Friday, August 23, 2013

A Fokker Chorus Line

Eighteen of the Fanchon & Marco Fanchonettes dance on the wing of WAE's
first F-32.
In 1930, Western Air Express decided to go big...very big. They agreed to purchase and operate the largest airliner then built, and the first four-engined aircraft built in America, the Fokker F-32. (We gave a brief history of the plane in this post, back when the Archive obtained its R.C. Talbot negative collection.)

At the time, WAE's headquarters were still located at Alhambra, and the company held F-32 inaugural celebrations there as well as at Burbank and Glendale. During these gala events, which drew thousands of spectators, one of the highlights was a performance by a chorus line of young, beautiful women stepping and kicking on top of the airplane's wing in almost perfect unison...the glamorous Fanchonettes.

Today, we're featuring two Fokker F-32 photos from the Glendale inaugural event, which came to the Archive as part of the Alman collection, and one of these shows eighteen of Fanchonettes in mid-kick (typical theater performances featured 48 of the girls). The original Alman photo album page doesn't clarify the location, but what identified it to me as Glendale, rather than the other venues, is that this photo was taken at almost the exact same moment as one by R.C. Talbott which is featured in John Underwoods book on GCAT (if you have a copy of the book, it's on page 47; Alman appears to have been standing just to the right and a bit forward of Talbott).

During the 1920s and '30s, F&M was a huge deal in the Los Angeles area (think of them as that era's equivalent of Cirque du Soleil). They produced spectacular vaudeville performances at Paramount Theater Los Angeles as well as at other top are venues. At the Paramount, the live performances were part of a bigger entertainment event...for the price of admission, you would be treated to the live stage show, a news reel feature, a cartoon short and the latest top Hollywood blockbuster movie. When the movie changed, F&M came up with a whole new stage show to go along with it. So to have them help publicize WAE's new "big thing" was a publicity coup for that time. So to have the F-32 turn out to be such a colossal dud after such a spectacular beginning is especially poignant.

There's a great website that details the history of Fanchon and Marco, and I've made inquiries with them to find out if they have additional details on the WAE performances, but as of this writing, I have not heard back.

This article from Air Transport World has a photo of the girls onboard the F-32.

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