The Film Work of the 1940’s and 1950’s
Soon after my first professional dance experience, I was noticed by other professionals in various night club engagements. These appearances served primarily as showcases and an opportunity to gain experience.
Reginald Le Borg, a director and actor of European background saw me at Grace Hayes Lodge in Studio City, and he contracted me to do a solo in two short musical films produced at Universal Studios. One was titled, Skyline Serenade and the other Rumba Rhythms. With these movies, I joined the Screen Actor’s Guild. I now had membership in Actor’s Equity because of my appearance in a Civic Light Opera Production of Rio Rita produced by Edwin Lester. In addition, to these affiliations I also was required to join American Guild of Variety Actors.
With my experience so far, and some of my early concert appearances, I was approached by a producer, George Bilson, who asked for two dances in his feature, Foot light Varieties. It was filmed and released at RKO Studios in Hollywood. The movie’s format was presented as a vaudeville show with a line-up of popular performers in individual acts.
My first dance, an Alegrias, was accompanied by three members of the Heredia family. They included a young guitarist and his two sisters who supported me with rhythmic hand clapping. The second dance, a Farruca which I performed on a small table two feet by two feet was danced in male costume. This sequence, as it turned out was the one which appeared in the feature. The other dance was not used.
However, publicity photos showing me in costume for the Alegrias were displayed prominently in posters large and small, windows cards and ads for the movie. (They exist today as collector items).
My part of the filming was completed in several days and released in 1951 as a companion piece to a full length horror movie entitled The Thing.
The final version of the table dance was introduced by Jack Parr, who played himself, was altered with a sound track recording of an orchestra and applause and concluded with the closing of a curtain. Some movie trickery!
During that year 1952, I performed in two concerts, one in Los Angeles and another in Redlands Bowl in Redlands, California with guitarist and pianist.
Finances were very low, but I continued to pick up whatever work could be found in local television shows and night clubs. I now had a union card from the American Guild of Radio and Television Artists. During that early period, I even danced on a radio program in which I provided the sound of my heel and castanet patterns for a sequence about a Spanish dancer!
In the later part of 1952, after the Redlands Bowl appearance, I received a call from an obscure talent agent whom I knew over the years. She suggested I meet with people at Paramount Studios in Hollywood who were seeking a female flamenco dancer who could dance in male costume in a film starring Bob Hope. During the interview, it was revealed there was film on me. After several days, I was notified that I had been selected to appear in a solo dance in a film titled Here Come the Girls with Bob Hope, Arlene Dahl, Rosemary Clooney, and Tony Martin.
Following a short period, a call came from Paramount Studios to begin rehearsals. Nick Castle, the dance director, was very courteous and respectful of my work and we began organizing the dance he visualized for the production. I was the featured dancer. He chose various movements and passages from my Farruca, a version of which he saw in the clip from Footlight Varieties. It was based on nine minutes of the original dance. From this I was able to give him about one minute and 22 seconds for the sequence. Five weeks were spent on the one scene with the backup of chorus dancers.
During this time I was told that Paramount Studios had auditioned every Spanish dancer in town. They were looking for a female flamenco dancer who could wear trousers and dance in a certain style envisioned by the dance director Nick Castle. It was almost a parallel to the Cinderella story and the glass slipper. The search was focused on someone who could fit into that production number. Of course, I did not have to audition as the film from Foot light Varieties made at RKO Studios two years earlier showed me in male attire dancing on a table. Evidently I was exactly what they hoped for!
While the rehearsals were in progress, I was summoned to the office of Edith Head the famous costume designer for a meeting. Ms. Head asked: “Can you work in beads?” I told her I could. It was decided that the design of the male costume would be white with a jacket heavily embroidered with bugle beads and sequins. The trousers and top consisted of a satin false front and attached pants. Two sets were fashioned of this combination for a replacement in case of damage. Three matching Spanish hats were made and three pairs of shoes ordered from Capezio.
Rehearsals and recordings sessions were interesting in themselves. The actual sound of my heel rhythms, hand clapping and the finger snapping I did were recorded in a large sound stage. I watched the film of my dance and matched everything to the movements. During these sessions we were joined at one point by the Step Brothers, a team of wonderful black tap dancers who were featured in movie. I was doing my “pitos”, the finger snapping so prominent in flamenco and the sound came out very crisp and clear. As a joke, they circled me one day and tried to figure out my technique. They thought I had metal clickers in my hands.
All of the dancers on the set were very congenial and a few knew me from other engagements. I was addressed by Castle as Miss Inesita. At the conclusion of the shooting, Mr. Castle told me I had given him everything he asked for and then I gave him more. A film clip of the sequence can be viewed on YouTube and on my Web Site.
In 1953, the movie opened in New York City with much fanfare soon after I returned from Spain and a summer of study.