dontate now

Join Email List

Facebook  Become a Fan on Facebook
twitter  Follow Us on Twitter

329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

Search Collections

Frederic Franklin No. 03 [November 25, 1985]

Bookmark and Share
Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0584
Run Time
0h 19m 24s
Date Produced
November 25 1985
Q: Tell me first about growing up in Liverpool and Diaghilev coming. That's really the beginning of ballet, in a way.
A: The training that I had, I was very fortunate. I had at the beginning two very good teachers that knew what they were doing. They brought me up in an atmosphere in the school that I was at that gave me a good insight into the business that I was going into, be it the theatre proper or be it the ballet. I started really seriously when I was six. It was really rather remarkable because I had a marvelous teacher by the name of Mrs. Kelly, and I stood at the barre on a chair, all kids do. And they went along and I had this scholarship, you know -- this, that and the other. At seven, I was on the stage doing stuff, flying around. I was doing the trepak -- [that dance] has trailed me all through my life, it seems to me. I was doing that same thing, you know, a different version.
     Just to show you a little bit of how I was, the pianist had not made the cut in the music. So I was sensing something was wrong -- I'm only seven -- and I didn't stop. I kept right on  improvising, kept on going. And the teacher said, "You know, Mrs. Franklin, he's going to, when he's 18, to be a very good dancer." Well, my mother nearly dropped it when I was only seven! What's going to happen 'til I'm 18, when I'm going to be a good dancer? However, you know, I went through. We had to take exams in England, which I did.
     When the Diaghilev Ballet came, we went . . . I saw . . . we all saw it. I saw Alicia [Markova, who] was 14, 16, or something ridiculous in those days. There was Alexandra Danilova, the ballerina. Oh, I had never seen anything like this -- white face, black eyes, big tutus, hair -- I took the picture out of the program and [put it] over the bed. Now, isn't this strange: that's 1929. In 1938, I'm dancing with her! Now, that interim is really something. This great big star and I'm on the stage with her. When I saw my name go up to dance Gaité Parisiènne with Alexandra Danilova . . . . And she looked at me and said, "How old are you?" So I said, "Well, I'm 22." She says, "You know, when you are 30, we will talk!" And that was the beginning of it; that's this great partnership that took place . . . . But this was Diaghilev.
     Now, in 1931, Anna Pavlova came, and we saw her six weeks before she died. I auditioned for that ballet company. I was taken, I was going to be sent to London to the school that would prepare me for her ballet company. And I remember coming home from school one day and my mother saying, "Freddie, Anna Pavlova has just died." And that finished that part of me off from getting into that ballet company -- into a ballet company -- because I'd have, had she lived, I'd have left England. She traveled, you know. But there was nothing for me to go into. That's how it was in England.
Q: They talk about Pavlova dancing . . . .
A: Yes. You know, she came to Liverpool for a week, and she was having a court case in London. She liked English girls. The Russian girls were all over the place. She didn't like
Russian girls; they couldn't stay in a straight line in her ballets. So she loved the English because they watched out. And one of her girls had gotten into some trouble with a man, and she was defending this young lady, and she would go into London -- which was four hours away -- and spend a day in the court and come back and do a performance. She had a bandage on her knee, she's 54 years old [sic], and she was incredible! I've never seen anything like it in my life, and I remember everything she did. And on the closing night, she did The Dying Swan and the curtain came down and nothing happened for a minute. Now, that's a long time. And then it started. And on it went, up and down. And there she was. I can't see anybody else do The Dying Swan, you know; I won't go near it now, after having seen her do it. She was incredible. And looked so young.
Q: What was it about her, Freddie? How would you describe her as a dancer? Her technique?
A: Well, you see, I saw her at the end. I mean, there was very little left. But it didn't matter. She came on the stage and what she did . . . and you never saw her prepare; you never saw her prepare for a pirouette. It was dressed up. She did things out of nowhere. She came on in The Dying Swan and you looked and there it was. Whether she was on her toes, you didn't know what she was. She was like above the ground. The illusion -- that's what she had -- great illusion. And it's what Alicia Markova took -- had, also -- this illusion from her. Marvelous. But it was a lasting effect on me that she's had. And, of course, later on, when I got to know and lived with Wendy and her mother in the company . . . Wendy Toye used to go sit in her dressing room, when Wendy was like 4 or 5.
     So it was all of that beginning for me [that] was so important. I never realized the importance as to how it was going to make me feel later on, when I came to Ruth or I came to somebody else, or did these other ballets, I had all that background. I was very fortunate. And I had four big dancers in front of me practically all through my great dancing life -- there was Dolin, Markova, Danilova and Massine. I'm a composite of all of them. And then I came out.
