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Buzz, 11-30: Priorities
FAYARD NICHOLAS NEEDS YOUR HELP
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider
Fayard Nicholas, who
with his late brother Harold formed the legendary Nicholas Brothers
beginning some 75 years ago, suffered a stroke November 22, initially
paralyzing his left side and, as the news spread, revealing that
Nicholas, 91, and his wife, Katherine, were already living on the
edge and need us to come through where the country and society to
which Fayard and his brother have given so much has, in my opinion,
failed him so miserably.
Propelled by bodies
as feather-light as they were rubber-jointed, the Nicholas Brothers
made their New York debut in 1932 at the Cotton Club where, records
"The official Nicholas Brothers website," they "astonished their white audiences just
as much as the residents of Harlem, slipping into their series of
spins, twists, flips, and tap dancing to the jazz tempos of 'Bugle
Call Rag.' It was as if Fayard and his still younger brother had
gone dance-crazy and acrobatic.... They performed at the Cotton
Club for two years, working with the orchestras of Lucky Millinder,
Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunceford. During this time
they filmed their first movie short, 'Pie Pie Blackbird,' in 1932,
with Hubie Blake and his orchestra." The brothers made their film
debut in 1934 in "Kid Millions," also appearing in "The Big Broadcast,"
and took Broadway in the Ziegfield Follies of 1936, in which, says
the website, they "stopped the show so consistently that Fannie
Brice, who followed in a skit with Judy Canova, was always forced
to fall back regularly on a line at her first opportunity: 'Do you
think we can talk now?'" Touring England the same decade and, later,
working with Balanchine in the Rogers & Hart musical "Babes in Arms,"
they would go on to assimilate ballet techniques into their arsenal.
But it was in Andrew
L. Stone's 1943 film "Stormy Weather," appearing in an all-star
cast headed by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Lena Horne (and featuring
Katherine Dunham) that the Nicholas Brothers would make a specific
contribution to their country; the film was meant in part to aid
the war recruiting drive in the African-American community.
And yet... and yet....
His country and his society have (in my opinion) failed Fayard Nicholas,
at least as far as sustaining him and his wife.
Here are some details
on Fayard's current physical and financial state from tapper Rusty
"Since the death of
his younger brother several years ago, Fayard has been receiving
fewer and fewer work invitations to appear at festivals and dance
events, and thus his income has suffered a severe decline. His beautiful
wife of six years, Katherine, has been full-time wife, friend, nurse,
cook, and caretaker to Fayard. Katherine has been unable to leave
him for work outside of their home because he ha(s) been suffering
from fainting spells and other health issues."
Nicholas's Social Security
and pension benefits cover the rent on the couple's one-bedroom
apartment, Frank explains, "but that's it." For other expenses,
they have been depending on the help of friends. When they arrived
at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank on November 22, Frank says,
"they had no money whatsoever left. Friends who were with them gave
what they had in their pockets, $10 and $20 bills. But that was
it." (For information on public hospitals where sliding scale services
may be available in the U.S., dance insider Laura Colby suggests visiting
the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems
Frank immediately put
out a call for help, about which she had mixed feelings out of deference
to the Nicholas couple's pride.
Visiting Nicholas on
Sunday, Frank found Nicholas "to be doing really well, considering.
He mostly was sleeping (recovering from the ordeal of his stroke),
but when he awoke he was coherent and we had short conversations.
Speech is labored, but trust me, he is fully there. I told him of
all your donations and notes and love. He says "Thank you, thank
you, thank you!"
Those donations -- including
from readers of this publication responding to our forward to the
DI e-mail list of Frank's initial appeal last week -- totalled $1,700
in cash and $110 in Trader Joe's gift cards as of Monday, according
to Frank. Katherine Nicholas was "ecstatic," she relates, because
now she can pay the bills, "many of them months overdue and in various
colors -- pink, etcetera."
While I agree with Rusty
that we should be "proud" of the dance world for its immediate response
to Nicholas's crisis, I can't understand how a country which can
find the means to spend more than $223 billion -- and rising -- on an unnecessary war
leaves someone who has given his country and society so much and
with such generosity to go wanting. I'm sensitive to the criticism
that by making this connection I am shamelessly exploiting one couple's
desperate situation to make a political point. But I think it's
a relevant one: As regards society's failing Fayard Nicholas, the
problem is not one of insufficient money but misguided priorities.
Rusty Frank has set
up a special page on her website to make it easy to support Fayard
and Katherine Nicholas. You can find it here.
Janine Gastineau contributed the initial and subsequent news
tips for this article.