The New Meet the People
Sometime after my initial engagements in various venues, film, vaudeville, night clubs and concert tours, an offer came in regarding a sequel to the first stage production of “ Meet the People “ which was very successful in Los Angeles during the season of 1940.
The same group of showmen, Jay Gorney, Edward Elliscu, Henry Myers and Danny Dare decided to assemble a cast of young performers in a new version to be booked into the Assistance League Playhouse, a small theater in an older section of Los Angeles. I had played there quite often in connection with my work under Pan-American Concerts. As my dance performances were apparently well-known to this company, I was hired because of my reputation. The opportunity seemed very worthwhile. I was to appear in two of my dance solos and take part in several skits.
I was glad to have the work and exposure to the public. Rehearsals began in the early spring of 1943. It was strictly Actor’s Equity contract and five weeks were the standard form of preparation for performances.
It was interesting and different. I was concerned that I really did not fit into this sort of presentation since my dance was dedicated to an authentic style. There were no references to Spain …only to Mexico and that was not a relationship to the sophisticated form of Spanish dance.
We opened in the summer months with great success. I danced my Farruca in a white pair of “pantalones” with matching vest and a white Spanish “Sombrero Andaluz” hat. As always this seemed to suit my build and manner of moving. Many nights it stole the show. My second offering was the old Gitanerias by Lecuona which so impressed the troupe of La Argentinita a few years back. The use of castanets and a fan was a contrast to the masculine choreography of the typical Farruca. The music played on two pianos was a composition of Manuel Garcia-Matos and genuine in its musical structure.
The run was tiring. We performed every night and matinees on weekends.
In one instance, I substituted as a tap dancer when June Haver became ill and was unable to perform. I had learned the little routines to the song Shoo Shoo Baby. It was one of the popular dance songs of the period. The management was delighted that I had so successfully filled in for June. Later on Haver left the show. She had a minor movie career and retired to marry the film star Fred MacMurray.
During the run, I was the recipient of much newspaper publicity and my photos appeared often in the Los Angeles press. A kind of local fame descended on me. It was a positive experience and I had admirers among the cast a well as public acclaim. Throughout all of my early engagements I was photographed over and over again which resulted in a great deal of exposure in the press.
Due to the Internet today, many of these old images have surfaced from various sources so that a kind of virtual notoriety exists without my actual consent or knowledge.
I still felt confined by the scope of the production as it was endlessly repetitious in formula and although I led a fairly glamorous existence, my private life suffered in some ways. The contract was for “run of the play” or ten months. I finally left after the ten months shortly after the show was moved to the Music Box Theater in another part of Los Angeles the following year. I had the impression I was marking time. As years went by, I noted that the cast members including Jack Gilford and many others have passed on. And still I continue…….Despite my feeling of stagnation, my reputation as an effective performer was strong enough at that time to continue receiving offers. I had a engagement extended to me for a Las Vegas show early in 1945 with a weekly salary of $250! This was brought about by an earlier contact with Carlos Valadez, the Afro-Cuban dancer I knew from the old Fiesta Club in 1942. He was always an admirer of my dancing. I refused to accept this due to the personal turmoil of my life at the time. Although my health was good, I felt tired and listless. It was one of the many mistakes I made in those years.