In Memoriam #2
DO40 will Celebrate the Life of Gene Gavin
At our Upcoming Legacy Awards December 7th
DO40 was notified a few weeks ago that long-time DO40 member Gene Gavin died suddenly in his apartment on the Upper West Side after a fall in his kitchen. Gene was scheduled to receive a DO40 Legacy Award December 7th, along with honorees Donna McKechnie, Tony Sheldon, James Dybas and Janice Herbert. Gene had just come to our DO40 Membership Meeting September 21st and was extremely excited about receiving his award. Members of his family have contacted DO40, and some will travel to NYC for the awards event to help celebrate honor Gene and his long dance career.
Gene was with Jerome Robbins Ballet USA in the 1950’s and performed in many Fosse shows, including Pleasures and Palaces, Little Me, and How to Succeed in Business, as well as Walking Happy, Skyscraper, Sail Away, Finian’s Rainbow and the original West Side Story. He wrote a column called “The Dance Belt” for the DO40 Newsletter for many years, chronicling the comings and goings of all the gypsies, who, presumably, lived in the West 50’s – the “dance belt!”
Gene had a wonderful sense of humor and attended all of our events. He participated in our Men of Fosse and Agnes de Mille programs as a panelist as well. He has many nieces and nephews, and when we get more information we will pass it on. But for now, the family requests that donations in Gene’s honor be sent to:
Dancers Over 40
P.O. Box 2103,
New York, NY 10101
A very heartfelt thank you to Mrs. Rita Tuttle, wife of Gene Gavin’s late brother, James, for suggesting this wonderful tribute.
Here is a copy of the last newsletter article that Gene wrote for us, back in 2007, that ironically speaks about St. Peter and the Pearly Gates:
The Dance Belt, by Gene Gavin
Before I ever auditioned for the choreographer who is the subject of this little tome, I had met him socially several times. Each time I met him he was gratuitously complimentary. “I admire your work,” “you’re such a good dancer,” etc., and so, when the time came that I needed a job and he was having an audition, I figured I had a good chance of landing a job with him.
The audition started out well with his assistant teaching a combination and then in groups of three or five we all did the steps. When we finished, the choreographer called my name and asked me to do the combination by myself and proceeded to tell the rest of the dancers that he wanted them to do the combination as I did it. And then he hired someone who did it (I guess) like I did it. Just not me.
More socializing, more gratuitous compliments and one day the opportunity came to audition for him again. The same procedure. Everyone learned a combination, everyone did the combination, I was called forward to do the combination alone and again he asked everyone to do it as I did – and then he hired someone else.
So, if when I approach those “Pearly Gates,” I see Saint Peter, I’m turning around and telling him – I think you want someone like me, but just not me!
We will miss you, Mr. Gavin. And I’m sure you will get that big show in the sky.
St. Peter knows talent when he sees it! -- xoxo DO40.
Jerry Ames, Beloved, Respected Tap Dancer,
Teacher and Long-Time DO40 Member, 80
The news has come to us that Jerry Ames died on February 7, 2011, in his sleep, following an extended illness. One of the most accomplished and respected tap dancers in the world, his passing is mourned by his family as well as the international dance and theater communities. He performed and conducted master classes throughout the country and across the globe and was a tireless champion for the modern art and practice of tap.
Mr. Ames performed as a soloist for many years, praised by critics for his silvery lightness of foot and dazzling leaps and turns. His company was known for its ecumenical approach to tap, melding it with waltzes, Irish jigs and Spanish music. As well as being known for his connection to the Irish "jig and tap" tradition, he was esteemed by his black colleagues and immersed in black culture. He was, in fact, the only white dancer on the bill for the "Tap Happenings," a series of jam sessions in NYC in 1969. Prominently featuring the renowned tap dancer Chuck Green, the happenings took place in midtown, moving to the Mercury theatre in the E. Village soon after. They are credited with having created the widespread revival of interest in tap.
Jerome Howard Abrams was born in Brooklyn on June 5, 1930 and grew up in Queens. he began ballet lessons at aged 4, was dancing professionally by the time he was 15 and later studied with the super-extraordinary, irreplaceable tap dancer, Paul Draper. Jerry Ames was featured in the 1980 documentary film, "Tapdancin'" and he was also the author, with Jim Siegelman, of "The Book of Tap: Recovering America's Long Lost Dance," published in 1977.
