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Transcript of interview with Nancy Houssels by Caryll Batt Dziedziak, November 18 & December 14, 1998

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1998-11-18
1998-12-14
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What is the importance of dance? For Nancy Claire Houssels, it has simply shaped her life! Born on February 26, 1935 to Edith Darlene Wallace and William Edwin Wallace, Nancy grew up with three brothers in an athletic household in Piedmont, California. She began dancing at the early age of three and filled her childhood years with dance and synchronized swimming. After attaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre Arts from UCLA in 1957, Nancy went on the road with the Hollywood Bowl; soon meeting her future dance partner, Francois Szony. Already known as one of the most respected adagio dancers in the world, Szony would become Nancy’s dance partner for the next ten years. The Szony and Claire adagio team rehearsed in New York City before heading off to their first European engagement at the London Palladium. The team spent the next few years appearing in London, Copenhagen, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Turino, Milan, Barcelona, and even Beirut. Their physical ability to perform breath-taking spins and lifts appealed to broad audiences; even those with little or no appreciation of ballet. After returning to the states, Szony and Claire performed in Miami, Puerto Rico, and throughout New York; including Radio City Music Hall, the Ed Sullivan Show, Carnegie Hall, and Madison Square Garden. In 1966, the dance team headed to Las Vegas, Nevada to appear with the Casino de Paris at the Dunes Hotel. Shortly thereafter, in 1968, Szony and Claire joined the cast of the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana Hotel. In May 1970, Nancy married J. Kell Houssels, Jr., then the President of the Tropicana Hotel. As Nancy likes to retell this moment, “Well, my husband fired me and we got married!” After more than thirty years of dancing, Nancy felt ready to end her professional dance career and looked forward to starting a family. Nancy and Kell subsequently had two children: Kelly Clair and Eric Wallace, and Nancy happily ‘inherited’ three stepchildren: Josh, Jake, and Leslie. The adjustment of shifting from a career characterized by a grueling work schedule to that of domestic life proved challenging for Nancy. She soon began looking for ways to involve herself in the community. Since the early 1970s, Nancy has lent her time and support to such diverse entities as Child Haven, Children’s Service Guild of the Clark County Juvenile Court System, National Conference of Christians and Jews, PBS Friends of Channel 10, Nathan Adelson Hospice, Meadows School, United Campus Ministry, Las Vegas Metropolitan Beautification Committee, McCarran Airport Arts Advisory Committee and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation. While Chair of the Nevada State Council of the Arts for seven years, she proved instrumental in establishing a Folk Arts program and expanding legislative funding for statewide arts programs. Nancy’s service to the community has been recognized with such awards as the 1985 Nevada Dance Theatre’s Woman of the Year, the 1988 Governor’s Arts Award - Distinguished Service to the Arts, the 1994 State of Nevada’s Women of Achievement, and the 1997 We Can, Inc.’s Chris Schaller Award for children’s advocacy. Although her days as a professional dancer had ended, Nancy never relinquished her love of dance. In 1972, Nancy joined Vassili Sulich in founding the Nevada Dance Theatre. As the principal dancer in the Folies Bergere, Sulich had organized a series of dance concerts for the Las Vegas community. Much to Nancy’s surprise, the Las Vegas community responded enthusiastically to the availability of ballet performances. Nancy quickly formed a volunteer board to raise the critically needed funding for this endeavor. She began with an evening fundraiser at her home, inviting a group of like-minded friends. This effort raised the initial fifteen thousand dollars that set the Nevada Dance Theatre on its way. In 1976, the company acquired its non-profit status and subsequently formed an academy to train children in dance. Nancy played an instrumental role in furthering the ballet company’s community outreach; creating such programs as Future Dance funded by the Lied Foundation. This program targets lower income children who attend at-risk elementary schools and provides them with free dance instruction…building self-esteem, confidence, and hope. In 1996, with a capital grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and land donated by the Howard Hughes Corporation, the Nevada Dance Theatre began drawing their plans for a world-class facility in Summerlin. Completed in 1999, the company now had a visible home within the Las Vegas community. Here, students from the Las Vegas community trained alongside the company’s professional dancers. Renamed in 1998 as the Nevada Ballet Theatre and with a new Artistic Director, Bruce Steivel, the Company continues to serve not only as a leading force for live performing arts, but also as a source of community outreach programs for children. Nancy continues to remain involved with the Nevada Ballet Theatre and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Company. She believes her life experience reflects both the viewpoint of the artist and that of the audience. Indeed, her visionary leadership and love of dance has not only shaped her life but has nurtured the development of the cultural arts in Southern Nevada.

