Civic Light Orchestra

While waiting for ballet, musical theatre paid the bills

California

Living on $10.00 per week, $5.00 for rent, $5.00 for food, was not something that could go on for much longer.

The teaching was interesting and, I was doing some choreography, but, I needed to dance, to perform. As I have oft repeated over these many years “I am a man of the theatre” and that was where I needed to be.

Lois and I were, to put it in present day lingo, an item, an item that needed money.

A letter arrived for Lois, it was from the woman who had been the choreographer for Theatre Under the Stars, Aida Broadbent. It was an invitation to dance with the Civic Light Opera Company in Los Angeles. Rehearsals began March 29th, opening show, April 24th, plus, we are wanted for the second show which would takes us through to the end of July.

We had work! We would have money!

Yes Yes Yes! Please!

I had to borrow the train fare from Lois, but we made it.

Even in those dim dark days, there were complaints about Canadians going to the USA to work, but the Canadian prospects were not exactly glowing.

We got our train tickets and were on our way.

Lois had contacts in LA and they booked a hotel for us, the Hotel St. Moritz on Sunset Boulevard.

The location did not mean too much to me until I got there, and then saw the Film of the same name, Sunset Boulevard with Gloria Swanson, William Holden and Erich von Stroheim. It was a Billy Wilder film, made in 1950, about the behind the scenes workings of the film industry.

Did we live across the road from a film studio? Yes, but we never saw any movie stars.

The hotel was clean and tidy. $2.50 a night for a single room, we were quite happy.

We phoned the necessary people, discovered where the rehearsal hall was, and the best place to eat, for cheap.

It all progressed very smoothly, we were working in Los Angeles and living in Hollywood. Transportation was easy.

The first day of rehearsals we met our new work mates. A very mixed bag of shapes and sizes.

There were the mandatory newspaper photos and interviews. The photographers loved my big split jump, so that soon appeared in the newspapers.

On with the shows

Our first show was The Chocolate Soldier, music by Oscar Strauss.

The only name I had heard of before was, Salvatore Baccaloni. He was an opera singer, a buffo bass. I had heard him on the radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, from New York. “Saturday afternoon at the opera, brought to you by Texaco”.

There was to be a fair amount of dance:,but also the usual bits of business to fill in the gaps

Of course, as per usual with Aida, she had me jumping over things and people, but to add to the vocabulary, I had to climb a tall pole to reach a pillow then throw it down to Lois. This was some sort of village competition.

Contracts signed.The how much? Settled, a place to stay, not bad food, close at hand.

We were indeed working in the USA.

At this point I must interject to add some interesting facts.

The contracts we signed were for $75.00 per week in town, meaning Los Angeles, in San Francisco, we were to be paid $80.00 per week.

Coming from $10.00 per week in Vancouver, I felt rich, but, and here is the amusing part. Eleven years later, when we were the leading dancers in the National Ballet of Canada, the Stars of Canadian Ballet, we were paid that Los Angeles salary, $75.00 per week, in Canada. Just in case people thought we were making big dollars as the Stars of Canadian ballet.

Lois and I, now that we were away from the folks, our families, began to talk about the relationship, and where it should go.

Yes, we decided, we would get married, after the show had settled in.

Settled in became May 13th, at the Los Angeles County Court, with Judge Ida May Adams, presiding.

The ceremony took place in the morning, with two of the company dancers as witnesses.

That was a Saturday morning, so, after a wedding breakfast, we went to the Philharmonic Auditorium, did a matinee, then an evening performance.

The Wedding

Our marriage made front page news in a Los Angeles newspaper.

The next morning we went to Catalina Island, for our honeymoon.

Bus then a boat. The hotel had been booked.

We spent the day looking around the island and on Monday afternoon we made our way back to LA, of course we did the show that night..

Not terribly glamorous, but we were in love, and any time was sufficient.

The bill for that honeymoon night at the Hotel Atwater, was $6.00, my how times change!

Ballet class was imperative, but where?

