Monday, September 24, 2012

Tony Charmoli and The Tony Charmoli Dancers

Note: Since this interview several years ago, Tony Charmoli has written his autobiography. It is called "Stars In My Eyes" and is available through your local book store or Amazon.
http://www.amazon.com/Stars-My-Eyes-Tony-Charmoli/dp/099085566X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459263204&sr=8-1&keywords=Stars+In+My+Eyes


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When Tony Charmoli first received the call from Nick Vanoff about working on The Julie Andrews Hour, he was expecting to be offered the job of director. Tony first met Nick and his wife, Felisa, back in New York more than twenty years earlier when they were all attending dance class at the Charles Weidman studio. “When you work in the business,” he told me, “it becomes a very small world.”

Tony began dancing when he was just a tiny tot in Duluth, Minnesota. He was born in Duluth on June 11, 1921, one year, minus a day, before another future famous Minnesota native. At one of his first performances, he met her--Frances Gumm, who, a few years later, would be known by the world as Judy Garland.

After three years in the Armed Services, Tony moved to New York to study dance. He appeared in numerous Broadway shows, and, in 1949, took his first job as choreo-grapher for the television show, Stop the Music. From there, he went on to choreo-graph dances on the very popular, Your Hit Parade. His work on this show in 1955 won him his first Emmy.

During the early days of television, they were filming dance numbers in the same way audiences would view them in the theater, straight on. Tony Charmoli realized that dance numbers need to be choreographed and filmed in a different way, which he did, changing television entertainment and making dance much more accessible for audiences at home.

Once he moved to Hollywood, Tony Charmoli’s talents were in constant demand. During the late 1950s and 1960s’ he worked with some of the greatest stars in show business, including Danny Kaye and Mitzi Gaynor.

When Charmoli worked with Cyd Charisse, she suggested that he not only choreograph her show, but take over as director. “You’re already doing it all anyway,” she told him. Tony enjoyed directing, and from this point on continued to work as a director.

The night Nick and Felisa Vanoff invited him over to talk about working on The Julie Andrews Hour, Tony made his position clear; he wasn’t interested in just being a choreographer. But his old friends “begged” him to come onboard and join the creative team. Nick told him, “If anything happens, you’ll be able to take over.’ Finally, Tony agreed. Many years later, he commented that Bill Davis never took a day off for the entire run of The Julie Andrews Hour. “Even when he was so sick he was practically dying, he wouldn’t stop working.”

Tony Charmoli’s work with Julie on The Julie Andrews Hour was not the first time he had worked with her. Back in 1965 he’d been hired as choreographer for The Julie Andrews Show, a special with Gene Kelly. Like many shows Tony worked on, this special involved doing something he was good at--taking two very different performers, with different strengths and choreographing dances in a way that brought out each performer’s best qualities. Tony liked doing this and those he worked with felt they were in good hands.

After agreeing to take the job of choreographer for The Julie Andrews Hour, Tony met with Nick and Julie to discuss the show. It was agreed that Julie would have a group of eight chorus boys to dance with on the series. With Charmoli’s vast experience in theater and television, he knew many people and was able to assemble a fine group of dancers. On special occasions, a number of girls were added to the ensemble.

In the meantime, Nick Vanoff had hired Dick Williams (brother of Andy Williams and formerly a member of the Williams Brothers), to direct a group of eight singers, who would pre-record back-up vocals for Julie and her guest stars; the singers would never appear on camera. Yet, despite The Dick Williams Singers, Mr. Charmoli insisted that his dancers sing as well; all of the dancers had to be good singers. He wanted his dancers to be like a Broadway chorus, able to sing, dance and act. This, no doubt, added to the quality of the show. During the next eight months, The Tony Charmoli Dancers often appeared in scenes such as the Noel Coward Tribute and Don Rickles’ sketch, where they portrayed people from various times in history. The dancers were able to do just about anything required of them, and do it well.

Although I posted this photo on the last blog, I did not
have the names of the dancers.  L. to R. Joe Kyle,
Jerry Trent, Garrett Lewis, Julie, Gary Menteer,
Tom Anthony and Walter Stratton.
(Courtesy Jerry Trent)

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A few months ago, I mentioned to guest star Ken Berry that I had only discovered the identity of Julie's eight male dancers because she had introduced each one by name on the last show. Mr. Berry commented on how kind this was of Julie, saying:

“Dancers work so hard. They don’t get paid that much or get a lot of recognition and their careers don’t last that long. It was really so nice of her to recognize them in that way.”

