Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Women of Wednesday--You're How Old?

Tomorrow will be 114th anniversary of the birth of dancer, and founder of the American Ballet Theatre, Lucia Chase. Or is it the 104th? Was she born in 1897 or 1907? Hmmm...some discrepancy in my sources. I wonder why? The International Dictionary of Ballet lists her year of birth as 1907; could it have printed the date wrong?

I found a profile of Chase, "Angel of the Ballet," from an August 1, 1948 newspaper supplement called The American Weekly. In it Chase's age is mentioned more than once as 47, and the writer implies that her birth occurred in 1901 when he tells us, "Seven-year-old Lucia Chase approached her father that day in 1908." Could the reporter, Jack Stone, have gotten it wrong?

Here's a little hint from a book by her son, Alex C. Ewing (Alex is referring to the year 1980 here):
She never admitted her age (in fact, she went to considerable lengths to conceal it), but claimed she acted this way for professional reasons: if everyone knew her true age, they might begin to question whether she was still capable of directing a major ballet company.

Yet there was probably a more fundamental explanation: like a great many people, Lucia was afraid of growing old. "Old" and "Lucia" were a contradiction in terms.
Her son sets the record straight, her year of birth was 1897.

I wrote a profile of Lucia Chase for one of the "America's Notable Women" series books. In doing several women for the series I've found that there are times when the hardest fact to uncover is the exact year of birth!

In some cases the birth records no longer, or never did, exist. In other cases there are errors in the resources. And, in yet others, the answer is plain and simple vanity!

So, we writers do the best we can, but we can't always be certain, that's why you may find a "c" in front of a date on a woman's timeline. "C" is for circa meaning "around." For some women there is a way "around" the truth!

Here's another anecdote Ewing shared in his book: In 1983, his mother had a massive stroke and she was rushed to the hospital
At one point along the way, an attendant in the ambulance, anxious to find out how badly off she was, asked a few basic questions. What was her name? What day of the week was it? Lucia mumbled some answers that were barely intelligible until he asked her age.

Quick as a flash, Lucia spoke up: "Who wants to know?"

"The doctor."

"Well, then the doctor can ask me," she snapped, and shut her eyes.
[By the way, in the photo on the book cover, Chase is 63 and still dancing!]



Barbara said...

Looks like the old sixty was just as good as the new sixty!

Sally said...

My beloved grandmother lied about her age all her adult life, had an elaborate story about how the midwife recorded births in bunches and had accidentally gotten her mixed up with a sibling who died in infancy, etc - all because she couldn't admit to being older than my grandfather. She made us swear there would be no date of birth on her headstone - and there isn't. . . .

Andy said...

If I was going to lie about my age, I'd do it in the other direction. Yup, I was born in 1934. I look fantastic for 77, don't you think?

Diane said... have a point, there, Andy!

Good for your grandmother, Sally. It's only a number afterall.

I should look so good at 61 as Lucia looked at 63!

I'm Jet . . . said...

I'm with you, Andy. I say go the other way.

(You look Marvelous!!!!)

Good post, Diane!