Fowler and Tamara
Addison Fowler and Florenz Tamara were undoubtedly one of America’s leading exponents of ballroom dancing in the mid 1920s through the early 1930s. Although they had an extensive repertoire it was Spanish themed dances that made their name and the fact that they looked good and had a great knack of wearing deliciously evocative costumes.
Fowler (born 1890) originated on the West coast in California. Tamara was a child dancer and studied at the Russian ballet but little else of their early life can be unearthed. Fowler started dancing with his first wife Ethyle Stewart and by September 1918 they had created a sensation in Los Angeles and after a fifty-week run at Baron Long’s Ship Cafe were being hailed as ‘the Castle’s of the Coast’. Following other stage appearances they departed on a tour and went East to New York and appeared at the 81st theatre and Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic. By early 1919 they were performing nightly in the Crown Hotel, Providence where their programme consisted of classic and whirlwind eccentric dances. They later moved to the American House in Boston. However, in March 1920 their marriage was annulled in Boston.
It was not long before Fowler found a new partner in Florenz Tamara and he resumed touring appearing at the New Kelmore, Albany and then in February 1921 at the Blue Bird Cafe Montreal. By the summer of 1922 they had settled in Chicago and were the leading act at Ernie Young’s picturesque venue the Marigold Gardens for several editions of his Frolics. During the summer the focus was outdoors and in the fall the gardens were closed and the show resumed in the sumptuous indoor café-restaurant.
During 1923 they toured in vaudeville and made such an impression that they were picked up by Henry Savage to appear in the New York show Lollipop (Jan-Mar 1924) at the Knickerbocker theatre. This was Vincent Youman’s first complete score to a book by Zelda Sears described as ‘weakly Cinderella-ish’. Ada May Weeks played Lollipop Lamb an orphan who is adopted by the well to do Mrs Garrity (Miss Sears). She clears herself of the charge of stealing her benefactor’s purse, finds love and ultimately throws a big costume ball. Fowler and Tamara scored a big hit as the dancers.
After the show closed they toured again in an act in picture theatres supporting feature film presentations through the rest of 1924. They performing an Argentine tango El Gaucho and the paso doble with the South American troubadours providing the music. Variety announced ‘as ballroom dancers the team possess a smoothness and a finish that should find favour on the big circuits.’ This certainly happened and in the first half of 1925 they hit the vaudeville circuit being lauded again by Variety ‘they are as graceful a dance team as has been seen in vaudeville.’ They were in such demand that during their performances in New York they doubled at the swanky Lido-Venice nightclub at 35 East 53rd Street, regarded as a smart society place and a big money maker.
They spent the summer (20th June for three months) at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, the world famous Chicago landmark. This lavish 400-roomed resort opened in 1916 and stood on the lakefront at Sheridan near Foster. It was built in a Spanish-style in the form of a Maltese cross and most rooms faced the lake. It was so popular that a second 600 room unit was opened to the south of the original in 1922. It became the place to be seen. The marine dining room was the hub of the hotel’s nightlife with a strict formal dress code and it was here that bands played and guests danced and entertainment was staged.
On their return to New York for the fall season they suddenly found their forte and became a huge hit and were in great demand. They were engaged for the 300 club at 450 W54th Street and created a furore that latest for several weeks. This new venue had opened in the spring and was created as a smart, high class after theatre nightclub. The room was dimly lit, had a four- piece orchestra and Fowler and Tamara introduced a Spanish atmosphere with tango and Charleston ideas, They were described as ‘a personable and capable couple…as much at home on a floor as when behind the footlights.’ They were such a success that they also doubled for a few weeks at the newly revamped Casa Lopez (the renamed Rue de La Paix at West 54th Street that had been a flop before). But they already had a lucrative offer to visit Florida and so left for a two week contract in October 1925 at the Coral Gables Golf and Country Club for $1,200 weekly. This resort had been constructed in 1924 by George E. Merrick and was hailed as an artistic triumph providing a combination of entertainment, leisure and living with the Maimi-Biltmore Hotel, Country Club and Venetian Casino.