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OH_02688_transcript
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Houssels, Nancy Interview, 1998 November 18 & December 18. OH-02688. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1b27q39p

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Nancy Houssels A Collaborative Memoir Interviews conducted by Caryll Batt Dziedziak _______________________________ Las Vegas Women Oral History Project Series II. Community Builders University of Nevada, Las Vegas 2006 ? NSHE, UNLV, Las Vegas Women Oral History Project, 2006 Produced by: Las Vegas Women Oral History Project Women’s Research Institute of Nevada, UNLV 4505 Maryland Parkway Box 455083 Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-5083 Director: Dr. Joanne L. Goodwin Interviewer and Editor: Caryll Batt Dziedziak Text Processor: Laurie W. Boetcher This interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of the Foundation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the research efforts of the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada (WRIN). Located at UNLV within the College of Liberal Arts, WRIN is a statewide research institute with programs that add to the body of knowledge on women and girls in the state. WRIN has housed the oral history project since 1999. The specific goal of the oral history project is to acquire the narratives of Nevadans whose lives provide unique information on the development of the state and in particular, southern Nevada. In addition, the oral history project enables students and faculty to work together with community members to generate these first-person narratives. The participants in this project extend their appreciation to UNLV for providing an opportunity for this project to flourish. The text of this transcript has received minimal editing. These measures include the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetition. The editing served to retain both the narrators’ style of spoken language as well as to enhance the reader’s understanding of the narrators’ words. Ideally, this personal history would be heard as well as read. In some cases, the narrator has provided photographic images to accompany the narrative. If the narrator agreed, these images have been donated with the transcript to the UNLV Lied Library, Special Collections. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Las Vegas Women Oral History Project, Series II. Community Builders. Additional transcripts may be found under that series title. Joanne L. Goodwin, Ph.D. Las Vegas Women Oral History Project, Director Associate Professor, Department of History University of Nevada, Las Vegas LIST OF PHOTOGRAPHS All photographs (with the exception of the frontispiece) may be found at the end of the document listed in the order below. Frontispiece: Nancy Claire Houssels (undated) 1. Nancy Claire Wallace, of the Szony and Claire adagio act at the Dunes Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada (undated). 2. Nancy Wallace and Jerry Plaza, stars of the first-place winning senior skit at the Piedmont High School carnival, 1952 3. Nancy Claire Wallace, National AAU Women's Synchronized Swimming Championships, 1953 4. Nancy Claire Wallace, Best Actress Award, UCLA, 1956 5. Nancy Claire Wallace, “Gay 90s Tour” at the Hollywood Bowl, 1959 6. “Gay Nineties Night” at the Hollywood Bowl, 1959 7. Nancy Wallace and Patricia Morison, “Gay Nineties Night” at the Hollywood Bowl, 1959 8. Szony and Claire on tour, Travemunde, Germany, 1961-1962 9. Szony and Claire, New York City, 1962 10. Szony and Claire performing at the New York City World's Fair, 1964 11. Szony and Claire (undated) 12. Nancy Houssels in dance class at the Tropicana Hotel Casino (circa 1970) 13. Nancy Houssels with Victor Borge, Artemus Ham Concert Hall, UNLV -- "Nevada Ballet Theatre Presents Victor Borge" 14. Nancy Houssels with Jacques D'Amboise 15. Nancy Houssels with Governor Kenny Guinn 16. Nancy Houssels with Mayor Oscar Goodman at the Fashion Show Mall during Nevada Ballet Theatre’s two-week residency 17. Nancy Houssels with Elaine Wynn, Nevada Ballet Theatre’s “Woman of the Year” Awards, 1985 18. Kelly Houssels performing at Nevada Ballet Theatre’s "Woman of the Year" Awards, 1985 19. Nancy Houssels with her children receiving "Women of the Year" Award, 1985 20. Nancy Houssels receiving the Distinguished Service to the Arts Award from Governor Richard Bryan, Governor's Arts Awards, February 11, 1988 21. Nancy Houssels receiving Distinguished Service to the Arts honor at Governor Richard Bryan's Art Awards dinner, Union Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas, 1988 22. Nancy Houssels with Elizabeth Dole