Paleo Retiree writes:
Yesterday I expressed my enthusiasm for ’60s go-go dancing, which I consider to be a majorly underappreciated popular artform. Who doesn’t love the girls who dance behind rock acts? But how much do you know about them? And where are the books and documentaries about them?
Today I have a special treat in store: an interview with De De Mollner, the unofficial leader of the great Gazzarri Dancers, to my mind the best, sexiest and most inspiring of all the go-go troupes of a great era. (The Gazzarri Dancers performed on the show Hollywood A Go Go in 1964 and 1965.) I think you’ll really enjoy meeting De De and hearing her story, which is fascinating both in its own right and for the snapshots it offers of American youth and popular art (LA division) in the early ’60s. De De was very generous with her time and her tales, so — drumroll — without further ado …
Paleo Retiree: Is De De your given name?
De De Mollner: My name is Deanna Dail Mollner and my family called me De De. When I danced on Hollywood A Go Go I changed it to Deann and then when I moved to Mexico there was another Deanna so everyone called me De De.
PR: What kind of life did you have as a kid?
DDM: I grew up in Santa Monica to a lower middle-class family.
PR: What was your dad like?
DDM: My father was a detective on the L.A.P.D. He never wore a uniform but he was a star — he’d gone to the Olympics in 1936, the one famous for Hitler and Jesse Owens, and he’d won a gold medal in basketball. This was the first year basketball was in the Olympics. He came back and toured the country with Fox Studios and Universal to promote the game. He was a pioneer in the sport. There are one or two documentaries about him out there somewhere.
PR: What was your mom like?
DDM: My mother turned into Pat Nixon when I was growing up. She had been a cigarette girl at the Trocadero nightclub on Sunset Blvd. and had been engaged to Art Linkletter. But she was a very prissy mother. She always wanted me to cook and crochet. But my older brother and I took after my dad, who was a fabulous athlete.
PR: Were your parents both squares?
DDM: Both my parents were very right-wing. When the Vietnam War broke out I didn’t talk to them for about ten years. They never saw Hollywood A Go Go at all. However, afterwards, when I started running around with movie stars they were thrilled. Jack Nicholson, who I was friends with and roomed with for a while, was in love with my dad because of the basketball.
PR: What was your brother like?
DDM: My brother is four years older than I am, so I wasn’t very close to him growing up. He also became a dancer — in his case, at Lido de Paris in Las Vegas for 14 years. And he’s straight!
PR: What was childhood like generally for you?
DDM: I was raised in the Science of Mind, a religion that promoted positive thinking and meditation. I have a high IQ, and I skipped two grades growing up. That kind of left me out of the school thing. I was a normal kid who loved sports and played tennis, took dance classes and was bored in school. My passion was animals. When I was ten I had a horse.
PR: Were you at the beach much?
DDM: As a young girl I lived on Zuma Beach. But after I grew up I hung out in Malibu Colony!
PR: Was there any big traumatic break for you as a kid? Moving from one place to another, that kind of thing.
DDM: My family moved from Santa Monica to Woodland Hills, in the San Fernando Valley. It was so depressing.
PR: How did you deal with it?
DDM: At 11, I made friends with a girl named Mimi Machu. She lived in Beverly Hills and her father was Marcel Machu, a famous hairdresser who perfected the “Marcel Wave.” His clients were people like Corinne Calvet and Veronica Lake. So when we moved to Woodland Hills I spent all my time visiting Mimi in Beverly Hills. As a young teenager I would take the bus over there to see Mimi.
PR: The Valley vs. Beverly Hills — that’s a big contrast. What was that like for you?
DDM: It was a whole new world for me. Mimi had no supervision as her mother had died and her father was always gone. So we were on our own. We would run by the Brown Derby and try to look in. We were chased by Groucho Marx and Errol Flynn all over Hollywood.
PR: What kind of adolescent romances did you have?
DDM: At 16 I was engaged to be married to a boy about five years older than me. I was still living in Woodland Hills and everyone in the Valley got married right out of high school. Lucky for me I dumped that idiot and never looked back. I just left the Valley and kind of distanced myself from that mentality. I became a self-sufficient girl who lived on her own and liked it.
