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Genevieve Grazis, the lost follower ISDFNKA #4

June 7, 2011

I’m very excited to have gotten some crucial information for this post in time to publish this one the Tuesday before All Bal Weekend 2011, as Genevieve Grazis is one of the original 1930s Bal-Swing followers.

I’ll start the story of today’s Incredible Followers That No One Knows About with a recent phone call to an original swing dancer named Johnny Duncan. Johnny is quite possibly the second most famous swing dancer to have existed, behind Malcolm X*, and probably the most famous filmed jitterbug to have existed. This is because Johnny Duncan got a kick start into acting by doing his dancing in jitterbug pictures. By 1949, he was playing the part of Robin in the first Batman and Robin screen serial. He later had additional parts alongside many of the leading actors of his day.

A few months ago, Peter Loggins helped me track him down and I called Duncan up. Finding a man in his nineties who is as sharp as Johnny Duncan is hard to do.

Those who are regular readers of Swungover will probably remember a recent post about discovering the name of one of the unknown followers in the “Venice Beach” Clip. The follower in question is the girl in all white, dancing with the guy in all white, here.

Her name, we discovered, was Genevieve Grazis. IMDB showed that she was listed as a jitterbug in four other films, and two of them were available on Amazon.com. 30 Seconds Over Tokyo was a dud. This happens often in clip collecting: the movie you get has three seconds of fifty Jitterbugs simply swaying around the floor in ballroom position. Call of the Canyon, however, proved to be an exciting find: Irene Thomas was in it, Johnny Duncan with his partner Jenny Gray, and Jack Arkin doing a “Flying Dutchman” (AKA “candlestick”). Somewhere in there is even Dick Landry (from the Beach Clip), according to IMDB.**

However, after spending a few hours going frame by frame trying to find Genevieve, we came up inconclusive. There were several followers that could have been her, but none were obviously her.

Now this brings me to Johnny Duncan. In looking at IMDB, I soon realized Johnny Duncan was in all four of the movies Genevieve Grazis was listed in. I figured Johnny Duncan was a good person to ask about her.

In talking to him, I asked him about his regular partners.
“Jenny Grey was the first,” he said, which was a name we had heard before and were aware of. “Then Ann, my second partner and wife. Let’s see, 1940 or 1941 was Jenny. Jennifer Grey, Jennifer Grazees.”

Wait, what?

“Grazis. It was Lithuanian, she didn’t like it and thought it didn’t fit her. She changed her name to Jenny Grey. We thought it was best for the pictures.”

“Um, haha, um, er,” is what I believe I said, if I recall correctly. “What kind of person was Jenny? Do you mind talking about her?”

“Well, that sure brings back some great memories. She was…” He stammered a bit before going on. ” She was the first real love of my life. This was right before the war and everything was rose in those days. No problems, nothing, just good times.”

Loyal Swungover readers, I hope you know I would never lie to you (mess up occasionally, sure.) A chance phone call to Johnny Duncan revealed not only that his partner Jenny Grey was THE Genevieve Grazis***, but also the first love of his life. (“Grazis” is apparently Lithuanian for “beauty,” and I think most our readers would agree it’s not an unfitting description.)

“She was a great dancer and I met her in a picture in Republic Studio. We met and we started dating and she was six years older than myself. And I guess we dated and went together for three or more years. Her dad was landscape person and mother a housewife and they lived on…Olympic and Wesley? About 2 miles off of Western Avenue on Olympic. I had a hard time finding her when I first started dating her. I was driving up and down that damn street so many times trying to find her,” he laughed.

“She never went by Grazis, never once did I hear her go by that.” This could explain why Irene Thomas hadn’t remembered the name when I interviewed her.

Johnny also mentioned that Genevieve had “long blonde hair, down her back” when he first met her, and lo and behold, there’s a cowgirl that fits this description in the film Call of the Canyon. I mentioned this to Johnny, and he thought that might have been the film they first met on.

Later, after I had calmed down, I asked him some other questions, such as who his favorite person to dance with was. He said out of the four women he worked with, Genevieve Grazis was his favorite.

So, I give you Genevieve Grazis (AKA Jenny Grey, Jenny Gray), first, as a pioneer of LA Swing, and second, as the Lindy Hop partner to Johnny Duncan.

This clip is a collection of Genevieve’s dancing in “The Venice Beach Clip” of 1938. She is the follower in all white dancing with the guy in all white (Jack Helwig). She would have been 19, we think, when this was filmed.

YouTube wouldn’t let me post some of the other material, so while I figure out why, you can just check out the individual clips:

NAUGHTY BUT NICE (1939)
One of the first discoveries I made as a clip watcher is to see that Jack Helwig was in (1939) Naughty But Nice. It only took a few more watches to realize that Genevieve Grazis is almost undoubtedly his partner. After the group comes down the stairs, they are the couple, front left, doing the awkward swing outs. During the rest of the clip, however, they appear to be up to their usual Venice Beach-style shenanigans. At the end of this section, they do a toss out in the back right of the screen. It appears she’s wearing the same white ribbon in her hair as in the Venice Beach Clip. Try not to blink.

GHOST CATCHERS (1944)
At 0:38, she’s in the jam circle with Johnny Duncan.

Now, I know this only seems like a little. Though she and Johnny Duncan were in many scenes, not many are on YouTube. However, there’s a great example of her and Johnny’s dancing in the movie Campus Rhythm, (15 minutes into the film), which is available to watch instantly on NetFlix. Those who watch her don’t have to guess hard that she was a Bal-Swing follower: she turns like one (as modern SoCal dancer Beth Grover pointed out in a comment here once).

