12 Manuscript Diaries by the Launer Sisters, a Traveling Dance Act, 1936 - 1954
12 Manuscript Diaries by the Launer Sisters, a Traveling Dance Act, 1936 - 1954
12 Manuscript Diaries by the Launer Sisters, a Traveling Dance Act, 1936 - 1954
[Theater / Women]. Skougis, Kaye (Kathryn) and Helen

12 Manuscript Diaries by the Launer Sisters, a Traveling Dance Act, 1936 - 1954

Regular price $850.00 $0.00

Grand Rapids, MI, et al: 1936-1954. Sizes range from 5-1/2 x 4 inches to 8-1/4 x 5-1/2 inches. Paginations vary: seven diaries are dated such that one page is one day of the year, plus front matter; two are "five-year diaries", which have one page per day but contain five possible entries per page; three diaries have two dates per page. Both five-year diaries primarily used for just one of the five possible years; all but one of the remaining diaries fully used, or nearly so. Approximately 150,000+ total words.

General wear; heavy gutter breaks two two diaries; majority of textblock detached from one diary and laid in; corner of cover of one diary folded. Good to Very Good overall.

A remarkable record of two sisters' traveling dance act during the late 1930s and postwar era. The sisters, Helen (1923-2017) and Kaye Skougis (b. 1929), who performed as the Launer Sisters, or sometimes the Launer Twins, hailed from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and seem to have primarily performed in small clubs, theaters, dance halls, and even Masonic lodges throughout the American Midwest and Canada. Although they weren't twins, "they looked alike, dressed alike and were inseparable" (obits.mlive.com/us). In 1954, they settled down in Grand Rapids and founded the Helen-Kaye School of Dance, which they operated for 41 years, until 1995.

Kaye is the primary diarist, with all but two diaries (possibly?) being in her hand. She offers succinct, informative reports on the Launer Sisters' performance history and family life, often noting which towns they performed in, how many shows they did in a night, how much they were paid, fellow performers, etc. A typical entry, for instance, reads:

"We're staying at the Howard Hotel and have a very nice room. Our car wouldn't start so we took it to a garage by the parking lot. Rather he towed us in the garage so we've got it there for tonight. He thinks the fuel pump is frozen. ¶ We're working the Capital Theatre here. We did two shows tonight at 7:15 and 9:40. There's five acts: Jimmy Henson(?), M.C. impersonator, Randy Brown, does an act with a paddle & ball, the Song Smiths, two fellow singers, and the Kayoes, a Chinese balancing act" (January 31, 1951).

Another entry, this possibly in Helen's hand, notes that in Grand Haven they performed at the Masonic Lodge for a party "in honor of paying mortgage ... Mrs. Albach played. Numbers - 1890 (H & T) Adagio (H & B) "Me, Myself, & I" + Dance (K), Acrobatics (H), Acrobatics (K), other Acts -- Drills & Comedy. $18.00 | $9.00" (April 29, 1938).

As noted above, the diaries reveal much about not only the Launers' career but also their fellow performers on the small-time variety stage. They also illuminate the sisters' family life -- both their mother and father suffered from health issues, which at times seem to have kept their parents from working and/or racked up big hospital bills, presumably making the sisters' income that much more necessary -- their lives away from the stage (they often report cleaning the house, running errands, etc., on their days off), and their love lives. Kaye, in particular, received particular attention from a man named Jack, several cards from whom are tucked between the pages of the diaries.

The years included here are: 1936, 1938, 1941, 1945, Oct. 1946 - Dec. 1947, and 1948 - 1954.

All in all, these diaries present a considerable wealth of information about two women's lives on the small-time variety circuit in mid-century America, and are ripe for further research.


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