On a personal note, as a modern dancer with no "Tap" background whatsoever, I was introduced to Jerry's wonderful way of teaching when I returned to NYC 30 years ago, with teenaged son, Alexander, in tow. Alex had performed at the St.Louis Municipal Opera (the "Muni") and had decided that he wanted to come to NY and "do" Broadway. He got into "King & I" as Connie Towers' son Louis and later into "Peter Pan" as John, with Sandy Duncan. He loved tap dance and wanted to find a good teacher; I asked around everywhere and everyone referred us to the same person: Jerry Ames. So off we trundled and Alex was hooked! Nobody in our family had done any dance but ballet & modern, so he was the first hoofer in the family and to this day thanks Jerry in his heart whenever he needs to shuffle off into a routine. He still talks of Jerry's patience and kind support to this fledgling actor.
Jerry Ames is survived by his sister, Alice Goldreyer; his nieces Jill Porter and Jodi Spencer; his nephew Ned Goldreyer, their spouses Gary Porter, Patrick Spencer and Amy Goldreyer, grandnieces Katie and Abigail, and grandnephews Kyle, Aidan, Ethan and Joshua. His companion of many years, Joseph Silvestri, died before him.
According to the recent obit in the New York Times, Jerry Ames' democratic approach to tap dancing was based on his desire to ensure its continued survival. He told the newspaper in 1976, "Tap can't depend on nostalgia. It is innovative. There must be room. We can't just lament tap dancing as a lost art."
Crandall Diehl - 86
Respected and versatile actor/dancer/director/choreographer
by Gregg Mayer
We are sad to report the death of this highly-regarded performer, who passed away April 5 at age 86. Diehl came to fame as dance captain of My Fair Lady on Broadway as well as being part of the team that revived the original Hanya Holm work, in Mexico, Argentina and elsewhere. He won great acclaim in recreating the Holm choreography, as well peforming from the 40's through the present, when he was onstage as part of our recent, sold-out Agnes De Mille panel.
He performed in The Golden Apple circa 1954 . And also in sone of the most remarkable works of the very early 1950's, such as: Of Thee I Sing. Not to mention Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Call me Madam. In 1988, Diehl appeared in the documentary on Hanya Holm, Hanya: Portrait of a Pioneer and as recently as 1998, he appeared in the short film, Young Goodman Brown.
Crandall with Hope Clarke
by Gregg Mayer
George and Ethel Martin
George Martin, famous for being a Jack Cole dancer from the 40's and for being one half of the George and Ethel Martin team, has died in Atlanta. Struggling for a long time with cancer, Martin was beloved by all his colleagues and is mourned not only by the dancers and actors with whom the couple worked, but by the many students of Theatre Arts who have benefitted (and will continue to benefit) from the Martin papers, left to Marymount Manhattan College in NYC.
The Martins met on the set of the film, "The Yellow Rose of Texas, in LA in 1943. Ethel, who survives her husband (but is ill in a long-term facility), was the niece of a husband-and-wife vaudeville team, and had become a tap dancer. George also was interested in tap dance after seeing "Top Hat", so off he went to a summer course at Jacob's Pillow. From there, the Martins worked with Jack Cole, as some of our DO40 members might recall from our recent Jack Cole event, which may have been the last time most of us saw George Martin. He made his Broadway debut in 1943 in Lady in the Dark, and Ethel joined him in their first joint appearance in 1952 in a revival of Pal Joey. By the 1960's, they had moved offstage, working as choreographers and production stage managers on Broadway, as well as at theatres across the country. In the 50's he was in various films, as a dancer, including On the Riviera and of course with Ethel in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1966.
In 2004, the Martins retired and arranged for their papers to be in collection at Marymount. The Martin Papers consist of six series, arranged by genre: wrapped papers, oversize items, papers, videotape, photos and jackets. Many huge theatre posters, floor plans and other oversize items are wrapped carefully and fill many acid-free boxes. Scripts, sheets of music and videotape series also comprise the collection. The video series consists of one item, a 1976 American Dance Machine performance of Cole's choreography for Kismet, in which the Martins danced in its original run in the mid-50's.
For those interested in knowing more about the collection, we have the complete inventory at DO40. They are available for research but may not be photocopied other than for classroom/research purposes.
James Alex - 82
by Gregg Mayer
The versatile and popular James Alex died on January 28. A successful business-man and entrepreneur, he was a skater, dancer, choreographer and producer, who went from being a multiple National Junior Figure Skating champion to choreographing and dancing in such Broadway productions as "Guys and Dolls," "The Boyfriend," "West Story," "Curtain Going Up," and "Carnival in Flanders." Discovered by Gwen Verdon (after his stint in the navy during the war), he was trained by Jack Cole and went on to work with theatre companies from Broadway throughout the country to summer stock, musical theatre and television. His work included such popular shows as the Ed Sullivan Show, The Frank Sinatra Show, the Perry Como Show and the unforgettable Your Show of Shows.