PR: Were you one of those kids who grew up knowing she wanted to be a performer?
DDM: I never set out to be a performer but I am a natural at attracting people. I have had people offer me everything. Sometimes I wonder why that is.
PR: The word “charisma” might be appropriate here.
DDM: I was extremely outgoing. I am very gregarious. I am a show-off, I admit it. My brother and I were always dancing and performing for our family. Being 5’10 was also a big plus so far as attention goes.
PR: You’re 5’10”? That’s really tall for a woman of our generation.
DDM: I never really knew I was tall. Looking at the HAGG footage now, I realize I was tall. But I never even thought of it all the time we filmed the show. I still don’t really feel I’m tall, but of course I am.
RS: Did you do any professional dancing before Hollywood A Go Go?
DDM: I did some modeling but no professional dancing at all until HAGG. I did study tap, ballet and jazz at an early age but I don’t remember really getting into it until I went to Hollywood.
PR: Did you spend any time in college?
DDM: I graduated from high school at 16 and went to Cal State Northridge, where I studied anthropology and had a professor, Dr. Carpenter. He became my mentor and he was setting me up to go on a dig with Richard Leaky. But I was also a tennis player and a dancer, and the dancing (and Hollywood) won out, and I never looked back. Now I wish I could have done everything, but that’s impossible, as we know.
PR: What kind of role did music play in your young life?
DDM: As a child growing up, my parents were big into the big band era but I couldn’t identify with it at all. My own first real awakening was when I met the Three Amigos, as I call them: Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, and Sonny Bono. This was the start of my real music appreciation. They were running the streets of Hollywood. I was just a kid but I knew it was special.
PR: Tell me some more about those early years exploring the streets of Hollywood.
DDM: Mimi and I hung out in Hollywood and met everyone, including Phil and Jack and Sonny. They were always together and had long hair way before the Beatles did. I did a play called the “Coffin Game” when I was about 16. It was a real beatnik scene on Sunset at some coffee house. And there I met Claire Wolf and Billy Al Bengston. I wound up doing acid with Billy Al and some artists in Venice. I also hung out with Rauschenberg and then met all the L.A. artists in that era. I’m still friends with Ed Ruscha and his wife.
PR: What was the dancing scene like in Hollywood when you first showed up? Was go-go dancing such as we think of it now part of the scene already?
DDM: The dance scene was thriving when we were discovered, but the great clubs came around while the show was on. The Trip, The Whisky, Ciro’s, Pandora’s Box — they all came later.
PR: What an era.
DDM: You will never know the excitement of the middle sixties. Mimi and I hung out at all the dance spots and really spent time at Dan Tana’s restaurant.
PR: Was it at all perilous for fresh young girls like the two of you?
DDM: There were sleazy guys all over, but we stuck together and played with most men to get want we wanted. We would have some guy take us out to dinner at some expensive restaurant and then we would excuse ourselves to go to the bathroom and just leave. We were bad.
PR: How bad?
DDM: A few years later, when I got a silver fastback 1965 Corvette, I would drive down Sunset Blvd. and if I saw a guy I liked I would pick him up and take him home, way up on Grape Place in the Hollywood Hills. In the morning I’d kick him out and tell him to walk home. I was very bad.
PR: How big a deal was turning 18 for you?
DDM: Turning 18 was no big deal as, legally, you had to be 21 in California. But it didn’t matter for us, as we got into every club at the age of 17 or 18. We were going to private parties in the Hollywood Hills most of the time. We would take a cab. We even went to a few orgies.
PR: Orgies? Vavavoom. A few details please.
DDM: There was a crazy guy who lived in the Hollywood Hills that would have these orgies every week. I wish I could remember his name. He was famous for it at the time. Of course we had to go, but we just ran around laughing at it. People were in all the rooms and out by the pool.
PR: These days there’s this bewildering prissiness about people of different ages hanging out (let alone having relationships) with each other.
DDM: Hahahahahaha. Really?
PR: Bizarre, right? How did people in Hollywood as you knew it when you were a teen handle it? Was everyone open and friendly about hanging out with people of different ages? Or was there a lot of hostility to it?
