Saturday, January 28, 2006

More Fayard

No two people could have been more unalike, except in their talent and love for one another, than Fayard and Harold Nicholas. Harold was dour and introverted and somewhat bitter that the Nicholas Brothers had not been given their just due. Of course, all that was eventually to change, culminating in the 1991 Kennedy Center honors. But Fayard, perhaps the happiest man I ever met, appeared as if he could care less about the world's onetime failure to recognize the freres' greatness.

Fayard hated the phrase THE Nicholas Brothers. Should be "Nicholas Brothers," always without the preposition. It was one of the few times I ever saw him grouchy, when I threw out a few possible exceptions at him:

"But what if. .. ?"

"Nicholas Brothers!," he adamantly shot back. No THE. . . Ever!" Never could quite figure that out?

Fayard told me that once in Paris, not too many years ago, he saw a French dance duo doing the Nicholases act down to the last split. Afterwards, he went backstage to introduce himself, thinking it would give the duo a kick. But before he got around to it, one of the dancers informed him that their act was a tribute to the both now-deceased (!) Nicholas Brothers. I can't recall whether Fayard bothered to disabuse them of the exaggerated reports of his and Harold's passing.

In 1992 I curated a show at the California Afro-American [now "African-American"] Museum entitled "Hollywood Days Harlem Nights." One corner of the exhibition space was given over to a Nicholas tribute. It included Fayard's original costume from the original Broadway production of Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and a non-stop loop of the Brothers' inarguably most famous routine, from the motion picture Stormy Weather (1943). Fayard told me that when the film originally opened, at a Hollywood theater showing the film, that on more than one occasion so insistent was the audience's response that the projectionist had to rewind the film back to the beginning of the routine and show it all over again. Not long after laying that anecdote on me, I was in Paris and a first run (not revival house) theater was exhibiting the film on the Champs Elysee no less. And even though the Brothers are not dramatis personae in the feature, it was their name that was featured most prominently on the elaborate hoarding outside the theatre. . .a much larger than life cutout of the duo. I took a picture and gave it Fayard when I returned home.

Fayard (I always called him Mister Nicholas and he never disabused me of that notion) told me that one time a perfectly decorous Caucasian newspaper reporter was interviewing him about the brothers' illustrious career, and the subject turned to Harold Nicholas' womanizing. He had bedded some of the most glamorous woman in and out of show business and was married for a period to legendary beauty Dorothy Dandridge. The reporter stayed on that topic for a protracted period till she could no longer contain herself. Fayard told me the scribe paused, then rhetorically inquired: "Do you mind if I ask you something? [beat] Just how big IS Harold's Johnson." His retelling to me was followed by, of course, that endearing head-thrown-back laugh of his.

Fayard was a member of the Bahai faith, which I don't know a lot about. BUT one of their tenets is that the death was not to be considered an occasion for mourning. Thus it was that after the death of his second wife Barbara, the next night he was at the opening of an event of one sort of another featuring his protege Savion Glover. Not so long after that, he and Harold were scheduled to appear at Hollywood's Ford Theater. And even though Harold had passed the day before, Fayard carried on as a touching single. It was very moving. Not a dry eye in the house.

This is the opening of the didactic I wrote for Brothers' installation at Cal-Afro (as it was called then):

"In one of their very first film appearances, the singing-dancing Nicholas Brothers appear in a Harlem talent show. 'Are you professionals?', the m.c. dubiously asks. 'Professionals, nothing. We're past that stage,' seven-year-old Harold Nicholas replies." No truer words---even if scripted---were ever spoken.

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