Diary of a chorus girl at the Ned Wayburn Dance Studios, 1927

Diary of a chorus girl at the Ned Wayburn Dance Studios, 1927

[Wayburn, Ned (1874-1942)]. Miller, Maude Eloisa Driver (1897-1976). Diary of Maude Miller, a student at the Ned Wayburn Dance Studios. New York, 1927. 47 pp. of cursive text occupying about one-third of the leaves of an otherwise blank journal, 12 x 9 in. Bound in woodblock print paper over boards with ribbon ties to margin. Small stationer's label from Dante Gambinossi, 605 Madison Ave. Mild, sporadic foxing to contents. Overall very good condition. Laid in are three leaves likely from another journal, along with several telegrams from Maude Miller's husband and various travel ephemera.


     A richly detailed manuscript journal kept by a student during her 1927 course of study at the legendary Ned Wayburn Studios in New York City offering fascinating insight into the experience of a hopeful chorine.


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Ned Wayburn (The Art of Stage Dancing, frontispiece)


     Ned Wayburn sported an extensive resume both as a teacher and a choreographer. As an impresario, he staged a number of shows in the first decades of the twentieth century, and fostered the careers of such iconic performers as Fred Astaire, Fanny Brice, Jeanette MacDonald, Groucho Marx, and Mae West. Between 1915 and 1923 he served as the principal choreographer for the Ziegfeld Follies. His stage routines popularized such social dances as the Turkey Trot, the Black Bottom, and the Charleston. Wayburn was “a unique figure,” according to dance historian Barbara Stratyner, “who extended both the boundaries of his art and its expression as popular entertainment.”

     In 1923, Wayburn took leave of his work as a producer and stage choreographer and returned to teaching, opening a studio at 1841 Broadway to teach his dance technique, which he codified in a book, The art of stage dancing, published in six editions between 1923 and 1936. He published a home-study course in stage dancing in 1926 for amateurs and teachers, but for those who hoped to pursue a professional career there was no substitute for personal instruction.


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Class in Dancing Foundation Technique at the Ned Wayburn Studios (The Art of Stage Dancing, p. 63)


     The present journal offers a rare glimpse of the Wayburn studios from the perspective of one of his students, Maude Miller. The entries in the volume date from June to August 1927, at which point she returned to San Francisco.  Diary entries on loose leaves laid into the journal are dated February 1927, and their content suggest that Miller was taking classes as early as January 1927. The journal is significant not only for the insight it offers into the young hopefuls who hoped to break into Broadway, but also for what it reveals about Wayburn's own career. Stratyner notes that there is little evidence to document Wayburn's activities as a producer after 1923, but this diary suggests that he used his dance studio to furnish productions with a steady supply of well trained chorus girls.

     Miller's diary includes her notes on the "Black Bottom" and other dance routines, and extensive remarks on her instructors and fellow students, whom she refers to by a variety of colorful nicknames -- Grape Juice, Socks, Milwaukee, Bo Peep, Taffie. Some samples:


"Twinkletoes Colleen Moore in my musical comedy class last month." (February 21, 1927)


"Asked Mr. Y about ballet - and he advised me seriously to return to the beginner's class - and do it seriously so that my body would get into ballet shape ... Had already spoken to Mr. Wayburn, who advised me to do that. ....

     "Mr. W. told us to-day ... he would pay the girls the first year in the Metropolitan district $35.00 a week and 40.00 on the road. The second year $40.00 in the M and $50.00 on the road. I do not think that much. All NY chorus girls get $200.00 a month in Town.

     "Two new shows are going out -- "The Chicks" the first one, and another not as yet named. Am anxious to see who makes them. Almost everyone upstairs wants to be placed." (June 24, 1927) 


"Back to school. Upset about the 10:30 class. When I walked in Lou said, 'My God are you back down here?' About everybody came in -- Fitzgerald, and McKenzie, and Johnny Lonehigan, and Taffie. They all goofed and finally Mr. W arrived. By that time I didn't even know where I was, and was standing very carelessly. He shouted, 'Look how you are standing.' My feet were one way and the rest of me another. The tears rolled down my cheeks." (June 27, 1927)


"Showed Mrs. Wayburn my split and kick and a tap step. Mr. Zockoloff[?] left on Monday for Europe and she is taking his place. Leo [?] on Sat called me after -- he had seen me splitting for Mrs. W. and said 'Maud be careful that you do not split your crotch.'" (July 17, 1927)


"Taffie called 'Maud' as I was bounding up the stage, and when I said 'What?' he said "Hello" and kept calling 'Henry'[?] until I did not know if I was dressed or undressed. ... Dempsey-Sharkey fight to-night." (July 21, 1927)


"The red haired girl who died suddenly last Saturday committed suicide by taking lysol - She was fairly in debt and trying to divorce her husband, etc., which was sad. She was very attractive." (July 28, 1927)


"The black girl from Chicago who is in 3 tap classes - is to be married next month to a boy she has only known three months and her family have never seen. I told her she was foolish. ... Milwaukee (Elenore Trawley) is to be placed in September by Mr. W." (July 29, 1927) 


"During 8:30 M.C. [master class] I suddenly decided that I was leaving school. Packed my shoes, cleaned my locker, and told Tafi who nearly had a stroke, and would not say good-bye. '11:30 Maud to-morrow!' as I went out." (August 2, 1927)


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One of over Twenty Daily Dancing Classes at the Ned Wayburn Studios (The Art of Stage Dancing, p. 44)


     A native of Santa Clara, California, Maude Eloisa Miller (1897-1976) was the daughter of Professor Leon Driver (1868-1932), dean of the conservatory at the College of the Pacific in San Jose, as wells as a music impresario and composer. Her mother was the legendary beauty Abbie Nay Treadwell, née Waters (1876-1912), who married four husbands in her brief life (Maude’s father was her first), and when she died she left her daughter a large estate. In 1913, at age 16 Maude eloped with Chester Miller Martin (1894-1973), the 18-year-old scion of the “ice king” of San Francisco. Reporting on the elopement, a newspaper described the bride thus:


Mrs. Martin is a young woman of the blonde type. She is an accomplished musician having studied under some of the finest instructors in the old world.


The couple divorced in 1915 – being underage, they were represented in court by their parents. In 1917 Maude and Chester remarried, and remained together for the rest of their lives. We have found no record of Maude Miller having pursued a professional career in dance after leaving the Wayburn studios.


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Maude Driver around the time of her marriage (ancestry.com)


     Miller's diary offers a brief but engrossing glimpse behind the footlights of the Great White Way.



Selected references

  • “Maude Driver keeps wedding secret,” Petaluma Daily Mourning Courier 18 Sep 1913, p. 5.
  • “Mrs. Martin is granted divorce,” Petaluma Daily Mourning Courier, 21 Mar 1915, p.1
  • “Petaluma girl weds husband second time,” Petaluma Daily Mourning Courier, 18 Apr 1917, p. 3.
  • Stratyner, Barbara. Ned Wayburn and the dance routine: from vaudeville to the Zeigfeld Follies. Studies in dance history 13. Society of Dance History Scholars, 1996.
  • Wayburn, Ned. The art of stage dancing. New York: Ned Wayburn Studios of Stage Dancing, Inc., 1925.


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