As an entrepreneur, Mr. Alex moved into several real estate-related ventures and was a consultant to Bob Hope Enterprises. In recent years, he moved into work as a motion picture producer, including work with the Carradine brothers, Mickey roney, Martin Landau and Rita Morena. Most recently, he completed "The Amati Girls," starring Mercedes Reuhl, Mark Harmon, Paul Sorvino and Cloris Leachman. The film won Best Picture Award at the Marco Island Film Festival and the cherished Award of Excellence at the Heartland Film Festival.
A renowned and popular teacher, Mr. Alex taught his Jack Cole style of modern jazz dance at his own studio, along with Ethel Martin, for many years.He is survived by his son, John Alex who has told us that his father's appearance in the Ed Sullivan Show, performing a trio dance number with Matt Maddox and George Martin (from
"Carnival in Flanders,") won a Tony Award at the time. He leaves a great legacy in many areas of entertainment and business. A Renaissance man for his times.
Betty Garrett, Film, TV and Broadway darling - 91
by Gregg Mayer
The energetic, perky and lovable Betty Garrett has died in Los Angeles, according to her son, Garrett Parks. Best known as the flirtatious girl in love with the shy Frank Sinatra in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "On the Town" (both from 1949), Garrett went on to become a popular sitcom actress in the 70's in "All in the Family" and "Laverne and Shirley." Married to actor Larry Parks, she suffered during the black-listing period of the early 50's along with her husband, whose career came to an early end from the testifying and accusations.
Moving along from that dark period, Garrett came into her own with the show-stopping "South America, Take it Away," in "Call Me Madam" and then her non-stop work with MGM musicals, of which "On the Town" was probably one of the most popular. Along with comedian Red Skelton, Garrett also rose to fame in "Neptune's Daughter," where they sang the Oscar-winning song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." She also co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Janet Leigh in the 1955 musical version of "My Sister Eileen." Parks' career ended soon after the blacklisting, and he became a home-builder, dying in 1975.
Betty Garrett was born in 1919 in St.Joseph, Missouri. Her father was a traveling salesman, who moved his family to Seattle and died soon after of alcoholism when Betty was only two. She attended Roman Catholic schools even though she wasn't Catholic. But she had demonstrated a talent for dance and theatre, so her ambitious mother took her to New York where she won a scholarship at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse when she was 17.
Her stage debut came with "Danton's Death" at Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre in 1938, followed by appearances in several other shows, including "Bells Are Ringing," with Judy Holliday. She actually (and unbeknownst to me, as a dancer and dance historian), danced with Martha Graham's company. She then moved onto working summers with several Borscht Belt theater troupes, which included some of the most talented performers of the immediate post-war era.
In addition to Garrett Parks, a composer, Betty Garrett is survived by her younger son Andrew, an actor. A memorial service is planned later in the month.
Over the years, Garrett maintained a busy career in theater and television, garnering an emmy nomination in 2003 for an appearance on the Ted Danson sitcom, "Becker." She also appeared on Broadway in "Spoon River Anthology" and "Meet Me in St.Louis," and later in a revival of Sondheim's "Follies."
More recently, Garrett published her autobiography, "Betty Garrett and Other songs," which was the title of her solo show. She also taught and appeared in plays at Workshop Wsest, which he helped found, in the late 50's. Around the time of her published autobiography, 1998, she was asked if she retained biterness that he and Parks were blacklisted, she replied, "It's not my nature to be bitter. What I feel is deep sorrow. We both, I think, were just on the verge of becoming really big stars, particularly Larry. And it just went crashing down."
Tom O'Steen - 74
by Gregg Mayer
It is sad to report the death of one of Broadway and TV's well-respected dancers, Tom O'Steen. The cause of death was lung cancer.
O'Steen was a dancer on Broadway in "Silk Stockings," and also performed as Joey, and one of the original dancers, in "Bells Are Ringing." A Jack Cole dancer, he was married to Nora Reho, with whom he had several children, two of whom, Michael and Michele O'Steen, went on to follow in their father's footsteps, to become professional dancers on Broadway.
Known for his work as dancer on The Perry Como Show, he went on to open a dance school when he brought his family to Pittsburgh. He kept on teaching there for close to fifty years, as well as traveling to many dance conventions, teaching other dance teachers. According to DO40 member and Membership Coordinator Judy Mc Grath, Tom was not only a dear friend, but "one of the best dancers" she ever saw. She also wanted us to know that when DO40 presented its tribute to Jack Cole, "Tommy was the blond dancer on Jack's right, in Sing,Sing, Sing," which was shown at that event. Next time you see that segment, raise a glass to Tom O'Steen.