What inspired this
project? Having viewed,
quite by accident, film clips of Miriam LaVelle on YouTube I got curious - but
left it at that. Then, whilst idly searching eBay, I came across an original
photograph of Ms LaVelle, a collectors item, and eagerly snapped it up. From
that moment I was on a roll to find out more...
The photo is a 10 by 8 inch
original studio portrait, a clipped version being used for the home page of
this site. You can view the full version under Images. Importantly, though, on
the verso is written, '17 years old Ballerina
just signed with MGM, after been applauded by Broadway audiences.' This gave me a vital starting
Most likely the studio portrait was
taken early 1943, by which time Ms LaVelle would have gone through the studio
grooming process and been added to the roster of MGM lovelies. It stacks up
with the production dates for her first film, April - August 1943.
I was contacted in October 2010 by
a 90 year old lady called LaVerne Strotheide who new Miriam well. LaVerne lives
in St Louis and via her granddaughter Trisha, has passed on the most
enlightening personal account of her friendship with Miriam LaVelle. I was able
to have a long, animated and very enlightening phone conversation with this
The credit for this
information surfacing goes to
Scriptwriter (I'm withholding this
person's name for privacy) who has a solid presence on YouTube as a
scriptwriter, composer and actor. Scriptwriter, who also has a keen
interest in Miriam LaVelle, very kindly passed on contact details for both
Trisha and LaVerne. Additionally Scriptwriter was instrumental in
putting me in touch with the YouTube member who'd provided them with the Vodvil
film short of Miriam dancing to the Dick Stabile orchestra. Through this
contact I was able to get a copy of the 1949 Ed Wynn Show episode featuring
Miriam. My sincere thanks to Scriptwriter.
Here are LaVerne's memories of
Miriam LaVelle in her own words:
"I still tap dance - but didn't for 44 yrs - also sang
with bands, big and small, the last having been with Scott Field Flyers-12 pc.
(now called Scott Air Force) band, at Keil convention center, and elsewhere,
during WWII. NOW - to Miriam.
I keep her pic above my tapboard
and still adore her. She was a "doll"- just beautiful - and
where do I begin!! At age 5, I saw her perform as a trapeze artist,
at our local theatre, Granite City, Illinois. The next thing, at the same
age (I was 7 yrs. older than she), her Mom stood "over" her and us as
Miriam did an acrobatic lesson by Mom telling her what to show
explained to me that at age 5, Miriam was able to give instruction on her
At that same age, she and I
worked a show for the Veterans' Hospital, in South county, St. Louis -
approximately 75 people went, including 9 of us entertainers, in 15 cars; this
was done by the American Legion, Granite City. (I have a backup copy of that
being done). The next I recall, her cousin, Nanela Shone, and I were in
same Granite High School class, January '39. Nan married Clifford
Parmley, moved to Miami Lakes, Florida. (I have her address from that time -
actually valid in 1979 when I prepared our class reunion (high school).
From then, we lost touch.
I have a postcard from July 1945
that Miriam sent from the Croyton Hotel, Chicago - telling me she would be
working a show at the Chase Park Plaza, St Louis, and would be staying with
[the] Shones (her aunt was Nan who passed in '82). I remember going to the Fox,
in St Louis, with Nanela, seeing Miriam perform - AWESOME - and we were then in
her dressing room to visit. Her Mom was a real "watchdog" -
never allowed Miriam to date, alone, that is. I was of the belief that
Miriam was adopted - have no idea how I learned that. I thought that her
Mom exploited her because she wouldn't let her do anything except dance.
I visited with Miriam when she was practicing at our YMCA ballroom for five
hours - I didn't stay, of course.
NOW, I'll try to get this part of
the story told to where it makes sense: My children studied dance (tap)
for years, with teacher, at the YMCA - older daughter was her assistant, on
Saturdays, at age 15. The teacher was Macklyn Williams, from St Louis.