DDM: We were welcomed by all older men who wanted two beautiful girls at their table, or at the party. We met them all. I was dating men at least 20 years older and it was fine. Wink Martindale was chasing me around, and that’s how I met the rest of the music world. KFWB was the big radio station and we hung out at an Italian restaurant named Martoni’s. That’s where I met everyone. We were about 18 at the time but we were hanging around all the older guys.
PR: Were you still living at home in the Valley?
DDM: As soon as I could I left home and never looked back. Of course it was easy because I started dancing on HAGG and had lots of money. I bought that Corvette and lived in the Hollywood Hills. Frank Zappa was a good friend. I’m still good friends with his wife Gail.
RS: It’s not uncommon for women to look back on their teen years and think, “Lordy, even though I thought I knew what I was doing, I really had no idea!” Do you ever have that feeling?
DDM: Absolutely not! Mimi and I always had the upper hand in everything. We called the shots and we never put ourselves in harm’s way. If you hang with sleazy people maybe, but we were with the best of the best. I always picked the smartest people in the room. We hung with artists and writers and musicians. No problem. I only learned from all the older men I knew.
Dee Dee Sharp
PR: How did the Hollywood A Go Go show discover you?
DDM: Bill Gazzarri found me dancing at his nightclub.
PR: That’s the guy whose nightclub the troupe was named for. What was he like?
DDM: Bill Gazzarri was a sleazeball. He had no idea what was happening. But Al Burton, the producer of HAGG, knew him. And Mimi and I were asked by Al Burton if we wanted to dace on a TV show. So we went down. There was never an audition — we just started dancing. And then we started on the show.
PR: Was it Al Burton who really shaped the show?
DDM: Al Burton designed the show to look like a nightclub, with the low lighting. But once the show got started, he was really never around so I don’t know what he was like. Anyway, he hired Mimi and me and that’s the last we saw of him. No auditions at all. Funny, because Mimi and I were the only two dancers who were on the show from the beginning to the end.
PR: How about the costumes and hair?
DDM: The clothes were men’s clothes from Sy Devore. And the hair was pure ‘60s rock and roll.
PR: I have to ask about your hair in particular. It’s a really iconic look. How’d you come up with that?
DDM: My hair was a product of the times. It was mainly my own creation and look for sure, although Gene Shacove would say differently.
PR: I feel like I know that name.
DDM: Gene Shacove was a famous hairdresser in Beverly Hills. The movie “Shampoo” was written about him. He was my hairdresser at the time.
PR: Oh, him, right. Was he a legend already?
DDM: He was the top hairdresser in Hollywood. But a legend? No. You only become a legend later in life.
PR: What was the first episode of the show like?
DDM: I wish we had a copy of the first show. It starred Jerry Lee Lewis and I can remember it so well. He was playing the piano and his hair was long and it all came down. What a sight.
PR: What did the dance troupe consist of initially?
DDM: We started out with four girls and three boys. Oscar Williams was the choreographer. That lasted about four shows and then all the boys were tossed out.
DDM: I’m not sure, but I imagine they just wanted to go with an all-girl troupe.
PR: How about the dancing? Was it like what I think of as “Gazzarri girl dancing” right from the start?
DDM: It started off slow. It evolved into the wild dancing later, as the times progressed.
PR: How did a typical show came together?
DDM: We had a five day work week, with rehearsals every day and then taping the show on Saturday.
PR: When did you get the music?
DDM: We had the music on Monday, and we worked out the routines to them during the week. We never met any of the performers until they came in to perform. All the music was recorded, and everyone lip-synced. We taped the show on Saturdays, on Melrose at KHJ Studios, which was right next to Nickodell’s Restaurant. We also put Lucy’s El Adobe on the map.
PR: Lots of retakes?
DDM: No retakes really unless something went extremely wrong. Still, taping the show took all day and into the night, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. The show itself aired on Saturday night at 9 p.m. I never saw the show on TV, as we went out after the taping and ate and danced.
PR: Were there lots of breaks for camera setup changes and costume changes?
DDM: We didn’t stand around for costume changes, and we didn’t have our hair redone either, although we did go in for hair and makeup at the start of each show and we did some primping along the way. It was a whirlwind, for sure, but we were oblivious to it.