Returning to New York in early November 1925 they carried on performing at the Casa Lopez which they put on the map along with the excellent Vincent Lopez band and accepted a $3,500 weekly vaudeville offer in the New York area. Variety said they ‘are the best cafe ballroom dancers in New York’ and added that they had something the others lack ‘novelty and nuance of local reputation’. The Casa Lopez continued to be one of the biggest night club money makers in New York and Fowler and Tamara were such a draw that they stayed on as headliners for six months through April 1926 where they were described as ‘sparkling and sinuous dancers’ who ‘float before the delighted eyes of nightclub patrons’ by Theatre Magazine. Interestingly, for the second season in the fall of 1926, Casa Lopez engaged the Cansino’s but they did not match the success of Fowler and Tamara.
Then in late April they began rehearsals to appear in the 1926 edition of George White’s Scandals that was launched in mid June at the Apollo Theatre at $2,000 per week. They were billed alongside Willie and Eugene Howard, Ann Pennington, Tom Patricola, Frances Williams, the Fairbanks Twins and Harry Richman. In late June, they left the show on the pretext that they were dissatisfied with their slots and instead opened once again briefly in vaudeville at Keith’s Palace on the same weekly fee. They then departed for their first European trip in early August. Perhaps this was the real reason for their departure from the Scandals.
In London, they had been engaged to appear in the 16th edition of the Piccadilly Revels cabaret at the Piccadilly Hotel and doubled at the Kit Cat Club. Produced by Edward Dolly and costumed by Dolly Tree the show featured Bee Palmer (American dancer), Zoiga & Rachel (eccentric and acrobatic dancers from the continent), Hal Sherman (American dancer) and the chorus of sixteen girls. Fowler and Tamara caused such a sensation that they were retained for the 17th edition that ran until the end of the year where they did their Spanish Shawl dance and their impression of ice skating at St. Moritz in the sequence called Winterland.
From London they went to Paris and in early December 1926 began performing at Le Perroquet, one of the most prestigious of Parisian cabarets located above the foyer of the Casino de Paris. Dancing Times observed ‘they dance the tango and other Spanish-American dances with such elegance of style and expression that it is difficult to realise that they hail not from South America but from the USA.’ In the winter they decamped to the Riviera and toured the various nightspots including the Negresco Hotel in Nice and the Ambassadeurs restaurant in the Cannes Casino. Back in Paris they had featured scenes in the new Folies Bergere show Un Vent de Folies launched in the spring of 1927, which was a showcase for Josephine Baker. Dance Magazine said that they ‘were a sensation at the society rendezvous in England and France. They reached the highest possible heights of popularity. Their chic, their appearance and their beautiful wardrobe made an instantaneous hit wherever they appeared.’ Apparently Tamara gained the reputation of being the best-dressed woman in Paris during her stay.
At the end of the year they returned to America and may have spent the winter in Palm Beach because they featured in a Movietone newsreel called ‘A Palm Beach Frolic’. Back in New York they appeared at Club Lido in March and then once again went into vaudeville touring through late 1929 before they opened for the winter season in October in the Grill Room of the St Regis Hotel, one of the newest and smartest rendezvous, as co-stars with Vincent Lopez’s orchestra, replicating their earlier success at the Casa Lopez.
The lure of Europe meant they were back in early 1929 and once again became the stars of a new cabaret show at the Piccadilly Hotel, London from 14th January. They also doubled at the Alhambra and Coliseum and this was followed by engagements on the Riveria that included the Cannes Casino. By April they were back in London appearing at the Cafe de Paris before various cabaret appearances in Paris at the Chateau de Madrid in July and then the new venue called Le Lido on the Champs Elysees, described as ‘perhaps the biggest cabaret in the world’. At night for the supper dansants, the swimming pool (yes it had a huge pool) was the set for a ‘Venetian gondoliera aquatic’ tableaux featuring Fowler and Tamara with Don Parker’s jazz band.
Next, C.B Cochran, the celebrated London producer, starred them in his magnificent revue the Cochran Revue of 1930 at the London Pavilion launched at the end of March 1930 which ran through the rest of the year with a cast that included Maisie Gay, Ada May and Douglas Byng.