HER sister told her family - and one of them ? told me - this story. The
sister's first name I CANNOT remember. However, her last name was
Williams. She was working the same show, at one point, in New York
(Miriam was living in Manhattan at one time, that I know from Miriam telling
me). The info was that Miriam was jilted by this "band leader"
which I haven't read in the many stories - and started drinking
[This might have been Dick
Stabile's brother, Joey, whom Miriam was sweet on. See further down on this
page]. At the
5-minute curtain call, she'd be drunk. Well, that really touched my heart
- couldn't picture her being that heartbroken!! The next thing, the
Shones told me that she was wheelchair bound with an illness called (now I do
not know the spelling but this is the way I spelled it for my memoirs) -
Neuphritis. Then, ultimately, I read where she had passed, at age 31
[correct age was 32]. She was born in 1927 [correct year was 1926],
soo this would have been 1958.
I spent a week at wee hours of the
morning searching a TON of albums and scrapbooks and cannot find the obituary -
drives me "nuts". I KNOW I kept it. The next thing, I
hope it is in one of the albums I gave my three children.
I have a dear friend, Jessica
Chapuis, a hoofer in Chicago, who will have received the entire packet of
Miriam's pics, all autographed - two specifically to my husband - I had
requested "a bedroom" pic specifically for him. She sent one
large and one for a billfold. We were married 03/01/42 and he passed
05/19/09. I miss him terribly after 67 yrs. of marriage.
Anyway, Jessica is a pro - she just put her ad on the "net" for
classes. She is 27 - a grad from BU [Possibly Benedictine University,
Chicago] - on full scholarship. Her family home is Olivette - suburb of St
Louis - but has lived in Chicago since making her debut in "Imagine
Tap!" at Harris theatre".
LaVerne provided a number of
signed photographs of Miriam which I've included in the Images section.
LaVelle's real name was Miriam Lavelle Patterson, her mother being Mrs. J A
Patterson. She was born in 1926. From the above account, it was clear Miriam
and her mother were living in the St Louis / Illinois area when Miriam was five
- perhaps she started life there. There's no mention of her father, although it
seems he had a brother, William Patterson who possibly lived in Chester PA.
Miriam's dancing career commenced when, aged three, she practiced dance steps
to cure a foot ailment, becoming in the process, skilled at dancing and
One can only speculate where Miriam
was living between the age of 5 and 7 years old, newspaper archives picking up
her life when she was 7. By then the family were living in Crum Lynne, a small
locality on the north-east outskirts of Chester, Pennsylvania. She attended
nearby Ridley Park High School most likely up to the age of 11, given the
various press snippets.
The Chester Times gives mention of
young Miriam on the occasions she performed in school events, it being clear
that show business was written into her bones at an early age. Columnists
reported as follows:
30th April 1934: 'The program
included acrobatic mat numbers by seven-year-old Miriam Patterson, of Ridley
Park who is possessed of exceptional acrobatic skill, a combination of
acrobatic mat and work on parallel bars. There was also a trapeze number by
17th May 1934: 'An exhibition of
acrobatic and mat work was given by Miriam Patterson.'
16th November 1934: Presbyterian
Woman's Society '...and Miriam Patterson, of Crum Lynne, who entertained with
22nd November 1934: 'The assembly
program at the high school tomorrow, morning will include tiny Miss Miriam
Patterson, of Crum Lynne in acrobatic numbers.'
27th April 1935: C.T.A. Minstrels
Score Success, '... and there was a snappy acrobatic dance number in the midst
of the solo program by Miriam Patterson, who is a well known figure of the
7th June 1935: Dougherty Sisters
School of Dancing: '... and an acrobatic aerial ring exhibition by Miriam
Patterson who performed with the grace of a circus performer.'
25th July 1935: Talented Tots at
Ridley Park: 'Eight-year-old Miriam Patterson, a talented gymnast, thrilled and
delighted her audience. Many remarkable feats of tumbling and contortions were
demonstrated by the tiny Miss Patterson in her act, which included a
particularly difficult and entertaining "Adagio Dance". The acrobatic
program was concluded by the singing of "The Grasshopper" by Miss
Patterson, which she illustrated with charming descriptive gestures.'
11th March 1936: benefit Show at
Eddystone,' Specialities were performed by William Ward and Miriam
23rd April 1938: 'Several graceful
dances were given by little Miriam Patterson.'
