Classic Movie Travels: Hal LeRoy – New Jersey
The Golden Age of Hollywood boasted many wonderful dancers, with some remembered more than others. While often overlooked, Hal LeRoy was one of the top dancers in early Hollywood, often appearing in early Vitaphone and Warner Brothers shorts.
John LeRoy Schotte was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 10, 1913, where he learned tap dancing from an African-American friend. The two boys sold newspapers in town and attempted to imitate the latest vaudeville acts that passed through town. While lanky in frame and possessing a strong overbite, LeRoy excelled in dancing and enthusiastically danced in venues throughout Cincinnati. His first professional job would occur as part of the Hoboken Heroes at the Lyric Theater in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1928, thanks to his dancing teacher, Ned Wayburn.
Later, he secured work in the 1931 Broadway show, The Gang’s All Here, and soon found himself working for the Ziegfeld Follies. There, LeRoy was encouraged to develop his own choreography to entertain the crowd. As he devised routines in advance and on-the-spot, he delighted audiences with his dancing abilities. While working on the Broadway circuit, he befriended Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who would invite him along to various dancing clubs and test his skills.
Thanks to his reputation within the Follies, LeRoy soon worked in film shorts for Vitaphone in Vitaphone’s Brooklyn studio, where he would appear in musical shorts alongside other up-and-coming starlets including June Allyson and June Preisser. Throughout the 1930s, he also appeared in stage productions such as Thumbs Up (1935), Too Many Girls (1939), and Count Me In (1942). In addition, he performed regularly in reviews, vaudeville, and in the New York nightclub scene.
In 1935, LeRoy found himself in a poor financial situation, which caused him to sue his father. He found that when he married his dancing partner, Ruth Dodd, his father withdrew $70,000, which had been on deposit per LeRoy’s late mother. As his relationship with his father became strained, LeRoy and his wife lived with her in-laws in the 1940s.
Despite this challenge, LeRoy continued to appear in films and in shows throughout the 1930s and 1940s at notable venues such as Radio City Music Hall, the Capitol Theatre, and more. He maintained a role in the film version of Too Many Girls but also played the title role in a series of Harold Teen films for Warner Brothers. When television arrived, he was chosen to be a featured performer for Bob Hope’s television premiere. On the side, he also appeared in summer stock and supper club productions such as Show Boat, Where’s Charley?, and High Button Shoes until he became ill.
By the 1960s, LeRoy turned to directing, as he did not maintain the energetic physicality he needed for his dancing style. As a result, he directed an off-Broadway show called Summer’s Here and a musical version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1966.
LeRoy passed away on May 2, 1985, following heart surgery in Hackensack, New Jersey. He left behind no heirs and his funeral arrangements were private.
To this day, not many tributes to LeRoy remain. The home he lived in during the 1940s does remain at 495 Maywood Ave in Maywood, New Jersey. Here is the property today:
The best way to remember him is to not only view his films but to also enjoy the rare musical shorts in which he appeared—many of which are available to viewers thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Vitaphone Project.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.
Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.