First Anniversary Party of “Hellzapoppin A2 Co”. St. Louis, Missouri, 1941. Dark-haired Eleanore is directly behind Chic Johnson on the left in the striped suit. Ole Olsen is holding the knife.
Hellzapoppin’: Eleanore DeLuca Pictorial
Eleanore Phyllis DeLuca was born in March of 1923 in Ozone Park, Queens, New York. Her only sibling ‘Charlie’ was born in 1921, and as an adult became a ships’ engineer and Merchant Mariner. From Charlie’s birth to when Eleanore turned 7 years old in 1930, the population of Ozone Park rose from 40,000 to nearly 113,000 people. Immigration was a positive for the economy. Newly built schools, better public transportation and entertainment was needed for the burgeoning influx of people.
Eleanore, the only daughter born to Martha Luftig-DeLuca and Armand DeLuca was adored and also encouraged to pursue her joy of dancing. She started dance lessons at an early age. Eleanore’s son and daughter recall her saying that she started dance lessons by age three, but they do not know the name of the studio where she had been trained. Most likely right in Queens, New York.
Slideshow #1: Eleanore, Age 6 in 1929
Her father Armand emigrated from Naples, Italy at age three (1910Census), but in the 1940 Census it states a NY birthplace. Records show his arrival by ship 11/19/1900. Eleanore’s mother Martha, born in Berlin, Germany, immigrated to America as child in the early 1900’s. When they met as young adults in New York, his Catholic upbringing, and her Jewish religion created conflict for their families but their love for one another was more powerful than religious doctrines or family demands, and they eloped.
Their daughter Eleanore had graduated by June 1940 from John Adams High School (built in 1930) in Ozone Park in Queens. But during her school years, at the age of thirteen, she had started to also pursue work at cabarets in Manhattan. She would ride the train in after school, often alone, or sometime with her mother or her Aunt Clara Luftig, Martha’s sister. The family was pleased that she could both continue school, and get paid to work at her dream. They accepted and supported that she was a gifted athlete with incredible flexibility, and found joy in all forms of dance, from creative to tap and ballet.
Slideshow #2: The slantindicular Eleanore at age 9 in ballet shoes, December 3, 1932 in one of Aunt Clara’s costume creations
Her Aunt Clara, who would outlive her niece Eleanore, was a beloved aunt, and continued to be so until her death in 1989 when her grandniece and great grandniece scattered her ashes in a beautiful field in Upstate, New York.Clara
had made all of Eleanore’s show costumes for her earlier performances. She was a skilled seamstress in the sweatshops of lower Manhattan, and became a rebel of the times with many other women as they joined the strikes of dressmakers in the late 20’s and mid 30’s. She often recounted how upset she was with the union when they let her sit in jail in Rockville Center after being arrested during a strike for dressmakers. Her fight for what was right made her go up against antiquated thinking and poor laws. She remained a proud member of the ILGWU. (International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union)
Eleanore often gathered with her girlfriends at Rockaway Beach. A few of them heard the siren’s call that led them to be more involved with modeling and show business. In 1937, at age fourteen, she was taking more dance classes and posing for studio choreographed photographs with some of her friends in the mix.
Slideshow #3: Rockaway Beach 7/7/1937. Eleanore, 14, bottom right in white bathing suit. Other names in this were: Honey, Edie, Sabina and another Eleanore.
Slideshow #4: Eleanore DeLuca: back row, far left, wearing dark slacks with white stripe.
Slideshow #5: The next photograph to follow is a dance group but no one in her direct family knows the name. The name of the photography group seems to read Cowell of NY. A few of the girls in the Rockaway Beach photo appear to be in these shot. Circa 1938-9. Eleanore to the far back, right.
Slideshow #5a: Same group in showy feathers/boas
On September 22, 1938, Eleanore, was a junior in high school and taking more dance lessons with her girlfriends; and posing for still shots, as the comedy vaudeville team of Chic Johnson and Ole Olsen were producing and starring in their Broadway revue, Hellzapoppin’ at the 46th Street Theater. When it came to an end it had ran for 1,404 performances on Broadway, alone.