Q: Talk about Massine.
A: First of all, I know he liked me. That was the nicest thing. He only saw me dance once . . . the one time . . . and then gave me the contract. Then we got to Monte Carlo and there was a ballet, Gaité Parisiènne. The names were on the board. I was in this, I was in that, I was in this. I learned that, I learned this. One day, my name was up there and his name. So he said,
"Frederic" -- as he called me in those days -- "we're going into the small studio." And he made his solo that he was going to dance, only I didn't know it at the time, on me. He did this. Now, when the ballet was finished, we had all the lords and ladies from England that were donating money, and it was a big show, and they were all out front. I did practically every part in that ballet. I did a Waiter, I did this, I did my own, I did his part, I did the waltz, I did . . . . And it was all over, and I was as white as a sheet and thinner than ever, of course, as always.
     He said to everybody, "I want to introduce our new jeune premiere -- it's Frederic Franklin," and so on and so forth. Then he turns to me and he said, "Well Frederic, you've danced all the big parts in this ballet. Which would be the part that you'd really like to dance?" He said, "Now I'm asking you." I said, "I would love to do the Baron." He said, "It's yours, and it is always going to be yours." Now that was really something. So that was Leonide.
     I knew his wife very well. We got along very well, indeed. We were doing a ballet that I loved . . . The Three-Cornered Hat, with the de Falla music. I had wanted to be in this ballet, and I said to Genia [Delarova], his wife, "Look, I don't care if he puts me in the back row, I've got to be in this ballet." She goes and tells him. So he says, "Frederic, I understand you want to be in Three-Cornered Hat." I said, "Yes I do." He said, "What do you think about learning my part?" I said, "What?" -- and I learned it! I never got on, mind you; I never did it, but I learned the part. You know, he lived like Judy Garland life, but he recovered, because he was sick one night. They threw me on for that, and they threw me on for Beau Danube -- the Hussar. I did nearly all of his parts when he was with us in the ballet company. I pick up quickly, and I had the music. He really, actually, was the first one that started me off.
     One day we were having a rehearsal of one of his ballets, and he was very tired, and I wasn't in that particular movement, and he called me and he said, "Freddie, take this rehearsal." And there were all the ballerinas and the premier danseurs, and he said, "Just when I tell you to stop, stop." And I took it. . . and this and that and "You, there," and he'd stop me. And that was the first time I ever stood up in front of a group of people and rehearsed them, ever. It came later on. But he's the one who brought me out to show me about and make me understand how to do this and what to do about it, you know. So he had that kind of faith in me, always.
     You know, I'd have gone over the Monte Carlo thing like Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes if he'd asked me to, I'd have done it. I really [would have], because I admired him. I remember one time also, he'd done a wonderful performance of Tricorne, and I said to Choura Danilova, "You know, he danced so beautifully tonight." She said, "Why you not tell him?" I said, "I'm too frightened." She said, "No -- go." She made me. And I knocked on the door and he said, "Freddie?" -- by that time it was "Freddie" -- I said, "I just wanted to say how wonderfully and beautifully you danced tonight." "Ah!" he said. "You know that is a compliment, when one artist comes to another artist." And I thought, "Oh, how nice." And we've gone on all through like that until he died; still very, very close -- loving him, all the way.
Q: It strikes me that there were a lot of people who had a lot of faith in you during your career. When did you know that you were really good?
A: Well, you know, the funny thing was, I think, we had . . . for instance, I think in our day -- this is where I think Ruth comes into it all -- we were given many kinds of roles. Now, today -- and I won't mention the ballet company -- but you are in leotards and tights, or you are in this kind of modern ballet, or you are not in it. Now the famous lines, "It's lovely getting there -- it's harder to stay there." Of course, it's the same thing. But I realized that I was being asked by this one and I was being asked by the other one to do their ballets.
     Mr. Balanchine came in the early days, and I was in awe. I was always in one of his ballets. I thought, "Well, I must be doing something right! I must be all right with these things." And that's when I began to realize, you know, that -- I was dancing then more and more with Danilova. I was dancing with other ballerinas, and there was something happening with me. There was something happening with her. She was much, much older than I am -- she is much older than I am -- but the personalities fused. We met.
     We met on the stage and that's where our collaboration, our partnership grew. And the audiences liked that partnership. And I began to really feel . . . when I was like 28-29 . . . I thought, "Yes. Well, I'm there. I'm somebody. I've arrived." And I always wanted to be as good a dancer as I could possibly be, you know. And I made it. I was very grateful for all of that. Never stopped working, of course, but that's when I knew -- you know, when they say, "Well, I like Franklin!" - or this and that and the other would come.
