Subseries 01 - Early Career

Identity elements

Reference code

US MBE MSS 025-03-01

Name and location of repository

Level of description

Subseries

Title

Early Career

Date(s)

  • 1931-1948 (Creation)

Extent

7.33 linear feet

Name of creator

(1931 -)

Biographical history

Sylvia Lewis was born in York, Pennsylvania, in 1931. As a young child, Sylvia first performed in the last days of vaudeville in Baltimore, Maryland. Following her acceptance as a scholarship student to the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Sylvia began her first classical training in dance, voice, and piano. Sylvia moved to Hollywood at the age of twelve, and continued her training as a classical dancer.

After rejecting an offer to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dance company, Sylvia (then 17) went to Mexico City to perform for 8 weeks as a principal dancer in “Las Gringas”. Sylvia was then offered a job as a headliner act at a nightclub, "El Intimo", which she took, and spent a couple years in Mexico with the club.

Sylvia returned to Hollywood in the early 1950s, continued performing in nightclubs, and took up modeling. In 1951, Sylvia was included as a dancer in the television series “The Colgate Comedy Hour”, which was hosted by various acts such as Abbot & Costello, Martin & Lewis, and Donald O'Connor. By 1952, Sylvia had secured a role in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) as a chorus dancer, and by 1954 she had secured an acting role in "Drums of Tahiti" (1954). A full filmography will be listed below, but the 1950s saw many film and television appearances for Sylvia, which continued into the 1960s as guest appearances on such popular shows as “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “The Beverly Hillbillies”, and “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” Sylvia was featured as the dance partner and co-host for “Where's Raymond?” in 1953, which continued for 66 episodes and was hugely influential to Sylvia's career as Hollywood actress, dancer, and choreographer.

The 1950s and 1960s were a busy period for Sylvia, as she appeared in theater and stage productions in between her film and television appearances. Sylvia's daughter Catherine was born during her marriage to John Rich (1955-1959). It was also during this period that Sylvia began her professional choreography career, notably starting with the television series “Where's Raymond?” (1953-1955). Sylvia often was simultaneously a dancer for a production as well as the production's choreographer, and her choreography career continued through the 1990s. In the 1980s, Sylvia was the choreographer for many television shows, including “Who's the Boss?” (1986-1990) and “Married … with Children” (1987).

During the 1970s, Sylvia transitioned professionally away from performing, and towards primarily working in choreography and teaching. During the 1980s, Sylvia started her own performing dance company, named Dansemble. Sylvia choreographed and taught pieces ranging from jazz to classical, and worked to make the company a successful dance troupe. There are also records tracking Sylvia’s professional relationship with the Professional Dancers Society, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, where she is listed as “Founding Director, 1st Vice President, and Initial PDS Studio Manager”. PDS published the newsletter The Gypsy Chorus, of which this Sylvia Lewis Collection has several issues, and hosted several scholarship and award banquets.

During the later years of Sylvia’s career, Sylvia choreographed numerous charity benefit concerts and various ceremonies. In 1988, Sylvia arranged a charity show to benefit her friend Tucker Smith, who was in need of financial assistance to aid in his fight against cancer. In the late 1980s, Sylvia, together with several other performers, gathered in support of Hollywood’s Falcon Studios, which was in danger of being torn down. Ralph Faulkner, the owner of Falcon Studios, had passed away in 1987, and Sylvia’s professional relationship to the building (and to Faulkner) led to her involvement with the effort to save the building. In 1990, Sylvia choreographed the celebration of Luigi’s 65th Birthday (a fellow Hollywood dancer and choreographer, as well as friend to Sylvia), which took place at the Helen Hayes Theater in New York, and featured “many Broadway stars”. In 1992, Sylvia Lewis choreographed the opening ceremonies for the “Huis Ten Bosch” theme park in Sasebo, Japan.

Sylvia has called her “swan song” appearance as her performances with “The Fabulous Palm Spring Follies” during the mid-1990s. Sylvia acted as both performer and choreographer for this production. Since this performance, Sylvia has featured in many tribute shows and articles concerning the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. After her professional partner Ray Bolger’s death, in 1987, Sylvia helped organize a tribute documentary, entitled "More Than a Scarecrow", which played in 1990.

