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Frederic Franklin No. 01 [November 25, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0582
Run Time
0h 19m 33s
Date Produced
November 25 1985
Q: Freddie, tell me about the first time you met Ruth Page. Where was it? When was it?
A: Well, it really is quite a strange story, in a way. We had performed -- the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo -- at the Hollywood Bowl, and Mr. Denham, our director, had said that we were going to have a ballet by the famous Miss Ruth Page. But there was very little time to rehearse this ballet. We were traveling by train at the moment, and on the way back [to New York], there was a layover in Kansas City, and we were told that Miss Page would be there and we would rehearse there. Well, I asked how long it would be -- three hours. Well, we got there and Mr. Denham said, "Now you go to this hotel" -- it was with Ruthanna Boris, who was doing [Frankie] with me -- and I said, "Very well." We went. Room so-and-so, whatever it was. We went up to the room, and there's Miss Page in her bra and panties; there's a sheet on the wall, and she's showing [a film of] Frankie and Johnny. So, I always say I met Ruth in a hotel room in Kansas City for the first time. That was it. And we rehearsed for two hours; we learned the pas de deux in the ballet, we got dressed -- I was in my shorts -- we got back on the train and came to New York -- she came with us -- and a week later, we were doing it on the stage. That was my first encounter with Ruth.
Q: That was 1944 [sic: 1945].
A: 1944 [sic: 1945]. It was funny. Right away we got along. I sort of liked her style. lt was a bit shocking, mind you, but I liked it. It was the way she got at things; a very theatrical, no-nonsense lady -- "You do this" and "You do that" and, of course, it was like the old-style movies -- the thing flickered, you know. It was peering and looking and singing. However, that was the very first time I'd ever . . . . Of course, I knew of her in England. We'd known of Ruth. She was a very famous lady. But to meet her and be in one of her ballets was something else. And, oh, I knew of Ruth really as soon as I got into the ballet world. I knew of her and what she was doing, and she'd done this with Adolph Bolm, and she'd done this with somebody else. Oh, we were all very much aware of her. Very much.
Q: Was she considered something of a curiosity, Freddie? Was she unusual? I mean, if you had to put her in a category with other people at that time, was she sort of considered far out, or . . . ?
A: Well, you know, it was a funny thing. You couldn't really place her, simply because she did so many different things. I mean, she was interested in all cultures, and out of those cultures, she would make ballets. And then, a dancer of her caliber, being classically trained, working with a man like Harald Kreutzberg, who was a German modern dancer . . . . She was so bold about these things and very sort of innovative in those days . . . and we knew of her because of those wonderful things; the reason she did them and why she did them. She wasn't sort of narrow. She wasn't hidebound in any way. If it pleased her . . . she had the intuitive thing about what she wanted to do, and she did it, and it was marvelous.
Q: Tell me about what you knew about her reputation in England, because at that point, she was just beginning to build . . . .
A: By that time, she'd danced with Kreutzberg, she'd danced with lots of Europeans -- not European people so much, but she'd been in Europe, and we'd known of her. There was a very good publication, The Dancing Times, and they always reviewed all the dancers that were coming from America to dance in England or to dance in Europe. Oh, I knew of Ruth Page really as soon as I got into the ballet world. I knew of her and I . . . .
Q: Now Bentley Stone was her partner in that film of Frankie and Johnny that you were watching.
A: That's right.
Q: And you and Ruthanna Boris were set to dance it on tour or New York . . . .
A: The thing was, it was going to be done. We took it on the road. We opened out of town, which was something we did in those days. Yes, they were in it. They were doing it, and then it was coming to New York. Ruth and Bentley were going to do the opening night; then Ruthanna and I were going to do it after. But the second night -- and this is unfortunate, because in her book, and I pointed this out to Ruth, it's not mentioned that I danced with Ruth Page -- I did the second performance. When she was having the book done by John Martin, I said, "Ruth, but that's wrong. Bentley did one show." "Oh," she said, "Freddie, darling, you mean we danced together?" I said, "Of course we did." And we did. I did dance with her. And from then on, of course, after that it was with Ruthanna.
Q: You are the first person that I have been able to speak to with . . . who has actually danced with, partnered, Ruth.
A: Oh, she was wonderful. No, the thing was -- and it was very good -- because it's very difficult going on for the first time when two of the dancers are new. But when you go on with someone, that's why a debut is always made . . . if it's going to be the boy you go with a ballerina that knows it, and vice versa. Well, with me it was wonderful because Ruth, if I had any lapses, she'd get me through it. She was wonderful. And she was very much like Madame Danilova, with whom I also danced in those days a lot. I used to say, "Ruth, you 'hook' wonderfully well." Now, all the lifts, that lift up and around about, she'd just grab onto me and hook onto me, and there was no problem. She hooked very well, I must say. I enjoyed it. It was fun for me.
Q: Now, at that time, that was really rather a shocking ballet, and the reception it got in New York was, even for sophisticated New York, kind of a surprise. Talk about that.