and Christina Hixson at UNLV Foundation Dinner, 1992 23. Donald W. Reynolds Cultural Center, home of the Nevada Ballet Theatre 24. Houssels Family Christmas Card, 2004 25. Nancy and J. Kell Houssels, Jr. (undated) All photographs are courtesy of Nancy Houssels Preface What is the importance of dance? For Nancy Claire Houssels, it has simply shaped her life! Born on February 26, 1935 to Edith Darlene Wallace and William Edwin Wallace, Nancy grew up with three brothers in an athletic household in Piedmont, California. She began dancing at the early age of three and filled her childhood years with dance and synchronized swimming. After attaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre Arts from UCLA in 1957, Nancy went on the road with the Hollywood Bowl; soon meeting her future dance partner, Francois Szony. Already known as one of the most respected adagio dancers in the world, Szony would become Nancy’s dance partner for the next ten years. The Szony and Claire adagio team rehearsed in New York City before heading off to their first European engagement at the London Palladium. The team spent the next few years appearing in London, Copenhagen, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Turino, Milan, Barcelona, and even Beirut. Their physical ability to perform breath-taking spins and lifts appealed to broad audiences; even those with little or no appreciation of ballet. After returning to the states, Szony and Claire performed in Miami, Puerto Rico, and throughout New York; including Radio City Music Hall, the Ed Sullivan Show, Carnegie Hall, and Madison Square Garden. In 1966, the dance team headed to Las Vegas, Nevada to appear with the Casino de Paris at the Dunes Hotel. Shortly thereafter, in 1968, Szony and Claire joined the cast of the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana Hotel. In May 1970, Nancy married J. Kell Houssels, Jr., then the President of the Tropicana Hotel. As Nancy likes to retell this moment, “Well, my husband fired me and we got married!” After more than thirty years of dancing, Nancy felt ready to end her professional dance career and looked forward to starting a family. Nancy and Kell subsequently had two children: Kelly Clair and Eric Wallace, and Nancy happily ‘inherited’ three stepchildren: Josh, Jake, and Leslie. The adjustment of shifting from a career characterized by a grueling work schedule to that of domestic life proved challenging for Nancy. She soon began looking for ways to involve herself in the community. Since the early 1970s, Nancy has lent her time and support to such diverse entities as Child Haven, Children’s Service Guild of the Clark County Juvenile Court System, National Conference of Christians and Jews, PBS Friends of Channel 10, Nathan Adelson Hospice, Meadows School, United Campus Ministry, Las Vegas Metropolitan Beautification Committee, McCarran Airport Arts Advisory Committee and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation. While Chair of the Nevada State Council of the Arts for seven years, she proved instrumental in establishing a Folk Arts program and expanding legislative funding for statewide arts programs. Nancy’s service to the community has been recognized with such awards as the 1985 Nevada Dance Theatre’s Woman of the Year, the 1988 Governor’s Arts Award – Distinguished Service to the Arts, the 1994 State of Nevada’s Women of Achievement, and the 1997 We Can, Inc.’s Chris Schaller Award for children’s advocacy. Although her days as a professional dancer had ended, Nancy never relinquished her love of dance. In 1972, Nancy joined Vassili Sulich in founding the Nevada Dance Theatre. As the principal dancer in the Folies Bergere, Sulich had organized a series of dance concerts for the Las Vegas community. Much to Nancy’s surprise, the Las Vegas community responded enthusiastically to the availability of ballet performances. Nancy quickly formed a volunteer board to raise the critically needed funding for this endeavor. She began with an evening fundraiser at her home, inviting a group of like-minded friends. This effort raised the initial fifteen thousand dollars that set the Nevada Dance Theatre on its way. In 1976, the company acquired its non-profit status and subsequently formed an academy to train children in dance. Nancy played an instrumental role in furthering the ballet company’s community outreach; creating such programs as Future Dance funded by the Lied Foundation. This program targets lower income children who attend at-risk elementary schools and provides them with free dance instruction…building self-esteem, confidence, and hope. In 1996, with a capital grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and land donated by