page five

Jackie loved grandeur, extravagance, and glamour. After every show, sitting at each of our places on the narrow, seventeen-foot dressing table, was a long white glossy box wrapped with a large, lush red velvet bow. Nestled in this box were one dozen, neatly layered, long-stemmed American Beauty roses. Jackie’s generosity was embedded in romanticism: he wanted us to exit the theater with our arms filled with flowers. And so they were there—every week, without fail. My life-long passion for fresh flowers, especially roses, is directly related to that particular ritual that Jackie insisted upon. It was a simple gesture touched with class, not unlike his unexpected visits during our long rehearsal days at the hotel.

Jackie could visit us anytime; but when he did, he did it with style. As he entered the rehearsal hall, at least two waiters with carts of freshly brewed coffee, delicately made pastries, and Champagne followed him.  June was never happy about this because of her adamant rule that we not gain weight. But, we nibbled and picked and sipped anyway. Only when we showed Jackie our new routine were the carts removed, allowing no further temptations.

The moments of those first weeks, like a tapestry woven from time, unfolded into three years. Jackie finally decided to leave New York and do the show from Miami. June was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to join them but I said no. I was in the throes of discovering myself as an actress and did not want to leave my studies.

On August 1, 1964, at the end of our final season together in New York City, I stood on a humid train platform in Penn Station and watched many of the people with whom I had worked for the past three years board the train to Miami. Jackie had hired a band to play on the train for its overnight journey to Florida and, of course, Champagne started flowing for his entourage of one hundred people. As the train began to pull away from the platform and out of the station, I heard the musicians from inside one of the cars playing “Melancholy Serenade.

Jackie Gleason and June Taylor are gone now. There are collectable DVDs with the “Honeymooner” series but to the best of my knowledge, there is only one video and a YouTube clip where one can see The June Taylor Dancers. All of our other performances are in the Museum of Broadcasting in New York City. There is little available to the public that provides a nostalgic snapshot of our dazzling dance routines and costumes. We exist only in the memories of those who remember.

The reservoir of moments during those very special years created an accumulated wealth of rich and vital experiences—a weathered oak stool and sable coat; a china teacup and saucer; Champagne on rolling carts; a large, round black and white wall clock; long hours of sustained practice in search of perfection; sore, aching muscles that never seemed to go away; distinctly different smells between the Ben-Gay of the rehearsal hall and the blend of French perfumes on videotaping day signaling the shift from preparation to performance; the sweet scent of red roses; and sixteen female dancers sitting at a long dressing table staring into mirrors while applying perfectly round, red-rouged circles on their faces.

Jackie was right. It was one hell of a ride and, yes, it was sweet.

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