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Dancers Over 40 ARTS Legacy

DO40 Arts Legacy Interview

Yvonne Adrian Puckett | Roger Puckett

Yvonne Adrian Puckett

What inspired you to become a dancer?

1944: I was 7. I found a photo of a little girl wearing a tutu, in my hometown news-paper. I wanted to wear that tutu! I took it to Fern, (we called our mother Fern), pointed to the ad and said, “I want to dance and wear a costume like hers.” 

My biggest inspiration: My parents owned a small luncheonette. Near the counter in the front, was a liquified multi-colored Wurlitzer juke box. On the side was a tiny screen like a television. It featured Soundies: Songs would play for a nickel and I could watch the Frankie Manning lindy hop dancers from the Apollo Theater in Harlem. I learned all the swing dances. I danced to Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and all the big bands. Soundies changed my life. 

1953. We became the pioneers of the 50’s. The six of us and our dog Puppy, trekked cross country to Hollywood, California. My father, Lyle had lost his job at Avon Aircraft after the war. Eventually he found a job at Northrop Aircraft. Fern loved Jimmy Stewart and yearned to meet him. (She did get to see him at a movie premiere we attended, sitting in the bleachers). I checked into Bellflower High school on my 16th birthday. Fern said we had 20 cents in our pocket and I would have to find a job to pay for my own clothes. She found an ad in the LA Times for the Baker Dance School in Lakewood, looking for a dance teacher. I auditioned. I got the job. I learned everything I know now from Charley Baker. I taught kids ballet, tap, tumbling, acting out nursery rhymes. I learned the authentic hula and was introduced to jazz dance. Charley presented street performances at shopping centers, hospitals and neighborhood street corners promoting the Baker Dance school. I was featured with my siblings and ran the show, playing records on a portable music player. When I told Charley I had to leave and go to college. He said, no, if you do, you’ll be four years older when you graduate and everyone else will have the jobs. Hit the street kid. Audition! I did. First amateur show Best Foot Forward I auditioned for Tommy Wonder and Maggie Banks for Cal/Neva Lodge, Lake Tahoe. The stars were George Gobel and Johnny Ray. I watched him sing CRY every night. I joined AGVA and became a proud professional dancer at 17! 

Who were the most influential people in your career? 

I counted over 30! The nearest and dearest to my heart would be Edwin Lester, longtime general director of the LACLOA, Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. Mr. Lester gave me understudy roles - Ado Annie, Oklahoma, Miss Adelaide, Guys & Dolls, Ellie, Showboat, Little Eva, The King & I. Next, Lester Lewis, my agent after I moved to New York. Discovering Luigi and Francis Roach. My modern dance teacher, Ms. Kephardt, choreographers, Dania Krupska, Ernie Flatt, Jack Bunch, Matt Maddox, Fluff Charleton, Tommy Panko, Richard France, Michiko, Jack Cole, Sonia Shaw, Eugene Loring, Dick Andros, Bobby Van, Gene Nelson, Hal Belfer, Gene Reed, Earl Barton. Lee Theodore, Marguerite Derricks (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and many others. 

What were your most memorable dance performances? 

Hollywood films: two movies with Elvis, Kissin’ Cousins and Roustabout, Ladies Man with Jerry Lewis, The Pleasure of his Company with Fred Astaire, two TV specials with Johnathan Winters, The Ed Sullivan Show with Tony Martin.

Elvis and I became friends. We met in Vegas. I was 18, a dancer at the Sahara Hotel. He and his entourage came to our show. He invited me to a party at the Riviera. A small party, ten guests. He served cokes and hot dogs. He didn’t drink or smoke then. He called me “a country girl” because I was born in Kentucky. When we met up again in the films, he would spend time, talking to me, sharing with me he didn’t like doing films. He wanted to perform in person and seemed to feel stuck in films. The Kissin’ Cousins choreographer was Hal Belfer. We had worked together when he hired me for the Tony Martin Act. Hal asked me if I had any fun steps for the Barefoot Ballad song. You can see my footwork in the film. For me, that’s memorable. 

1966. Equity Library Theater, The Boyfriend. Directed by Richard France, choreographer Ellen Ray, music direction, Byron Tinsley. I had just moved to New York, after performing USO Shows from Alaska to Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. I did not want to return to California. The transit workers went on strike just as we started The Boyfriend rehearsals. I had found my own apartment on W 22nd St. (3 flight walkup) with a police lock on the door. The Herald-Tribune reviewed the show. We got raves and I received a special mention. I played Dulcie, the theatre agent. Lester Lewis came to see the show and signed me to an exclusive contract. I was able to make a lot of money doing regional theater, television commercials and voice overs. 

Roger Puckett came to see The Boyfriend. We met backstage. He had just opened Triton Gallery, Broadway Show Posters on West 45th Street. He became my “boyfriend” and my husband when we married 3 years later. We have two children, Matthew and Serena, three grandchildren, David James, Molly Moon and Jack Star. 

What was the most frightening or funny story? 

