By Robert Wood
Leslie Caron and choreographers Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood were honored at the Professional Dancers Society, 27th Annual Gypsy Award, held recently at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Regrettably, we lost Marc last year, but his spirit was there and Dee Dee made sure he was remembered.
The Red Carpet Divas, Leslie Caron, Mitzi Gaynor, Dee Dee Wood, Cita Rivera, and Frances Elizabeth Taylor Davis shared the magnitude of flashbulbs. Frances and Chita from the original Broadway Musical West Side Story were a surprise, Chita flying in from NYC to help Dick Van Dyke present the award to Dee Dee Wood and Marc Breaux.
Frances Davis, using her middle name to join Actors Equity, appeared as Elizabeth Taylor in West Side Story, winning her the Broadway Gypsy Robe on opening night. As the first black ballerina to join the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, word spread like wildfire upon their arrival in Paris, and Miss Dunham loaned Frances to the Paris Opera Ballet for a special performance. The next morning, news flash! Paris Match and Paris News had dubbed her, “The Leslie Caron of the Tropics.”
Dick Van Dyke was humble, saying, “I was not a song and dance man. Marc and Dee Dee watched my movements and knew instinctively what I was capable of. They made me look like I knew what the heck I was doing.” Dee Dee, noting the fourteen minute chimney sweep dance number from Mary Poppins proved her point, saying, “He gives us way too much credit. Watching him throughout that number as well as the entire film; Dick Van Dyke is definitely a dancer!”
Finally, la pièce de résistance, the incomparable Leslie Caron! Mitzi Gaynor, President of the PDS, charmed us with her brilliant, witty French as she carried on girly chit chat with Miss Caron from onstage, ending up somewhere between ooh la la and escargot!
Before Miss Caron took the stage, we were mesmerized with an incredible dance tribute to her filmography representing her master work, exquisitely executed. Stepping onstage to accept her award, all she could do was just stand there. Everyone was on their feet applauding for what seemed like an eternity. When finally she could speak, there was her soft sweet French voice we all remember. Sincere and honest without pretense, explaining that when Gene Kelly had come to Paris to search out a new face; a new dancer/actress for An American in Paris, asking to meet her, she did only out of politeness, having absolutely no idea who he was. “They asked me to make a small film test and in three days it was all forgotten. My main ambition in life was only to be a ballerina, and being seventeen, I felt Gene was too old for me and all was quickly forgotten. One day a phone call came and I was wanted in Hollywood immediately and I had three days to be there.”
After attending the first movie preview she said, “Gene, I feel like I have the flu, I’m sick, I don’t feel well.” Gene said, “You’re not sick, you don’t have the flu, you’ve just seen yourself on film for the first time.”