Your husband Ray Weamer was a dancer too. Tell us more about him and how you two met.
Well the first time he came out here was with Balanchine and naturally he gravitated towards the good ballet dancers which was the Maracci girls. It started out as a friendship but he kept writing to me when he went back to New York. And we saw each other whenever I was there. It was an on and off thing. Finally he came out here and decided to stay and do film work. And he found work right away. I left Carmelita after a while and we got married. And it lasted sixty years until he passed away (on Sept. 4th 2004).
He worked for Bob all the time and he danced until he was 50. He looked good. He was tall and slim. He looked great in a tux. Bob always put him next to Judy Garland. One day, he was in a show with her at the Frontier in Vegas and I was home because we had a daughter by now. When the show ended, he came home and said: “You know, I was standing on stage and looked around and every dancer was under 25. And I’m 50!’ And he was still doing knee slides. He had worked for Jack Cole who did very demanding work, physically. He also worked for Fred Astaire. Anyway, he asked “Where am I going from here?” I said “Well, there’s no way you can work in a 9-5 job. We’ve had too much freedom our whole lives..” “Maybe I will just go back to school.” All he had was a high school degree and from there he had gone to the Chicago Opera and then Balanchine and so on. It was always dance, dance, dance. So he went to SMC and whizzed through and he went to Northridge University and got his Bachelor’s majoring in Psychology. Then he got his master’s degree and got his teacher’s credentials. Only a dancer would have that kind of discipline, at that age, after having had freedom for most of his life. So he became a teacher in the LA school district and taught elementary school. He was good with the little ones.
He’d always been a teacher..when I held auditions he’d sneak out and show the boys and help them with the combinations that would be given to them. Some of the dancers were a bit slow in picking up the steps but he wanted to help them get the job (laughs).
Was your daughter interested in ballet, did you encourage her to become a dancer?
My daughter was a very quiet child who loved to read, so Ray and I thought it would be good for her to take ballet classes, to get her moving. She did have a lot of talent, good lines, good feet. But her heart wasn’t fully in it it. Actually we were relieved when she said she didn’t want to be a dancer. We know how hard the life of a dancer can be, we would be bleeding for her if she wouldn’t make it. She is a schoolteacher now, teaching 3rd grade children. She is actually a reading specialist, that’s what she got her master’s degree in. Her friends are all retiring and asking her when she is going to retire and she will always say “But I can’t retire, my mother is still working!” (laughs).
We are very close, in fact she lives across the street from me with her husband. I have a couple of great grandchildren who are taking ballet classes (Joan beams with pride).
You worked in Hollywood at a time when the race relationships were tense and tumultuous. Was it reflected on your job, how did it affect the dance community?
Well..I worked with Carmen de Lavallade. She was a Lester Horton member and she worked in a few films. We worked on something together at Fox and it was something biblical, perhaps Samson and Delilah. But she was already in New York (dancing with Alvin Ailey and on Broadway) by the time I was working for Bob. You know, it was a network: When I was working as a dancer we would call each other and let each other know that this or that studio had an audition. There were black dancers all over the place but yet they never showed up for the auditions. It depended on the film, for example you’d see black dancers in maybe a nightclub scene, but of course it would be all black dancers, not mixed with white dancers. Lester Horton had a lot of black dancers in his company. They were great, they would be at his parties and we all mingled and were friends.
How did the McCarthy era and the blacklisting of artists affect your job?
It didn’t affect me directly. It was people like Bella Lewitzky, the modern dancers, they would be more into politics and they were questioned. When Jerome Robbins testified in front of the committee..we were very upset. It was such a horrible period, I mean they had 500 pages on Leonard Bernstein, our greatest American composer and musician, and to bring him up (as a suspect for Un-american activites)..awful!
Well, we experienced the Cold war atmosphere first hand when Ray and I went to Varnia in Bulgaria to see the competitions. We became part of the American delegation because we stayed at the same hotel as Robert Joffrey and we would run into him and have dinner with him. Anyway, the Bulgarians weren’t friendly to us at all. They hated Carter, he was the president at the time. So it was very uncomfortable at first, until the Russian audience and delegation became friendly to us Americans. Because whenever the Russian dancers performed we would stand up and applaud, they were just so brilliant, the best. We had such enthusiasm for them so that the Russians in turn became very enthusiastic and applauded whenever the American dancers came on. Eventually the Bulgarians followed suit to the Russians and softened up. However there were times when for example the Bulgarians take our seats, they were reserved seats for the American delegation, but the Bulgarians would refuse to move. One woman practically spit on me. They wouldn’t move until some official from the delegation asked them to. But the Russians were simply wonderful to us. We supported each other. And there were great dancers from everywhere. So we were able to watch reharsals and class. We watched Evelyn Hart in class, a Canadian who won the gold medal that year, she was divine. We met David Moore at the airport in NY before we arrived in Varnia. You wouldn’t think he was a dancer but just a regular 19 year old kid with big boots and a backpack. David was dancing at ABT at the time, Barishnikov had just taken over ABT. Ray and I took David under our wing and gave him a lot of backstage support. Unfortunately he didn’t do well in the competition. During the first steps of his Le Corsaire pas de deux, he was partnering Katherine Moore, he hit a slippery spot on stage and fell and that destroyed his confidence, from then on he didn’t perform well. He was so dissapointed, Ray and I had our hands full consoling him backstage. But of course he got over it. So not only did we get to experience Cold War treatment by the Bulgarians but also the backstage drama at Varnia. It was so inspiring to watch class and rehearsals. At the competition you see a lot of dancers perform the same variations, Black Swan until you are up to your ears. But it is so interesting to see the artistic interpretations, to see how different the dancers are.