Slideshow # 6: Eleanore is to the far right, age 15. Her brother Charlie later graduated from Fort Schyler: NYS Merchant Marine Maritime Academy. This will play into her future. Charlie will be the one to introduce her to a shipmate.
There are many online articles on Olsen and Johnson and their ‘zany’ slapstick style of comedy that incorporated the audience in some of the two-act, twenty-five scene production of Hellzapoppin’.. But they also decided to put Hellzapoppin’ on the road while their show still ran at the Winter Garden Theater and later at the Majestic Theater. They even made a movie version of the stage show by 1941 starring Martha Raye, and Shemp Howard (aka a Three Stooge) but Olsen and Johnson were the only ones who appeared in the movie from the stage or the touring show.
The touring show of Hellzapoppin’ (of 1940-2) was led by Eddie Garr and Billy House with a famous cast of the times that would also include many of the original cast when the Broadway show closed down in December of 1941. This is the touring group that Eleanore had eventually joined, to perform in 48 states. She was well on the road by November 1940. Her tour training started approximately in the spring of 1940 based on family photographs. The show was said to be a mix of blue humor, sight gags, dancing, acrobatics, and audience hi-jinx.
Slideshow #7: Eleanore, 17, is ready for the Hellzapoppin’ road tour in spring 1940
In late 1942, according to online sites like Wikipedia, “A ‘New 1943 Hellzapoppin’ revue with the great (not quite so at that time) Jackie Gleason and Lew Parker was staged at the Nixon Theater, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” Lew Parker would go on to play Marlo Thomas’s TV father in the sitcom, THAT GIRL! Eleanore would leave the tour by then, as best as we can determine.
For a collection of Ole Olsen’s papers from 1910-1999 go to www.indianahistory.org and seek out the William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society.
Slideshow #8: Eleanore is on board a bus or train in Buffalo, New York with the Olsen and Johnson’s Party for Hellzapoppin’. The photographer was the renowned I. Russell Sorgi. I will list names she had written haphazardly on the back. Dated Nov. 25, 1940.
Eleanore is down the left center aisle, 4th woman down seated. Other names: Gypsy, Ronny, Violet, Jo, Jean, Mary, Lorene, Mrs. Johnson, Doris Stuart (center-back in fur and standing); Kate Ellen, Scotty, Hon, Grace, Ann Pennington, Kitty Casy, Mrs. Garr. The tour opened in Buffalo and Eleanore’s mother, Aunt Clara, and Aunt Irene took a train up to see her in the show. The family thinks it was opening night.
Since Eddie Garr (born Edward Leo Gonnoud in 1900) was heading up the tour, and there is a Mrs. Garr (born Emma Schmotzer in 1909) in the bus #8 photograph, they may well be the parents of actor or she may prefer actress, Teri Garr. Maybe someone reading this can leave a comment if they recognize Mrs. Garr or anyone else in the photograph.
They certainly liked their furs back then… of all stripes and spots! They were beautiful women and certainly in great spirits for the times that led out of the Depression, and the new rumblings of war heard across the seas. In just 13 months from the date on this photo, on December 7th 1941 there will be the attack on Pearl Harbor. But for that time being as it was, Eleanore and her fellow performers would live by the quote of Ole Olsen, “May you live as long as you want to, and laugh as long as you live.” This saying was engraved in 1963 on Olsen’s’ headstone.
Slideshow #9: Starting left: Kay Clegg, Lorene Gray, Doris Stuart (the same Doris standing center on the bus in Buffalo, NY), Eleanore DeLuca, Betty Hearn. Eleanore’s writing: Hellzapoppin. Arabian night’s costumes. Eleanore wrote the names of the five women on the back. She did not write what year, state or theater it was taken.
Slideshow # 10: Eleanore in front of the Alamo. March 25, 1941, San Antonio, Texas. Hellzapoppin Troupe
Slideshow #11: Cosmetics! Negative dated, 3/14/1941. Oklahoma City. Staff Photo: Betty Baughman.
