Random Balboa Geek Discovery: new information (and possibly misinformation) on the Venice Beach Clip
I have a new fancy post coming today or tomorrow, but I was so excited because today I stumbled upon something that perhaps only a dozen people in this world would really care about, but we really, really care about it. I thought I’d share. (If you’re not a Balboa history fan, though, it probably won’t mean that much to you.)
[UPDATE: A follow up post on Genevieve Grazis is here: Genevieve Grazis, the lost follower (AKA Jenny Gray)]
Sometimes my life is working on routines, practicing the same step over and over a hundred times, teaching classes or privates, or social dancing. Other days, I feel like a detective. Usually this is the boring kind of detective, pouring over footage over and over again or looking through a copy of Norma Miller’sSwinging at the Savoy for that one damn sentence I swore I had read three years ago. (Thank God Frankie’s biography has an index.)
Occasionally, however, things happen like a movie detective. The great mastermind Sherlock Holmes, searching for a burglar he knows has been bitten in the leg by a dog, comes across a man with a limp. And that limping man happens to be the ex-husband’s mistress’es brother and wears a trench coat with pockets bulging from the large amounts of priceless vases stuffed in them. Thus saving him too much of a mental strain to pinpoint the culprit.
This sort of happened to me today when I ran across a few pictures in a stock picture website. First, though, a little background.
There’s not a lot of footage of what we would call LA Swing (Bal-Swing in it’s early stages in the mid to late 30s). One of our greatest sources is what we call the Venice Beach Clip.
We’ve known for a few years now that Hal Takeir is in the black pants, and his partner is Betty Takier. The couple doing collegiate shag is Connie Wydell and [UPDATED: possibly Barbara Plum, perhaps not Marion Goldie.] We’ve also known the guy in the striped sweater is Dick Landry, and the guy in the all-white outfit is Jack Helwig (a hero of mine). But, we didn’t have their follower’s names.
Another mystery surrounding the clip is that we’ve never known what the story was behind it, or the date it happened. After all, it’s four random couples on the beach dancing without music. And, there’s several different versions of the clip: some of which are filmed from below as the dancers dance on a pane of glass.
Some people have said it was practicing for a competition, but this doesn’t entirely make sense when you see the parts of the clip filmed from below, which seems a lot more planned than people simply practicing before a comp.
At some point 1940 was mentioned, and it stuck as a rough estimate of the date.
Today, while looking for photographs for another Swungover article, I came across this. (And then I searched their archives and came across a lot of other pictures, which will surely be making their way onto Swungover articles in the future, as our loyal readers know there’s almost nothing we like better than old black-and-white swing dance pictures. Except perhaps starting a new series.)
As I read the accompanying text, it slowly sunk in that I had found a documented, archived photo from the event that filmed the Venice Beach Clip. (Don’t worry if you’re not that excited—I’m more than excited enough for the both of us.)
Since the caption of the photograph has so much specific information, it’s probably safe to assume this is the actual information the photographer/reporter gave on the occasion of the filming. (I also found two others from the Venice Beach clip, including the one at the top of the post, that weren’t near as specific in their details.)
The obvious things this clarifies are the date (This picture was from September, 1938), and, which is really exciting, the documentation gives us his follower’s name, and brings her spirit back from the Land of Forgotten Followers. “Genevie Grazis”[sic] is the name of Jack Helwig’s partner, and it’s also neat because she happens to be my favorite in the clip. A search on IMDB shows that, hey, a Genevieve Grazis was an uncredited jitterbug in four films involving SoCal dancers. I think we have the makings of another Incredible-Follower-No-One-Knows-About post.
Also, given the information on this photo and the other Beach Clip Photos in the collection, I think we can come up with a possible scenario of what happened the day the venice Beach clip was filmed….or should I say, days. . . (DA–DA–DUMMMMM!!!!!!!).
First, let’s take a look at the other captions. The caption on the photo at the very top of this post read:
9/1938-FLINGERS IN FLIGHT… Strenuous preparations for all Jitterbugs interested in the West Coast championships to be held at Venice, California, inspire these swageroos to do their swingingest for the swingaree, and the photographer caught this shot of it.
And then there’s the caption on the other one:
Okay, so there WAS a contest. (Note, also, the photograph above was dated Sept. 8, 1938.) Possibly a big one, since it was called the West coast championships or California Championships, but it’s also possible they just threw fancy sounding names onto any old random contest, and the fact that its names are different in the two captions shows it might not have been entirely clear what the name of the contest was. The event was probably announced, and reporters and news film-makers probably showed up to film and take photographs of these dancers who were preparing for the contest.
