Fantastic Fanny Wolff — refashioned as Fanchon!

photo courtesy www.fanchonandmarco.com

FANCHON (Fanny Wolf/Wolff later Simon)
b. Los Angeles, California, USA, September 14, 1892 (or 1895)
d. Los Angeles, California, USA, February, 1965 (Obit for Fanchon Simon)

Legendary dance director, film and stage producer, writer, lyricist, costume designer and prolific producer of prologues in movie theaters (live productions in conjunction with films, also called “Ideas”) for the Fox Theatre Corporation chain (350 theaters) on the West Coast with her brother “Marco” (birthname: Michael Wolff). The immense entertainment factory that “Fanchon and Marco” became employed thousands of dancers and utilized the choreographic talents of successful film choreographers and dance stagers Busby Berkeley, Larry Ceballos, Seymour Felix and LeRoy Prinz.

mgm-lion-fashionThe daughter of a Los Angeles clothing store proprietor, Fanny began performing at the age of 10 in amateur shows around Los Angeles and at 14 joined her brother, Michael Marco, as a popular dance team in nightclubs (Tait’s in San Francisco, etc.) and theaters, eventually headlining on the Orpheum Circuit and the Ziegfeld Roof. The act consisted of Marco playing the violin while Fanchon danced in and out of his arms. They started producing nightclub floor shows with Pavo Real in San Francisco in 1915 and in 1920, she and Marco produced Sunkist, their first musical revue for theaters, for which she also wrote the music and lyrics and designed the costumes. The show eventually appeared on Broadway in 1923. Together they created the Fanchon and Marco dynasty: contracted by the Fox West Coast theater chain from 1923-’32 to supply all of the live entertainment – eventually owning a theater circuit of their own, The Fanchonettes and Sunkist Beauties dance lines who appeared in World’s Fairs, nightclubs and movie houses. Adding brother “Rube” Wolff as an Emcee for many of their live presentations.

An advertisement in Variety, January 3, 1933, boasted: “At present, she oversees all production at the mammoth Fanchon and Marco studios on Hollywood…Creates original ideas for shows…Supervises dance routines…Originates novel settings…Sets new designs for costumes and supervises their execution…Turns out more than fifty complete productions every year…And still finds time to be a wife, a mother, and a student of the times.”

Other Broadway work: Satires of 1920 (wrote the music and lyrics), Sunkist Revue (’21, produced, wrote the songs and book and also appeared), Stairway Idea (wrote the songs, produced and directed). Appearing as “herself” in the short films Studio Tour (MGM, ‘25) and A Trip Through the Paramount Studios (1927), she eventually produced the films Turn Off the Moon and Thrill of a Lifetime, becoming one of Hollywood’s first female producers. Later “Producer” credits include the 20th Century-Fox short All Star Bond Rally (1945) and Campus Honeymoon (1948).

footlight paradeFanchon and Marco are reportedly the inspiration for James Cagney’s role of the Prologue producer in Footlight Parade. At the height of their success their 50,000 square foot studio and school of the Theatre at 5600 Sunset Blvd in Hollywood contained five rehearsal stages, a wardrobe department, music library, booking agency and “gag” library, which created shows in thirty-six cities that used over 2,000 employees. Merging with the Ethel Meglin Studios in 1936, they operated one of the most successful dance schools in Hollywood. Dance instructors included Aida Broadbent and Carlos Romero and students included Donald O’ Connor, Cyd Charisse, Ginger Rogers, Mary Martin, Gene Nelson, Doris Day, Ann Miller, Betty Grable, Shirley Temple and Judy Garland. After supplying dancing lines and original choreography and staging for films, from 1943-’45, she was contracted by Fox to “supervise” musical sequences. She then was contracted as a dance director at Republic. The Fanchon and Marco show business regime lasted until the mid-’50s, when the major movie theater chains stopped producing live presentations. Fanchon married restauranteur William Simon in 1923 and one of their two adopted children is actress Faye Marlowe, who starred in Rendezvous with Annie (’46) – one of her mother’s films.

