Monday, March 30, 2009

Mae West: Ned Wayburn

Eighteen-year-old brunette MAE WEST got her first big break when she was cast in the legitimate show "A la Broadway" at New York's Folies Bergere Theatre. Ned Wayburn Mae's former dancing teacher who was staging this, pulled her in. The revue premiered 22 September 1911 and lasted eight performances.
• • The New York Times applauded Mae's debut, however, the theatre's limited seating capacity made it financially foolish to mount such an expensive entertainment there.
• • Ned Wayburn, born Edward Claudius Weyburn, was the most famous and influential choreographer in the early twentieth century.
• • Ned Wayburn [30 March 1874 — 2 September 1942] was born in Pennsylvania but spent much of his childhood in Chicago where he was introduced to theater and studied classical piano. At the age of 21, he abandoned his family’s tradition of manufacturing and began teaching at the Hart Conway School of Acting in Chicago.
• • After leaving the school, Wayburn spent many years in theater staging shows for producers. He worked with such teams as Oscar and William Hammerstein, and Marc Klaw and A.L. Erlanger.
• • In 1906, Ned Wayburn began his own management group called the Headline Vaudeville Production Company. Through his own firm he staged many feature acts, while collaborating with other producers such as Lew Fields, William Ziegfeld, and the Shuberts. In 1915, he began working with Florenz Ziegfeld and created the incredibly successful Ziegfeld Follies [1907 — 1931].
• • Ned Wayburn’s choreography was based on six idioms or techniques: musical comedy, tapping, stepping, acrobatic work, modern American ballet, toe specialties, and exhibition ballroom. His choreography was greatly affected by social dances of the time. His dancers moved in units of two or four, following popular trends. He also used a group of dancers to form shapes, as inspired by the Cotillion. He also was famous for taking dances such as the tango, the Turkey Trot, the Grizzly Bear, the Black Bottom, and the Charleston, and re-creating them for stage performances by using strong exaggerations of movement.
• • Ned Wayburn taught Mae West to do the Grizzly Bear, a dance craze that started in San Francisco (along with the Bunny Hug and Texas Tommy). The Bear dance (as it was also called) was done on the Staten Island ferry boats in the 1900s. It has been said that dancers John Jarrott and Louise Gruenning introduced this dance as well as the Turkey Trot at Ray Jones Cafe in Chicago around 1909.
• • The Bear Goes Bigtime • •
• • The Grizzly Bear was first introduced to New York's Broadway audiences in the 1910 show "Over the River" via the song "Everybody's Doin' it Now." That song contained the repeated phrase "It's a Bear!" Later the Ziegfeld Follies of 1911 would feature the Bear dance by Fanny Brice. The dance was rough and clumsy since the Grizzly Bear step was imitating the movements of a dancing bear. After a very heavy step to the side, there was a decided bending of the upper part of the body from one side to the other, a deliberately ungraceful and undignified movement when performed as a dance.
• • In 1910, Sophie Tucker was arrested for singing the Grizzly Bear and the "Angle Worm Wiggle."
• • In addition to incorporating "scandalous dances" for the stage, Ned Wayburn was the one who created steps such as the “Ziegfeld Walk” and the “Gilda Glide” (for Mae's rival Gilda Gray), and worked with many well-known performers of the time such as Mae West, Fred Astaire, Marilyn Miller, Ann Pennington, Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, Evelyn Law, Fanny Brice, Gilda Gray, and others.
• • Some of his best remembered shows were Phantastic Phantoms (1907), The Daisy Dancers (1906), The Passing Show (1913), and all of the Ziegfeld Follies.

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