No archive material has
been unearthed accounting for Ms LaVelle's life from 1939 to 1940. Newspaper
articles and Billboard entries provide a fragmented audit trace from 1941 to
1950. At some stage, with or without her family she moved from Chester
PA. A photo of Miriam LaVelle, aged 18, in The Chicago Daily
Tribune 13 June 1943 titled 'Missouri Waltzer' pegs her as being from St Louis,
Missouri. Another newspaper refers to 'St Louis, her home town.' Regardless,
records indicate Ms LaVelle as retaining links with Pennsylvania through her
Miriam LaVelle's rise to Hollywood
stardom centres on an almost legendary stroke of luck. An 'electric' sign
(possibly neon) had been erected in the Times Square vicinity, featuring an
animated silhouette or profile based on that of Ms LaVelle, and which had her
'dancing' for six weeks. (It's possible the sign-maker had simply approached an
agency - fortuitously Ms LaVelle's - for a suitable photo to model the sign
on). However, the sign garnered much interest and agents homed-in on Ms LaVelle
and booked her for a show at the Strand theatre on Broadway. She was then
spotted by MGM talent scouts.
What's in a
name? As stated prior,
Ms LaVelle started life as Miriam Lavelle Paterson. Variants on her name in
Billboard, the press, and on celluloid are Lavelle, LaVelle and La Velle. For
me, LaVelle is the correct variant as it's consistent with the lady's show-biz
Theatre work: Ms LaVelle is documented as being in two
Broadway shows: 'Sunny River' - the St James theatre (still standing) from
April 1941 - May 1942, and 'Keep 'em laughing' at the 44th Street Theatre
(Demolished in 1945) from April to May 1942.
LaVelle appeared in four feature films, each time performing a mixture of her
tried and tested acrobatic dance moves. In 'Meet the people - 1944', 'Seven
days ashore - 1944', and 'The gang's all here - 1943', her brief appearances,
though highly entertaining, have virtually no relevance to the storyline. But
in that era, films were frequently little more than a showcase for popular acts
of the day, a flimsy plot gluing the flick together. In 'Cover Girl -
1944' Ms LaVelle appears fleetingly in a dance sequence with Gene Kelly, along
with several other dancers. Don't blink or sneeze or you'll miss the lovely
Though MGM signed Ms LaVelle, 'Meet
the people' was the only movie this studio featured her in, and one assumes
that the lady was loaned-out to the other studios for the balance of her film
work. It makes sense, as the production dates for all four movies fell in a
similar time-frame per the stats below.
The Gang's all
April - August
July - November
Columbia Pictures Corp. April
June - September
November - December
1943 RKO Radio
Ms LaVelle's movie career appears
to have petered-out mid 1944, though she was the subject of a short film
entitled 'Let me love you tonight' made by an outfit called Film Vodvil in
1946, in which she performs an enchanting dance routine accompanied by the Dick
Theatre and Night
Clubs: Ms LaVelle's
small film-clip legacy might well sway nostalgia hounds to pigeon-hole her as a
movie personality, however she was highly active on the cabaret circuits, both
before, during and post her brief dalliance with the silver screen. This is
evidenced by numerous entries in Billboard, some being performance critiques,
others simply venue listings. But all in all, they provide an interesting,
albeit incomplete cameo of Ms LaVelle's professional activities between 1942
It's clear from Billboard that of
all the New York City venues Ms LaVelle played, including the Copacabana and
The Strand Theatre, her main stamping grounds were the Capitol Theatre on
Broadway and Nicky Blair's Carnival Room incorporated within The Capitol Hotel
at 834-836 Eighth Avenue, both having since fallen to the wrecker's ball. Nicky
Blair opened up The Carnival Room in 1945, a large circus-themed nightclub
setting where patrons dined in style whilst being entertained by jugglers,
trapeze artists, acrobats, comedians, and needless to say, scantly-clad dancers
and chorines. The stage comprised a semicircular apron that was large enough to
accommodate all of the props and equipment for these exotic acts. Two photos of
this venue can be viewed under Images.
