[Dixielandjazz] FW: The Nicholas Bros

Bill Haesler bhaesler at bigpond.net.au
Tue Dec 13 22:23:37 PST 2005

Dear friends,
Tis one of interest from the Australian Dance Bands list.
Kind regards,

New Fund Is Created for Ailing Tap Legend

by Lola Ogunnaike 
New York Times, December 10, 2005

Decades ago, the Nicholas Brothers -- Fayard and his younger
brother, Harold -- dazzled fans around the globe with their stellar
tap dancing and impeccable showmanship. Today, Fayard Nicholas lies
in a hospital bed in California, recuperating from a stroke last
month that left the entire left side of his body paralyzed.

News of Mr. Nicholas's poor health saddened the tap community. So
did the news that Mr. Nicholas, 91, was too destitute to pay his
rent and mounting medical bills. Rusty Frank, a Los Angeles-based
dance instructor who is a friend of Mr. Nicholas and his wife,
Katherine Hopkins-Nicholas, was so moved that she is spearheading a
fund-raising drive to ensure that the veteran hoofer never has to
worry about money again.

In less than three weeks, Ms. Frank, who began collecting money just
days after Mr. Nicholas suffered his stroke on Nov. 22, has raised
more than $14,000. "Everybody has been so appalled that this man
could slip through the cracks," she said. Hugh Hefner, the Playboy
mogul, donated a large sum, Ms. Frank said, and checks have poured
in from around the world. "Germany, Switzerland, Australia -- you
name it," she said. "The response has been fast and great. It's
spread like wildfire."

Naturally, some have wondered how Mr. Nicholas, the father of two,
landed in such a precarious position. After he and Harold tapped
their way through legendary Harlem hot spots like the Cotton Club,
they appeared in dozens of Hollywood features, including "Stormy
Weather," "Down Argentine Way" and "Tin Pan Alley," and quickly
became household names. They wowed audiences with their gravity-
defying performances: splits, back flips, cartwheels and feet that
moved faster than a game of three-card monte. Yet, though they were
well known, the men could never be considered rich. "Residuals
didn't start until 1963," Ms. Frank said, "and they were done with
films by then."

Jason Samuels Smith, a co-founder and director of the Los Angeles
Tap Festival, said: "Unfortunately, it's not just Fayard who is
suffering. A number of these older tap legends are struggling, and
we need to help them. We cannot wait till these people are dead
before we let them know how much we appreciate them."

Even in their 70's, the Nicholas Brothers continued tapping to pay
their bills, appearing at festivals and dance symposiums. Over the
course of their career, they received Kennedy Center honors and a
star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Fayard won a Tony for
choreography for "Black and Blue." After Harold's death in 2000,
solo opportunities for Fayard became increasingly scarce, and he
soon fell on hard times. His wife, in her 50's, is unable to work
because she must care for him. He had just finished recovering from
colon surgery when he suffered his most recent stroke. (He had
another in 1997.) 

Today, Mr. Nicholas and his wife live modestly in a one-bedroom
apartment. Their bills total $3,300 a month, Ms. Frank said. "Social
Security and pension covers about $1,000 of that," she said.
Donations may be made through

Mr. Smith said he was planning a benefit of his own for Mr.
Nicholas. "We should be waiting hand and foot on someone like this,"
he said. "He should be sitting on a throne in a mansion somewhere
saying, 'You over there, get me my tap shoes.'"

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