the Howard Hughes Corporation, the Nevada Dance Theatre began drawing their plans for a world-class facility in Summerlin. Completed in 1999, the company now had a visible home within the Las Vegas community. Here, students from the Las Vegas community trained alongside the company’s professional dancers. Renamed in 1998 as the Nevada Ballet Theatre and with a new Artistic Director, Bruce Steivel, the Company continues to serve not only as a leading force for live performing arts, but also as a source of community outreach programs for children. Nancy continues to remain involved with the Nevada Ballet Theatre and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Company. She believes her life experience reflects both the viewpoint of the artist and that of the audience. Indeed, her visionary leadership and love of dance has not only shaped her life but has nurtured the development of the cultural arts in Southern Nevada. This publication is based on a series of interviews conducted between November 18, 1998 and December 14, 1998. Due the the number of years transpiring between the interviews and the final publication, both the interviewer and Ms. Houssels have worked together to incorporate updated information into the narrative in order to clarify and enhance the readers’ understanding of the subject matter discussed. In particular, Mrs. Houssels carefully expanded upon the portion of the interview dealing with Vassili Sulich’s departure from the company. The interviewer has made every effort to obtain correct spellings and accurate information. Lastly, additional editing has been utilized to ensure the the fluidity of the narrative. In addition to the history of the Nevada Ballet Theatre and Nancy Houssels’ dance career, readers will find information regarding the planning involved in the creation of the Smith Performing Arts Center. Nancy Claire Houssels Nancy Houssels A Collaborative Memoir Interviews conducted by Caryll Batt Dziedziak1 This is Caryll Batt Dziedziak interviewing Nancy Houssels. Today’s date is Wednesday, November 18, 1998. This interview is taking place at Nevada Ballet Theatre, 1555 East Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, Nevada. Good morning, Nancy. Good morning. Thanks for taking the time to share with us. My pleasure. Let’s start with going back to California and your early childhood years. I read that you were the only daughter with three brothers. You were outnumbered! What was that like growing up? Well…I learned to play football. I could throw a pretty good pass. I learned to play basketball, but there was no future in that because I ended up under five feet tall. Growing up with three brothers…I played most sports. At the age of three-and-a-half, my mother decided I should be a dancer, not a quarterback, so she put me in ballet school. I loved it…just loved it! I loved both the creative and athletic aspects of dance. I had a wonderful teacher who was a great inspiration to me: Sibyl Marion. She was a local teacher but she had a superb training in Chicago with some of the great teachers of her day. What she taught me stayed with me most of my professional life. I did go on, later in my career, to study with teachers in New York and around the world. Wherever I was in my travels, I studied. But Ms. Marion laid the foundation and she inspired me to have a career. I studied dance all through high school and college. After college I went on to pursue a professional career. I went to Frank C. Haven Grammar School and graduated 2 from Piedmont High School. I had a pretty normal childhood with access to training in the arts, but it wasn’t like a professional schooling at all. You mentioned Piedmont. Is that in the Bay Area? Yes, it’s in the Bay Area…and mostly a residential area. You were born in 1935, in the midst of the Depression era. Do you have any recollection of that at all? You were pretty young. I remember the Second World War. I remember food was rationed. I remember not being able to have butter, but rather margarine with ingredients we mixed. To this day I don’t like margarine. I remember the war years through radio, newspapers and many Hollywood films…doctors were scarce…transportation was limited. Were your brothers older? Two were older, one younger. Ken and Clark graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. I graduated from UCLA. Keith was a Stanford grad. One brother, Clark, was in the Navy and stationed in Kwajelein. The other, Ken, had poor eyesight and was not eligible for the service. The youngest, Keith, missed the draft altogether. He was a track star and attended Stanford on an athletic scholarship. I’m assuming that because your father was married and had a family at the time, he was not in the service during the war. He was a little too old and supporting a family. The war years bring back memories of an era of patriotism, FDR, and U.S. Savings Bonds and everybody fighting for and protecting freedom and democracy. The country was gloriously patriotic during World War II. Only since 9/11 have I seen that patriotism return to our country. 