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Frederic Franklin No. 02 [November 25, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0583
Run Time
0h 19m 16s
Date Produced
November 25 1985
Q: You were with the Markova-Dolin Ballet Company . . . .
A: Right.
Q: It's 1935, '36 . . .
A: That's the beginning, '35, '36. Now the reason that ballet company was formed . . . . Alicia had danced with the Vic-Wells -- it then became the Sadler's Wells -- and in the meantime, there was a young dancer coming along by the name of Peggy Hookum. Now, I know there's a strange look on your face, but she eventually became Margot Fonteyn. She was coming along and coming up, and Alicia wanted to broaden her horizons and felt she should get out into the world . . . . And so she formed her own ballet company with Mr. Dolin . . . and a lot of very good English dancers went into it. I was one of them . . . Wendy; we all went with them.
     I was a soloist, and really a very nice thing happened just before we opened. There's a ballet called Carnival, and the young man that was dancing this, something went wrong, I don't know, with the contract. Anyway, he left the company and Mr. Dolin gave me the part. Now this is on opening night -- we were again in Leeds, the famous Leeds -- and it was with Alicia. It went very well, apparently, and then the management came to me after and said, "Mr. Franklin, your salary's going to be augmented." And that's when Mr. Dolin said, "You're going to be my understudy." And I said, "Well, thank you very much!" So, I really made my debut into the ballet dancing this big role that Nijinsky had danced and many other people had danced, with Alicia Markova. So that was my debut into the world of ballet. Lovely. And then I danced other things. And I had the experience of working with Madame Nijinska.
Q: Oh, my. Tell us about that.
A: Well, there was this lady that came. We were terrified. We'd heard frightening stories about her. She was a very imperious Russian lady. And she arrived. It was not very proper for ladies to wear trousers in the rehearsal rooms, and she came with her trousers, navy blue, and navy blue smock. And white kid gloves. And a long cigarette holder. And she looked around. She spoke no English. She spoke French, a little, and Russian. So the French and the Russian were all mixed up. And in essence she said, "Well, I don't really like English dancers, but," she said, "I'm here because of Mr. Dolin and Miss Markova," who she'd worked with in the Diaghilev Ballet. Well, and then she said, "Now all the boys will go on one side of the room, and the girls will go on the other side of the room." No newspapers, no knitting, no books, nothing. She said, "If I'm not interesting enough to watch, get out!" Now this is how it was. So it started that way. She was always doing two or three ballets. One of them was the second act of Nutcracker, and I was doing the Trepak as a solo. She said, "Where's the boy that does the Trepak?" So I went out, and by this time I'm all of just 20. And I went through it, and she said, "Now, we can begin." So I was one hour . . . this over and over and I thought, "Well, that's it." One more time we went through it, two pairs of ballet shoes -- finished, worn out. I was getting whiter and thinner by the moment. And we did . . . and we had a lady, a Russian pianist, and she turned to her, and apparently she said, "Now I have made a real Russian out of him!" And Mrs. Fox told me this. And I said, "Oh my goodness me." And from then on we had a wonderful time, and I danced many of her things after that.
Q: What was she like to work with?
A: Wonderful. Very demanding. But a great stylist of a lady. She showed you what she wanted, and she was going deaf, and with a rhythm, she'd come and pounce on your shoulder and give you the rhythm on top of what she wanted you to do. You know, just to be in her presence . . . of course, all we could think of was her brother, Nijinsky. You know, just looking at her, thinking, "My goodness me. This is the sister of a famous gentlemen." But we got there. She liked us in the end. She said we were a very good ballet company. We had lovely dancers. We all ended rather nicely. But out of that, my famous Trepak, on the closing night of the summer season, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo were in town -- that was the one with Danilova and Massine and all the Baronovas and all those people. And they came to the performance, Markova was out and Nemtchinova, another ballerina, was in, and we did two ballets and a set of divertissements, a set of solos, and Mr. Dolin very nicely gave me my Trepak to do. Well, by the time I got my gallery girls shouting for me, which was lovely, and I had an enormous success, and Massine was in the audience. And he sent Zoritch around with a note, and it said, "Please call me 9:00 tomorrow morning," Sunday morning. It was the great Leonide Massine. I got the note. I called him the next morning. I sat in a chair here, and he sat there, and I looked at him. I looked into his eyes, and I signed for five years with a new ballet company as their premier danseur. And that was the end of the Markova-Dolin Ballet. I had another season to do, and it finished because Alicia had signed also with this new ballet company. But Mr. Dolin -- No. And of course, he never forgave us. He said we closed his company, which we never did, of course. We've remained friends, of course, all the way through. I think he was a little upset that they hadn't invited him. But they wanted Alicia, and Massine wanted me. So that was a very important part in my life, and also knowing that I'd come here to America.