By the end of 1930 they were back home and in January 1931 began an extensive vaudeville tour through the RKO chain in Los Angeles and may have appeared in a short Vitaphone film ‘Giovanni Martinelli’s Troubador selection’ and Paramount’s The Magnificent Lie that starred Ruth Chatterton with Don Azpiazu and his Havana Casino Orchestra. After a period in New York during late 1931 they visited Havana Cuba, described as the Monte Carlo of the Western hemisphere in early 1932. Here they and performed at the Gran Casino Nacional with Gus Van for at least two months accompanied by two orchestras.
They spent the rest of 1932 and 1933 in New York giving performances at charity events, social functions, galas and presumably cabarets including the Hollywood Restaurant. For example, in April 1933 they performed dances called ‘The Opera Waltz’ and ‘The Opera Tango’ at a series of Opera teas or fetes and were also part of a stage show that toured the Publix (Paramount and Capitol) circuit of movie theatres. In the summer of 1933 they decamped to Chicago as the main attraction at the Drakes Hotel, Summer Garden Room and in the fall appeared in cabaret in New York at Le Casino Vert and the Continental Grill of the St Moritz Hotel before entering the ‘Xaleidoscope’ revue at the Radio City Music Hall.
In August 1935 Fowler and Tamara became the first ballroom team to become a straight concert turn as they were signed by Columbia Concerts Corporation (a subsidiary of CBS) under the management of Arthur Judson for three years giving a minimum of three dance recitals weekly. However, in January 1936 they left America to fulfil engagements in Europe that included appearances at the Savoy Hotel, London and then Budapest, Copenhagen, Paris and cities in Italy. When they returned to New York in October 1936 they reported a revival of the Viennese Waltz in social dancing in Europe and immediately embarked on a fall tour.
Presumably through the rest of the 1930s they continued their performances through Columbia Concerts Corporation, cabaret and special events. But at some point they moved to live in Providence, Rhode Island and operated the Arthur Murray school of dancing.
Fowler and Tamara did marry – one source says in 1923 another 1930. Tamara retired in 1942 and died 31st December 1947. Addison remarried G.M (Jayne) Forloni and continued to run the school for many years until his death in March 1957 aged 67.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
1918 Baron Long’s Ship Café, LA
1921 Touring USA
1922 Aug Marigold Gardens, Chicago ‘Fall Frolics’
1924 Jan Lollipop (Jan-Mar) Knickerbocker, NYC
1924 Apr Picture house tour
1924 Jul Vaudeville tour
1924 Dec Western Picture House tour
1925 Mar Vaudeville tour and Lido-Venice Club
1925 Mid Summer at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, Chicago for 3 months from 20/6
1925 Sep 300 Club, NYC
1925 Oct Casa Lopez, NY thro
1925 Oct Coral Gables Golf & Country Club (Florida) for 2 weeks
1925 Dec Rialto, NY (Picture presentation house)
1926 Jun George White’s Scandals
1926 Jul Left cast of George White’s Scandals
1926 Aug Vaudeville – Keith’s NY house inc the Palace 2/8
1926 Aug Piccadilly Hotel Cabaret (Aug – Oct) and Kit Cat Club
1926 Dec Le Perroquet, Paris
1927 Jan Ambassadeurs, Cannes (25/1)
1927 Feb The Riviera
1927 Mar Un Vent de Folie Folies Bergere, Paris
1928 Jan Returned to NYC
1928 Mar Club Lido, NYC
1928 Dec Grill Room, St Regis Hotel, NYC
1929 Jan Piccadilly Hotel from 14/1 plus Alhambra & Coliseum
1929 Feb Cannes Casino
1929 Apr Cafe de Paris, London
1929 Jul Chateau de Madrid, NYC
1929 Nov Le Lido, Paris
1930 Mar Cochran Revue of 1930, London
1931 Jan RKO vaudeville tour
1931 May Vitaphone short film
1931 Jul Paramount’s The Magnificent Lie starring Ruth Chatterton
1932 Jan Havana, Gran Casino Nacional
1933 Jul Drake Hotel, Summer Garden room, Chicago
1935 St Moritz hotel, New NYC
1935 Aug Signed by Columbia Concerts Corp (subsiduary of CBS) for 3 years
1936 Jan Leave NYC for European tour – London, Budapest, Copenhagen, Paris and Italy
1947 Dec Florenz Tamara dies
1957 Mar Addison Fowler dies