3 Do you remember your family talking about the war a lot? I remember FDR fireside chats…plus news…everyone was glued to the radio. I grew up with radio. Celebrities worked for the war effort…performed for the troops, sold bonds. Everyone joined the war effort. In 1949, we had our first T.V. set…a five-inch set. Everyone remembers the year of their first television. It was a little tiny box with a four inch picture, which we all crowded around. The kids loved the commercials. The favorite was a sign-off Ovaltine commercial with a camel that gulped down Ovaltine. It was silly, but we all mimicked it for months. It was a serious time and like I said, it was a patriotic time. What goes on today and what you’ve seen with the Vietnam War, is totally different. During World War II, everybody was for their country and for their flag and the Star Spangled Banner. It really was quite a wonderful time in that sense, because we were so bound together in one cause…freedom. So we’ve moved on from that. Not that war is good…it isn’t, but it did bring the American people together…gave us a sense of belonging to a great country and cause. I read in your materials that your father was involved in real estate. Yes. He was from a young age. He went to the University of California, Berkeley. Both my parents came from Salt Lake City, Utah. They were born there. They migrated west to the Bay Area. My mother actually worked in New York as a legal secretary. She had a career, but was not college educated. She was self-taught and probably smarter than all of us. She was really an extremely bright, curious woman…a fantastic woman. She just died recently at the age of ninety-nine. They were wonderful parents. They were the good old-fashioned kind, very interested in their children and spent a lot of time with us, 4 very inspirational and encouraging. So, I feel very blessed. As I look around today I say, “How did I get so lucky?” We were a very close family and had a lot of fun together…lots of laughter. We’re still close to this day. My Dad was in real estate and a good businessman. Actually, a better businessman than his own father. I think there were about six kids in his family and they went through the Depression and all of that. My grandfather was a high school principal in Utah and not very adept at business…but my Dad was. He was the oldest son. My grandfather got into real estate when he came West. My dad graduated from college and went into business with his father and he found that he was a talented salesman. My dad was in the business for sixty-something years. He was the President of the California Real Estate Association in 1949. Years later, my brother Clark went into the real estate business and became President of the California Real Estate Association and President of the National Real Estate Association. So, real estate was in the family. My oldest brother has also been in real estate. He lives in northern California…the Lake Tahoe area. My youngest brother went the way of his grandfather, our grandfather, and became a schoolteacher. He was the track star. But after going through Stanford, he found that he wanted to teach. He just recently retired after having taught high school English for twenty-eight years. His teaching experiences are fascinating. He is now devoting his time to writing. Was your mother a stay-at-home mom, or did she also work outside the home? My mom was always an energetic go-getter. She was a great homemaker but equally comfortable in the public. She did most of the accounting for my dad’s business because she had a good business mind…very good. Later on, with the growth of the company…other professionals were hired. But she always had a hand in it. She wanted 5 to know what was going on…again, her curiosity at work. She was a very well-rounded person. My parents worked well together, but she was also involved in her children’s activities. The family always came first. She was involved with all the children, whether in sports, dance…with school projects, scouts…and with the Mother’s Club Association. She always had time for us. She had a very fulfilling family, social, and public life. When we came home from school…she was there. So, she was basically a stay-at-home mom. She was such a giving person. I mean she put everybody else before herself…but she could be very feisty