We found Eugene Loring, someone that I had read about as a choreographer and a teacher.

He was just what we needed. A small and very quiet man who gave excellent classes. We became regulars.

He kept our sanity, for $2.50 per class.

Los Angeles was not the only site for Chocolate Soldier, we were to also play in San Francisco beginning May 22, 1950.

The company moved us to Frisco.

We found an apartment hotel , Hotel El Cortez,for the season,

The kitchen, plus all the rest. It was ideal for our situation.

The ballet teacher?? Well I knew that there was a San Francisco Ballet, so I investigated.

One of the Christensen brothers was teaching. I was not fully happy with that, so I looked further.

I found Nijinska, the sister of Nijinsky.

She was quite crazy, but she gave a good workout..

She told me one class, that I had a jump like her brother, I could not complain.

A phone call while we were doing the Frisco season told me that a woman named Belita, ( a skater, in the movies) was looking for a Canadian dancer to partner her in an ice show. The partnering would take place on a platform on the ice.

So. Belita came to class with Nijinska, then we talked.

Then I talked to Belita’s husband. Money for me, but nothing for my wife, so, that was the end of Belita.

There is a tag line to this story, my circles within circles. During the 70,s when I was with the Royal Ballet, Svetlana Beriosova, who I had partnered in the Metropolitan Ballet during the 40’s (are you keeping up with this?) came to me and introduced a friend, yes, it was Belita.

She did not remember the Frisco thing.? NO!

 

That was just one of many asides that took place on this American journey.

Yet another aside, was the headline in a Los Angeles newspaper,” I saw world war three start” — the Korean war started.

The process was in motion — rehearsals-show for one month in Los Angeles-show for one month in San Francisco — back to Los Angeles to rehearse the next show–show for a month then back to San Francisco for another month.

While playing–eight shows a week. It was what was needed at that point in our lives and we were enjoying it.<

Rose Marie

The second show of the season was Rose Marie, most appropriate given the circumstances. The show takes place in Western Canada, mounties and Indians and all that kind of thing. It was how other people thought of Canadians, even at that point in history.

Again a singer from the Metropolitan Opera, Patrice Munsel. Again someone I had heard on those famous Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera.

In 1950 the operetta was twenty five years old. Composed by Rudolf Friml, who, by the way, composed some new music for this production.

There was more dance in this show, including of course the mandatory Indian dance, Totem Tom Tom.

 

In the process mentioned above, the rehearsal period before Rose Marie, the whole cast was invited by the General Director, Edwin Lester, to a performance of South Pacific, in Los Angeles at our theatre. It was good to see other people working.

I discovered through that invitation, plus a conversation one day with Lester, that he was, a very wealthy man. We began talking about clothes, and it came out during our talk, that he owned a suit, shirt and tie and shoes, for every day of the year, in other words, 365 of each.

I could not help but laugh, inside, and picture what his wardrobe must have looked like. For all that, he was a charming person, always ready to talk to any of us.

Somehow, San Francisco turned out to be the place where we took in more night life than Los Angeles. Why? I am not really sure, just the way it worked.

There were many more night spots in Frisco.

Two in particular stand out, Finocchios and The Candlelight Club. The first was a male gay club, the second was a female gay club.

Both had floor shows appropriate to the gender presented.

At Finocchios the boys made their own costumes, dresses of course, out of crepe paper, a new costume every show.

The Candlelight was dressed in the leather jackets and trousers.

The shows in both places were a scream, we loved them, and carried on heckling them, throughout the show.

They came right back at us.

It was great fun.

Then there was Doodles and Spider, lip syncing to records, at another venue.

This pair attracted a lot of celebrities — Bob Hope was there one night, enjoying the whole show.

Apart from the clubs, there was also a greater variety of food in Frisco, more European than American.

In San Francisco we had talked about what was to happen after the shows closed. London was the chosen destination, because of my familiarity with the dance scene there.

Something came along which changed everything.

A small person was coming into our lives.

We went instead, to Vancouver, where Lois’s mother and father lived.