Now, after the original discovery post came out, a few commenters, such as Mike Thibault, tracked down some information on a Genevieve Grazis Sliakis who died two years ago and lived in Southern California. I was able to track down a few Sliakises and, in an as little-sketchy-a-way-as-possible, requested more information on her. Months later, I’ve finally got to the right one; her son.

I sent him everything I had on Genevieve, including pictures, video files, etc., at the very least, hoping to figure out if our Genevieve Grazis was their Genevieve Grazis. She is.

Her son was surprised, to say the least. He mentioned that
Genevieve was not only a dancer in films, but an actor as well, however she gave up both with her marriage to his father. He also mentioned that whenever he and his mother would watch Dancing with the Stars, and they would announce “the swing dance,” she would say how it was not anything like the swing she did as a kid.

According to public records, she was born in 1919 and died May 7, 2009. It is particularly sad to think that, had we discovered this information only a few years earlier, we might have been able to interview her personally, and possibly bring her back to the world of swing dancing, to show her what had become of the dances of her youth.

I should have more biographical information on her soon, assuming her son allows me to publish it here. Mainly, we’re just excited to have the major puzzle pieces all together.

So, this is part one of the Genevieve Grazis post, and I will be writing up the second part soon, where we’ll not only give some more biographical info on her (hopefully), but we’ll also discuss her dancing in more detail and with some more clips. Until then, just enjoy one incredible LA Swing (early form of Bal Swing) stylist.

We’re glad to have you back, Jenny.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
* — What’s strange is I also recall hearing that Martin Luther King was considered one of the best jitterbuggers in Atlanta. However, I think it was my grandmother who told me this, and I don’t know how reliable her sources were. But she was a jitterbug herself, and knew a lot of people in Atlanta society, so who knows? If only someone would write a biography of him.

** — This, in it’s own right, is a very exciting discovery. According to David Rehm, we (a small circle of Bal historians, anyway) only knew the name Dick Landry because Willie Desatoff had pulled it out of the blue when showed him a picture of the Beach Clip. But apparently there was no other information on him. Then we saw the name “Richard Landry” on IMDB, thus confirming his existence. We’re still trying to pin him down in the clip, though. It may never happen; there are several possible Richard Landry’s in Call of the Canyon. And they are all doing Lindy Hop, so he isn’t doing his Venice Beach LA Swing dancing.

*** — What’s more, is my room mates had wondered if Genevieve Grazis was the same “Jenny” who was Johnny Duncan’s partner. However, since we knew the name Jenny Gray, I doubted it was possible.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Marie Remigereau permalink
    June 7, 2011 5:18 pm

    What a beautiful story, thank you!

  2. June 7, 2011 6:17 pm

    Fantastic sleuthing, Bobby!

  3. June 8, 2011 1:24 am

    So cool that you tracked down her son! And so sad that she just passed away recently. I’m looking forward to any more info you’re able to post! (obviously I’d love more photos and footage, but if her son knows the names of any other dance partners and any contests she competed in, that would be helpful for further research!)

    Here’s another clip of Jenny and Johnny in The Gang’s All Here – they’re the first couple in the clip, she’s wearing the light blue dress. I’m so jealous that they got to dance RIGHT NEXT TO BENNY GOODMAN. (and does anyone know if the dancer with the big grin is John Mills? I heard someone say that once, but I’m not sure)

    I think Johnny and Jenny are also in Sensations of 1945 – it’s heavily edited, but they first show up at :45. Whaddaya think – is it them? (In this clip, I actually like their dancing better than Dean & Jewel’s!)

    Beth :)

  4. jackthevampire permalink*
    June 8, 2011 1:32 am

    Hey Snookie!

    Thanks for your help in tracking down info.

    Regarding John Mills: No, strangely, apparently he himself claimed the idea, or allowed people to believe it, but we have information that Mills didn’t learn to jitterbug/Balboa until later in life. At least, that’s what my information says.

    And, yes, in Sensations of 1945, that is Johnny and Jenny, as far as I know.
    Thanks for posting!

    Bobby

    • June 8, 2011 1:38 am

      I’m still astonished that you managed to track her down! I never would have guessed that Genevieve and Jenny were the same gal. Now we need some footage from 39-41 – the transition years. :)

  5. jackthevampire permalink*
    June 8, 2011 1:35 am

    I totally forgot about the Gang’s All Here footage. That’s a great example. Well done!

    Bobby

  6. June 8, 2011 12:42 pm

    I am so impressed by your research! So, when is your book coming out?

  7. Roger Bassil permalink
    June 9, 2011 3:45 pm

    What a fantastic post. I was at your weekend workshop in Gloucesater the last two years and was fascinated by your talks (not to mention delighted with your and Kate’s teaching). Thank you for sharing the results of all your work on Bal and Swing history: I love the dance, wish I could have done if years ago, and am just so jealous of your contact with the old-timers. Best wishes. Roger Bassil

  8. snakeblskn permalink
    May 28, 2012 9:21 pm

    great article!! Wish you knew about her earlier, I have had the Call of the Canyone clip for about 2 years. It is a neat movie with Gene Autry and has some good music too throughout, it is readly available on amazon.

  9. January 26, 2014 6:16 am

    I find this story of Johnny and Jenny aka/Genevieve absolutely fascinating. And as other posters have commented, too bad she was found shortly after her death.

Trackbacks

  1. Random Balboa Geek Discovery: new information (and possibly misinformation) on the Venice Beach Clip « Swungover
  2. Happy Birthday Swungover: 2011 Year in Review « Swungover*
  3. Who’s Who in Original Bal-Swing Followers | Swungover*

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