Fanchon’s career is confused with the career of Fanchon Royer, another female film pioneer/producer and she personifies some of the frustration involved in trying to document film dance creators. As of October 2011 there is a website with wonderful photos and details about the family and their careers which states that the family’s archives have been donated to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Marco died in October, 1977.

Filmography and suggested reading at bottom.

Photos: courtesy of fanchonandmarco.com and the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Larry Billman is author of “Film Choreographers and Dance Directors.


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  • Read our thread of stories on Fanchon.

Suggested Reading: Lollipop. Vaudeville Turns with a Fanchon and Marco Dancer by Reva Howitt Clar, edited by Mimi Melnick.Stage: Sunkist (Bdwy 1921), Hundreds of “Ideas” (prologues) for the Fox Theater Chain, Concert at Barbizon-Plaza (NY ’45)
Ballet/Dance Pieces: For the Hollywood Bowl: Strauss Waltz: The Beautiful Blue Danube (’33), Prometheus and Hollywood (’35, with Aida Broadbent, Marcel Silver), Ballet in Blue
Miscellaneous: Ice Follies (’34, also dir, billed as “Miss Fanchon”), “Roxyette” dance team (Roxy Theater, New York, ’34); Mickey Mouse Circus, Danse Follies, Hollywood Secrets (California Pacific Exposition, San Diego 1935-’36)

Film

1925 The Eagle – UA
1926 Dance Madness (S) – MGM
Kiki – First National
The Midnight Sun – Univ
1928 Three Weekends – Par  (with Marco)
1929 Alibi – UA (“dance arrangements” credit)
Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 – Fox (with Willie Covan, Edward Royce, also appeared)
Hearts in Dixie – Movietone (with Marco)
Innocents of Paris – Par (with Marco, LeRoy Prinz)
1933 Rainbow Over Broadway – Chesterfield (with Marco)
1934 La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (S) – MGM  (with Carlos Romero, featuring the Fanchonettes)
1935 Navy Wife – Fox
Paddy o’ Day – Fox
Pirate Party on Catalina Island (S) – MGM (with Carlos Romero)
Starlit Days at the Lido (S) – MGM (with Carlos Romero , featuring the Fanchonettes)
Star Night at the Coconut Grove (S) – MGM (featuring the Fanchon and Marco Girls)
This Is the Life – Fox (with Louis DaPron, Carlos Romero)
1936 Song and Dance Man – Fox (with Carlos Romero)
Sunkist Stars at Palm Springs (S) – MGM (with Carlos Romero, featuring the Fanchonettes)
1937 Cinema Circus (S) – MGM (with Carlos Romero , The Fanchonettes appear)
 Thrill of a Lifetime – Par (with LeRoy Prinz, Carlos Romero, also prod)
 Turn Off the Moon – Par (with LeRoy Prinz, The Fanchonettes appear)
1939 Night at the Music Hall (S) – Col (also appeared)
Night at the Trocodero (S) – Col (also appeared)
1943 Coney Island – Fox (with Hermes Pan, “supervised musical numbers” credit)
Hello, Frisco, Hello – Fox (with Val Raset, “supervised musical numbers” credit)
Stormy Weather – Fox (with Nick Castle, Katherine Dunham, Fayard Nicholas, Bill Robinson, Clarence Robinson, “supervised musical numbers” credit)
Sweet Rosie O’Grady – Fox (with Hermes Pan, “supervised musical numbers” credit)
Wintertime – Fox (with James Gonzalez, Carlos Romero, Kenny Williams, “supervised musical numbers” credit)
1944
Pin Up Girl – Fox (with the Condos Brothers, Gae Foster, Hermes Pan, “supervised musical numbers” credit)
1945 Where Do We Go from Here? – Fox
1946 In Old Sacramento – Rep
Murder in the Music Hall – Rep
Plainsman and the Lady – Rep
Rendezvous with Annie – Rep
Song of Arizona – Rep
1947 Calendar Girl – Rep (assisted by Hal Belfer, billed as “Miss Fancon”)
Campus Honeymoon – Rep (also prod)
Hit Parade of 1947 – Rep
Northwest Outpost – Rep

 

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