PR: Did most of you manage to be good team players?
DDM: We weren’t divas at all and we kept mostly to ourselves. But there was a lot of mischief and fun. The cameramen were constantly taking boob shots and crotch shots of us and we would yell at them to stop. The show was very racy for sure.
PR: What was your emcee, Sam Riddle, like? Did he have anything to do with the creative side of the show?
DDM: We thought Sam Riddle was a big joke. He was so unhip it hurt. He had nothing to do with creating the show at all. I barely ever talked to him.
PR: You and Mimi are definitely the main presences among the girls. Does that reflect the reality on the job? What were the other girls like?
DDM: Mimi and I ran the show. Of the girls who came and went, of course there were some ditzy girls as well as girls that just were wrong. The ones who were wrong were out very quickly.
PR: Any examples?
DDM: I’m reluctant to go into the bad cases, but it’s just basic that when you have more than five people in a group at one time there will always be one asshole. So there were some nasty scenes for sure. Mimi and I were always displeased with someone, and the other girls came and went as we saw fit.
PR: Which girls would you say were the ensemble’s core?
DDM: June, Mimi, Jacqui and I were the solid ones for most of the show. Being tall and blond, I kind of stuck out, so I was the star.
PR: Interesting that the show left the dancers so much to run yourselves.
DDM: No one told us what to do. They created us but then we owned ourselves.
The Lovin’ Spoonful
PR: What was the music you personally liked best at that time?
DDM: Of course The Stones!!!!! If Bob Dylan had been famous enough or the show was hipper I would have been into him. And of course the rock and roll of the Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield. I got into Roy Orbison and all that later.
PR: Who was the nicest of the musical performers you actually worked with?
DDM: I don’t know about “nice,” but we befriended Tina Turner in the ladies’ bathroom and she told us Ike had beat her up. We told her she had to leave him and we invited her to go out with us that night. After the show we went out and danced all night at the Trip.
PR: Did a lot of the musician guys come on heavy to you?
DDM: I was too into myself to interact with the acts.
PR: What? The musicians didn’t do their best to bed you? You’re crushing all my dreams about the rock ‘n’ roll life.
DDM: Oh, sure, every guy came on to me. But I was just into my own world, and I always had my own plans.
PR: Let’s talk a bit about the process of making the dances.
DDM: We had all week to cook up routines. After a while, Oscar was out as choreographer, and then I brought my friend Toni Basil in to do some routines. Our final choreographer was Jacqui Landrum.
PR: Toni Basil, famous for “Hey, Mickey” and for choreographing and co-directing the early Talking Heads video “Once In a Lifetime”? I love her.
DDM: Toni was a friend from the early days, but she was too hip for the room even at HAGG. I don’t really remember why she quit but her time there was brief.
PR: One thing I like about HAGG is that, while you all look fab, I also feel like I can smell a little genuine girl-sweat.
DDM: A little sweat! Please. We were sweating all over! But we barely noticed it. In some of the videos, I look like hell because we just did not care what we looked like. It was all about the dancing, always.
The Bobby Fuller 4
PR: Who choreographed the “I Fought the Law” routine? Which, by the way, I consider to be one of Western Civ’s true high points.
DDM: Jacqui Landrum did the routine for “I Fought the Law.”
PR: What was Jacqui like?
DDM: She was a good friend. We lived together for a while up on Grape Place. We both had fastback Corvettes and would race up the hills all the time. She was an accomplished dancer and could out-dance us all. I would have loved to talk to her today but she passed away in 2008. She was a good friend and she was never a bossy choreographer.
PR: Does the routine as we see it on YouTube convey what you rehearsed pretty well?
DDM: If you watch the video I drop a gun and one of the dancers on the floor hands it to me. Many people have pointed that out on YouTube. Jacqui also drops a gun at one time.
PR: The guns are so cute.
DDM: There was no objection to using guns then. Weird. No one cared.
PR: What did you/everyone feel distinguished HAGG from other pop music/dance shows? What was the show’s “angle,” so to speak?