References to Miriam LaVelle have been found in American newspapers published
between 1942 and 1950. These appear as brief articles, or simply one-liners
written in the buzzy jive of gossip columnists. I found 72 references, but
sadly, many were duplicates, the same articles syndicated across countless
newspapers. Nevertheless, they're all pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Note that
the entries read verbatim - including odd spellings, punctuation, grammar and
Tucon Daily Citizen - 15th April
'Broadway Story: Her name is Miriam
La Velle, a dancer. Been trying to crash The Big Apple for years. Appeared in
musicals destined for New York, but they withered en route. Last month Miriam
joined Irv Caesar's, 'My Dear Children'. Out-of-town critics liked her lots. An
opening was set for B'way, but the show collapsed in Philly. Last week Miriam
finally hit Broadway and the Big Burg - as a figure in lights on the Wilson
animated electriks! ... But wait for the punch line!... Booking agents enjoyed
her silhouet so much they looked her up and booked Miriam for the Strand where
she opened April 10. '
Tucon Daily Citizen - 15th April
'We recently paragraphed about
Miriam Lavelle, the dancer. Tried to get on Broadway for years finally did it -
but via one of those electriky signs... Agents saw her shadows on the sign,
looked-her up and booked her for the Strand theater. Then she was engaged for
'Keep 'Em Laughing' and next week goes into Loew's State... '
Mansfield News Journal 4th June
'Good inside story is: the reason
why Walter Damrosch left NBC [Nicky Blair's Carnival] Miriam LaVelle, dancer,
and Joey Stabile, Bandleader Dick's brother, adore each other...'
Mansfield News Journal 16th
'...Abbott and Costello, the
funnymen, taking Miriam LaVelle for a tour of the night spots - and getting her
home by midnight, on mama's order's...'
Mansfield News Journal 18th October
'It's hard to be a good sport when
your heart broken, but there's one little dancer on Broadway who made the grade
this week, a girl named Miriam LaVelle. She'd been practising for weeks to
dance at the Army Relief Show, 'We're All In It' and on the night of the
benefit she came in makeup and her best costume, ready to appear before the
biggest and most important audience of her lifetime. Anything might happen,
with an audience like that - a producer might see her, maybe it might mean a
Broadway show, maybe she'd get a movie offer. After she had waited for two
hours she was told she couldn't go on - there were too many other 'big names'
from Hollywood and the theater who had to do their acts. Miriam didn't sulk or
cry, although she must have felt like crying. She just went among the
spectators and joined the AWVS workers and helped them sell more than a million
dollar's worth of bonds to the crowd.'
Long Beach Independent 24th
'Miriam LaVelle, who danced her way
into pictures, is the girl who appeared ON Broadway lights before her name
flashed in them. A year ago, the slim 17-year-old acrobatic dancer, actually
danced on an electric advertising sign in the Times Square sector. There
Broadway columnists discovered her as curious thousands stared and before she
knew it, the youngster was a hit in 'Keep Em laughing'. She is now appearing in
her second picture, 'Meet the People', at metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with Lucille
Ball, Virginia O'Brian, Dick Powell and a couple of big-name bands. Miriam has
danced in a couple of theatres in New York and St Louis her home town, since
she was three, when she became the protégé of Gus
Evening Independent 4th March
'Nicky Blair's revamped Carnival
revue is a dazzling show, retaining such features from the former show as Elly
Ardelty, the breath-taking trapeze artist, and Miriam Lavelle, the dancing
sensation, plus Milton Berle, who is unquestionably the most versatile and
amusing comedian of his time. Also a half dozen other entertaining acts. A wow
of a show.'
An editorial by Ed Sullivan dated
7th March 1946 describes how a group of entertainers, that included Miriam
LaVelle, had given a show to White House Correspondents and were then
marshalled into The Continental room of the Hotel Statler in New York where
they were introduced to President Truman. Of all the entertainers trying to
pluck up courage to ask the President for an autograph, Miriam LaVelle was the
one to actually do so, and her request was warmly received by President
Chester Times 7th June 1946.
This features an advert for the
Boyd Theatre , the main event being a film. However,
as was often the case in cinemas of that time, acts featured between the
movies. The ad reads, 'Behind the Footlights' Miriam Lavelle of Chester!
Formerly of the Dougherty Sisters Studio.'
