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Month: August 2020
Dellie and Moaning Minnie
When Dellie was young, four or five years old, she showed an early proclivity for dancing. Her parents, Ann and Fritz, enrolled her in a dance school near their home in Omaha, Nebraska. Her talent improved almost immediately, and continued to improve with each lesson. Everyone was amazed at the young girl’s natural talent. For Dellie, the simple act of walking across the small rooms in the family’s cramped home seemed graceful. Rather than walking, she seemed to float and glide. Her younger brother, however, was a frail, sickly child. Dellie was confident and outgoing, while her brother was shy and full of self-doubt. Where Dellie had a carefree disposition, her younger brother seemed to worry about everything. Therefore, Dellie nicknamed him “Moaning Minnie.”
Ann and Fritz enrolled Moaning Minnie in the same dancing school as Dellie. They hoped the continuous exercise would build his strength and confidence. Dellie was a natural at the various dance steps, but Moaning Minnie had to practice constantly just to keep up. When Dellie was eight years old and Moaning Minnie was five, their teacher suggested that the pair could have a successful stage career if they sought more professional training. Following the teacher’s advice, the family moved from Omaha to New York City.
Just as their previous dance instructor had predicted, Dellie and Moaning Minnie excelled in New York. In 1905, their dance instructor helped them secure a spot in a vaudeville act. Dellie was nine years old and Moaning Minnie was six. They rehearsed and performed constantly. Well, Moaning Minnie rehearsed constantly. Moaning Minnie later said that Dellie “hated to rehearse, but then, she didn’t need to.” Moaning Minnie arrived at the venue hours before the first show of the day to rehearse his parts. Dellie usually showed up minutes before she was to perform. Patrons of the vaudeville shows paid almost all of their attention to Dellie and little to Moaning Minnie. Critics pointed out Dellie’s beauty, but often referred to her brother as an “ugly duckling.” Even with their differences, Dellie and Moaning Minnie were close, and remained close their entire lives.
The siblings’ popularity grew with each performance. Within just a few years, they had gone from playing seedy dives to playing theaters on Broadway and London’s West End. They were in such demand that they had little time for anything other than performing complicated routines which involved singing, dancing, and acting. Dellie still disliked rehearsing and referred to herself as “Dellie, the good-time Charlie,” a playgirl who liked to swear.
Hollywood studio executives became aware of their talents. They screen tested Dellie and Moaning Minnie as a duo and individually, but all parties, Dellie and Moaning Minnie included, were unhappy with the results. One unimpressed RKO Pictures executive bluntly noted in the studio files that Moaning Minnie “can’t act…can’t sing…balding…can dance a little.” In the vaudeville shows, Dellie and Moaning Minnie were able to judge how well their act was going by the reception of the audience. The only audience they had for their screen tests were members of the crew who wished to be somewhere, anywhere else.
In 1928, Dellie and Moaning Minnie performed in a play called Funny Face in the West End. They were a hit. The show ran for 263 performances. On the final performance of the show, Dellie met Lord Charles Cavendish, the 9th Duke of Devonshire. Dellie and Lord Cavendish quickly fell in love. After a two-year courtship, Dellie proposed to Lord Cavendish, purportedly at a speakeasy. Lord Cavendish immediately accepted, and they married on May 9, 1932. Four days before their marriage, after performing with her brother for twenty-seven years, Dellie officially retired from the stage. She had grown tired of the grueling schedule of theatrical life and retreated from public life.
Moaning Minnie’s future without the star of the show, Dellie, was anything but certain. He had performed with Dellie so long that he could almost predict what she was going to do, even when she ad-libbed. He struggled to find a replacement. He decided that, rather than performing with a single partner as he had done with Dellie, he would search for the best person to fit the necessary role. Finally, Moaning Minnie and another dancer rehearsed for a new Broadway production. True to form, Dellie teased her brother in a telegram just before his first performance without her as a partner; “Now Minnie, don’t forget to moan.”
Moaning Minnie’s relentless rehearsals paid off. The new show was a hit. Moaning Minnie could have relaxed, but that was out of character. Again, Hollywood studio executives at Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) asked him to sing and dance in films. He agreed with the stipulation that during dance scenes, he would be filmed from head to toe to ensure audiences that he was doing all of the dancing and not a body double, and that the entire dance number would be one continuous shot. Most dance sequences in films up to that point consisted of short dance clips spliced together, which, according to Moaning Minnie, lost the continuity and fluidity of the dance numbers. The studio agreed.
