the American star. Then there was an English girl who had been a dancer, and she took her bra off, and became the nude dancer. The nudes made a little more money. As a nude, you still always wore a G string, feathers, and rhinestones. There was a Spanish woman who was the mistress of the choreographer. She sang and wore a bra. The other male lead was a German boy. We were the four stars of the Moulin Rouge. I did an underwater number in a plexiglass pool that came up on an elevator onto the stage. I was there in ’63, ’64, and ’65. I came back to New York and on to Vegas in ’66.

Frederic Apcar, who was the producer of the Casino de Paris show, bought the name to bring it to Vegas, staging it at the Dunes [Hotel]. He said, “We’ll do a special number, and I want you to come and be in the show.” I thought, “Okay, I’ll go back to America, and make some money”, but I had actually made quite a bit of money in Paris and remained in love with it. I still speak the language. I studied opera while I was there and just took it all in. I’ll never forget it. Nevertheless, I came back and I played Vegas for a year. At the end of that time, I said okay Frederic, my contract’s up. I’m going back to New York.

Paper scrapbook page: program interior, Lawrence Merritt with cast members performing water ballet, Moulin Rouge, Paris, France circa 1960s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

What brought you back to New York City?

I was contacted by Harold Minsky. Mr. Minsky said, “Guess what? I’m doing a review for the Minsky’s Follies. We’re going to rehearse here Vegas and then we’re going to go back East and play.” Delaware, Chicago and wherever. In 1967 I was back in New York, then Mineola [Theatre], and by the time we were in Chicago at the Edgewater. It was 1968.

Paper scrapbook page: Black & white photographic print, Lawrence Merritt (center) with cast members of Minsky’s Follies, Edgewater Beach Hotel dinning room, Chicago, IL, circa late 1960s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

That same year, the Broadway show, Golden Rainbow had opened. Ron Field was its original choreographer and I stayed there for a while. I was also participating in industrials that took place over at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria. They were the Milliken Breakfast Shows. The yearly productions were staged at the Waldorf and produced by the textile company, Milliken, as a way to advertise their fabrics to the industry buyers.

I was doing some film and television as well. I partnered Anne Bancroft in her television special, Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man (1970), [Bancroft and Merritt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8U3q6Ix3YQ] and Lucille Ball in the movie adaptation of Mame (1974).

You stayed very busy during this period, doing just about everything.

Paper scrapbook page: Black & white photographic print, Lawrence Merritt at rehearsal space, unknown location, circa 1970s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Oh yeah. I did a revival of On the Town with Phyllis Newman. Again, that was choreographed by Ron Field. I went to audition for Zorba [Zorba the Greek], choreographed by Ron Field. Ron said, “You know why it’s Greek? Hal [Harold “Hal” Prince] just got back from Crete. He wants short dark types. I’m sorry. I hope you understand.” Yeah, it’s okay friend. We were good friends. I used to go to parties at his place.

I auditioned for A Mother’s Kisses, directed by Gene Saks, choreographed by Onna White. I danced. I sang. I was cast. This is in a week and a half, two weeks. I auditioned for Promises, Promises. I danced. I sang. I was cast.  I auditioned for Dear World when Donald Saddler was choreographing that. I danced. I sang. I was cast. So, in the period of two or three weeks, I was cast in three Broadway shows. I was like, “Oh God, now what do I do?” I picked Dear World.

We went out, colonial Boston. It was full of beautiful music, and it was a wonderful artistic success, but it did not last. We previewed for a month here in town and then we opened, and well it was like two or three months that we were respectable. Okay fine, Ron Field said, “Guess what? The hairdresser character, in Applause is leaving. Why don’t you come into the show and understudy the part of Duane?” I was like okay fine, sure. Ron felt good. He won a Tony for choreographing and directing that. Lauren Bacall headlined. By the time I came in, Anne Baxter inhabited the role of Margo Channing. I went in and the guy was getting ready to leave. I’m just starting rehearsals and I was up in the part. I took over. I played it for a week with Anne Baxter who was larger than life, even though she was about two feet tall. Then Arlene Dahl took over the role. I did it with her until the natural death of the show, which was not too long after, but I’m not sure what year. 1970 something.

By then I had choreographed the Lido show in Vegas and choreographed and directed it in Paris. Then the director of the Lido show in Paris called. He was also the artistic director of the Ice Capades. He said, “You have fabulous Broadway credits and good moves. Why don’t you come and assist me on Ice Capades?” See what happens when you watch Sonja Henie movies. I went and rehearsed in LA, which is where they did the costumes, they rehearsed and all that and that’s where the companies took their vacations. Off I went to New Haven where they rehearsed at some ice rink, and then we went to Atlantic City, right after Miss America contest in the same convention hall. I was with them for three years.

Paper scrapbook page: color photographic print, Ice Capades cast, Atlantic City, NJ, 1975. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Okay, we’re into the 1970s now. I know you did some television specials and touring acts with  notable performers and top-notch choreographers.