A: Well, at that time, there was a little trouble in New York. The mayor or the commissioner had just closed a play that was, I think, it was sort of lesbian in nature, down the street. And along we came with Frankie and Johnny, with a lovely house of ill repute with the blinds going up and down. So, we didn't know we were sticking our necks out at the time. We didn't know what was happening. But we did it. . . and the press was a little bit strange . . . and a bit sort of, "Well, we don't know . . . . After all, what's going on? They've closed one thing, and now they've got the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo with this going on." But it was allowed. We did do it.
Q: But with some changes.
A: There were some -- actually, no -- the changes came about in Boston, where we were really banned. That's when the big change came. When the Watch Committee came in and said ... they almost stopped the show. They didn't, but they almost brought the curtain down. They said there must be elimination of the blinds going up and down; the men couldn't go into the house . . . if they went in they couldn't leave. It was completely changed for them.
     But not for New York. We gave it as Ruth wanted it in New York. The surrounding publicity, I remember. There was Click, Peek, Look -- name the magazines there were in those days -- and they were all there after the performance. And we did all the pictures. Then Mr. Denham came in and said, "Stop this. I've heard this, that and the other." And away he went. No, it was like millions of dollars worth of publicity that none of us got. And he stopped it.
Q: Why?
A: He was a bit of a prude. A bit of a . . . I don't know. But his Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, we'd never presented anything quite this daring and I think he was afraid, simply because we did tour a lot. We did go into the funny little towns and Frankie certainly would have been given. I think he was a bit afraid of the publicity it would get; that it would be difficult for us to tour it, not in the bigger towns, but the many, many one-night stands that we did. I think that was possibly the reason.
Q: And so he just took it right out of the repertoire.
A: Right out. No, it stayed in the repertoire. We did it. But the publicity end of it went. We didn't get it at all. But it was a shame. But it was a fun piece to do.
Q: Now, how did it contrast with the kinds of roles you were accustomed to doing?
A: Well, in those days I was doing Johnny . . . and I was a prince here, I was a count there, I was a nondescript being somewhere else. It fitted right in with me. I loved it. I didn't have any problem at all with doing it. And knowing Ruth and getting along so well . . . . I think I was her kind of dancer, you see. That was really where we met, and I think that's what it was. Years later, when I [had] danced some more [of her] things, she used to call me "the choreographer's delight. You could come and push all the stuff over the footlights."
Q: Now what do you mean, a "choreographer's delight" -- "her kind of dancer"?
A: Well, for instance, I pick things up very quickly. I'm musical, and I can take whatever they give and make it look theatrical; make it look as we would say today, something to sell over the footlights. And that was it -- the kind of personality that I had on stage, and I understood what she wanted. Mind you, all of this is simply because I had been subjected to this long before I was in ballet. So, I had all of that to draw on.
Q: Tell me about that. Tell me about the years leading up to Ruth.
A: Oh, well, when I was ready to be "launched," so to speak. First of all, in England, I've had what we used to call an all-around training -- tap, musical comedy, ballet -- but very strong, you know, in the ballet. When I was 17, there was nothing in England. There were no ballet companies; no Sadler's Wells. Nothing. I was 17 and ready. I got a job. I auditioned and got a job to go to the Casino de Paris. I lied about my age. I said I was 18 -- I wasn't -- in order to get a passport. Well, they thought I was good enough to put under a "bond," as children had to be put under in those days if you left the country. In other words, there was a 500-pound bond. Then I went away to Paris, and I was put up with a French family, and I was escorted home every night. And I could only go out if I was in the company of people. You know, I couldn't do anything much. And there I found myself with Josephine Baker. I was on the end of a troupe of boys known as the Jackson Boys; and there was a troupe of girls, the Jackson Girls. And I was there on the end of the line. We did sort of everything -- juggling, tap-dancing; we danced on top of buckets. We did anything in those peculiar shows that they had in Paris.
     And then, after Josephine's show closed, along came the very famous Mistinguett, who used to work very closely with Maurice Chevalier. She came into the show, and there was a number called "You're Driving Me Crazy." You see, she would only have the boys back of her -- she was then about 60 -- so the girls were in the dressing rooms, and the boys, we did all the numbers on stage. And there was this number and the boys, half the boys, in one box on one side of the stage and [the others in a box] on the other side, and then she would sing to us. Well, it was Billy Milton, a very famous chanteur, as they say in England -- he was doing this song with her, coming out of the pit and singing and dancing with her. Well, he was sick, and I played the piano, and she'd heard me. So she said, "Where's the boy who plays the piano?" She climbed the stairs, incidentally. A big star climbed up there where we were, and they pointed, "That's the boy." Well, I'd only been there with them three months, and all these boys were veteran, seasoned kids. No, no. She wanted me. They dressed me up in the best tails in the dressing room. I went into the pit and sat at the piano. I came up; she sat, displayed the gorgeous legs and sang. I sang "You're Driving Me Crazy" with her and played the piano. And that was my claim to fame with all this.