Eleanore, now 18, is the second woman down from the front of this photograph. Check out their modest quantities of cosmetics. So unlike today’s divas! And the hair!
It is here where one of the few remembrances that Eleanore passed along to her husband can be appreciated. It is when the troupe was run out of town in New Orleans, LA. Her husband passed it along to his children long before he died. For reasons unknown, Eleanore never shared her experiences of her days in Hellzapoppin’ with her two children. She had on occasion taken her granddaughter to New York City to see the Rockettes, and ballet. Clearly, her heart was still living those memories.
When the touring troupe was in New Orleans in 1940 or 41 they often needed extra cast members for a minstrel show skit. One night, the crew used make-up of what was then called ‘blackface’ on a male black entertainer who wanted the job. They thought they’d easily fool the audience into thinking it was a white man in blackface make-up. They didn’t fool anyone. New Orleans was not amused by the showmanship; and the story was that they were nearly arrested for breaking the laws of the day. Eleanore was a lifelong hater of racial prejudice such were her late husband’s words, and her children were witnessed to this as they grew up.
She told her husband that she had met the great Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson on one of her many Hellzapoppin’ road trips. ‘He was an amazing dancer,’ was her comment. And she, herself, had ended up being predominately a dancer in Hellzapoppin’ and not an acrobatic performer after she took a bad spill off a unicycle when the wheel got caught in a loosen stage board. Based on the times, where she lived, and her attendance numerous times at the 1938 New York World’s Fair, she more than likely watched Bill Robinson perform there in one of his shows as well. August 25, 1939 was ‘Bill Robinson Day’ at the fair.
Apparently, there were many men who travelled with the show as set up crews, stand-ins, drivers, carpenters, and dressmakers. The original go-for. ‘Many of the exceptional dressmakers and sewers were ‘queens,’ according to Eleanore. ‘All the women adored them. Behind the scenes they made sure every stitch was sewn in place in wardrobe. The girls went out with the gay men figuring if they were seen with men no one would bother them.’
Hellzapoppin’ performers were also entertainment on the SS SEEANDBEE (aka C&B, the Chicago company that bought it) This was one of the largest Lake Michigan Cruise ships when Eleanore was on board with 1499 other passengers it could hold in June 1941. Note photo information below.
Please go to http://cruiselinehistory.com to read about the transformation of the SS Seeandbee to a US Naval Ship SS Wolverine when the US Navy bought it just 9 months after Hellzapoppin’ was performed on board for the passengers. Parts of the world were warring, ships were already being torpedoed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the Gaspe Peninsula, and South Atlantic.
The mostly young and vivacious performers of Hellzapoppin’ were hearing more than laughter as the months moved forward. The Yiddish speaking Hitler gag that Olsen and Johnson had opened the Broadway shows with would soon no longer be a laughing matter -- Until Mel Brooks brought it back decades later.
But performance and laughter were still the order and job of Eleanore’s and the troupe’s day. In June of 1941, they also performed at Chicago’s once magnificent, now magnificent again, The Auditorium Theatre.
Eleanore's performance there was six months before Pearl Harbor. Here is a quote from www.auditoriumtheatre.org noted in the theatre’s historical timeline: “Hellzapoppin’, a comedic musical ‘revue’ closes...
NOTE: "It is the last performance in the theatre for over twenty years.” The Auditorium would become a service center for the military, then revive in the 60’s-70 for performers like Bette Midler, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis, The Beach Boys, The Doors and James Brown. Hellzapoppin’ echoed years before them on that stage.
Slideshow #12: ‘All hands on the SS Seeandbee deck’ nine months before it was purchased by the US Navy. War alters all things. They are on Lake Michigan, aboard the SS SEEANDBEE and this was part of their Hellzapoppin’ Chicago area-tour in June 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor.
In #12 photo: Eleanore is in the back row, five over, next to the woman in the polka-dot dress. I’d like to think she is waving at all of us from back then. After studying this I can see they are holding up their fingers to show a loss of the race by a few inches. At least that’s conveyed with the deck-horses that are numbered. The man in the uniform has a ‘cruise director’ title on his jacket. I think he is a real cruise director on the ship.