Each of The Tony Charmoli Dancers has had a fascinating theatrical/dance history. Here, in the order Julie introduced them, is a little about each dancer:

Joe Kyle - Tony Charmoli believes that he first choreographed Joe in an act for Carol Lawrence. If Joe Kyle the dancer is the same person as Joe Kyle the actor, he is listed as appearing in several television shows and the film, Frazier the Lion. If anyone has further information on Joe Kyle, please contact me.

Jerry Trent has had the longest dance career of any of The Tony Charmoli Dancers. Most recently, he appeared on Dancing with the Stars for a special dance performance.

Jerry was born and raised in Illinois. He began dance lessons at the age of seven. In the early 1960s, he moved the Hollywood. After a few smaller jobs, he was hired to work on The Dean Martin Show. In 1969, Jerry worked on two films: Sweet Charity, starring Shirley MacLaine and Hello Dolly, which starred, of course, Barbra Streisand. Gary Menteer worked on this film as well.

After Julie Andrew’s show ended, Jerry worked as a dancer in the film, Mame, starring Lucille Ball, and in Funny Lady, starring Streisand. More information on Jerry later.


Wayne Dugger – I have no information on Wayne. If anyone knew him, or has any information on his career, please contact me.


Walter Stratton began his Broadway career in 1961, when he appeared as part of the ensemble in the musical Milk and Honey. In 1965, he worked as a  dancer in the Broadway musical Do I Hear a Waltz?  Eventually, Walter moved out to Hollywood where in 1969 he appeared in the film Sweet Charity.


Gary Crab - Tony Charmoli believes he first hired Gary to work in an act with Lisa Kirk. If anyone has further information on Gary Crab, please contact me.


Gary Menteer began dancing at the age of four in Houston, Texas. For the most part, he studied tap dancing. By the age of fifteen, he had moved to New York where he was hired to work in Broadway’s Music Man with Robert Preston. The job did not last long.

At that time, Lucille Ball was starting a workshop at her Hollywood Desilu Studios. The purpose was to gather young, talented performers and train them right there at the studio. Gary was brought into the program with eight other kids. Unfortunately for him, this opportunity did not last long either. Shortly after he entered the program, there was a television strike. Gary Menteer’s contract with Desilu was terminated abruptly.

In the following years, Gary found a lot of work, not only in television but in film. He appeared in many great musical films. Here are a few: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Funny Lady, Bye, Bye Birdie, Finian’s Rainbow, Inside Daisy Clover and Mary Poppins. Gary worked with Julie Andrews for the first time in this film, playing a chimney sweep in the musical number, “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”

Gary first met Tony Charmoli while working on The Judy Garland Show at CBS. Tony was working on The Danny Kaye Show across the way, and when Judy’s show ended, Tony hired Gary to work on The Danny Kaye Show. When Danny’s show ended, Gary moved on to The Dean Martin Show where he met quite a few people with whom he would later  work with on Julie’s show.


Tom Anthony – I have no information on Tom. If anyone has any information on him, or knows of his whereabouts, please contact me.


Garrett Lewis was not only the tallest of the dancers (6’3”), he was probably the performer with the most extensive theatrical background, and met Julie Andrews long before any of the other dancers did.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Garrett moved to New York City in the mid-1950s. Although he wrote in his high school year book, “I want to design movie sets,” by the time he moved to New York, he was clearly a good dancer and performing was his career for many years.

In the late 1950s, Hanya Holm, choreographer of My Fair Lady wanted him for the touring company of the show. She brought him backstage in New York and introduced him to the young Julie Andrews. From there, Garrett went out to Los Angeles and worked as a dancer in the show there.

By the mid-1960s, Garrett Lewis was playing Cornelius Hackl in first touring company of Hello Dolly starring Carol Channing. When injured Carlton Carpenter, in London, fell into the orchestra pit, breaking his pelvis, David Merrick sent Garrett to London to play Cornelius opposite Mary Martin. Although he was only supposed remain in the show  only a few weeks, Mary Martin liked him and insisted he stay for the rest of the run. He remained in the London with the show for a year, closing opposite Dora Bryan.

In 1967, Julie Andrews was filming a movie about the life of Gertrude Lawrence. The film would eventually be titled Star! Garrett Lewis won the role of Jack Buchanan, Gertrude’s manager. It was a speaking role which lasted through a good portion of the film’s first half. He also sang in the film and can be heard on the Star! album singing, “N’ Everything.”

In 1972, when Tony Charmoli called Garrett to ask him about working on The Julie Andrews Hour as one of the dancers, he told Garrett that Julie had asked for him. When I spoke to Garrett, he seemed uncertain about whether this was true or not. Still, because Julie had worked with him a good deal prior to this time, and also possibly because of his size, Garrett was the one who did all the special lifts and tricks with Julie.

