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Maud Allan Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G399-4135-A).

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Allan, Maud (27 August 1873–07 October 1956), dancer, choreographer, and actress, was born Ula Maude Durrant in Toronto, Canada, the daughter of William Allan Durrant, a shoemaker, and Isa Matilda Hutchinson. In the late 1870s the family migrated from Ontario to San Francisco, where Allan grew up and, from an early age, studied piano with several teachers. San Francisco’s thriving theatrical and musical environment in the late 1880s and early 1890s enabled her to see fine performances, including those by some of the best women artists, among them Adele aus der Ohe and Sarah Bernhardt. Allan’s discipline, however, was piano. At age twenty-two, already musically accomplished and very beautiful, she went to Berlin for advanced piano study at the Royal High School for Music then under the direction of Joseph Joachim....

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Fred Astaire. Gelatin silver print, 1936, by unidentified artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Astaire, Fred (10 May 1899–22 June 1987), dancer, film star, and choreographer, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Frederick Austerlitz, an immigrant Austrian brewery employee, and Ann Geilus. Astaire’s sister, Adele Astaire, showed unusual talent in early dancing school recitals and was taken to New York in 1904 by her mother for professional training. Her brother, younger by a year and a half, was enrolled in dancing school with her. In 1906, when Fred was only seven, the two children began performing successfully in vaudeville....

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Bolger, Ray (10 January 1904–15 January 1987), comedy-actor and dancer, was born Raymond Wallace Bolger in Dorchester, near Boston, Massachusetts, the son of James Edward Bolger, a painter, and Anne Wallace. After he graduated from Dorchester High School in 1920, Bolger initially was employed in office work, including positions with First National Bank of Boston, New England Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Kelly Peanut Company. His involvement with performing had been at the amateur level, and he found his way into a ballet school run by Senia Rusakoff (Roussakoff) because the institution required someone with bookkeeping knowledge and offered him free dancing lessons in return. Training in ballet and tap led to Bolger’s first stage appearance in 1922 as a soloist in Rusakoff’s dance recital, followed by a couple of years touring with the Bob Ott Musical Comedy Repertoire Company. This experience enabled Bolger to develop his craft in various musicals. He acquired skills in comedy and acting while continuing to broaden his range of dancing....

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Brooks, Louise (14 November 1906–08 August 1985), actress and dancer, was born Mary Louise Brooks in Cherryvale, Kansas, the daughter of Leonard Porter Brooks, a lawyer, and Myra Rude. Louise trained as a dancer, beginning her professional career at age fifteen with Ruth St. Denis...

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Peter C. Holloran

Cagney, James (17 July 1899–30 March 1986), actor, was born James Francis Cagney, Jr., on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of James Francis Cagney, a bartender, and Carolyn Nelson. Cagney was raised in New York’s multicultural Yorkville neighborhood, and by age fourteen he was working to help support his mother, three brothers, and sister. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School and attended Columbia University for a year until his father died in 1918....

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Crawford, Joan (23 March 1904–10 May 1977), actress, was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas, the daughter of French-Canadian Thomas LeSueur, a laborer, and Irish-Scandinavian Anna Bell Johnson, a waitress. Crawford was fond of saying, “We can skip my childhood. I didn’t have any. Everything I have in life, Hollywood gave me. I never went beyond the fifth grade. Pictures gave me all my education.” Her father deserted the family before she was born. Her mother then married Henry Cassin, a hotel and theater operator, and Lucille changed her name to Billie Cassin. When Crawford was eleven, Henry Cassin left the family after having been accused of theft....

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Sammy Davis, Jr. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1956. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114446).

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Davis, Sammy, Jr. (08 December 1925–16 May 1990), variety performer and entertainer, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Sammy Davis, Sr., an African-American dancer, and Elvera “Baby” Sanchez, a Puerto Rican chorus girl, both in Will Mastin’s Holiday in Dixieland...

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Dickson, Dorothy (25 July 1893–25 September 1995), dancer and musical actress, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to William Dickson, a journalist, and his wife Clara Barrett Dickson. She was educated in Chicago schools. Her career as a ballroom dancer effectively began there when she partnered Carl Constantine Helson in a charity dance after Helson's father's business speculations went awry....

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Dorothy Dickson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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James Ross Moore

Dolly Sisters, identical-twin celebrities, were born Janszieka Deutsch and Roszika Deutsch (25 Oct. 1892—1 June 1941) in Budapest, Hungary, to Julius Deutsch, a tailor, and his wife Margaret Weiss, a painter. Janszieka became known as Jenny Dolly; her sister as Rosa Dolly. Raised and educated in Queens, at age eight the Dollys were performing with an acrobatic troupe; by 1909 they were dancing at ...

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See Dolly Sisters

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See Dolly Sisters

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Melissa Vickery-Bareford

Foy, Bryan (08 December 1896–20 April 1977), and Eddie Foy, Jr. (04 February 1910–15 July 1983), actor, were two of the eleven children born to vaudeville and Broadway comedian Eddie Foy (Edwin Fitzgerald Foy) and Madeline Morando, an ex-ballerina. Bryan was born in Chicago, Illinois, and Eddie (Edwin Fitzgerald) Jr. was born at the family home in New Rochelle, New York. The Foy children became part of their father’s vaudeville act almost as soon as they could walk and talk; thus their public education was sporadic—both boys briefly attended St. Gabriel’s School in New Rochelle, but the bulk of their education came from private tutors or from their mother’s tutoring on the road....

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See Foy, Bryan

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Grable, Betty (18 December 1916–02 July 1973), film and stage actress, was born Ruth Elizabeth Grable in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Conn Grable, a stockbroker, and Lillian Hofman. From Betty’s infancy, Lillian Grable projected her own frustrated singing ambitions onto her daughter. A legendary stage mother, Lillian Grable suffered from an ambulatory problem, described as a “stiff hip,” that was aggravated by her daughter’s birth. Rigorously trained in tap, dance, voice, and saxophone, Betty began performing for private groups, in vaudeville, and in local public performances at the age of five. In 1929, to realize her daughter’s career, Lillian Grable moved with her to Los Angeles, while her husband and other daughter remained in St. Louis. In Los Angeles Betty Grable was signed to a studio contract with 20th Century–Fox at thirteen. Her age was concealed, but she was dismissed when her youth was discovered after she had appeared illegally in the chorus line in several films....

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Rita Hayworth Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USE6-D-001603).

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Hayworth, Rita (17 October 1918–14 May 1987), movie actress, was born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Eduardo Cansino, a Spanish dancer, and Volga Hayworth, a Ziegfeld showgirl. Although she was shy and showed little interest in professional performing, Margarita was put into dancing classes at age four. For the rest of her childhood, dance training and performing took precedence over formal schooling. Only briefly, in New York, did the family settle down long enough for her to regularly attend school....