Nana Ruth Gollner (Jan 8th 1919 – Aug 30th 1980)
I was rummaging through some more of Shirlie’s old letters when I came across a couple from “Nana Ruth.” At first I thought this was someone of her parent’s generation … “Nana” usually being a nickname for “grandma.” But when I read one of the letters, Nana wrote: “Shirley (sic) you must keep this a secret but next summer I may go to Europe on a dancing concert tour. Of course we would play America first. I am going to be the solo dancer of a small ballet for Mr. Kasloff. Wouldn’t that be great? I’m wild to go.” I just had to follow up on this!
So I discovered who Nana Ruth Gollner was. She was a remarkable lady. Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1919, Gollner was stricken with infantile paralysis at age two. One leg was severely affected, and an El Paso doctor suggested that instead of an operation Nana should try walking in sand. As Nana got stronger, the doctor also thought that daily ballet lessons would help … little Nana took to the dancing lessons with glee. By the age of eight, most signs of her paralysis were gone.
In 1927 or 1928, the Gollners moved to Los Gatos, California. This is where Nana Ruth Gollner met Shirlie Alice Montgomery. The two hit it off right away. (I remember Shirlie mentioning Ruth in conversation.) They both took ballet lessons and in 1929, the two girls were cast as Blossom Princesses in the Saratoga Blossom Festival.
|Shirlie & Ruth Blossom Festival - Oakland Tribune Mar 21, 1929|
The first letter I have is dated Feb 25th 1928. Nana was but nine years old. She was on her way to San Francisco on the train on her way to see Queen Mary’s Dollhouse.
Have you heard of the queen’s doll house? If you have not here is the story. Queen Mary of England has a doll house, that was given to her by a man. It has the very best of arts. The little piano is so small that it has to be played by tooth picks but a tune can be played. It has real books. The doll house has fifteen rooms in all. I am going to see it today, and in my next letter I’ll let you know more about it. Queen Mary of England has named it Titiana’s Palace. It took the man twenty years to finish it. I guess it is a beauty.
Nana Ruth also mentions that she is writing short stories and she included one she wrote in the envelope for Shirlie.
Once open a time there was a king who had a Prince, and a queen who had a Princess. One day the king and queen married.
The princess who was very beautiful was then taken to the ball and so was the prince. At first sight of the Princess the Prince fell in love with her. At the ball there were three wise men who told the life of the Prince and Princess. They told the king that the Princess would bring them bad luck. So the king had the Princess put in prison.
One day when the Prince heard of this he went around the street telling poiple what had happened. Finally he had quit a large army. They marched up against the king and made him tell them where the Princess was. When he did this and they found her the king was put in her place.
The queen was so glat to see her Princess that even though she dident like the Prince she gave them permission to marry. This they did and lived happily ever after.
Both the letter and the story are exceptional for a nine year old to write.
The second letter is the one that had caught my attention. It is undated, but probably early 1930s, as Nana Ruth started her professional career at the age of 14 (c1933). In the letter she says she in living in Hollywood and working at the studio … Kosloff Studio on Bronson & Franklin.
From Los Gatos by Peggy Conaway 2004 Arcadia Publishing
Nana Ruth Gollner went on to have a long and successful career, both as a ballerina and as a ballet teacher. During the 1940s she appeared alternately with the American Ballet Theatre, the Ballet Russe and the London-based International Ballet, becoming the first twentieth-century North American to gain prima ballerina roles in a European company. In 1952nshe moved to Belgium with her husband (Danish dancer Paul Eilif Petersen), where she lived until her death in Antwerp in 1980.
Shirlie led a truly
interesting life and met some remarkable people along the way. Nana Ruth
Gollner was another of those over-achievers that crossed paths with Shirlie.
|From an article in LIFE Magazine Feb 19, 1940|