too. She had a mind of her own. She knew what was going on in the world. I remember during the war you couldn’t get doctors…they’d all gone into the service. So, she used to give us vitamin shots…she was a great believer in vitamins. I still take vitamins to this day. If you’re going to live to ninety-nine, you’re going to need a few vitamins. She was a great mother…but she was a lousy doctor. My youngest brother used to run and hide in the clothes hamper…anywhere, just to get away from having one of those shots! But she had us full of vitamins and that did cut down on doctors. But that was a time when you learned to save and scrimp and make the best of what you had. From the early days on, my mom had everybody on vitamins. That was way back when there were no health food stores or health food fads. One of her idols was Adele Davis. You know…Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit…that was the name of her book. I attribute my good health, and my brothers’ good health to the way my mother raised us. It sounds like she was quite an influential person. 6 She was! And she was a good cook…loved to cook! It was a warm and fuzzy time and always fun to be together. My mom was loving, kind, generous, smart, and so giving. My dad was disciplined, ethical, honest, kind and a devoted father…a good provider. A good beginning. It was. It was solid…it was secure…and just plain old healthy! The schools that you attended early as a child… were they public schools? Yes. I went to a public school called Frank C. Haven School. I walked to school. It was about eight blocks from home and it took about fifteen minutes or so to get there. Then the high school was just beyond that. So…I walked to school when I was a kid…we all did. In high school we had cars…old cars, like a ’36 Ford. My oldest brother, Ken, was really into cars. Then my second brother, Clark, had a funny little Chevrolet. I don’t think I ever had a car when I was young. I finally got a used car when I went to college…but it was no BMW. It wasn’t beautiful…but it got me where I was going. You and your three brothers, then, were fairly close in age. Were you at the same schools at the same time? Yes. Well, one came right after the other. The biggest gap, I think, was between myself and my little brother. He’s about four-and-a-half years younger. But we were all close in age. We grew up together, shared the holidays and all the good times together. Did all your brothers attend Stanford? No, my youngest brother went to Stanford. He’s the only different one. The rest of us went to the UC system. My two older brothers went to UC Berkeley. I went to UC Berkeley for a couple of years, but because I was so interested in theatre, I transferred to 7 UCLA. I was dancing a lot, too. I had professional dance training all through my academic school years. I knew what I wanted to do in life…so, the next logical step was to transfer to UCLA and take a Theatre Arts major…all the while continuing my dance training in Los Angeles. I graduated from UCLA with a BA in Theatre Arts and a minor in History. I met lifelong friends and my education provided a sound foundation for my career, my life. Let’s go back to your early training. You mentioned that you came from quite an athletic family. Your brothers were in various sports and your mother kind of took control of the situation when you were quite young, three or four? She was an aspiring actress. There’s a funny story about that. Do you want to hear a funny story? Sure. Some movie company was shooting a movie on the old San Rafael-San Francisco Ferry. This was in the ’40s, maybe…or even the late ’30s…early days. It was probably a silent film. They were shooting on the ferryboat in the San Francisco Bay and she was one of the extras. They completed the first day’s shooting. When they came back the next day, my mother returned with a different outfit on. You can’t match two different outfits in the same scene…so, they had to stop all shooting and send her home to put on the original outfit. I love that story! It’s so funny. It’s so “my mother.” She would have been a great actress, but she did great things as a mother. I think she knew and valued her real calling as a mother. Tell me about your first dance teacher… 8 My first dance teacher was one of my dad’s old girlfriends. [Laughing] Sorry, Dad! Actually, it’s a true story. Before he married Mom, my dad had dated this lady who taught dance in the local area. That didn’t bother my mother. This teacher was the best…so that’s where I studied. Did she have a little studio? At Ms. Marion’s studio, I remember going up a long flight of stairs that were trimmed in Spanish tile. I liked the tile…I still like Spanish