Sylvia Lewis’ Filmography
(Film)

"Living in a Big Way" (1947)
"The Las Vegas Story" (1952)
"Harem Girl" (1952)
"Singin’ in the Rain" (1952)
"She’s Working Her Way Through College" (1952)
"Son of Paleface" (1952)
"Just For You" (1952)
"Road to Bali" (1952)
"Hans Christian Anderson" (1952)
"Androcles and the Lion" (1952)
"Siren of Bagdad" (1953)
"Cruisin’ Down the River" (1953)
"Redheads from Seattle" (1953)
"Affair with a Stranger" (1953)
"Gunsmoke" (1953)
"Man in the Attic" (1953)
"Drums of Tahiti" (1954)
"Red Garters" (1954)
"Bedlam in Paradise" (1955)
"The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" (1956)
"The Conqueror" (1956)

"Cha-Cha-Cha Boom!" (1956)
"Jet Pilot" (1957)
"The Big Fisherman" (1959)
"The Ladies’ Man" (1961)
"Hook, Line, Sinker" (1969)

(Television)

“The Colgate Comedy Hour” (1951-1952)
“Where’s Raymond?” (1953-1955)
“Our Miss Brooks” (1955)
“The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” (1956)
“The Bob Cummings Show” (1956-1958)
“Steve Canyon” (1958)
“The Dennis O’Keefe Show” (1959)
“Zorro” (1959)
“Peter Gunn” (1959)
“Johnny Staccato” (1959)
“Man with a Camera” (1960)
“The Dinah Shore Chevy Show” (1960)
“The New Steve Allen Show” (1961)
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1963)
“Breaking Point” (1963)
“The Danny Kaye Show” (1963)
“Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C.” (1965)
“The Beverly Hillbillies” (1965)
“The Andy Griffith Show” (1965)
“The Medicine Man” (1967)
“The Jerry Lewis Show” (1967)
“Amateur’s Guide to Love” (1971)

(as choreographer)

"Hot Blood" (1956)
"Spring Reunion" (1957)
“The Spike Jones Show” (1957-1960)
“The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna” (1958)
“Rawhide” (1959)
“Starring: Nancy Clancy” (1973)
"Hearts of the West" (1975)
“The Jeffersons” (1984)
“Married … With Children” (1987)
“Living Dolls” (1989)
“Married People” (1990)
“Who’s The Boss?” (1986-1990)

(notable stage performances)

“Vintage ‘60s” (1960)
“On the Town” (1961)
“Little Mary Sunshine” (1961-1962)
“The ‘Billy Barnes’ Revue – L.A.” (1962-1963)
“Billy Barnes’ Hollywood American Cancer Fund Benefit” (1964)
“Hollywood Inside-Out” (late 1970s)
“The Wizard of OZ” (1981)
“Paint Your Wagon” (1981)
“South Pacific” (1992) (choreographed)
“The Fabulous Palm Spring Follies” (1994-1996)

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

This collection includes: an oversized scrap book, sheet music, oversized posters, publicity coverage, a tambourine, finger cymbals, and castanets

Sylvia Lewis’ Early Career Sub-Series features materials from Sylvia’s early performing days. Primarily contained in this sub-series are items dating to Sylvia’s time at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and Sylvia’s time in Mexico, although the oversized scrap book contains programs and highlights from Sylvia’s early vaudeville career as a child.

There are scores and sheet music from Sylvia’s “Childhood Performances,” dating to the 1930s, and there are scores and sheet music from Sylvia’s time in Mexico. Also dating to Sylvia’s time in Mexico are oversized publicity posters and publicity articles in magazines (all of which feature Sylvia during her time working in nightclubs in Mexico City). Located in a separate box, Sylvia has included a tambourine, finger cymbals, and castanets (in Sylvia’s original storage purse) “from [her] early performances”.

System of arrangement

For reasons relating to preservation concerns, the oversized scrap book has been allowed its own oversized box. Handle with care.
For reasons relating to spatial and preservation concerns, the instruments featured in this series are boxed separately.

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

The collection is open to researchers. No materials may be checked out or borrowed from the Emerson College Archives & Special Collections.

Physical access

Audio/Visual materials, apparel items, and oversized items are located in different locations due to spatial and preservation concerns.

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

Some materials may be subject to copyright. No part of the materials protected by copyright may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the copyright holder. Researchers are required to seek permission from the copyright holder to reproduce and/or publish materials under copyright.

Languages of the material

  • English
  • Spanish

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