How I got to Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter starts way back when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My Aunt took me to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Show. I was mesmerized by the production. In the Christmas Show were of course the wonderful Rockettes. At the end of the show I declared, “That’s what I want to be”.
By the end of the next week, I was enrolled in a terrific dance school. I was very lucky in that my parents supported my dreams, despite the fact that neither of them came from an arts background. My mother worked at a variety of places during my youth, including a cafeteria worker at my school, among other jobs. My father enjoyed a long-time career with the Department of Unemployment until his retirement. Before that he worked for the Navy during World War II, loading and unloading ship cargo. I was an only child with unusual career aspirations, but they were there for me, encouraging me all the way.
And so I committed completely to learning dance and because of that, I performed in numerous recitals and continued to hone my craft throughout grade school and into my teenage years. And although my parents had challenges during their married life, made sure I was happy and could support myself before they eventually went their separate ways. And since I started my performing arts path early, it wasn’t long before I was finding independence and bringing in my own income.
I always reasoned that even if I was unable to become a working dancer, I could teach dance, which I quickly learned I enjoyed doing. By the time I was about 13 or 14, I was providing dance lessons to the “babies” – 3, 4, and 5 year old kids. This helped to pay for my own lessons.
The summer I turned 16, Radio City was looking for season replacements for The Rockettes who would be taking vacations. Off I went to become a Rockette.
Russell Markett was in charge of the auditions. My dancing was fine. All was going well until I was measured. I was told dancers were required to be at least 5’5” and I was only 5’3”. Well, I felt that my life was over. Sure, you can take more dance classes, but how do you make yourself grow 2 inches? Now, as fate would have it, as I was leaving the stage door, several of the girls were going to another audition. This one was at the Latin Quarter at the 48th Street location, managed by Lou Walters. Mr. Walters, father of the journalist, Barbara Walters was the impresario of the world-famous Latin Quarter nightclubs.
The other dancers invited me along, I went and got the job as a dancer at the Latin Quarter and the rest is history. We started rehearsals within a few days. I made lot of friends. It was an exciting time. About a week before opening, however, I was informed that to work in the nightclubs that served alcohol in those years, performers were required to obtain a police license and had to be 18years of age in New York to acquire one. In Florida it was 21years of age. Do you think that stopped me? No. I went for my license, said I was 21. No one questioned me. The rest is history.
Until this time, we were rehearsing in rehearsal studios. Now the show is about to open and rehearsals moved to the nightclub itself. On the evening the show was to open, I was sitting on the some stairs to the side of the stage, when this very handsome man approached me and started a conversation. That man, Bob Freed has been my husband for the past almost 59 years. Bob was the maitre d’ at the nightclub. He remained there until the club closed in the late 1960s. So for many reasons, my time at the Latin Quarter is a beloved and cherished memory. It changed the course of my life and out of it grew a wonderful family, full of kids, grandkids and even great grandkids.
In addition to the Latin Quarter, I also worked the Town and Country club in Brooklyn, the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. I never worked at the Boston Latin Quarter location, that was before my time, but I did dance in productions at the Latin Quarter in Palm Island, Miami, Florida.
I worked for Clairol when they launched their promotion, If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde.
These days I am a permanent resident in Florida. I’m very involved with The Broadway Ziegfeld Entertainers. In 2006, I entered Ms. Senior New Jersey and was honored with First Runner Up.
The Latin Quarter days bring back fond memories and I’m proud to write they also brought great lifelong friendships with my fellow dancers and performers that I continue to hold dear. Dance has remained a significant part of my life to this day.
Watch Janie Thomas Freed and other Latin Quarter dancers, showgirls and employees recall the mid-century nightclub era at a 2018 event.