In 1933, Moaning Minnie began a long and prosperous film career. He always rehearsed for several weeks each of the complicated dance routines which only lasted a few minutes in the film. During filming, his self-doubt was ever present. He always thought he could perform the routine better and smoother. Sometimes he did as many as forty takes on a single dance number, much to the chagrin of his dance partners and the film’s crew. Anyone who ever worked with Moaning Minnie referred to him as a perfectionist. Dellie, whose real name was Adele Marie Austerlitz, received film, radio, and television offers, but politely declined them all. Sadly, no known film footage of Dellie and Moaning Minnie exists.
It is hard to imagine that a man who projected such a calm, confident, and cool demeanor in films, television, and radio, was the same man whom Dellie had nicknamed Moaning Minnie because of his lack of self-confidence. Whether with a leading lady or an inanimate object, such as golf clubs (Carefree, 1938), firecrackers (Holiday Inn, 1942), or a hat rack (Royal Wedding, 1951), Moaning Minnie always seemed to win over the crowd. He appeared in countless live productions, over fifty film and television productions, and recorded several hit records in a career which spanned eight decades. He danced and sang with such notables as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Eleanor Powell, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, and a host of others. In 1990, Madonna mentioned in her song “Vogue” that Moaning Minnie and his most notable costar, Ginger Rogers, could “dance on air.” You know Moaning Minnie, whose real name was Frederick Austerlitz, as …Fred Astaire.
1. The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), June 8, 1937, p.8.
2. The Charlotte News, October 6, 1945, p.20.
3. Tallahassee Democrat, October 10, 1976, p.63.
4. The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 23, 1987, p.46.
5. YouTube.com. “Golf – Fred Astaire Dancing and Playing Golf.” Accessed August 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/34viwApgPyE.
6. YouTube.com. “Fred Astaire ‘Say It with Firecrackers’.” Accessed August 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/2LxlaCBhekU.
7. YouTube.com. “Dancing with A Hat Rack 1951 (Fred Astaire).” Accessed August 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/faN0kPOQykM.
8. YouTube.com. “Madonna – Vogue (Official Music Video).” Accessed August 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/GuJQSAiODqI.
Cryptoquote from History
“CQD CM ZID HGDVZ ZIYQHJ VTCRZ TCCLJ YJ JCNDZYNDJ ZIDGD VGD JCND MVQZVJZYP SYPZRGDJ.” ~ HDCGHD B. TRJI
A Loss and a Gain
Sometimes a person can have talent, ambition, take all the right steps, and make all the right moves, but is unable to achieve success. It usually takes an act beyond their control to reach their goal. It can be a chance meeting or just being in the right place at the right time. Oftentimes, it can be a coincidence, and other times it can be as the result of an accident. George’s life changed as a result of one such accident.
Shortly after 3:30 a.m. on Friday, November 19, 1954, George and Charles left Las Vegas, Nevada, en route to Universal-International Pictures at Studio City, Los Angeles, California. George was going to the movie studio to record the theme song “Six Bridges to Cross,” for the motion picture of the same name. George agreed to record the song because he was good friends with Tony Curtis, star of the picture, and Jeff Chandler, the song’s lyricist and narrator for the picture, and because it was a good professional move to have his voice heard during the opening credits. George had made some television appearances, but most of his work was on the nightclub circuit. This was to be George’s first credited recording for a motion picture, and he hoped this recording would elevate his career to new heights.
The trip should have taken them just over four and a half hours to complete. George and Charles left Las Vegas following one of George’s performances as part of the Will Mastin Trio at the Last Frontier Hotel. Unable to sleep from the adrenaline the show had produced, George told Charles that he could get some sleep. He, George, would drive. Charles climbed into the back seat of George’s convertible and quickly fell asleep.
Just after 7:00 a.m., with about an hour left in their trip, George drove down Kendall Drive in San Bernardino, California. Up ahead, a car operated by 72-year-old Helen Boss was stopped in the middle of the road. She and her passenger, 69-year-old Bessie Ross, had missed their turn and were preparing to turn the car around. George saw no brake lights, nor did he see a blinker. Once he realized the car was stopped in the highway, he slammed on the brakes. It was too late. George’s convertible slammed into the stopped car. Mrs. Boss suffered a back injury and Mrs. Ross suffered a broken leg. Charles was thrown from the back seat into the rear of the front seat and broke his jaw. The force of the impact slammed George’s face into the hard-plastic and metal steering wheel. George received several cuts on his face, but the most damaging was a severe gash to his left eye.
