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Frederic Franklin No. 06 [November 25, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0587
Run Time
0h 19m 6s
Date Produced
November 25 1985
Q: In 1944. You did Frankie and Johnny. That's the first time you met Ruth, and two years later . . . .
A: Two years later, as always, as always, a new ballet. Another ballet -- Ruth Page -- The Bells. Well I, we all did, we all looked forward to seeing it, I especially, wondering, knowing that I'd be in it, wondering what on earth it was to be this time. Well, "the tintinnabulation of the bells." I thought, "Well, this is going to be lovely. It's going to be fine." We had a set by Noguchi, which was remarkable. This beautiful church. The ballet went along and she said to me, "Now you make your entrance through the church." And I said, "Well, that's going to be very interesting." I had a very nice solo and Ruthanna came on and there was an evil man who came on and it was all very dramatic. I thought, "This is really going to be marvelous," and we all looked forward to it.
     Now the day came when the costumes arrived. Now, Ruth kept saying to me, "Now, Freddie you know you're going to wearing a shower curtain." And I said, "Ruth, just exactly what do you mean, 'a shower curtain'?" Well, she brought something one day, and it was a piece of wire that went around [my forehead] and then there was a stick and down from here a crossbar, there was a lot material. I said, "And I have to do this solo with this flying around the back." She said, "Yes, dear." Well, I did. I was on the floor most of the time, but I managed to work it, and it [the train] was very long. And then Ruthanna saw what she was wearing, and Ruth said, "Now in this part you'll have an umbrella." Now, I said, "Ruth, what with the umbrella and me with this," I said, "I don't know where we're going to be with this ballet." She said, "No, no. I've worked it all out. It's fine."
     Now we come to the dress rehearsal. We see the set for the first time. It's a New England white church, all jointed like this. It is beautiful. I'm in all-over tights with a red heart and the shower curtain, except now the shower curtain has grown. I have a band of wire around my head, it's got two spikes that go two feet up here. There's a bar across the back and there's a long blue silk thing that goes to the floor in the back. Well, fine. Nikita Talin is wearing a hat that's a skullcap, and then it has prongs coming out this way and prongs coming out that way that have black material hanging. He's hardly able to see anything except by pushing the stuff away. Ruthanna's got the umbrella. Well, we're right.... And it was very dramatic indeed.
     Well, we come to the opening night. Up goes the curtain. Nobody's on stage. It goes, it's going marvelously well. I make a startling entrance through the church with this on, and I
hear the giggles. And I thought: I'm right back in England, and it's 1935 and I'm getting the bird once again. I flew around that stage with this thing, and the more I did, the more they chuckled. And I didn't know what I was doing but, gamely, on I went. Now I'm wearing it all the way through until I believe there's one moment it comes off. Ruthanna made the entrance. We did the pas de deux. It was lovely. Then there's this battle between him [Talin] and me and her, and in the meantime, the "bells" had come on with the bell-shaped costumes. They rather looked at those and thought, "Very peculiar, girls on their pointes, silver, and . . . ." But it got a little sort of raucous in the middle of this ballet, and things were happening right and left. We were all going everywhere and there's a big finale. Well, there's one moment at the end of the ballet when -- he was evil, Nikita, with this black thing on -- and he was really ruling, he was winning. And one minute -- and she hadn't warned us at the dress rehearsal -- but then suddenly the church collapses, and we're all underneath it, and it's all fallen down, all fallen on us, and he's triumphant, standing there with the big [costume]. Well, that did it, on the opening night. The curtain came down. There was sort of polite applause. The curtain went up and we're all doing, "Thank you very much" and "Thank you very much" [bowing], and I go to Ruth and I said, "Ruth, dear, on the stage." There is a barrage of boos like you've never heard in your life! And Ruth looked at me, and she looked at Ruthanna and she said, "Darlings, isn't it wonderful -- we're a success!" And we all bowed very low and down came the curtain. And it kept going up and down. But we were really given the bird on this one. It was marvelous. But it stayed in the rep.
Q: And so what happened when you performed it again?
A: Well, it was always the same way. You know, it was the idea. Again, it was the idea of evil overcoming the church. If the church maybe had not collapsed on us. Really, the essence of it was that the devil had collapsed the church. And we're all underneath it 'til the end. We all had a marvelous time. I loved doing the ballet. And it was very dramatic, because it had the connotations between me and him and her, all mixed-up . . . but terribly psychologically, of course. And I was dragged around the stage on my knees, and ooooooh, I had a wonderful time in the ballet. But it was just the idea of the church . . . .
Q: Now, how did they like it in Omaha?
A: I don't really know. I don't think we gave it too much. I don't know. I don't remember. The one vivid remembrance of it was the opening and me getting the bird, really getting laughed at. I thought, "Oh, no. And I'm in the ballet." I thought they would understand. But it was all Noguchi's decor and stuff. [Talking over each other] Oh yes, oh yes, and we all had a marvelous time together.
