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Overview (2)

Born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, USA
Nickname Billy

Mini Bio (1)

William H. Vaux is best known as a dancer in wartime musical comedies on film and Broadway (1939-1949), and as the talent coordinator, advertising agent, and on-air lead of the Arthur Murray Dancers for the The Arthur Murray Party (1950) television show (1950-1960).

William H. Vaux was born on April 8, 1917 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania as the youngest of four children of Howard Craven Vaux, a telephone company foreman, and restaurateur Anne E. (Ridge) Vaux. The Vaux family raised spaniels and Billy developed a lifetime love of animals. Billy spent his adolescence on Diamond Street in Philadelphia and attended high school in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. He took dance lessons from Kathryn Heger Jockers of The Heger Academy of Dancing in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania and had his first recital at age 12 at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania. His father passed soon afterwards, but his stepfather G.W. Flavell -- a Philadelphia manufacturer of medical trusses - continued to support his interest in dance. The Keswick was part of the Vaudeville circuit, and upon graduation from high school in 1935 he joined traveling productions.

Billy was discovered by agents for the Schubert theaters while performing in a 1939 summer production of "Vote for Youth" at the Spring Lake Community Playhouse in Spring Lake, New Jersey. By December of that same year he was dancing on Broadway in "Du Barry was a Lady" starring Bert Lahr, Ethel Merman, and Gypsy Rose Lee. Robert Alton was the choreographer. Billy danced for Alton again in "By Jupiter" with Ray Bolger (June 1942 - June 1943). In doing so, Billy worked with both the Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow from the The Wizard of Oz (1939). In January 1943 Billy once again joined Ethel Merman in "Something for the Boys" through January 1944 and working with another great Broadway choreographer, Jack Cole. (See the February 8, 1943 edition of "Life" magazine (p. 79) for a photo of Billy standing to the right of Ethel Merman).

Billy had a short career in Hollywood, and danced in Where Do We Go from Here? (1945) Returning to Broadway in November 1944, his next performance was in "Sadie Thompson" with June Havoc and choreographer Charles Weidman. The show only ran for two months, but Billy met a fellow dancer Fred Bernaski (Franklin Frederick Bernaski 1921-1989) and the two became partners for the next two decades. Billy and Fred shared a love of dance and animals. The couple raised Brussels Griffons, poodles and numerous cats. Billy and Fred kept an apartment at 70 W. 82nd street which had as many as six performers living there at anyone time.

Billy only title role on Broadway was as "Dottore" in large cast of "Firebrand of Florence" (1945). After a brief stint in the 1945 U.S.O. show of "Up in Central Park" in Stuttgart, Germany, Billy was the dancing attendant in "If the Shoe Fits," and a year-long run as a replacement in the 1946 revival of "Show Boat." Billy and Fred's final performance was an overseas production of "Starlight Roof" at the London Hippodrome with the prop comic Wally Boag and the premiere of Julie Andrews, age 12. Retiring from the stage, Billy, Fred, three dogs, and two cats settled down again in Manhattan.

Between productions Billy Vaux worked as a dance instructor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studios in New York and became an integral part of the The Arthur Murray Party (1950) television show. Billy shared _Murray, Kathryn_'s comedic sensibilities, and could draw on talent from Vaudeville, Broadway and East Coast clubs. Arthur Murray, Arthur was a demanding boss, but also someone who created opportunities for talented people. Billy served as the lead of the Arthur Murray Dancers, casting director, advertising executive, and on-air performer. The Arthur Murray Dancers were a collection of instructors and advanced students who put on demonstration and participated in the show's contests. Very tall and older than the other dancers, Billy can be seen in surviving episodes giving subtle directions to other dancers and serving as a target for the cameraman and Kathryn Murray during on-air commercials.

Billy drew on his years in show business to cast Vaudevillians he has known since childhood, like folksinger Burl Ives and numerous comics. From Broadway, Bert Lahr became a regular on the show with appearances by Ethel Merman, sisters June Havoc and Gypsy Rose Lee to name just a few. Billy would scout East Coast Clubs for dancing acts. Arthur Murray's studios often provided instruction to film stars in support of their roles. The stars would then be offered to demonstrate their skills on the show. Once on the show, Billy and the Murrays would encourage them to return week after week. Much like they did for their dance studio customers.

Arthur Murray farmed his instructors out to train actors in dance, in supporting roles for films and stage, and provided sound work for numerous Hollywood films. Billy Vaux's family maintains that he provided sound work for Gene Kelly's performance in Singin' in the Rain (1952). If true, the post-production sound work was likely to have taken place during an hiatus of the "Arthur Murray Party" in July and August of 1951. The issue is complicated by Gwen Verdon's claim on an 1977 episode of the _The Dick Cavett Show (TV Series 1975-1991)_ that she and Kelly's assistants, Carol Haney and Jeanne Coyne, had provided the sound work. Perhaps both are true. The music editor Lela Simone insisted on high quality sound since a theme of the film was the introduction of sound to film. She may have had work redone. Billy Vaux certainly knew Carol Haney, and he cast her as a guest on the Arthur Murray Party, but definitive evidence has been elusive. The author has heard the story of Billy Vaux's involvement in "Singin' in the Rain" consistently told by his family since the 1970s. If they survive, the records of the Arthur Murray Studios may provide a wealth of information concerning its involvement in 20th century stage and film.

Fred worked as a design manager for a major department store. The couple maintained a country house in New Rochelle, Westchester, NY in the early 1950s, and then in 1955 Billy and Fred purchased a Wilton, Connecticut home at 3 Pond Road. Soon after neighbors like Martha Raye, Gabor sisters, and June Havoc began to appear on the show. By 1959 they had also moved their Manhattan residence to 202 East 52nd Street on the edge of the Turtle Bay neighborhood.

As Billy and Fred's dancing careers ended with Julie Andrews, her young co-stars in the Sound of Music were guests on the last episode of the The Arthur Murray Party (1950) in June 1960. Critics often pointed to the show's amateurishness in comparison to similar talent shows, but it ran for eleven seasons and created more than 300 episodes.

The 1960s were a difficult time for Billy. Within months of the close of the show Billy and Fred's Connecticut house and Billy's beloved Alfa Romeo were consumed in two separate fires. Billy continued to live in Manhattan in semi-retirement, but struggled with legal troubles. His relationship with Fred Bernaski may have also ended about that time. His family last saw him in 1972 or 1973 when Billy visited his elder sister to retrieve a copy of his birth certificate for a planned trip to France. Efforts to locate him have not been successful.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: VauxNephew

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