David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Children, Clothing and Costumes

Children

• Eleanor Peters, who was instrumental in convincing married dancers Marian Ladré and Illaria Obidenna Ladré to start a ballet school in Seattle, Washington, had a lovely apartment on 36th Street in Seattle. The third floor was devoted in part to her son’s toy train. (Because there were so many toys in the son’s bedroom, there was no room for the train.) Mrs. Ladré noted with amusement that the butler spent more time than the son did playing with the train.

• When lieder singer Lotte Lehmann was a child, she had a very thick pigtail, which she put to good purpose by allowing a small friend to grab hold of it and swing her in circles. By the way, Ms. Lehmann sang in Cuba shortly after the revolution. A notable feature of her bedroom at the Grande Hotel Nazionale was that it had a gaping hole as a result of a shell fired in the revolution.

• As a child dancer, Muriel Stuart impressed Anna Pavlova. While auditioning for the great dancer, Ms. Stuart danced to a waltz. Ms. Pavlova asked the pianist to switch to a polka, and Ms. Stuart immediately changed the tempo of her dancing. Because of this, Ms. Pavlova gave the child dancer the privilege of sitting beside her during the remaining auditions.

• Maria Avelis, who during the mid-1950s was a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera, remembers her start in music. Her sister was taking voice lessons, and she missed a note. Her sister’s teacher asked young Maria to try to hit the note, and she did. (Young Maria thought her note sounded like a “howl,” but the voice teacher called it “wonderful.”)

• Dancer Ted Shawn once gave his wife, the dancer Ruth St. Denis, a peacock as a present. The beauty of the peacock thrilled a neighborhood child—until she heard the peacock’s unbeautiful cry. The child turned to Mr. Shawn and, with tears in her eyes, said, “Can’t God do nothing perfect?”

Clothing and Costumes

• In her autobiography, I’m Not Making This Up, You Know, Anna Russell writes that sometimes during performances she used to wear a gown that had “a big pouffe of tulle at the back of the skirt, making a little train.” During an appearance in San Francisco, her accompanist accidentally stepped on the train, pulling out the long length of tulle. Much later, during an appearance in London, Ms. Russell was wearing the same dress, but she had a new accompanist, whom she forgot to warn about her train. Once again, her accompanist accidentally stepped on her train, pulling out the long length of tulle. After the performance, an American sailor came backstage and said that he enjoyed her work, but he especially enjoyed the part at the end, when her accompanist stepped on her train. Ms. Russell explained that that had been an accident, not part of the show, but the sailor replied, “The h*ll it was an accident. I saw you do it in San Francisco.”

• Vaslav Nijinsky was dismissed from the Imperial Theaters of Russia in January 1911 because he had worn an “improper” costume in a performance. The costume, which had been designed by Alexandre Benois, did not have trunks over the dancer’s tights, although the Imperial Theaters required trunks. In solidarity with her brother, Bronislava Nijinska immediately resigned from the Imperial Theaters, and the two then joined the Ballets Russe. By the way, when Bronislava started her dance studio—Nijinska’s Ecole de Mouvement—in Kiev in 1919, the Russian Revolution was in full force. Her students paid for their tuition with such necessities as food and fuel.

\• Judy Garland and Katherine Hepburn appeared in a group portrait of MGM movie stars that appeared in Lifemagazine in 1948. Ms. Hepburn, who was wearing slacks, told Ms. Garland, who was wearing a pale skirt and a black blouse, “I knew I’d be badly dressed, and I knew you’d be badly dressed. The only difference is that you took the time.” A later celebrity who sometimes dressed oddly was Bette Midler, who got her start in the gay club known as the Continental Baths, where her many fans frequently wore nothing but towels. For her encores, the Divine Miss M reappeared on stage, wearing only a towel.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

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