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It is important to mention Dick Beard, Tony Charmoli’s Assistant Choreographer. Of all the dancers who worked on The Julie Andrews Hour, Dick Beard probably had the most fascinating dance history.

Born Richard Park Beard, in Florida in 1925, he began his career in ballet, training with some of the greatest dancers of his time, including Balanchine, Vladimiroff, and Anna Pavlova’s student, Muriel Stuart. When Beard appeared with Ballet International in 1944, he was rehearsed and trained by Bronislava Nijinska, Leonide Massine (who appeared in the film, The Red Shoes), Mme. Vera Fokina and Boris Romanoff. For those not knowledge-able in the history of ballet, these dancers are all legendary for their work.

Early on, Dick Beard became a member of the American Ballet Theater,  working under the direction of the English choreographer, Antony Tudor. Tudor created many roles for Beard, including the Bridegroom in Undertow. While working under Antony Tudor, Dick Beard partnered Dame Alicia Markova in Romeo and Juliet and Facsimile, a ballet by Jerome Robbins.

Following his career at ABT, Beard went to the New York City Ballet company where he worked with Balanchine. He also worked on the very popular Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Eventually, Beard formed a dance trio which appeared in hotels and clubs throughout the U.S. and in Paris.

Tony Charmoli had worked with Dick in New York. When Dick moved out to California, he worked with Tony again. As Tony explained to me, he partnered with Dick in working out various dance routines. Tony would take Julie’s part in order to see if the dance was working before trying it out on Julie.


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Note: In an effort to keep most of this in the present – 1972-1973, I have not included all the credits on these wonderful people. I will follow-up on this information later.

Many thanks to Tony Charmoli, Jerry Trent, Gary Menteer and Garrett Lewis for their help with this chapter in the story of The Julie Andrews Hour and the artists who helped make it the show it was. 

If you would like to see The Julie Andrews Hour put out on DVD, along with  a Duets CD of Julie and her guests (and maybe others as well), please send a respectful e-mail to requesting this to:     dan.gopal@itv.com

Meanwhile, we are coming up on the anniversary of a great show! Coming this week, Episode No. 3 with Jack Cassidy and Ken Berry! Be sure to check in because Ken Berry has kindly given me some information about his time working on this show.

11 comments:

  1. Michelle, please contact me, Wayne Dugger is my cousin and I do have limited information on him that might be interesting.

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    1. Susan, please forgive the long time to respond but I only saw this yesterday. I have checked my mail and do not find your email there, so I hope this reaches you. Please try to email me at catsong2@netzero.net and I will respond. Anxious to speak with you!

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    2. Michelle, if you should ever wish to have a bio concerning my career in dance, just let me know. It all began at age five. That would have been in 1934. And on it goes at age 86. (Drosselmyer, the past three years in the Nutcracker ballet} All of the aforementioned and I worked together on the same shows. Thanks to Tony, he was responsible for the principal dance roles he gave me on shows that have not been mentioned on this page. ---Sincerely, Roy Fitzell

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    3. I would love to talk with the one of you about a new Christmas classic ballet that we just did of my NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLING NOVEL. Julie Andrews discovered me and this new ballet is a true classic, We are doing a full production and would love to talk with you.
      Brittney Ryan
      brittneyforever@gmail.com

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Susan, thank you so much for your response and please excuse the late answer. I rarely check the email associated with this but will be in touch soon!

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  4. I owe a lot to Tony Charmoli for the many opportunities he gave me. He was/is one of the most creative of any choreographer/director that I ever worked with or for. --- I admire Dick Beard also for his artistic abilities. --- Yours truly, Roy Fitzell

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Roy Fitzell. Love to talk to you any time about Mr. Charmoli and Dick Beard. catsong2@netzero.net I'm still collecting information. Tony emails me now and then!

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    2. Will be happy to talk to you anytime.
      Roy

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    3. Apologies. Once again I'm having trouble reaching you via the above link. You can find me on Facebook or catsong2@netzero.net or please send me info. I will try to watch on here and then deleted these messages. Heading out to California soon. Sincerely, Michelle Russell

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  5. Hi Michelle, Thanks for the great reflection on Tony's career and the plug for his book. Due to some printer paper weight issues Stars In My Eyes was pulled and re-released. So the above link is no longer correct. The new link is:

    http://www.amazon.com/Stars-My-Eyes-Tony-Charmoli/dp/0997382902/ref=sr_1_1_twi_har_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1463071818&sr=8-1&keywords=Stars+In+My+Eyes

    Thanks again- Tony is really a sweet man and his stories are pretty marvelous.

    Cheers,
    Paul Manchester

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