tiles. It was a big studio…overwhelming for a child of three. The classes for three-and-four-year-olds were more creative dance than ballet. The strict discipline of ballet begins when the muscles, bones, and brain are ready…for example, at six or seven years. Creative dance involved floating around the room…pretending to be wonderful animate and inanimate beings. In one instance, the teacher had us imagining that there was a pool in the middle of the room where we all knelt down. We looked in the water and “saw” our reflections. My mother told me that one day I looked in the pool and blurted out, “I see a fish!” I saw a fish because my dad was a great fly fisherman. There was a lot of fish talk at home. My brothers are still fishermen to this day. It was a natural imagining. Well…that was the first indication I was wacko enough for show business! As a child I loved those free, creative moments. Do you remember the size of the dance class? Oh, there might be twenty little tiny kids running around. Were they all the same age? Yes, about three to five years old…and then you went into a formal classroom when you were about six and you started formal ballet training. 9 Was this with Sibyl Marion? Yes. How many years did you study with her? Until I was about sixteen or seventeen years old…until I went away to college. When did the transition come from the creative, imaginative play dance…to serious technique? When you were about six. You went ‘on pointe’ when you were about nine or ten…when you were ready…when your muscles, technique, and bones were ready. It’s like a racehorse…the knee joint has to close before they can race. How many days a week were devoted to dance practice when you were in grade school? When I was a little kid, it was not that severe. If you’re going to be a professional, you have to do it everyday…five or six days a week. It was more like, “I enjoy it…I like it.” So, I would take maybe one a week to start…then two and then three, maybe… sometimes four. It was part of my life…part of my exercising. I swam, too…as a synchronized swimmer with the Athens Water Follies team. Everybody on the swim team grew up way past me…so, I ended up doing the solos. I competed nationally as a soloist and went to a couple of national meets…one in Des Moines (I placed fourth) and one in Florida, where my mother sewed so many sequins on my swimsuit that I sank to the bottom of the pool! I tried it out just before the meet and I said, “I’m not going to make the meet today because I’ll be on the bottom of the pool.” I think I placed eighth at the Nationals in Florida that year. With the swimming and the dancing…I kept very 10 busy. I was Far Western Champion and Junior Olympics Champion. This was in the early ’50s. What is the Far Western Champion? It was all the Western states competing. This was long before synchronized swimming became an Olympic sport. Was this when you were in high school? Yes, I was in high school. I started in the Athens Water Follies when I was about ten or twelve. I used to love to swim…I even loved to dive. Olympic diver Zoe Ann Olson’s father was the coach there. Zoe Ann Olson was married to Jackie Jensen, the football and baseball great. I idolized her! She used to work out at the Athens Athletic Club and I thought for a while that I wanted to be a diver. But the pressure caused too many ear infections…and the infections were terrible! So I thought, “Well, I can’t do that.” Finally, I ingested so much water through diving and swimming that the doctor said, “Look…you’re going to go deaf if you don’t get out of the water.” By then, I was really into the dancing, where I felt I had a future. But you did them both at the same time? Yes. You kept busy, didn’t you? Yes, I did. I like to be busy…I guess I was programmed that way. Was everyone in your family as involved in extracurricular activities? 11 Yes. My oldest brother, Ken, was into auto racing. My second brother, Clark, was a terrific athlete. He played basketball and he was also a track star. The youngest, Keith, was a great cross country athlete too. So…they were all athletes in one way or another…we all did our own thing. It sounds like it. It was good having outside interests, because it beats drugs and booze and other teenage distractions. I think my mother and dad steered us in the right direction. They came to all the events…all the performances. They were so proud! That’s a lot of support. It really helps. Yes. I’ll never forget my mother when I won the Far Western Synchronized Swimming Championships and they announced it…she stood up in the stands and said, “We won! We won!” Well…it was a “we.” It truly was a “we”…but we teased her about her ever-present enthusiasm! Proud