Q: You knew they were coming.
A: Oh, I knew it . To backtrack, when I was at the Casino, there were a lot of Americans, a lot of American performers in the shows in '29, '30. You know, the talkies were with us, and we didn't really believe American people spoke the way they did in the movies. We really didn't believe it. So I used to go stand outside the dressing room door and listen to them, and they caught me. Then I said, "But you really speak like the movies!" And they said, "Well, of course, we do!" And I became very friendly with them. That's when it all started with me. I said, "I want to get to that country! I must get there somehow," little dreaming as a ballet dancer I'd be coming here. That's how it all came together in really a rather wonderful way.
Q: Did you have the sense, I mean, when you think about Nijinska as a choreographer . . . I mean nowadays, I think we almost think of her as the greater of the two in the family. What do you think about that?
A: Well, you know the thing is, yes. Because it's funny. I was talking with Madame Danilova the other day about it, and she said, "You know, Freditchka, after all . . . what Nijinska left behind, was so much more than what her brother did." The brother had fame as a dancer. Now, she was a very good dancer, very good, but always in the shadow as a dancer. But as a
choreographer, leaving what she had left . . . . Finally fate was very good to her; very kind. She came out. She was there. You know, she has left and she has been the most . . . . His name will be known to some, but these days you can mention it to some of the dancers, but the dancers don't read these days. They just don't know their art. They don't bother. You can mention Nijinsky or Pavlova, and they go, "Who?" You know, they are not very sure. But she, with her ballets now being performed, you know of her, you see.
Q: Did you ever see Nijinsky dance?
A: I wasn't old enough. No, I was too young. He stopped dancing in 1919. It was the end of it all. You know, he came on, it began, and he came off . . . and it was later that I met him.
Q: Tell me about that.
A: Well, we were at the Met, the old Met, and we were doing a performance of Petrouchka, and Massine was the Moor. No, I was the Moor, Massine was Petrouchka, Danilova was the
Ballerina. And we were told that Romola Nijinsky and her husband were going to be put in a box, and they were trying to revive his mind again. And he sat. They brought him on stage, and it was, oh, it was sad. We stood there, and it was a man who didn't know anything. Or he would just walk by, and his eyes were glassy, and it was very . . . . It really wasn't right. It really wasn't right. And he smiled in a rather inane sort of way. And he'd look to his wife, you know. But it was, oh dear, no . . . . It wasn't a happy experience. And I was very nervous about it at the beginning, and then it was just . . . . But, of course, he got a lot of publicity, and the next thing you know he's in a sanitorium in Switzerland, and that's where he died. So it was all eventful, but not very sort of forthcoming with anything.
Q: So then you joined . . . .
A: Then I joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and came here, did a horrendous tour . . . .
Q: Horrendous, because?
A: Well, we were six months with 110 cities and God knows how many one night stands. But I loved it. I was in America. And the marvelous thing was that we danced at the Met. We had a wonderful season. And the next thing we know, we're going to a place called White Plains. So we get in a bus to go there. Now, remember, there are like 22 nationalities. Alicia and I speak English. I'm the only English-speaking man in the company. They're all like this . . . . Well, we drive up to a school. So Markova in her very Britishness taps the driver and says, "Young man, this isn't the place. We're the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. We're going to dance in the theatre." He said, "Madame, this is it." And for the first time after the Met, we sat behind desks and made up . . . . Coming to this great country, where were the theatres? Well, we found out! There were not that many.
     And we traveled the length and breadth of the States. All over. And I was telling Tom . . . we get into Phoenix, Arizona. Well, they'd never heard of the ballet or what it's all about. So Mr. Hurok puts Markova, Danilova, Youskevitch and me in a cart drawn by horses, with guns! And we're driving around this little town shooting off guns! And, "Come to see the ballet tonight!" And the guns are going and the pistols. Can you imagine the ballerinas firing these things up in the air? I mean, we did things like this to get the public in. I mean, we were, as I said, we were covered wagons of the ballet! Really, the covered wagons. And there it was. We did this horrendous tour, we went back to the Met, had ten days, got on a boat, went back to Monte Carlo. And I think the first three days, there wasn't a soul on deck, we were all so tired.     
     And then we got home, there in Monte Carlo, and we rehearsed. We had a season there; we went to Paris, had another season. I went back to England. I went down to the South of France, the war broke out, and I never got back for eight years! I was caught in Paris. Couldn't get over the Channel. Everything was stopped. They got me then to Rotterdam at the dead of night with my trunk, no money, just a passport. And I got there and I did, I think, a very wise thing. I went to the best hotel and called London. I called Mrs. Toye. They were worried to death where I was. I said, "I'm in Rotterdam. I have no money, send some." They sent 20 pounds, and I moved right out of the hotel and got into a pension and dribbles and drabs kept coming for some of the kids. You see, they had difficulty with the passports. They couldn't get out of Europe. They were Nantsen passports. There were all kinds, but dribble and dribble, we got through.