Some readable names on back of photo #12 were: Carl Miller, (he may be the 1st guy in the back row with sunglasses), Martha, Irving (may be the guy in back row, 3rd over in white tee-shirt), Kay, Frank (the man in 2nd row in front of Eleanore), Mary (woman in polka-dot dress), Lorene (she is in the photo of ‘Arabian garments too), Tiny Brauer (he may be the man pointing at the horse, even though one might think “Tiny” may be the heavier fellow on his side). Tiny Brauer was in some Three Stooges films and movies. He was tall and slender. The heavyset man may be Ben (Mise?), it is hard to make out the spelling as it is faded, small script and in pencil. Bobby (Pretti?) is the last name I can make out. He may be the man in the hat in the back row next to Eleanore.
Slideshow # 13: Eleanore is the 4th Scottish Lassie! Hellzapoppin’ Chorusline 1941. No mention of what city.
Arlene R., Gail A., Ruth M., Eleanore DeLuca (originally listed a ‘Unicycle’ rider in the chorusline after a bad spill., Evelyn S., Marilyn R., Doris Stuart, Emily J., Violet V., Ronny R., Lorene Gray, Fran M., Kay Clegg, Sonny T.
Slideshow # 14, 15: are from August 12th or 21st 1941. The Hellzapoppin’ tour was in Los Angeles, California at the Westwood Ice Rink. As an investment, Olsen and Johnson owned a cafeteria at Westwood near this time. This outdoor ice skating rink was also known as the Tropical Ice Gardens before it was renamed the Sonja Henie Westwood Palace when she bought it in the forties
Eleanor is one row back, in the first row off the ice in front of the man holding his ‘performing dog in his hand. She is in a dark top standing next to the lady in the hat. I think that may be Billy Barty (little person) in skates on the ice. Not certain,but it looks like him to me. Like all the ‘famous’ people of today will one day be, these once popular people have faded away from the stage.
This rink hosted hockey games, and by March 1941 it had a show called Ice Frolics with a cast of 65. In 1949 when it was the Sonja Henie Ice Palace, it was demolished for the expansion of the UCLA campus. You can read more about this ice skating rinks rise and fall, at the website www.squareone.org.
One photograph, only shows one half of the cast of Hellzapoppin’ that performed at what Eleanore penned on the back of her photographs, ‘Ice Skating Rink at Westwood, California. August 12, 1941.’ She writes Aug 21, 1941 on front of the photo.
August 12, 1941. Ice Skating Rink at Westwood, California. (Tropical Gardens Ice Gardens; then Sonja Henie Ice Palace, demolished in 1949) Eleanor is in the 2nd row, center, next to the lady wearing the hat and flower on her jacket. She is smiling in that shot and not in the other.
Slideshow # 16: Eleanore with a group of twelve dancers in tap shoes. She had written on the back: Gain To Town Co.; Rehearsal, May 1942. I looked about the internet for anything I could fine on this company. To date, I cannot locate any information on this group. I do believe that Eleanore was still in the cast of Hellzapoppin based on a 1942 listing of her in the cast, as could be any other women in this photograph.
Eleanore is in the front of the photo in white shorts with a dark stripe. Her striped shirt is knotted showing her midriff. Who are these other wonderful women in ‘Rehearsal, May 1942 for the Gain To Town Co.’?
Slideshow #17: Eleanore DeLuca and another Hellzapoppin’ cast member, Doris Stuart, did a car promotion and local architect’s promotions in St. Louis, MO. Maybe a car buff can tell us the year of the vehicle. These were perhaps taken in 1941 or 1942. There is no date on these photos that were taken by Runder-Markham Photo Co., Inc. These are from Eleanore’s private collections that were passed on to her family. Eleanore is in the white dress and dark fur. Eleanore and Doris Stuart did these advertisement shots together for commercial photographers Runder-Markham Photo Co., Inc., in St. Louis, MO. I think based on the location of Olsen & Johnson’s anniversary photograph where they are cutting a cake, (noted in 1941 in St. Louis, MO), the women may have been hired during that city’s run. They took promo shots for a car of 1941, and others for Architect Robert G. McMahan on 6233 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, MO.