Q: Tell us about it.
A: Well, you would talk to him [Noguchi], and he had a marvelous explanation for all that was going on on the stage. I mean the reason of the curtain, the reason of the umbrella, the reason of the evil man and the meaning of the poem. You know, "The bells, bells, the tintinnabulation of the bells." And all that came through, and we understood. You know, I don't know whether maybe if the program notes had been a little different. But it was just that. It was unexpected. It was one of Ruth's marvelous, unexpected things.
Q: And what would you do on the same program with it?
A: We'd do Gaité Parisiènne or Swan Lake or something like that. You know it would all be very thoughtfully and carefully worked out. But you see people like John Martin, they liked it. I mean, it wasn't awful. It wasn't a bad ballet. The idea -- it was the people up there and it was the church.
Q: And it was shocking?
A: And it was shocking. Maybe if he had just stood over us and beat us down. But the effect was marvelous. I never saw it because I was always in it. But when I could see it all crumbling, and this marvelous thing and all, and down it went, you know, and then down came the curtain. And down went we!
Q: Now, Noguchi. Did you know that Noguchi and Ruth had had a special relationship? Did you know that they had been lovers?
A: No. Oh, well, oh, I'm so glad. Oh, that makes it all worthwhile!
Q: You didn't know?
A: No, no, no. Oh that was kept very . . . . Oh no. You see Tom was very much to the fore. Oh, no, no, no.
Q: This was later. It was 1934 when they had a rather passionate flaming love affair. She left Tom and then came back.
A: Well, of course you know the very famous story with Ruth and the Diaghilev Ballet. Of course you have all of that. Choura tells me this, Danilova. When she's [Ruth's] on her honeymoon with him, Tom, she hears that there's a ballet company in Monte Carlo, and she goes and joins for six weeks and, thank you very much, goes right back to Tom [sic]. I said, "Ruth, what was it like?" She said, "I was there, they gave me nice parts." She said, "I knew Nikitina and all of them. But," she said, "Freddie dear, it wasn't my style; it wasn't for me." It wasn't bold enough. She kept saying, "I have to do other things." And of course, she did. It wasn't strong enough. She had been dying all of her life to get us all naked on the stage; always she was dying for this. I said, "Ruth, we can't do this." "No? Why not?" she said. And of course, then she adored working with Arthur Mitchell and the black company long before it was, you know, whatever. Nobody ever did that sort of thing. So, she's apart from anything else. She's an innovator. She really is. Danilova said, "You know, Ruth -- she's a brilliant lady." And I said, "Of course she is. She's a brilliant lady!"
Q: Tell about Tom.
A: Tom. I got along very well, right from the very beginning. I think from the first rehearsals. And I think it was the fact that -- and also Ruthanna got along very well -- we liked Ruth. We liked what she was doing. We liked being in her ballets in her . . . whatever it was. And socially, we got along very well. I remember going out to Winnetka, being with them all out there, you know. And we didn't always talk about the ballet. We all talked about other things. And with Tom, I was interested because he was a very brilliant man, a very strange man, but very brilliant. And he knew and talked about lots of lovely people. The funny thing, I think, with me, the more I could go into the theatre, the better. The more I could see of not only my own profession, but other people's professions, that's what it's always been. And that's why the theatrical people, like Ruth and I have, why we've gotten along.
     There's another one with Agnes. That was another one. My goodness, when I think of the birth of Rodeo; all that went on with that one!
Q: You were involved with that?
A: Oh! I was the hero of her first book because that was made on me.
Q: Oh, I didn't realize that. I had forgotten.
A: Yes. I was with her, and the day we were on the train, she came and she said, "I've changed the ending of the ballet." I said, "Well, what is it?" She said, "Well, you don't get me, the other man [does]." I said, "Agnes, then I won't be in your ballet." She said, "What? There's no way." I was so theatre-wise I could say, "That's not going to happen." I said, "You've been with him; all the way through, you've liked him. But," I said, "and I've been on the side looking at you and we've done this and," I said, "you are wrong Ruth [Agnes]." I said, "It should be the other way." So she went home and said, "You're right. Fine." [She] changed it. And we put it on this way. Oh yes, we had a marvelous time.
Q: When you were with Tom Fisher and Ruth, did you feel as though he dominated her in any way?
A: I tell you, only in a way that it had anything to do sort of financially, or "Could we do this?" or "May we do this?" or "May we do that?" Then there would be a discussion, certainly. Otherwise, she did what she wanted. She did what she wanted. And the thing where he really let her go was to have the designers. He never interfered with any of that at all. She chose, and he said, "Fine." They must have had some kind of funny word to use, some kind of a budget as to how much each thing that she did would cost, and [he kept her] within that. When we were discussing [he never said], "No, you will have this, you will have that, you will have that and you will have that." There were never arguments. When we got to talking outside of the ballet in other sort of worldly affairs, oh, he was very much the strong man. Very much the man. Very much so. And she. of course, what she did, like a kitten that she was in those days, she said, "Well, Tom knows everything." Of course, she'd just sit back and let him do it all! Which was the way she was.