     Then, after that, I stayed there another year, got back to England, was in two West End shows -- flops. Auditioned for a very nice young lady who was then 15 at the time, called Wendy Toye. She said, "Where have you been?" And I said, "I've been in Paris." I had no money, no practice clothes -- nothing. I auditioned. She was doing the choreography for a show at Grosvenor House, a cabaret, that Anton Dolin was overseeing. She called Mr. Dolin, Mr. Dolin came to see me, and Mr. Dolin said, "You must go to class. You must this, you must this . . . ." And I started in the ballet. That was when I was 18. And then from, then on, it was Wendy doing this, the nightly shows again with her. The Markova-Dolin Ballet. Then Massine saw me, gave me a lovely premier danseur contract and America. So, it's all been . . . But you see, when I was with them in the cabaret . . . .
     Oh, I forgot to tell you. Mr. Dolin had done a play, Precipice, and it was terrible! He fell off. It was just awful. Lost all his money and got a job, a vaudeville job. Well, we were known as "the children." So, he called Mrs. Toye and said, "I need the children." "Well, what for?" "We're going on tour." We went on tour with what we used to call a "second-rate" show. We were getting a lot of money and, in the show, the man used to take great scenes from out of the Folies-Bergeres or the Casino de Paris, and put them in the show with semi-nude ladies, and there was a big Massine ballet, which I danced, and Dolin and Wendy did other things.
     Well, do you know what the "bird" is? The "bird" is when you get the boos. Now, we used to do twice nightly and we opened in Leeds. Now, the second house on Monday night is when they've all been to the pubs, and they're all a bit "coming out." Well, I fly on the stage doing these great big jetés and I get the cat calls and the booing. They'd never seen a man in tights. This is the ballet? Never! And I used to be in tears in the wings, and Wendy said, "Keep going, keep going." And then, of course, you know in the ballet, she'd run out in a beautiful dress and she'd be looking, you know, looking here and there, and then you'd hear the audience say, "Hey, Miss! He's over there!" You know, one of those things would go on. And then Pat [Dolin] would stalk on in white tights, and they'd roar their heads off. I mean, this was vaudeville.
     This was long before . . . . And I learned . . . I learned what to do. And all of these funny audiences and difficult audiences, that we had to perform. So, I had that. I had all the Jackson knowledge back of me. By the way, Charlie Chaplin was one of the original Jackson Boys when he was a youth. It was the father, Jackson's father, that Chaplin was with. Then his son had the next Jackson troupe. So it was from a tradition, you know. And I learned tap dancing. I remember we were ducks with great little kids boots on our feet . . . . We'd get up and do
anything -- juggling hats, everything.
Q: Now, how did you feel when you got into the ballet? Did you feel as though you'd come home?
A: Well, the funny things was, I should be very frank -- I was dancing with Wendy, we had our name in lights in London. We did lovely shows. I was very happy. I was taking class every day with Legat, Lydia Kyasht, and all these lovely people. I didn't want to be in a ballet company. I was having a very good time. Until one day, Mr. Dolin came to me and said, "Freddie, it's about time you became serious." And I said, "But I'm very serious, Mr. Dolin." He said, "I'm forming a ballet company with Alicia Markova, and you're going to be in it -- no ifs, ands or buts!" And that was how I came to be in a ballet company. But I didn't really want it.
Q: But he had such a powerful personality, such a . . . .
A: Well, he was my idol, you know. And then, I'd known Alicia. I'd been with them. You see, another thing, with there not being any ballet companies, Mr. Dolin used to have a summer company -- and he would ask Wendy and I, because we had our solos that we did, with Alicia Markova and three or four dancers -- and we'd go dancing on the aid of the piers. Now, in England . . . that may sound very strange, but on the end of every pier there is a theatre in England, and it used to be the place to go at night . . . . And that was, oh, at the end of the piers, you know, we were all doing it. And we did all of that. I knew him [Dolin] and, of course, adored Markova. And when he said they were having a company, I thought, "Well, maybe it's time. Maybe it is time to really sort of do what I really, I suppose, was put down to do."
Q: And so you joined the company.
A: Joined the company. Joined the company and did a lot of nice things. I then became . . . he used to say, "Freddie is my understudy." Well, in a way it was true. I was a soloist, and then he'd come to the dressing room and say, "No rehearsals," and he'd throw me on. Oh, usually this was the way with him. Whatever . . . . It didn't really matter. I remember walking down one time as he came to the dressing room. My shoulder was hurting. He said, "You're going to do Bluebird tonight." This was a very big pas de deux with Markova, and I'd never touched her. I'd never partnered her. We went onto the stage, and she was like this [indicates]; she looked marvelous in her blue tutu. I was all dressed up. And she said, "Freddie, we'll do a supported pirouette" -- where she goes around -- and we did this on stage. We went on . . . that was it. But I was thrown on. I've been thrown on all my life, it seems to me.
Related Place
New York (production location of)