     And there was the marvelous moment when Balanchine arrived, and the first thing he did was Serenade, and I was in it. It was the first time in my life I'd ever been on stage where I wasn't anything. I was in tights and leotards and that was it. And I waltzed. I wasn't anything. I wasn't a frog, a prince -- it was nothing. It was the most peculiar experience. I didn't have to go be anything. I just had to dance it, and it was very strange for me -- and very strange for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to do such a ballet. We'd never had things like this. Now, he came back the next time, and he did Stravinsky's Jeu de Cartes (Card Party). I had a wonderful part in that. I was the Joker. And he left. After it was staged, he went to the Russian management and said, "Franklin will rehearse my ballet when I am not here." "Oh, no," they said. "He's this and that." And Balanchine said, "The ballet doesn't stay. Franklin will rehearse this ballet company, this ballet, while I'm out . . . ." And I did. And with all the ballerinas in it and Eglevsky and Youskevitch. They were all in it. I rehearsed it; told them what to do.
Q: And he never said anything about it to you?
A: No. Nothing. Nothing. When we were in Song of Norway, when I was 31 years old, opening night, I'd gone to him and said, "Mr. B, you know, there must be . . . there is more than just dancing every night on the stage," I said. "It's lovely to have the applause, but there's more and I want more." So he sniffed, you know, "Take your time." Well, the opening night is my birthday, we're in California, big success, Los Angeles . . . . Mr. Denham's giving me a big party and he makes a speech. "I'd like to announce tonight from now on we have a new maître de ballet in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. His name is Frederic Franklin." AHHHH! I looked, and there's Mr. B chuckling in the corner. And Danilova comes up to me and she says, "You mean Freditchka, you are going to be my boss?" And I said, "Yes, I'm going to be your boss."
     And he [Balanchine] was the one that really pushed me into this business of staging, remembering, because he knew my memory, music in my mind, and that's how it all started. That was with him. I was 31 when it came. So then I had two jobs. I was the premier danseur of the company and the maître de ballet. So of course, when Ruth came, that's what I was doing.
Q: You make it sound so sort of accidental.
A: Well you know, it really was. Because, I mean, who could have planned anything like this peculiar life that I've had? No one. It didn't go along normally. I wasn't born in an opera house atmosphere, where you go automatically from one thing to the next and then at the end you get a pension. We didn't have that in England. I think there now, fortunately, they do. But I was somewhere from out there, you know -- a dancer with nothing solid under my feet, so to speak. But being a sort of English temperament, the way I was -- although they did say they'd made a Russian out of me -- but I was grateful and thought about all of these things. When I really realized it was when they made me the maître de ballet, as they called it then. Now I had to learn the way of rehearsing with American dancers. It's not the same as working with English dancers or European dancers. European dancers do what they are told, more or less, and don't ask questions. Not the Americans. I had to learn this. They question -- and they are right.
Q: For example.
A: Well -- "Why do we have to do this?" and "Why can't we do that?" "Now," I'd say, "Just one moment, you know. I'm the director now, and I'd like it this way." I'd say, "Please." I had to go very carefully around them. English dancers or European dancers, you tell them to go -- they go, no questions. But there's an inquiring mind here, you see, and I had to learn about the inquiring mind, which is . . . the way we were brought up. But the American dancers weren't that way. And I had to learn the way . . . and it was good for me. And this, my goodness me, it's been that way ever since.
Q: Now they surely weren't arguing with you about steps?
A: No. No. It was just the manner. And I had to learn. We'd be ordered, rather briskly, you know, by the Russians, especially the Russians. They'd rather shout at you, and you'd run in fear and trembling. But you didn't treat them [American dancers] like that. Now, there were eventually five dancers, Americans, and I naturally gravitated towards them as my friends, much to the chagrin of the ballerinas -- especially on the train.
     Now, the train was something else. We had a car -- one for the soloists, the ballerinas and the premier danseurs. There was another coach for the corps de ballet. There was another coach for the musicians. And then there was a dining car. And this is how we traveled. Now, when we got on to the big jumps, two sleepers were brought on, three sleepers were brought on, plus the baggage, all the scenery on the back of the car [train]. So we had our own dining cars and then sleepers. And we would go on the big trips. One of the big trips was from Chicago to Denver and there were stops in between. So the train -- with all this great train -- would pull into the stations. Then we'd all go to the theatre and we'd dance, and if the train didn't leave until three or four in the morning, we'd rehearse until the train left -- right after the performance -- get back on the train and go on to the next stop. That's how it was.
Related Place
New York (production location of)