I’ve Been Around (Excerpt from upcoming book of the same name)
By Lawrence Leritz
I arrived in NYC on a Sunday afternoon during the intense summer heat of early July, 1974. David Howard, co-director of Harkness House, recommended that I stay at The East End Hotel, a rundown boarding hotel on the East River near Harkness House, which was located on East 75th off Fifth Avenue. Most of the dancers were there for the six-week intensive summer session.
I was a long way from my small Midwestern hometown. Our first introduction was an audition class to place us in three different class levels. It was held on the main dance studio on the first floor. There sat the directors of Harkness House, David Howard and Maria Vegh.
We were asked to go to the barre, so they could evaluate our technique. I was very nervous, I remember my arm shaking. After several exercises, Maria leaned over to David and asked “Who in the hell is he? Look at that amazing body and leg turnout!” David nodded, “That’s the boy from the Midwest.” As class ended, I was relieved to get out of there, unsure of how I did.
The next morning, we showed up for our first full day of classes. We would also find out our fates. I walked up to the callboard to find out I’d placed in the A group, the top level. I was shocked.
Before our first class, we went to the locker room to change into our dance clothes. Next to me was a friendly guy from Texas. “Hi, I’m Buddy”. We hit it off immediately. Buddy and I shared a lot in common, as Buddy had also already performed professionally, as the prince in Disney on Parade. Later I learned his full name, Patrick Swayze.
Our schedule consisted of four grueling classes a day; ballet, modern dance, jazz and Spanish dance, another favorite of Mrs. Harkness. Even on my most intense schedule in St. Louis, I was taking only five a week! When I returned to the hotel, with my legs were shaking and I could barely walk. One day coming down in the elevator, I had a big surprise. There stood Cary Grant. I couldn’t believe it. And why was he staying in this dump? The hotel manager told me later on that Cary was known for being thrifty.
As the summer progressed, some of the dancers flourished. It was actually an audition period to determine who they would invite back on full scholarship for the fall term. I made a great deal of progress that summer with all the classes and some world class teachers. And I made other friends; Roxanne Messina Captor and I became great pals. Also from the Midwest, we shared a love for musicals. After a career dancing on stage and film, Roxanne also became a successful as a film producer in LA.
As the summer drew to a close, the Harkness staff announced who had made the cut for the fall. We all ran to the call board to find out our fates. Happily, Buddy, Roxanne and the boy from the Midwest had all made the cut!
In Photo: 1) Lawrence Leritz 2) Actor/Dancer Patrick Swayze rehearses with the Harkness Ballet company circa 1976 in New York, New York. 3) Rachael McNurney and Lawrence Leritz performing at Harkness House for Mrs. Harkness in a new work by Harkness dancer Rick MuCullough.