Editor’s note: Dance/USA remembers Frederic Franklin, one of the United States’ great ballet dancers, teachers, stagers, and ballet masters. His career spanned much of the 20th century. In 2008, Franklin received the Dance/USA Honor award for his “extraordinary leadership in the field through artistic excellence and force of vision.” Franklin died on May 4, 2013. From the Green Room reprints excerpts from an interview conducted by long-time critic and dance writer Mindy Aloff conducted in 2008. Between 200 and 2001, Franklin was the subject of a 41-transcript oral history co-sponsored by The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and The George Balanchine Foundation.* If you have remembrances of Mr. Franklin, please share them below.
Introduction by Donald Saddler, choreographer, dancer and theater director
The first time I saw Freddie dance was 1939 in Los Angeles. I was 19 and an usher. I was also studying ballet seriously with Carmelita Maracci. When he came on stage, I said to myself, “That’s the way I want to dance.” He had such style and energy on stage. He was dancing a solo from Leonide Massine’s Beau Danube and he had such style and energy on stage. I remember that he came bursting on and he never stopped dashing and dancing. It was so beautiful. We didn’t meet until two years later, in 1941, I think, when I was with Ballet Theatre and he was with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Ballet Theatre was performing at Jacob’s Pillow and Freddie came up to see us. When we met, I had the same impression that I had when I saw him dance: he was very charming and had a warm personality. Over the years we became friends and Freddie has been a true inspiration to me.
Remarks by Frederic Franklin as told to Mindy Aloff
The Markova-Dolin Ballet Company, my first ballet company, was funded by one lady, Laura Henderson, the owner of The Windmill Theatre, in London. They had a lot of naked ladies. The theater’s manager, Mr. Van Damm, also became the manager of the Markova-Dolin Ballet. Doris Barry, Alicia’s sister, worked in the office of Mr. Van Damm. So, the whole family was all mixed up in it!
My next great effort was with [Sergei Denham’s] Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. There was no such thing as corporations taking care of ballet companies. With the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, their prime man was Julius K. Fleischmann, the heir to the yeast fortune, and the Goodspeeds of Chicago contributed. Look at Diaghilev: He lived on what people gave him. And he raised it all himself! And decided on the ballets to be performed! And who would be the artists and who would choreograph! He really was the one-man show. Mr. Balanchine had Lincoln Kirstein, but Diaghilev had no one.
[For] the Slavenska-Franklin company in the 1950s, I met with Mia Slavenska and Kurt, Mia’s husband. He said that they were going to provide costumes and scenery, and I was going to provide $10,000. That’s how we opened. I was then an angel: I provided the money. We toured, and at first we were doing all right. We even went to Japan [where] we were subsidized by the Mainichi newspaper, which is like their New York Times. But we didn’t have a very good manager, and eventually we lost a lot of money. Somewhere in Canada, we closed after two years as a company. Mia and I, between us, owed $30,000 to the government, because Kurt, in order to pay some of the dancers, took it out of the withholding.
But Mr. Denham was resurfacing. The Ballet Russe had gotten to be a very small group. Fleischmann had, again, given Denham money to build up the company. I get a call; it’s Denham. He said, “Freddie, I want you to come back and give me back my Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.”
In the meantime, I was being guided by Arnold Weissburger; he managed people like Olivier, Gielgud, Vivien Leigh. There was also a lawyer by the name of Aaron Frosch. He took care of the taxes of all these big stars. So I signed a contract with S.J. Denham for $500 a week, which was a princely sum. But that money went to Weissberger and Frosch, and they gave me $100 a week, plus my expenses, to live on. The rest went to pay the government. In the meantime, I’m dancing up a storm; I have to. And being the ballet master.
When I was directing the National Ballet, in Washington, D.C., [during the 1960s,] we were funded by one lady: Jean Riddell. Alone.
Dance/USA is a wonderful organization, helping ballet companies or individuals learn how to manage and administrate. In my day, though, there was nothing like that. Once, at the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, we had a tour; and we are all at Carnegie Hall ready to go, suitcases, you name it — the whole company. And Mr. Denham has suddenly gone out: He went to raise money to get us to Chicago! We get there for two weeks, and we sell out, and that money gets us to the next part of the tour. And it went like that, all the way through.
The thing was, at the end of the tour the company had made so much money it didn’t quite know what to do with it. One day, I was called to the office and found there Choura [prima ballerina Alexandra Danilova]; the company pianist, Rachel Chapman; the wardrobe lady, Mme [Sophie] Pourmel; Mr. Denham; and Mr. Fleischmann. Something was going to happen. We opened a glass of Champagne. And then Denham and Fleischmann said, “Now, Rachel, because of your hard work, here’s [a bonus of] $500. And Mme Pourmel, $1,000.” Then it came to Choura. “Choura, for you we have a special present.” They gave her a box, and when she opened it she found a brooch in the form of a beautiful dancer, with enamel and diamonds. Finally, they said, “Now, Freddie, with all of your hard work, the best that we can do is to give you a check for $5,000.” So I said, “Thank you very much.”
But during the latter days of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, [the early 1960s], I would go for my salary and they would say, “Oh, Mr. Franklin, we don’t have anything for you today.” And I would say, “What do you mean?” And they would say, “Well, we paid all the corps de ballet and the principals.” Thank you very much! And I was dancing, and directing!
* Transcripts and tapes may be accessed at the NYPL: *MGZTC 3-2253 (nos. 1-41).
Mindy Aloff’s writing and interviews on dance, literature, and film have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many other publications internationally. A past fellow of the Woodrow Wilson and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundations, and a recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, she has also published several books, including Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation and Leaps in the Dark: Art and the World by Agnes de Mille. She teaches dance history and criticism and essay writing at Barnard College.
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