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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

Weeki Wachee woman tap danced her way through Broadway


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WEEKI WACHEE - From Weeki Wachee, Elinor Flagg takes memory lane to get to Broadway, where she spent a 40-year career as a tap dancer beside some of the era's most well-known names in the theater and entertainment industries.

Born and raised in Augusta, Maine, Flagg, 94, began tap dancing at 3.

After graduating high school, she received a telegram to join a European dance circuit, she said.

"I wanted to in the worst way, but my family thought I was too young," Flagg said. "It was a great disappointment."

She kept her talents semi-local and went pro in Washington, D.C., in the era of the big bands. She shared stages with some of the biggest names: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, The Three Stooges, Dean Martin, Raymond "Ray" Bulger, renowned drummer, Gene Krupa, comic actress and singer, Martha Raye and Helen O'Connell.

"I worked with so many," she said. "A lot of the movie people."

Flagg, a natural brunette, was blonde in those days. How that came to be, is not a formula Flagg recommends others try at home.

"I can remember it so plainly - there were so many Hollywood blondies, so my roommate and I decided to be blondes," she said. "We bought Lux Pure Snow Flakes Laundry Detergent, and used cleaning bleach mixed together. And then we became blondes. We just packed it on."

She met Curly, from the Stooges at a theater in Los Angeles.

"Curly came up to me and said, 'Here, can you hold my money? I need to stand on my head.'" Flagg said. "So I did."

While on tour with a group of girls in Montreal, Canada, she met Dean Martin, who was the emcee at a night club there.

"That was just before he went with Jerry Lewis," she said.

Flagg often performed on the Fox Theatre circuit, she said, which had theatres located in many cities.

"Huge, huge theatres - the best in the United States," she said. "Some of them had 5,000 seats."

In an era when World War II dominated the headlines, entertainment and theatre industry profits were a direct reflection of the country's desire to escape it.

As a young girl Flagg worked two shows a day and three shows on Sunday, earning $36 a week, she said.

"That was a lot for a kid," said Flagg. "In 1938, that was a lot of money for then, especially during war time."

Though much has changed since the 1920s, Flagg's sense of humor has remained intact, according to her son-in-law, Jimmy Ferraro, host of WWJB AM 1450 and FM 103.9 radio show, "Theatre Chat and This 'N That."

So has her love of dance.

Flagg taught frequently at the various dance schools she opened when she wasn't herself beneath the lime lights, she said, and continued to teach in semi-retirement.

When Ferraro and wife, Dee Etta opened a school in 1989 in Holiday, Flagg taught dance lessons there. When they opened a live professional theatre in 1994, Flagg choreographed all the shows for them and taught dance lessons at a YMCA in Denver all the way up to 2009.

At 80, Flagg qualified as a finalist in the Ms. Senior Florida Pageant in Bradenton, Jimmy Ferraro said, where "she tap danced her feet off."

And though she turned 94 today, she is still going.

"My children are planning to open a theatre in New Port Richey," said Flagg, who will be involved in the operation. "That will be the next adventure."

(352) 544-5271

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