'Chester' is Chester, Pennsylvania,
and the Boyd Theatre, over 80 years old, is, or was until recently, being used
as a church.
The Morning Herald 15th June 1946
A brief gossip column insertion
states rather enigmatically, 'Carlos
Ramirez waits at the Capitol [theatre] stage door for Miriam
Carlos Ramirez was a famous singer
from Columbia, and possibly Ms Lavelle's favourite clutch. He famously featured
in 'Bathing Beauty' with Esther Williams in 1944.
Schenectady Gazette 15th June
'Miriam Lavelle, the acrobatic
dancer at The Carnival, isn't talking to Milton Berle, the star there, since
they had words about what she should do in the show's finale. Ah - well. Girls
will be girls and Berles will be musicals.'
Hamilton Daily News Journal 19th
A photo of Miriam LaVelle appeared
in this paper and was syndicated across many others. It shows Ms LaVelle togged
out in shorts, holding a fishing rod and wearing a fisherman's bag. The caption
reads, ' Queen Bass - Thousand Islands fishing guides picked Miriam Lavelle
(above) as Queen Bass to reign over the 1946 Rod and Gun club bass tournament
at Alexandria Bay, N.Y.'
I've added this photo on the Images
page, but be aware that it's little more than a murky half-tone image.
The Morning Herald 19th July
'...Cute little Miriam Lavelle,
Carnival dancing star, tells me she'll wed bandleader
Georgie Auld at Christmas....'
The Daily News 27th July
'Stan Fisher, harmonica player,
lost Carnival's Miriam LaVelle, who will wed George Auld...'
Stan Fisher featured in several
movies. Maybe he was dating ML.
Olean Times Herald 31st July 1946.
(Olean is a town in New York State).
'Wasn't Miriam LaVelle's motive in
announcing her "engagement" to bandleader George Auld (who happens to
be married already) the old, feminine trick of trying to make the man she
really loves jealous. Hep Broadwayites know the one she loves is a singer'.
Chester Times 1st November
Mr. and Mrs. William Paterson
[Patterson] and daughter, Patricia, spent a day at Philadelphia and attended a
musical comedy, 'Sweet Bye and Bye'. Mr. Paterson's [Patterson's] niece, Miriam
Lavelle, has a prominent part in the show.'
This is the only piece of
information to-date that connects Ms Lavelle to her extended family.
The Record-Argus 2nd December
'Dancer Miriam Lavelle caused
considerable excitement at a Boston hotel. Just disappeared in the middle of
her engagement, trekked to New York, and didn't return to the floor show for
Lowell Sun 5th January 1948
'...Such backstage feuding between
the Strand theatre management and dancer Miriam Lavelle...'
Olean Times Herald 4th may
'Talk of Broadway is the startling
"inside" on dancer Miriam Lavelle's recent marriage in Las Vegas.
It's bound to hit the front pages sooner or later...'
This may have been contrived gossip
of the calibre we experience today, as no references have been found of Ms
LaVelle getting married.
Sandusky Register Star News 3rd
'Acrobatic dancer Miriam Lavelle
split her head open during a TV rehearsal and was rushed to hospital...'
This is the last reference to Ms
LaVelle that appears to exist.
extract: In searching
the Internet, I found mention of Miriam LaVelle in a Dean Martin Bio written by
Nick Tosches. It's only brief, but with information on Ms LaVelle rarer than
gold dust, any little snippet becomes valued. With a time-frame of September
1946 the passage reads; 'Now one of his [Dean Martin's] melancholy babes, the
dancer Miriam LaVelle, was in the show with them at the Riviera. Dean had first
met Miriam when she was performing at Nicky Blair's Carnival on Eighth Avenue,
one of the joints he hit making the rounds with Johnny Buff and Peppi. The
pretty brunette had recently recovered from surgery on her leg, but there was
no scar that nylon could not veil'.
An enigmatic reference - construe
what you will.
Miriam Lavelle post
Archive references to Miriam
LaVelle peter-out after mid-1950. Variety was on the wane and quite possibly Ms
LaVelle wasn't working in a prolific enough capacity to attract the press or
Billboard. Armed with the information provided by Laverne on Miriam's final
years I shall continue to probe the archives.