Paramedics rushed George, Charles, and the women from the stopped car to the hospital. Dr. Frederick H. Hull, a well-known San Bernardino eye specialist, examined George’s eye. Later that evening, Dr. Hull operated on George, but, unfortunately, Dr. Hull was unable to repair and save George’s left eye. As a protective measure, Dr. Hull covered both of George’s eyes with bandages.
Entertainers and movie stars called the hospital to check on George. So many of them called that the switchboard jammed. George received hundreds of telegrams from entertainers, some he knew, most he had never met. He received hundreds of letters from fans wishing him a speedy recovery. In addition to telephone calls, telegrams, and letters, George received flowers and gifts from famous people, many of whom were not personal acquaintances. Well-wishers included such notables as Judy Garland, Louella Parsons, Jack Benny, Mary Livingston, Jeff Chandler, Will Mastin, Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Cantor, and Red Skelton, just to name a few.
Some of his friends even offered to give George one of their own eyes. However, whole eye transplants were, and remain, medically impossible. During the operation, Dr. Hull repaired George’s eye socket so that he could eventually use a false eye, and the false eye would move in unison with his good eye.
George was in good spirits throughout his recovery. When George awoke from surgery and realized his left eye had been removed, he quipped to nurse Iona Smith, “Thank God it was my eye and not my leg.” He would not allow the loss of one eye hinder his career as a nightclub entertainer. Three days after the operation, Dr. Hull removed the bandages from both of George’s eyes. Nurse Smith said George “was very happy that he was able to see again.” “God must have had His arms around me,” George said, “Otherwise, I would be blind today.” “This can’t hurt me,” George said bravely, “I can still dance as well as I could before. I can still sing as well. Nothing has changed.”
Just as George had predicted, his return to the stage was triumphant. In fact, he reemerged as a larger star than he had been before. Suddenly, people with more clout in the entertainment industry started paying attention to George’s many talents. Before the accident, George only appeared in three Hollywood “short” films. Following the accident, however, George secured nightclub bookings in multiple cities for the Will Mastin Trio. George received offers to appear on Broadway, television, and in movies. He eventually starred in more than seventy television and film productions in a career which lasted until his death in 1990.
Following his accident, he also began a ten-year recording career with Decca Records, followed by another ten-year contract with Reprise Records, and shorter recording contracts with companies such as Verve Records, Motown Records, and MGM Records. Although he had many hit songs, his only number one single came in 1972, some eighteen years after his accident.
Had George not lost his left eye as a result of an automobile accident, we might never have seen him in “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” and, “The Cannonball Run.” We might never have heard him sing “Candy Man.” The omission of Junior behind Sammy Davis’s name in the list of well-wishers was no accident. You see, it was Sammy Davis’s son who lost his left eye in the car crash. George was the middle name of Sammy Davis Jr.
For more real stories about real people with a twist, order your copy of “Remember This?” at www.BradDison.com or listen to his podcast “Brad Dison’s Remember This?” Brad earned his master’s degree in the subject from Louisiana Tech University. He has written four history books and has been published in newspapers and scholarly journals. Keep up with Brad’s column through the Facebook group “Remember This? by Brad Dison.”
- The Napa Valley Register, November 20, 1954, p.1.
- 2. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 20, 1954, p.19.
- 3. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 21, 1954, p.17.
- 4. Daily News-Post and Monrovia News-Post, November 22, 1954, p.14.
- 5. Oakland Tribune, November 23, 1954, p.24.
- 6. Pasadena Independent, November 23, 1954, p.16.
- 7. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 23, 1954, p.26.
- 8. Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California), December 1, 1954, p.4.
- 9. The Sacramento Bee, December 4, 1954, p.11.
- 10. The San Bernardino County Sun, December 4, 1954, p.29.
- 11. Valley Times (North Hollywood, California), December 7, 1954, p.2.
- 12. The Folsom Telegraph, December 16, 1954, p.11.
- 13. The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California), January 10, 1955, p.2.
- IMDb.com. “Sammy Davis Jr.” Accessed August 3, 2020. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002035/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1#actor.
- YouTube.com. “The Candy Man.” Accessed August 4, 2020. https://youtu.be/o5vFvt3fJpw.
