Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hellzapoppin' [1941]

Hellzapoppin' is a 1941 Universal Pictures adaptation of the musical of the same name directed by H.C. Potter. The cast includes Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson (who produced and starred in it on Broadway), Martha Raye, Mischa Auer, Shemp Howard, and The Six Hits.

The dance scenes from the movie are some of the best-known Lindy Hop scenes from the swing era, and they have made the film popular among modern Lindy hoppers. One frenetic routine is performed by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers (aka The Harlem Congaroos), and another notable dance scene features Martha Raye and Dean Collins.  


Whitey's Lindy Hoppers was a professional performing group of Savoy Ballroom swing dancers, started in 1935 by Herbert "Whitey" White. The group took on many different forms, with up to 12 different groups performing under this name or one of a number of different names used for the group over the years, including Whitey's Hopping Maniacs, Harlem Congaroo Dancers, and The Hot Chocolates. In addition to touring both nationally and internationally, the group appeared in a number of feature films and Broadway productions and counted Dorothy Dandridge and Sammy Davis Jr. among their celebrity regulars. The group disbanded in 1942 a year before the Savoy closed its doors. 

Of all the members of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, Al Minns, Leon James and Frankie Manning are amongst the most famous -- Minns and James in part for their role in the research of Jean and Marshall Stearns's influential book Jazz Dance, Minns for his work with The Rhythm Hot Shots during the 1980s' swing revival, and Manning for his role, starting in 1986, in contributing to the swing and Lindy Hop revival after Minns died in 1985. Manning and Norma Miller were among the few members of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers still alive during the 1990s and 2000s and were some of that era's most influential Lindy Hop performers and instructors. With Manning's death in April 2009, Miller alone remains to teach and lecture at dance workshops and Lindy Hop conventions. 


Frankie Manning, Al Minns, Norma Miller and the rest of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers as Congeroo Dancers can be seen performing in the clip below. Also, as the uploader informs us, Slim Gaillard can be seen performing on the piano, Slam Stewart on the bass, Rex Stewart on the trumpet, Elmer Fane on the clarinet, Jap Jones on the trombone and JP Jonstone on the drums. 

I include the clip below, also from the same movie, because it features a very cute little song called "Watch the Birdie" performed by Martha Raye & The Six Hits. I first heard that performed by Lisa Stansfield in the soundtrack of a rather unknown film called Swing [1999]. Recently I heard a much older version by Anita O'Day and the Gene Krupa Orchestra. However, as I read in this blog, the song first appeared in Hellzapoppin'.

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