Sunday, May 12, 2013

Larraine and Rognan

[post 329]

[Some of you must have noticed that I've neglected the blog big time this year. It's not that I've lost interest in physical comedy. In fact, in New York I've been busy directing physical comedy, and this week I'm in Barcelona teaching it at Jango Edwards' Nouveau Clown Institute. Nope, the problem is that I've gotten involved with other stuff, the main one being learning Spanish! Had been meaning to do it for over 40 years, and now I've thrown much of my spare time into it. But the plan is to get back to the blog, and here's a post to prove it.]

My favorite eccentric dancer, our guest blogger Betsy Baytos, sent me this clip of the comedy dancing duo Jean Larraine and Roy Rognan, who I must admit I had never heard of. It's from the 1942 movie The Fleet's In, whose plot — much like the better-know Stage Door Canteen a year later — involves visiting a USO canteen, a night club catering to World War II soldiers on leave. In other words, an excuse to present variety acts, for which we can be very grateful.

Here's the very funny clip, Larraine & Rognan performing with a bemused Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra. The switching back and forth between sheer elegance and pure cartoon is dazzling and well-nigh perfect.

The duet, who were husband and wife, also appeared in the 1943 musical, Salute for Three, but I haven't been able to locate that, even on VHS. Their career was cut tragically short while on tour in '43 with the USO when their plane carrying 39 people, including 7 entertainers, crashed off the coast of Portugal, killing 14. 

Larraine survived; Rognan did not.

According to this report, "Jean Lorraine, in addition to losing her husband, had seven teeth knocked out, hurt her back, and crushed her right leg.  She had been  a comedy dancer with her husband, but after the tragedy she became a singing comedienne.  She changed her name to Lorraine Rognan to keep her husband's name alive.  She was on crutches for seven and a half months, but she showed the same kind of bravery as the men in her audiences.  She entertained at the Hollywood canteen while still on crutches, then went overseas again a year after the accident to fulfil her contract with the USO.  Her husband's death didn't meet the criteria spelled out in the literature, which said the life insurance was ''valid in case of death from all causes except airplane accident or act of war.'  In what surely must have been one of the cruellest blows of all, Time Magazine reported that Jean's accident cost her fourteen thousand dollars."

I hope she had at least some inkling that her work would live on for future generations.

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