Paper scrapbook page: color image, magazine excerpt, Lucille Ball with Lawrence Merritt (bottom right), Los Angeles, CA, 1973-74. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

Yes, somewhere in there, through Ron Field, I was also asked to do Ann-Margret’s big nightclub act. Ron Field choreographed it. I went out and did that and then came back to New York City to do something else. But anyway, that was Ron Field, Marvin Hamlisch, with music by Billy BarnesSteve Martin was in the act, whatever. I was featured. Later on before I moved to LA and right after Pippin, Roger Smith, Ann-Margret’s husband, called and said, “We’re doing a big TV special with Ann-Margret called When You’re Smiling (1973).” I’ve never seen it. I was busy doing a show at night on Friday and Saturday when they showed TV specials. So anyway, he asked, “Can you come on out? Nobody can do that walk that Ron choreographed in The Lady in Red number like you. You’re Melvin Purvis, the G man.” I went out and one of the dancers in the chorus was Teri Garr. So we did this number, it was three days. [Lawrence also performed in the Ann-Margret television special, Dames at Sea, 1971, with Ann Miller].

While I was there, I called Oona. She said, “Oh my God, I’m doing Mame [1974] and we need someone to partner Lucy who won’t make her look like she’s dancing with her grandson.” So, I then spent a month on the Universal Lot doing the first number. Then we went out to the Peckerwood Ranch plantation for that scene. It was February and March, which is their winter. Very rainy.

I still had an apartment in New York, but I kept getting called elsewhere. A friend of mine called. “I’m doing Juliet Prowse’s act. And one of the guys is leaving and I’ve recommended you. You want to come over and talk to Juliet and do a couple of moves with her? We’re rehearsing over here by the Farmer’s Market in LA.” Sure. Fine. I go over and they went, “We’d love to have you. It’ll be three weeks rehearsal here in LA, four weeks at the Desert Inn [Hotel] in Vegas, 700 bucks a week. You’ll get your lodging in Vegas at the hotel.” I went back to Oona and I said “Honey, I’m not really making a lot of money here. I’m only making like 100 bucks a week. They want me, 700 bucks a week. This is back in the seventies, not bad money. Plus hotel and your transportation from LA to Vegas, Vegas back.” So she “Oh honey sure, go ahead.” So I went for three days and stayed for almost three months. So that’s the way my career went.

Paper scrapbook page: Black & white photographic print, Ann-Margret, Lawrence Merritt (left foreground and cast), Dames at Sea television special, New York, NY, circa 1970s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

In light of all the work outside of New York City, friends were starting to ask, “Why don’t you move to LA?” A lot of dancers had moved there because they could dance on TV shows, Flip Wilson, Sonny & Cher, Dean Martin, all those variety shows. As a dancer, you could have a real life. You could go home at five o’clock. You could have a husband and a house and a car and one or two days off a week when you weren’t rehearsing or shooting. I began to plan.

Somewhere in there, however, I was cast in Pippin. That was in 1974 when I went into PIP as a replacement with four other people. It was when Michael Rupert replaced John Rubinstein, who was the original Pippin. And I went into the show knowing that in the spring of ‘75, I was going to move to LA.

Paper scrapbook page: color magazine clippings, Rachel Welch with Lawrence Merritt, Rachel Welch World Tour, Paris, France, 1970s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

So, I went to LA with the Ice Capades. While I was with the Ice Capades, I was asked to do Ginger Roger’s act when it was four boys. I said, Onna White… She was choreographing. “I can’t, I’m sorry. I’m busy. I’m rehearsing Raquel Welch‘s world tour.” Raquel’s act was three male dancers, singers, Joe Layton, directing and choreographing, assisted by Joe Tremaine – loony bird, great fun. It was Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, then other places in Miami Beach, Acapulco, Mexico City, Paris, Barcelona, Caracas, Sao Paulo, Rio at Carnival.

Let’s see… I was called again by Onna White saying, “We’ve gotten rid of all four boys. We’re going to make it down to one boy in Ginger Rogers act, okay? We’d like for you to come over, you’re back from Raquel. You’re free.” Yeah. I am. “Come meet her, do a few moves, You’ll meet people, one of the boys that was in the act will teach you what’s going to happen. We’re going to do one big pastiche to a medley, The Continental, Cheek to Check, Night and Day, The Carioca whatever.” okay fine. I go over and I meet Ginger. So we do it. They said, “We like you. You want it?” Okay sure. So, I’m partnering Ginger Rogers.

Paper scrapbook page: Black & white photographic print, Ginger Rogers & Lawrence Merritt, circa 1970s. Courtesy Lawrence Merritt. Image subject to copyright laws. Please do not appropriate.

We definitely played some toilets here and there, junky places. And then, all of a sudden, there we are at The London Palladium. The opening act is Donald O’Connor with four girls. We are the headlining act. I’m in white tie and tails singing, “must you dance, every dance with the same fortunate man.” Out she comes with all of her pink chiffon with marabou around the neck and the cuffs. No wonder Fred Astaire was going “puft, puft”. He probably ate half that marabou as they danced. But here I am, Larry Merritt from the Apple Orchard on stage at The Palladium with Ginger Rogers. And who do I meet next? Larry Fuller.


End of Part II

The above interview with Lawrence Merritt was conducted in 2015 with the John Hemmer Archive. It was edited with Merritt in 2020 and 2021. Stay-tuned for the third installment in this article series, A Dancer’s Life: Meet Lawrence Merritt