While Eleanore’s brother, Charlie, was serving on a Merchant Mariner ship, perhaps the Cape Frio, a family member said, he made a buddy, and brought the fellow-mariner home to meet his sister.
Gilbert Schugart and Eleanore DeLuca hit it off and spent their first date at the New York City Club 18 at 20 West52nd Street. They had their fill of cocktails and fine dining in October 1942.
By that first date in October of 1942, it had been ten months since Pearl Harbor and war had been declared by America. Courting and eventual commitment happened in a whirlwind of nightclubs, as it did for many in the military. Gil and Eleanore were not an exception as their souvenir photos showed from 1942 through 1945 when Gil spent more time at sea than on shore leave: café Zanzibar on Broadway at 49th Street; The Hurricane also on Broadway and 49th; Versailles, New York, N.Y at 151 East 50th Street; Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe at the Paramount Hotel.
Eleanore met her husband’s family in April of 1943, and they married in July 1943 in Manhattan at The Little Church Around The Corner. Their only son, Gilbert, was born June 1945. And only daughter, Jean, followed in September 1949. Gil was at sea working for Graceline at the time of his daughter's birth. (Please consider reading Gil's merchant mariner history under my Graceline pages. Many photos)
By 1952, life felt filled with emotional riches for Eleanore until her father Armand died at age 54. He had inherited a genetic disorder called polycystic kidneys. His father died from kidney failure, as did five out of Armand’s nine siblings. Eleanore decided to take medical tests after his death. She was devastated by the results, but decided to keep her diagnosis a secret from everyone in her extended family except her husband.
Slideshow #18: March 1940. Ozone Park, Queens. Eleanore, age 17, standing back left with white collar. Her father Armand, sitting next to his wife Martha in the printed dress. Proud Aunt Clara in the light-colored dress never married, she sits next to her sister Martha. Armand’s sister, sitting on his right side also died of kidney failure.
Her mother Martha knew for years that her daughter had the disease because Eleanore was getting increasingly ill. Even then, Eleanore did not want to discuss her condition with anyone. She grew angry if the subject was even broached. Medicine had yet to catch up with this killer disease
Her kidneys slowly worked themselves to a point where they could no longer filter the body’s toxins, and she started dialysis by age 50. By age 51 she needed and had a kidney transplant in 1974. Three years earlier, in 1971, their son was also diagnosed with this disease. He needed a transplant, and had one at age 39 in 1984. Eleanore’s only daughter missed the bullet. It was the luck of the genetic draw.
In 1952, Eleanore’s husband was so worried that his wife would not have a dialysis machine available for her use in her future that he started saving for one. Armand could not afford the cost to even use one at that time of his death. Dialysis clinics did not exist, and there were not any kidney transplants done in 1952.
After her kidney transplant she required the use of steroids which added an extreme puffiness to her face. She was heartbroken about the change in her appearance. She had always taken great pride in how she presented herself, and even moreso her gift of great health in her earlier years.
Eleanore died while in a coma in July 1983 at the age 60. She had massive infections brought on by conditions that the medical professionals could not account for back then. Her family had theories. Her husband passed away January 2003 at the age of 85. (Read about his maritime naval history on my Graceline pages).
Slideshow #19: Eleanore wearing Gil's hat. Jaunty looking, happy. Gil to the right in Merchant Mariner uniform. (You can read his basic naval bio in my Graceline Ship Pages.)
Slideshow #20: Gilbert and Eleanore, March 18, 1945 went to ‘Café ZANZIBAR.’ Broadway and 49th Street New York, New York. She had recently turned 22 years old. Their son would be born in three months. As noted above, he would inherit the polycystic kidney disease, and received a transplant in future years. He is still alive and well.
Slideshow # 21: A HELLZAPOPPIN’ GAL! September 12, 1931. Eleanore DeLuca, age 8 years.
*I had posted this story a couple years ago in SCRIBD view, but decided to repost.