Dancing To Faust

The visuals seemed odd.

While researching my first book, River of January, I discovered that Helen, a professionally trained dancer, and central figure in the memoir, performed with a professional troupe in the opera, Faust. The 1932 engagement, in Erba, Italy had been booked back in New York through the William Morris Agency before the girls set sail.

What hung me up was Satan needing backup dancers, and I wrote the episode in that spirit. Grand jetes’ and Beelzebub made strange stage partners.

Then, out of nowhere, I heard the opera played on NPR–specifically the ballet piece, composed by Charles Gounod. Listening to the music piqued my interest in finding video footage of the ballet. And I got lucky thanks to YouTube. Below is a clip of the ballet with a central character, Marguerite, Faust’s love, who has taken vows in a convent. And the dancing is beautiful.

It is lovely.


Helen (lower left) and her mementos from the performance in Erba, September, 1932

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight, available at www.river-of-january, and also available on Amazon.com

Eyes of the Beholder


Is he trying to hold her hand? I have stared, examined, and analyzed this snapshot a zillion times and wonder what Grant is thinking about Helen.

Pictured above was the Vaudeville team of Garrett & Thompson–a team of hoofers out of Los Angeles touring Depresson-era America. Cracking jokes, singing, and of course blending in Helen’s ballet talent, the two traveled from here to there earning scarce cash to get by.

River of January  is not a romance novel (not that there is anything wrong with those). However the story does include the twenty-something search for love, finding flirtations along the path to adulthood. Grant Garrett became Helen’s first passion–the team leader, writer, and choreographer. She was very young, just eighteen, when she fell under the spell of her partner.

Since the publication of the book, I’ve asked readers their views on this chapter, on Grant Garrett. One young lady admitted she had a “crush” on Grant. A man-friend dismissed the dancer as a “cad.” Many others simply want to know what became of this debonaire song and dance man. (I smile and reply “Book Two).

His letters reveal much on his growing ardor concerning Helen. He fell hard for her and desperately wanted to make her his wife. But that never happened. What does that say about Helen? What does that reveal about the smitten suitor? Was it love? Was it for the moment? Was he actually a cad?

That is the beauty of releasing a book. It immediately becomes the property of the reader, and in more ways than a purchase. All whose eyes rake the pages decide for themselves the quality and nature of the characters, and their intentions.

As for me, I too have a crush on Grant. His letters entertained me all through the research for this creative nonfiction work. A handsome face, and razor sharp sense of humor, and an eagerness for success are hard for this writer to resist.

Now for my pitch: If you have read River, please comment on the smooth operator pictured above. I’d love, LOVE, to hear your opinions on his character.