     And the marvelous thing was there were three of the Russian girls and me and another Russian boy, and we found this funny night club. So we went there, and we had soft drinks or whatever it was, and the band was playing. Well, we got on the floor, and we did what we thought was American jitterbug dancing. Well, the place began to fill up and they applauded us. So the management came and said, you know, "Who are you?" We said, "We're the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo." He said, "You come here, I'll give you dinner every night and you do what you did." Two weeks we earned our dinner that way. Finally, Hurok called the hotel and said, "There's a boat. Get on it." We got on a boat called the Rotterdam. By this time, you know, it [World War II] had started and it took three days to get from Rotterdam to Southhampton, because it [the English Channel] was all mined, everything was mined. And I got all my stuff ready to get off, you know, in England, and they said, "Mr. Franklin, you're to go right on through. Everything is fine. Mr. Hurok and the ballet just go right on through." That's the only reason I didn't get in London in the war. They allowed me to come right through, here.
Q: So you came right back here.
A: I came back to America. We were two days, and they said, "Get Freddie and get some of the kids and start teaching some of the new ones some of the ballets." So in the lights at night, you know, because the ship was lit going over the Atlantic, we'd be rehearsing all night. We arrived at 8:00, down there at the docks. They took us by bus-taxi straight to the Met. I saw Danilova and Alicia, all of them, for the first time in three months. We did a new ballet by Freddie Ashton. We opened that night -- right off the boat. And there we were. Well, I was doing two ballets. I was doing this new ballet with Danilova, and I was doing Gaité Parisiènne with Mia Slavenska, and Mia was overweight. We were all out of training. I had to have brandy in the wings, so I could go on for the second ballet. Oh, this was something else! And during that season we never went home at night. We went upstairs, because we had half the ballet company left behind, so there were all new dancers, American dancers, and they had to be taught the ballets. So it would be like Sunday or a Saturday . . . . We'd be up there rehearsing Swan Lake for the girls, no makeup, just the hat. They'd be sent down and I'm teaching them Prince Igor, because that's the last ballet. Do it after the matinee upstairs. And they used to feed us hot dogs and ice cream. Can you imagine? And then we'd rehearse. It was three weeks of horror. Everything had to be rehearsed, and the new ballets still had to go on.
Q: And how were the reviews?
A: Brilliant! They were brilliant! How we'd escaped, of course, we were all escapees, as you see, from the war.
Q: It was wonderful.
A: It was marvelous. It just was. Then, you know, we were on the road traveling. Then,
of course, it [the war] . . . and then America got into it and then it was really horrendous -- the traveling and the so-called rationing. I was sending CARE packages home. I was doing all the things. But we were really going through it.
     We went down to South America in 1941, which we never should have done, but we did -- the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo -- down there we went. We could have all been blown up. But I don't think any of us really thought about anything in those days -- I don't know what it was --  because a big company went down there, and it was very dangerous to go, you know. It was 1941, '40. It was very . . . very . . . I don't know. But we survived. We all came back. We did the performances, we had a big success, came back, and went on tours again.
Q: Did you have the sense . . . . When you were on the tours, when you were traveling, and really as you were in the "covered wagons" of the ballet, how did the audiences respond to you?
A: Well, you see there would be moments . . . . There was one performance I really remember. We were doing three good ballets. Now the first ballet closed -- nothing. The second ballet, the same thing. By this time, it was doom and gloom in all the dressing rooms, thinking, "Well, my God, we must be awful." The third ballet came down, and they sort of applauded very nicely, and that was it. And there was a reception, as always, after and we said, "Well, what happened?" They said, "Well, we didn't think we had to disturb anybody, it was all so beautiful!" And they didn't. They didn't applaud, and it was all -- "Breathtaking. You were all like people from another planet" -- you know, with the mad makeup and the hair and this stuff. And that was what it was.
     But we found many audiences . . . . Oh, and one dear lady, one of these lovely ladies, the club ladies! We walked into this theatre, and we looked at the floor. It had been polished within an inch of its life! "I had my maids clean the floor." I said, "We can't stand up!" And this was another strange thing. But they didn't know. They just didn't know. And it was experience, and wonderful things happened to all of us. It was really . . . . And, of course, being so young, we all thought it was wonderful. And then, of course, we had our own train.
Q: You had your own train?
A: Our own train.
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