I admit I first saw “The Paris Follies of 1956” (1955) because I was curious to see Forrest Tucker without a cowboy hat on for a change. Tucker acts as a first-time owner of a new kind of dinner theatre who discovers on opening night that his investor is a penniless eccentric, and is therefore desperate for things to go well so he can earn something back. It is a pleasantly dozy B-movie on live entertainment, fairly done and filmed in only 3 weeks, partly at Hollywood’s Moulin Rouge nightclub (with dances by Donn Arden and singing by the sublime Margaret Whiting). For me though, the real gem of the film turned out to be something else entirely: Vegas legend Ffolliott Chorlton Le Coque, in what I believe might be her only ever on-screen dance.
She first appears with no fanfare and no lines, just as Taffy the lead dancer accompanying one of Margaret’s songs. The stage and dance seem hardly camera-conscious at all, designed less to impress on screen and more to entertain a live audience (which we see for a fleeting, natural moment, smoke and spotlights illuminating the shadowy tables and lanterns). The story sequence also seems reworked from an in-house number and doesn’t quite go with the words, giving things an unpolished, frankly unsettling light (it doesn’t help that the chorus girls sometimes seem a little unsure of their steps, and that the male backup dancers are inexplicably menacing, like if Frank Gorshin’s Riddler and McDowell’s Droogs decided to tread the boards).
But none of this detracts a single bit from the visibly radiant, auburn-haired Fluff, dressed in a dark ruffled corset and soft shoes, arms and legs practically aglow in the spotlight. The sequence reveals an instinctive dancer deeply at home in various forms, moving with the ease that comes with years of intense practice, every inch of her being in perfect time with the music. The rest of the picture reveals somewhat tame dancing numbers but Arden clearly worked best with Fluff: the ‘Lonely Gal’ sequence shows impeccable timing and dynamics with her fellow dancers, incredibly nimble footwork and skill, and the ability to completely light up the very space she takes up on her own or in a crowd of people. In short a vibrant joy to watch, I’d just love for you to just see her yourselves.
Fluff could have had a real chance at fame with movies, and she nearly did a few times (her only other credit is Scorsese’s “Casino”). A student of ballet, jazz, and tap since the age of 7, Fluff went on to become principal dancer of shows in Paris and Hollywood, performing at iconic spots like the Desert Inn and the Thunderbird Hotel, before eventually retiring to manage some of the Strip’s most iconic shows at Bally’s and the MGM Grand Hotel. The film’s blurred close-ups can’t hide her radiant, filmstar looks, but they also reveal the slightly shorter height and impressively powerful physique that just didn’t seem to make the cut (rebuffing a too-personal casting director might have also played a role).
Also, unlike the engaging attractiveness of Cyd, Vera-Ellen, or Ann Miller, “Paris” reveals what looks to me like a slightly faraway, Jean-Simmons look in Fluff’s eye, inward, private: not an actress, only a dancer concerned with the dance, the moment. She comes across as Balanchine’s ideal, the ‘dancer who needs to dance.’ Even Fluff herself once said she didn’t so much work for the applause, “as [much as] being able to get away from yourself and become something else.” And even in those precious moments we get on screen, she really is something else.
Whatever the reason, the loss was mostly ours, as she went on to become a Vegas entertainment queen at the heart of Vegas Showgirl history, but I’m very glad for her appearance on “Paris.” I’ve often daydreamed of becoming a Broadway/musical theatre player, but it wasn’t to be – I like to think it wasn’t because I haven’t the figure or coordination (I don’t have either), but because I couldn’t get the lessons, haha. So what a joy instead to vicariously enjoy our favourite screen dancers, including a gifted star by the name of Fluff Xo