Mom. She was wonderful! I have just great memories…happy memories about my mother. It certainly sounds like it! Now, once you finished high school…did you know that you would go on to college? Was that just a given…or did you give have to think about that? That was interesting because I was studying at Eugene Loring’s American School of Dance in Hollywood. Loring was one of the great choreographers and did a lot of movie work with Cyd Charisse. He choreographed the famous Billy the Kid ballet for the American Ballet Theatre. Anyway, I studied with him in the summers of my junior and 12 senior years of high school. He suggested that I go right on to a dancing career…because a dancer’s life is short. When you reach your late twenties and thirties…you are finished. It’s much like a professional athlete. But my dad said, “No…I want you to go to college. This is the best gift I can give you. An education will provide you with a strong foundation for life and you'll never regret it. You’ll always have that…and that will enable you to make the most out of everything.” I knew he was right and I did it. Then I was fortunate enough to have a career too. So, I kept up the dancing while I attended college. When I transferred from UC Berkeley to UCLA, I did lots of modern dance. After I graduated, I auditioned for a show out of the Hollywood Bowl. That show went on a national tour for three months. Shortly thereafter, I met my partner and embarked on what became my career. Let’s talk about the Hollywood Bowl because I wasn’t quite sure what that was. Have you ever been to the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles? No. It’s an open-air summer theatre in Hollywood and it’s world famous. They present the greatest orchestras and performers there. The last time I attended a performance there I saw [Mikhail] Baryshnikov in his prime. Do they just call for open auditions? Actually, what happened was Steven Papich was producing a show called “The Gay Nineties.” It was starring Patricia Morison, who was an opera singer and movie star, too. You probably have never heard of her, but I had seen her in the movies. She was a very beautiful woman with a gorgeous voice. Papich built the show around her and produced 13 it at the Hollywood Bowl. It was called “Gay Nineties Night” at the Hollywood Bowl. Papich then took the show on the road for about three months. We did one-night-stands, which was really tough…but it was a fun show. We toured the country and when the tour was finished I was introduced to my future dance partner by a mutual friend. Was this immediately after you graduated from college? Well, in college I worked for a screenwriter…Adrian Spies. Those were the days of live television. He did a lot of live television…like “Playhouse 90.” Then right after college, I went to work for Ziv Productions. They were producing about eight television shows: “Tombstone Territory,” “Bat Masterson”…“Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges…and all of those. They’d shoot them in five days. They were cheap, but the writers were very prolific…the stars were charismatic and the shows were popular. Anyway, I worked there for the production manager, Joe Wonder. It was great experience…and again, it was mostly secretarial work. I enjoyed it, but meanwhile I was getting myself in shape…I started dancing seriously again. Describe what’s involved in what you call “getting yourself in shape.” How intense was your training? A good diet was a big part of it because you get a little chunky when you sit in a chair all day. So, number one…you take ballet class…and secondly, you watch what you eat. I got myself down to about ninety-two pounds. Ninety-five was my “fighting” weight. That was the best weight for me when I was dancing. Were you still with Eugene Loring at this time? 14 Yes. There was another great and wonderful teacher in Hollywood named Carmelita Marrachi. She was a fiery little woman with great teaching skills. She had a little one-room studio where she taught the best of Broadway, movie, and ballet dancers in town. I loved to study with her. She was so intense…dynamic…dramatic! Was this in Hollywood also? Right in Hollywood…right near Hollywood High. I would study with her on Saturdays. After work, I’d take classes. So, I got myself in pretty good shape and auditioned for the Hollywood Bowl show…and they hired me. The show called for all different sizes and shapes, so being undersized didn’t matter…I was only 4’11.’’ I was definitely vertically-challenged. I’ve always been vertically-challenged! I’ve always needed a stool or a ladder or cushion. I wondered how difficult that was…with studying ballet. It’s great for ballet and gymnastics. Size has nothing