Thursday, December 14, 2023

A Dancing Detour


There has been much written about the value of the so-called "FAN Club"—an acronym referring to the friends, associates, and neighbors of our difficult-to-research ancestors, but I don't suppose much has been said about its usefulness in helping to compose a life timeline for that mystery relative. In the case of reconstructing the timeline of my own father's career, that is exactly what I am doing, thanks mostly to the published interviews with his actor son who carried forward that entertainment legacy to the next generation.

Still, that technique, based upon only one other person, can only afford us so much of a glimpse of what we've been missing in our research. Like the concept of triangulation, the process works so much better when we have not just one vantage point, but at least two. In this case, that is where my mother's own career timeline comes in.

I already know that, because of her much younger age, my mother did not arrive in New York City until at least the mid-1940s. Because she was trying to break into show biz as an outsider, she started small, ever watchful for the next big break. A 1947 caption to a newspaper photo from the place where she was born in Iowa helped me pinpoint one of her earlier engagements at a place said to be New York's newest nightclub, called Vanity Fair. But I always knew that she had worked at the Roxy, so the Vanity Fair engagement must have predated that.

It is hard to envision the lavish presentation and surrounding opulence that was the experience of the Roxy Theater. If you are curious, I did find a blog post worth checking out which not only ran through the theater's history but provided several detailed photos of the venue from various perspectives.

With "world's largest" a seeming mantra guiding the theater's development and operation, one photo (below) from my mother's portfolio can give an idea of the "variety show" nature of the offerings during the live performances sandwiched in between the premiered movies at the theater. (Though she didn't dance en pointe, my mother sits just to the right of the middle in the front row, wearing toe shoes.)

Though you might assume, from her photo, that this was her gig with the Rockettes, there is an explanation for why, though she was a line dancer, that was not the correct designation for the ensemble when she was working at the Roxy. However, to explain that complex history, we'll need to save those details for another post.

From these brief details and scant information on dates, we can assume that from my father's contracts to play aboard trans-Atlantic steamships during the 1920s, to his brief gig as a resort musician in New Hampshire while the stock market melted down back in the city, to his wartime years at The Boulevard, he eventually became part of the immense orchestra featured at the Roxy by the late 1940s.


Above: Example of cast from a 1940s style variety show as featured at New York's Roxy Theater; from the private collection of the author.


  1. So glamorous. I can see me in a bias cut, satin gown with a glass of champaign waiting for the show! Just kidding. I would be in the back washing dishes.

    1. Actually, from what I've read, those back rooms for staff use were quite well appointed as well. Maybe even washing dishes wouldn't be as bad as it seems.


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