Frederic Franklin, the Peter Pan of dance

Six weeks before the start of World War I, Fred Franklin, a caterer, and his wife, Mabel, gave birth to the first of their three children in the city of Liverpool.

They called him Frederic, after his Dad’s name.

How could they ever have imagined that their little boy would live 98 years, become a much admired and loved dancer and furthermore, one who still performed into his 90s?

He might have ended up in the shipping yards, or in a factory, or in the catering business like his father, but Frederic’s parents took him to see a performance of Peter Pan when he was 4.

After the show, he stood on his bed and pretended to fly.

This magical childhood memory was recalled by the dance writer, Jack Anderson, whose obituary of Franklin has just been published in The New York Times.

Franklin died on 4 May at the Weill Cornell Medical Centre in New York. His partner of 48 years, William Haywood Ausman, said that he died from complications of pneumonia.

Anyone who has seen the 2005 documentary, directed by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, featuring the men and women of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (aged in their 80s and 90s), will remember the charming Franklin who still moved with ease and grace when that documentary was made.

Franklin, who created a role in Agnes De Mille’s Rodeo in 1942, had the most extraordinary career, training with Lydia Kyasht, Nicolai Legat and Lubov Egorova before making his debut at the Casino de Paris revue in London in 1931. He danced in cabarets and music halls before he joined the company of Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin.

In 1938 he moved to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a premier danseur and later became the company’s ballet master. He created the principal role in Gaite Parisenne in which he danced with his long-term dance partner, Alexandra Danilova.

Franklin also worked with Sadlers Wells Ballet, the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet, La Scala and American Ballet Theatre and continued his decades long link with ballet by founding the National Ballet of Washington, and advising Dance Theater of Harlem, the Oakland Ballet and the Tulsa Ballet.

Some dancers never really leave the stage. Like Colin Peasley, who recently retired from the Australian Ballet, Franklin continued to perform in character roles for many years, such as the Witch in La Sylphide and the Friar in Romeo & Juliet.

The most touching and intimate memories of Franklin can be read in de Mille’s two-part autobiography, Dance to the Piper & And Promenade Home.

One Comment

  1. Jean Paul Comelin
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    AS a former Principal Dancer and Choreographer with the National Ballet in Washington DC I had such a wonderful 4 years working with Mr F, as we used to call him !!.
    .He had a tremendous and endless energy , a great sense of humor as well as a huge capacity for work … he was an astonishing actor on stage and off .we all loved him and learned so much from him. No wonder he performed till the end of his life , as his presence on stage was always felt by all of us dancers .and public alike….may he RIP…
    Jean Paul Comelin
    (Guest Artist with Marilyn Burr with the Australian Ballet in Noureev ‘s Raymonda and Giselle during Peggy Van Praag and Robert Helpman tenure as Artistics Directors ..also a great experience !!

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Frederic Franklin, Rodeo, photo © Maurice Seymour

Frederic Franklin, Rodeo, photo © Maurice Seymour

Frederic Franklin in Léonide Massine's Rouge et Noir, 1940, photo © Maurice Seymour

Frederic Franklin in Léonide Massine’s Rouge et Noir, 1940, photo © Maurice Seymour

Alexandra Danilova and Frederic Franklin at Jacob’s Pillow

Alexandra Danilova and Frederic Franklin at Jacob’s Pillow