Cryptoquote from History
“MXB XLINBHM OKW AENH VLTB MKNLR EH GBLIDEDZ ZKKN ULDDBIH FEMXKSM HBBEDZ LDR.” ~ VIBN LHMLEIB
Archie’s Alter Ego
On January 18, 1904, Archibald “Archie” Leach was born into a lower middle-class family in Bristol, England. His father, Elias James Leach worked as a heat press operator in a garment factory. His mother, Elsie Maria Leach, worked as a seamstress. His parents’ first son, John, died from tuberculosis meningitis, commonly called TB, four years before Archie was born. His parents struggled to cope with John’s death, even after the birth of Archie. Archie’s dad tried to drown his sadness with alcohol and became withdrawn from everyone, even Archie. His mother often suffered with bouts of deep depression where she was unable to function. When Archie’s mother was not suffering from depression, she clung to Archie. She filled young Archie’s head with hopes and dreams of one day being rich and famous.
When Archie was nine years old, he returned home from school to find his mother missing. He asked his father where his mother had gone. His father simply and vaguely replied that she had gone on holiday. His father gave no other details and Archie knew not to press the matter. Every so often, Archie would ask his father when his mother would return. Archie wondered if he was responsible for driving his mother away. Finally, his father told Archie that his mother had died. Archie was stunned. There had been no funeral and no grieving family members to console him or his father. No one mentioned her at all. She was just gone. Archie was crushed.
Archie was not what teachers would call a good student. He often acted out and was indifferent to his studies. He had mood swings and was what some people called prickly. Archie later described his early childhood with a hint of pain. He described “the paucity of my own youth. It lacked many advantages.” Like his father, he was vague and evasive about the details.
In 1932, Archie invented an alter ego. Archie said in later life, “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be, and I finally became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point. It’s a relationship.” Through lots of practice, he somewhat Americanized his British accent. He had always dressed nicely, at his mother’s insistence, but now he dressed impeccably. He mastered etiquette and manners. He was kind, polite, and courteous. Now, his alter ego just needed a good name. After some consideration, Archie chose the first name for his alter ego from a part he had once played in a stage production, and the last name from a list of one syllable last names prepared by a movie studio. Pretty soon, people all over the world knew and loved Archie’s alter ego.
In about 1938, several years after Archie had created his alter ego, he learned that his mother had not died as his father had told him. Archie’s mother had not gone on holiday. She was overcome by clinical depression and Archie’s father had had her committed to a local mental institution. To his surprise, Archie learned that his mother was still in the mental institution. Archie found and reunited with his mother. He later said of their meeting, “I was known to most of the world by sight and by name, yet not to my mother.” By the time of their reunion, Archie’s alter ego had achieved fame and fortune, the dream his mother had filled him with when he was a child.
Archie and his mother remained close for the rest of her life. Once, while Archie and his mother were driving somewhere, she looked over at his graying hair. She remarked that he should start dying his hair. “Why?” he asked. “You should.” She replied. “It makes me look so old.” She was 89 years old at the time. Archie and his mother joined together in laughter.
In his 80s, some two decades after he had retired from acting, one reporter described Archie’s alter ego as having “thick, snow-white hair, lilting, affected accent, twinkling brown eyes, dimpled chin and a tan face that should be carved on Mount Rushmore. He is terminally debonair, utterly witty, and smoother than a Brandy Alexander.” Another reporter described Archie’s alter ego as “immortal—an ideal of sophistication…forever.”
On November 29, 1986, Archibald Leach died from a stroke while preparing for a theater appearance. Archie’s alter ego starred in many notable pictures including “His Girl Friday,” “The Philadelphia Story,” and the Alfred Hitchcock classic “North by Northwest.” Archie was nominated for two academy awards but never won. In 1970, the Academy of Motion Pictures presented him with an honorary Oscar for “his unique mastery of the art of screen acting.” Women adored, and men wanted to be, not Archibald “Archie” Leach. Everyone, including Archie, preferred his alter ego…Cary Grant.
For more real stories about real people with a twist, preorder your copy of “Remember This?” at www.BradDison.com or listen to his podcast “Brad Dison’s Remember This?” Brad earned his master’s degree in the subject from Louisiana Tech University. He has written four history books and has been published in newspapers and scholarly journals. Keep up with Brad’s column through the Facebook group “Remember This? by Brad Dison.”
- The Greenville News, December 27, 1983, p.13.
- The Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), January 27, 1984, p.4.
- The Springfield News-Leader, December 1, 1986, p.17.
- YouTube.com. “Cary Grant: The Leading Man | the Hollywood Collection.” Accessed July 30, 2020. https://youtu.be/AhLR1SXjDmY.