Interview With Jean Veloz
What a Thrill!!
I wrote this in 1996:
If there is anyone out there who hasn't heard, we spent the time from March 26 through March 31 hanging out with Jean Veloz, one of the all-time great swing dancers of the Universe. (The fact that Erik and Sylvia and Marcus and Barbl were along, in addition to the regular cast of zany characters, made it a truly memorable time.) The fact of the matter is: Jean Veloz Rules!
Jean is probably the most charming and beautiful lady that I have ever met. She has an overabundance of style and grace that it is difficult to capture in mere words. You really have to see her on the dance floor!
If you have missed your chance in any of the subsequent Groovie Movie weekends, you will have to settle for the film version; her two most available films are:
Swing Fever (1944, dir. Tim Whelan, featuring Kay Kyser's Band)
As I write in 2009, the 13th Consecutive Groovie Movie weekend has just concluded and Jean Veloz is still just as vivacious and attractive as she was in 1944.
This year, in addition to meet Jean again, I got to dance with her AND she signed my "Groovie Movie" lobby card.
My Favorite Part of Groovie Movie 2009
(left) Dancing with Jean Veloz
(middle) The "Groovie Movie" Lobby Card (small poster)
(right) Jean autographs the lobby card
The Jean Vloz Story
It all began when Jean and Ray Phelps (brother and sister) made the trip from smalltown Santa Maria, California to Los Angeles for a big dance contest at the Hollywood Legion Auditorium. Jean and Ray were avid swing dancers and made it to all the big-band concerts in the Santa Barbara area, including a concert by the legendary 1938 Benny Goodman Band in Pismo Beach. They made the three hour journey to Los Angeles in a tan 1939 Chevrolet sedan to compete with legendary dancers like Dean Collins and Maxie Dorf. They won the contest hands down. The prize was a membership card in the Screen Actors Guild and a part in the film Swing Fever.
Jean became a devoted follower of Dean Collins and went on to appear in more than twenty films. Her memories of Dean include the club circuit in Los Angeles where the swing dancers were the main attraction. She says that Dean was continuously arranging for new club dates. Apparently, even in the 1940s, dancers didn't drink and the appeal of swing dancing was to draw in a revenue producing crowd. Dean would move from club to club when the dancers overwhelmed the drinkers and lost their welcome. Some things, apparently, never change.
Jean mentioned that several movie stars such as Gene Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Betty Grable and Lana Turner had a strong interest in swing dancing. Jean worked with Lana Turner on a dance scene in a film.
As for the atmosphere of the period, Jean says that men generally wore suits to dances, although zoot fashion was not part of the Dean Collins style. Also, black and white shoes were also not part of the scene in 1940s LA. Jean says that her favorite pair of shoes were white lace ups with a wedge heel. She says that she wore them out and has never been able to find another pair
She married Frank Veloz, the famous ballroom dancer and eventually drifted away from swing as the big band era wound down. Frank Veloz was a spectacular dancer who may be seen in Pride of the Yankees (1942, dir. Sam Wood) and Champagne Waltz (1937, dir. Edward Sutherland). Also, in the October 30, 1939 issue of Life Magazine, there is a spectacular three page photo spread of Frank Veloz (and his former partner, Yolanda Casazza) dancing ballroom swing (pp 6-7), as photographed by the famous Gjon Mills using an experimental strobe technique.
Jean and Frank concentrated on Ballroom dancing throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. During this period, they had a local television show on ballroom dancing in the Los Angeles area. They taught and did exhibitions until Frank passed away in the 1980s.
Jean says that she had almost forgotten about swing dancing until Bob Winkler, a friend of hers told her about Eddie Brandt's Old Films, a video store in North Hollywood. She was astounded to find a copy of Swing Fever. Due to the sale of the MGM library, Groovy Movie was not in general release. It was part of a group of short subjects made by independent director Pete Smith (they are known as "Pete Smith Specialties")
The resurgence of Swing dancing brought Jean out of retirement. Marcus Koch was among the first dancers to come calling and he brought with him a European version of Groovy Movie, complete with an intact sound track. Along with the film came an invitation to Boogie Baren in Munich, where Jean met Tom Koerner. This was followed by an appearance at last year's Virginia State Open and this week's celebration at the Battle of the Bands.
It was an honor and a privilege to spend time with Jean and to get this interview. We'd like to include some of the Valentines that our friends sent along:
Meeting a Legend
I have to admit this weekend, I was really looking forward to meeting Jean Veloz. I didn't know what to expect other than Tom said she was a nice person and I saw her in the movie Groovie Movie and Swing Fever. Tom was wrong again. Jean was a wonderful person. She was so down to earth and humble I forgot sometimes that she is a great lindy hopper that I admire.
On Saturday night, Jean was sitting at our table and I asking her cheezy questions like, "Did you expect that you would have influenced so many people" or something like that. She began to down play her role and influence until Duke, a GMU student from Tom's Tuesday night class spoke up and said, "You [Jean] got my grandmother to dance." He proceeded to tell us that he had talked to his grandmother earlier that day and she said that she saw Groovie Movie four times so she could watch Jean. Jean had a surprised look on her face with a look of "who me?"
When I asked Jean to dance on Friday, she told me she couldn't do (Savoy) lindy and we danced anyway only to be schooled on the whip later by her. She could dance lindy and she did it well. She critiqued my style so I could get better. And she still has her style. Heather told me that she did not need to be told that was Jean Veloz, she could tell by her foot work. Her foot work was the same that she had seen in Groovie Movie.
By the end of her trip, I had forgotten why I wanted to meet
her. Yes at the beginning, I wanted to meet her because she was
a legend, but now I am glad I got to meet her because she is a
nice and wonderful person. Thank you again Tom and Deb for
bringing her out.
From: Chris Bamberger
Whataweekend! It's been a long while since I've had that much fun in such a short space of time. For me things started with a refreshingly roomy evening at America, where I met Erik, Sylvia, and Jean Veloz. As promised, Erik and Sylvia are amazingly talented, amazingly good-looking (plus they dress more authentically retro than anyone I've seen yet), and amazingly good-natured. Fame ain't gone to their heads. They're friendly and sympathetic and not even show-offy (even while they have a perfect right to be) when teaching. I didn't realize, when Tom K. introduced me to Jean, that I'd seen her in Groovie Movie, but my renewed interest in unearthing soundies and jukebox films and musical shorts made it a perfect time to meet her.
We watched the somewhat bizarre but undeniably wonderful
Groovie Movie yet again after classes. I sent an
e-mail request to Turner Classic Movies to run this in August
when they do their all-request movie festival. The reason I
think they may have this one is that they frequently air those
MGM short subjects with the obnoxious Pete Smith narrating. Ted
Turner owns almost all the old MGM library that didn't get
purchased by other studios over the years, so there's a chance
he will run it then. I will keep careful track and let you know
if they come through.
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