One possibility is that the picture marked Sept 13 (which was a Tuesday, apparently) was just archived at a later date, and the event actually did take place September 8 (a Thursday, apparently.) Or one was simply mislabeled. (We at least hope one of them got it right.)
Another possibility, however, is that the original film was taken September 8, and some of the dancers were asked to return for more shooting, where the trick “under the glass” photographs were taken a few days later. It’s a stretch, but a possibility. (And, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter that much. I’m just happy to pin it down to September 1938 and have some good evidence that it was a gathering of contest dancers.)
[Updated: Peter Loggins thinks they were weren’t just practicing for a contest, they were actually doing promotional dancing for it. This makes sense to me, and would explain why (1) they are “practicing” on a beach, and (2) they happen to have a window pane around for dancers to dance on, which is very promotional-ly.
Also, my “filmed on a different day conspiracy theory” is pretty shallow, in hindsite. It makes much more sense that one of the photos is mislabeled. I really just wanted to say “Da–Da–Dummmmm!” in a post, I’ll admit it.]
Here’s the not-so-obvious, subtle thing about this clip information: You remember how, from 9th grade world history, it was apparently really hard to find the source of the Nile? And you were like “Why’s that so hard? It’s a big f–cking river?” (My, my, you had quite a mouth.) And then your teacher explained that it was hard because the Nile had a ton of different sources including lakes, feeder streams, and heavy rain storms?
Well, we have been trying to track down the origins of LA Swing, and some of us have come to a Nile-like conclusion: it was, in many ways, a collection of a lot of different, and sometimes random, dance steps. After all, these kids didn’t have a Savoy ballroom that had been doing Lindy Hop for almost a decade lying around when the national swing craze hit; they had to make there swing dancing up from scratch. So it makes sense that they threw together whatever ingredients mom had in the kitchen. (I think I’ve reached critical analogy mass.)
If you didn’t read the caption at the clip already, check it out again:
9/13/1938-Venice, CA- Eckies and jitterbugs danced the “Yam,” “Flying Dutchman,” “Corrigan Hop (which is the “Lindy Hop” done backwards), “Twerly Q,” Chinese Puzzle,” “Jam” and the “Hollywood Shuffle” on the beach at Venice, California and discussed such killer diller numbers in terms of jive, dog-house, push-pipe and agony-pipe.
This probably raises more questions than it answers, such as “What the hell is an ‘agony pipe’?” [recently-discovered answer: a clarinet] But, it also provides compelling evidence to support the “LA Swing = River Nile origins” theory. The dancers are all dancing what we notice as Bal-Swing at an early stage, with a unifying theme of rotation-fueled turns (toss-outs and texas-tommy and other fancy turns) and some out-and-in style dancing (mostly from Hal/Betty, but a little from the other two couples as well.)
Yet, IF the laundry list of steps the captions mention is what they were showing us in the Venice Beach Clip footage, then it’s possible they really did think of their dancing as just a collection of steps, and not realized they were well on their way to unifying it into a whole.
They might have thought they were still floating in a bunch of small creeks, and just didn’t realize they were now entering a giant river, the pyramids on the horizon.
Now, this is all supposition (with a lot of additional small bits of evidence I didn’t go into) at this point, but it’s interesting to think about.
Note: When a scientist makes a new discovery, they are torn: they are so excited they want to get it out immediately. But yet they have to test their discoveries, research it, and make sure that it all holds up. I blatantly disregarded this custom and published it immediately. To be fair, I trusted the information enough to do it, but I still have to look at it and conduct speed tests and see what happens when the airbags don’t inflate. I will make sure to update the information as I learn it, and mention updates in my future “Junk Drawer” posts.
UPDATE: (Sept. 28, 2011) Even more proof it’s September 7, 1938:
UPDATE: After searching a bit, here were some easy-enough answers to track down regarding the laundry list of moves in the caption:
Agony-Pipe = Clarinet.
Thus, “push pipe” is probably a Trombone (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1937/04/17/alligators-idol)
Dog House = Bass Fiddle
Jive = slang, such as the kind this caption is loaded with
Now, the moves:
“Yam” a walking step,
see Fred and Ginger
This film came out the same year as the beach clip. That said, none of the moves in the beach clip appear to be the Yam as shown by Fred and Ginger. Could have happened off-camera, could have been added by caption writer, could have looked totally different when the “young kids” did it.
“Flying Dutchman” probably = http://jpg1.lapl.org/pics40/00039781.jpg
Today more commonly known as Candlestick. This is, at least, the traditional old school SoCal name for the step. However, the names thing is tricky—many dancers had their own moves with their very own names that other people might have no idea what it was. If the caption is Jack and Genevieve’s move list, for instance, it might include names known only to them in 1938.
I will keep searching for the Holy Grail of moves, though, “the Chinese Puzzle.”