DDM: The show was nothing like anything else on TV. The other shows were bubble gum while ours was down, dirty and raunchy. We had the low lights to make the show look like a club, and the feeling generally was magical. The feeling was what people talked about when they talked about the show. It was very hip for the times. The show caused an uproar wherever it debuted.
PR: How did the Gazzarri Dancers differ from other dancer-groups that were around at the time? To my eye, a lot of the other go-go troupes were cute in their own way, but heartier, or more athletic, or squarer. You girls look more feminine, more poetic … And, let’s face it, sexier. Fair?
DDM: Are you kidding? We were the first hippies on TV. There was no one like us at all. We were trendsetters for sure, and no one knew how to deal with it. All the other dancers were just plain LAME. We were free and wild, and everyone knew there was something going on. It was the start of everything in music that had to do with the Beatles, the Stones and all else cool. Woodstock would be next!!
PR: What was your private life like at the time?
DDM: I was dating Michael Clarke, who was in the Byrds, most of that time. I knew everyone in the music world. I met the Byrds and knew them all, of course. Of course the whole music scene changed while Hollywood A Go Go was on the air. It started with people like the Crickets and ended with the Rolling Stones.
PR: Those are some big changes in a short time.
DDM: This was my era for sure. I was around for the forming of Buffalo Springfield and the Lovin’ Spoonful. Erik Jacobsen was one of my first boyfriends. He produced the Spoonful and later went on to produce Chris Isaak. We were just living the wave. We never thought about the future. Some made it, some did not!
PR: Can’t get more “hippie” than the Byrds. Lots of drugs?
DDM: I took acid and danced on the show high a few times. People wrote me fan letters asking what I was on, and I would laugh and say “Nothing!” Acid was still legal at that time, as no one knew what it really was. Other than that, I don’t remember anyone having a problem with drugs at all.
PR: How much of the hippie thing was apparent to you at the time of HAGG? I ask partly because the hippie movement didn’t along until a few years later on the East Coast.
DDM: We were the forerunners of it, for sure. We really didn’t know it at first, though.
PR: Was it a cool feeling to catch the wave so early?
DDM: It’s very exciting to know you know something no one else knows. But all things must end as more assholes climb aboard. It was only a few years until the whole thing was over for me, and I was living at Jack Nicholson’s with Mimi and we were thrown into the film world. I was giving the finger instead of the peace sign very early on. By Woodstock I was really over it. Don’t get me wrong — it was great, but those people ruined the whole thing for us who started it.
PR: How did the show come to an end?
DDM: One day they said “It’s over,” and that was it. No explanation. Boom, it was over.
PR: At the time, did you expect rock ‘n’ roll to live forever?
DDM: You never really think these things will endure.
PR: I was in the punk scene in NYC years later, and we seriously thought we were putting rock ‘n’ roll to its final death. What a surprise that it survived us.
DDM: When disco came in I thought I would die.
PR: Aggh, disco. How’d you react to it? I tried to find it campily amusing but didn’t succeed.
DDM: I hated disco with a passion.
PR: Fun to see on YouTube how many young people love watching your old clips.
DDM: It’s great, isn’t it? My nephews were introduced to Jackson Brown and Tim Hardin when they were young. Now they wish they’d lived in the ‘60s because nothing will ever reach that level. It still is the best music on the planet.
PR: By comparison to contempo pop numbers, the HAGG shows and numbers have a great spirit of truly carefree fun. How do you account for that?
DDM: I think the word is “real.” No BS. We just danced our hearts out.
PR: I gather from a lot of the comments on the videos on YouTube that tons of people (galz and guyz both) are just enraptured by the HAGG numbers. Why, do you suppose? Because they’re so sweet?
DDM: I don’t think they were sweet so much as raw and full of feeling. We let it all hang out.
PR: How do the dancers in current pop culture strike you — the dancing in current music videos and ads?
DDM: I find most of it so commercial, and so thought-out. It leaves no room for real emotions.
PR: When did you register you’d become a star?
DDM: I never saw the show at all. I did see the fan mail and people on the street, but I never thought I was a big star. And I wasn’t a big star.
PR: Still, you must have gotten some feedback from the outside world.