Q: Of course. But when it came to the artistic things . . . .
A: Oh, strong. Very strong. No, no, no. "Like this!" Oh yes, indeed.
Q: Was she tough to work with?
A: Yes. She was very tough. She was a little short-tempered. And if she saw someone was really trying [she was fine]. It's when things got lax in a rehearsal, and then she'd get going, you know, and she'd be very, very strong. If people weren't working full-out every time, which can happen with corps de ballet kids that have got two hours of this, and six hours of that, and four hours of the other, sometimes. I was always one of those, I always worked full-out, everything. I didn't . . . I couldn't . . . I had to know exactly what I was going to do on the stage before I got there. I had to know. So I did [worked] all the time. So did most of the principals. But it was sometimes with the corps de ballet. She used to screech at Nikita Talin in the most wonderful colorful language! I used to roar because she'd say these terrible things to him because he wasn't listening to her and he wasn't doing what she wanted. He thought he was doing what she wanted. And then she'd explain in no uncertain terms. Strong language.
Q: Swearing?
A: Oh yes! We had all the "G-- D---'s" going through everything! It was wonderful. But she wanted, and she got what she wanted. Which is right. And she did it no matter what, however it came about, she got it.
Q: Were people afraid of her?
A: Many people were. Many people were afraid, thinking that she demanded too much of them, that it wasn't the way to do it that she went overboard. And it wasn't. She was . . . . Look, she was used to the theatre -- the real theatre, as opposed to the theatre of the ballet. And you know that's very different, that's a very different cup of tea. So when you're in the theatre, you well know you do it. . . and it's, "Like this," and it's "From the top," and "Let's have it the right way, please," no ifs, ands or buts. And this is what she was and this is what she got. That's why I think Ruth . . . we all got along so well, because I understood her, right from the beginning. She was a tough lady -- and rightfully so.
Q: Can you ever remember any times when she became really frustrated; when she gave up on something she was trying to get?
A: No. You see, the creations of the ballets I was never in on. I was always in a revival of hers. So whatever went on with she and Bentley -- and it must have been hair-raising at times -- that must have been difficult! We got things that were already done and, which is marvelous of her, if it didn't fit us, there would be choreographic changes, which was wonderful, you know. Really marvelous. But I never saw her, only one time with Nikita, that once with The Bells, and she really flew at him. And she was right. But I never really did. She didn't get that mad with us. I don't know how it must have been when she was working when she was creating something.
Q: Now, what about Bentley? Did you ever get to know him very well?
A: Not very well. I will tell you, the first time I ever saw Bentley Stone was in a studio in London, Marie Rambert's. And we'd all heard about this wonderful American dancer that had come over. And there stood Bentley. And he stood at the barre, and his technique was everything like written from the book; like the drawings from the book. It was turned out, the legs, the feet, everything; he got into the pirouettes. Nothing was wrong. And we all goggled. We'd never seen anything quite like this. It was Bentley Stone. That was the first time. And it's very, very strange. He did, I think, maybe the wrong thing. He joined the old Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and it never worked. He just did his kind of technique and his kind of dancing, and [it] did not work in that side, that ballet company, and he left.
Q: Because he had not enough flair?
A: It could have been that he wasn't a great personality boy. But when he got with Ruth, then he blossomed. He blossomed with Ruth. Ruth brought something out in him, and as a team, they were great.
Q: And yet their partnership ended.
A: Well, it did. Well, you know, he liked the school, he had the school. I think Bentley had grown tired of performing. By heart, he wasn't a performer, really. Not really. I mean, he loved teaching. And he loved getting out there and doing the stuff, but had he really wanted to perform, he'd never had left Ruth. They'd have gone on forever. They could have done many, many things together. But he had his school going and also, look, a sense of security. Except for him, Ruth had a lovely rich husband. But he had nothing. And it made a big difference to his career, you know?
Q: Of course. Tell me about Love Song. Whatever happened with that?
A: Now I wasn't involved with Love Song. She said, "Freddie, this is it. We're going to do a ballet, a very classical ballet -- as near to classic as I can get!" But I was so swamped with other ballets, and it was Roman Jasinski that did that one and I can't remember with whom it was, but it was a lovely classical ballet -- lovely music, beautiful costumes and a very classical work. As Ruth said, "With a little of the Ruth Page here and there." It was a very classical ballet. . . but I don't really remember too much of it.
Q: It was not as much of a success as her other more . . . .
A: No, no, no, no. Well, you know, it didn't have one marvelously shocking moment that we all look for in Ruth's ballets!
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New York (production location of)