I married my first husband, Robert Adrian in 1958. A director at Players Ring Theatre in Hollywood. His father was Louis Adrian, musical conductor of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. Louis had conducted Mary Martin in Peter Pan on Broadway, and had won the Tony Award for Kismet in 1953. Louis took an immediate dislike to me. He wanted Robert to marry Mary Martin’s daughter, Heller Halliday. The King & I was the first show of the season at LACLOA. I wanted to audition. Louis told me he thought Michiko the choreographer had already chosen her dancers and I would be wasting my time. After all, he said, “you have blue eyes and blonde hair, don’t go.” I’m a Scorpio and when I feel the sting, I sting back. My best friend dancer, Terri Hoefke had danced in the movie The King & I. I asked her to teach me some of the choreography. She taught me the King Simon of Legree choreography. (I can still do it!) I dyed my hair black, bought Mehron’s darkest makeup I could find, went to the audition and kept my blue eyes to the floor. Michiko gave us the steps Terri taught me. I was in the front row and gave it all I got! When the phone rang and the stage manager, Kenn Randall, said he was calling to tell me I had been cast. He stopped. Yvonne Adrian? He stopped again. Are You? You are…ohmygawd…. You’re married to Louis’s son!!! And you didn’t tell anybody? More power to you! And Congratulations. I got my Equity Card. In San Francisco at the Curran Theatre, I had to go on suddenly for Little Eva. The first eyes and arms I saw when I entered the stage was my father-in-law’s! I danced my heart out. Louis and I became best friends.

What would you say to the next generation of dancers?

Many dancers I know have been told by parents or teachers or others that they didn’t look like a dancer. They were too fat, too thin, too tall, too short; we have all heard the story. I am 5’3” and chose to dance tall and big, with en-thusiasm and at times would elbow my way down front to be seen. My words of wisdom would be, turn your back on anyone who makes you feel you’re not good enough, tall enough, good looking enough. When you feel the call to dance or perform or act, you must know you are a creative artist. Let no one stand in your way. Auditions are forever challenging. Prepare! Study! Study! Performing is fun. Always be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm! Powerful words for dancing through life.  


Roger Puckett

What inspired you to become a dancer?

I was three years old. My Aunt Louise had a dance school in Brown-wood, Texas. For her dance recital, she taught me to turn around 3 times and bow to the audience. And repeat. The first time I bowed to the audience. The second time I bowed with my butt to the audience. I got a laugh and applause. I did it again. Aunt Louise said that was great Roger, and motioned me off the stage. I shook my head and kept turning and bowing. My home was in San Saba, Texas. I was inspired by movie musicals. I mimicked all the movie’s dance moves. I fell in love with Betty Grable in Song of The Islands.  My inspiration idols were Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and George Raft. 

Who were most influential in your career? 

15 years after my three-year-old dance debut, I took a modern dance class at Lon Morris College from dance teacher Utah Ground. Her real name was UTA, however, in Texas they stretched it to UTaaah. Tommy Tune and Sandy Duncan were also her students. Utah knew how to sell a number. She and I hit it off. She took me to Dallas Summer Musicals to audition for choreographers, Dania Krupska and Joe Layton for Fanny. I got the job, my Equity card, and became a professional dancer at 18. Donald Saddler was my greatest influence. He was also at Dallas Summer Musicals. He would give a ballet barre before each rehearsal every morning. He gave individual attention to all the dancers. I worked with him for at least a dozen shows, including stock and New York productions, like South Pacific

What were your most memorable dance performances? 

Snowboy in West Side Story. When WSS took a break in 1960, the original cast came to Dallas Summer Musicals for a two-week run. Lee Becker was Jerome Robbins dance assistant. She taught us the original choreography. To this day I remember the thrill of dancing with the original dancers. My next most memorable dance performance was at the New York World’s Fair in To Broadway With Love, choreo-graphed by Donald Saddler. My part-ner, Denise Mason and I were the first couple to enter through mirrors set up in such a way, we looked like ten couples. The routine was The Merry Widow Waltz. 

What was the most frightening or funny story? 

I was at Casa Mañana Theatre in the round, Fort Worth, Texas. The show was Li’l Abner. We were doing the Sadie Hawkins Day crossover. A singer who had won Miss Texas was chasing me from the top of the aisle down to the stage. She tripped and fell. I was left standing mid-stage. I looked back to find her. She wasn’t there. She was laying in the aisle. I shrugged my shoulders, like…whaaat? I got a big laugh. Ellen Ray, the director/choreographer, said afterwards, “Keep it in!” 

What would you say to the next generation of dancers? 

Let’s talk about auditions. No dancer can get a job without an audition. I would ask this generation, are you ready for your auditions? Can you sing, act and dance? Have you studied with the best you can study with? Most young dancers today come from amazing dance teachers throughout the country. Also from colleges and universities where they have already performed in Broadway musi-cals. Are you one who chooses to be non-Equity, or wants to join Actors Equity? Either way, you must audition. Be prepared for any-thing. Try every-thing. Every dance class you take, imagine it’s an audition. Be prepared to be rejected, accepted and insulted. Stay strong. Stay confident. Stay healthy. I wish this current generation the best of luck.  


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