DDM: Oh, sure. There were fan clubs all over the world, as well as a big prison following. Weird!!
PR: Prisoners dug the show?
DDM: The prisoners wrote us notes, and they were very graphic in nature. And, as I said, Jack Nicholson was a huge fan of the Gazzarri Dancers.
PR: How did you get wind that Jack Nicholson dug the dancers?
DDM: Let me straighten the chronology out. Mimi and Jack fell in love.
DDM: It was like out of a movie. Mimi and I went to a store and took the wrong package home. Jack came to Mimi’s house and returned it. He came in, and we were both there, and he looked at us and said, “You’re the girls from Hollywood A Go Go.” And we laughed.
PR: Not everyone has a story to tell about the day Jack Nicholson came over to return a package.
DDM: Jack was like no one we had ever met. He told us that all his friends watched the show every Saturday and were in love with the Gazzarri Dancers. We were thrilled. The rest is history.
PR: Did any other celebs get in touch?
DDM: The designer Mary Quant saw the show, which was syndicated all over the world. It went on in Ireland and off in the same week. Anyway, she liked what she saw and she sent me an early miniskirt. I put it on and wore it on Sunset. People screamed at me.
PR: They screamed?
DDM: What a trip. To say my miniskirt caused a riot is an understatement. It was just above the knees by about three inches. I wore it on the show and then I went out to Sunset Blvd., and people were screaming at me. Really. It was so empowering.
PR: It sounds like you didn’t feel too objectified or exploited by the experience.
DDM: The rush I got because I was on the cutting edge of something big was really unreal. When I tell that story people cannot believe it because now it’s impossible to shock anyone with anything. I’m sorry it’s come to that. Back then, people were really incensed. No one was coming on to me because they were angry!!!
PR: Still, the Gazzarri Dancers were incredibly sexy. Did the men’s magazines ever ask any of you to pose?
DDM: We did only what the show wanted us to do. We had no manager of our own, which was crazy. And no one asked us to do anything.
PR: That seems insane.
DDM: Things are so different now. But then we got no offers to do anything from the show. Later I did some modeling in New York with Jerry Shore, a talented photographer and filmmaker, and I also did a few commercials, including a fabulous print ad for some cigarettes.
PR: After the show ended, what did you do?
DDM: After the show went off the air, we started a dance act called “The Movement”. We were very serious — we didn’t want to do backup for anyone.
PR: Was the hope to be a featured theatrical act in your own right — “An Evening With The Movement,” something like that?
DDM: Yes. We thought we would be the featured act, but no one else saw it that way. “The Movement” was very political I might add, and no one was ready for it. Jacqui paid us for a full year of rehearsals, and she paid for all the costumes. Her parents, who lived in Truesdale, were well off.
PR: Now that you’ve finally gotten around to watching Hollywood A Go Go thanks to YouTube, how does it strike you?
DDM: This is really the craziest thing. At the time I never saw the show — and now I watch them all. I have more fans today then I ever had before. I get a shout out from at least one or two people a day. I am amazed at the show and I have no idea why people thought it was so racy. My god, we are wearing men’s clothes in most of the videos! There is no skin at all. But I love that we’re nothing like the bubble-gum bimbos on the other shows.
PR: We’ll leave your post-HAGG life for another time. But can we sketch it in in very general terms?
DDM: Jack Nicholson is still a very good friend. Jack and Mimi stayed together for a few years but I lived at his house after she left. After that I went to Europe. I skiied for a couple of years, and I got involved in movies. At various times I worked with Peter Sellers and Eric Rohmer. I’ve been visiting Mexico since 1985. I love it here.
PR: I noticed on the Gazzarri Dancers website a photo of you next to Judy Henske. She was the ultimate beatnik chick singer. Were you guys friends?
DDM: That photo was taken in Tijuana. Yes, she was a good friend and one of the smartest women I have ever met. What a great girl she was.
PR: Thanks for taking the time to do this. I hope to check in again.
DDM: It’s been great! It was a stroll down memory lane for sure.
Many thanks to De De Mollner for taking the time to share some of her stories and thoughts with us. Please let any of your friends who are into dance, fashion or rock history know about this interview.