Fanchon & Marco

I have tried to investigate a lot of ancillary history about the people that have been involved with Fox Theaters. One of the biggest names listed as performers at the Atlanta Fox was Fanchon and Marco. Over the years a lot of mis-information has been told about the relationship between the Fox Theaters and the Wolffs.  For years, a lot of us were told that Fanchon and Marco personally directed the Fox's house dance troupe, but in reality there were many Fanchon and Marco dance troupes, some of which would perform on a travelling "circuit" while other troupes were based in a single location like the Atlanta Fox.  

In doing some reseach on Fanchon and Marco. I was amazed at how important thier company became. There are scores of web sites that show how far their influence across North America was. While I found a lot of information about individual shows and productions, I found very little about Fanchon and Marco themselves.

Finally, I discovered their family web site, where it states; "Fanchon and Marco Wolff were extraordinary persons. They were deeply religious, and did not drink, smoke, or swear. Even the stagehands watched their language when they were around. They were adventurous, self taught, and hard working. They had a strong commitment to their brothers and parents. They were true pioneers of Show Business."

Fanny Wolff was born in 1894. Her brother Mike was born one year later in 1895. Their father was the proprietor of a Los Angeles clothing store. In their youth, Fanny studied the piano while Mike learned the play the violin. Together, they got their start in show business in 1919 as a ballroom dance team under the name of Fanchon (Fanny) and Marco (Mike), entertaining at lodge parties and picnics. Later they "graduated" to a dinner show in Tait's famed San Francisco restaurant. What became their signature trademark was at the finale of their show where Marco would play the violin while Fanny sat on his shoulders. 

In 1921 Fanchon and Marco formed the Fanchon & Marco Vaude-Film Production Company with Marco as it's president. They augmented their show by adding other specialty acts. As demand grew, they organized a second production troupe. the two troupes coalesced into a single stage group performing a production called Sunkist which found its way to Broadway in New York. 

After the great success of Sunkist, Fanchon and Marco decided to create travelling production troupes in 1923 specifically aimed at the burgeoning movie theater industry that offered live shows in addition to films. Fanchon & Marco offered their troupes at a reasonable price, equipped and rehearsed the troupes in Hollywood before sending them out complete with costumes, scenery and songs. Their studio on Sunset Boulevard near Western became a factory for their "mass produced" 15-minute shows called "Ideas". They were very elaborate productions, usually performed before the feature film.  There were up to 52 new "Idea" productions a year, which included elaborate staging, vaudeville acts and dance performances all related to a single theme or concept.  The highlight of the performances were always the the glamorous female dancing troupes that were all called the Sunkist Beauties.

Fanchon was the creative brains of the outfit. She built shows around novel production numbers, blending costumes and tunes to whatever the girls were doing. They came out on bicycles, skates and skis. They wore bunny costumes, appeared disguised as flowers, birds or animals. The troupes performed throughout the continental United States and Canada. Movie theaters that featured live acts in their movie presentation purchased franchises and recruited local talent to form their own line of "Sunkist Beauties" such as at the Atlanta Fox. The Atlanta Fox proudly proclaimed their Sunkist Beauties as all being from the local Atlanta area.

While the Atlanta dance troupe did not regularly travel to California, Fanchon and Marco would regularly send the troup new dance numbers and costumes in which to perform. I do not know how often the dance routines were changed or rotated about, or if a company representative would come to Atlanta to instruct the troup.

Fanchon & Marco, Inc. snowballed into a large vast production empire. It continued to growand expand at a fast pace until the Great Depression began in 1929. During that time many of the theatres that had purchased F&M franchises went bankrupt. In order to keep troups performing, Fanchon & Marco became theatre operators themselves. They managed many theatres on the West Coast in addition to continuing to produce many travelling road acts such as the "Fanchonettes" that performed in their own theaters as well as others. As part of their policy of managing failed movie theaters, in 1934, Fanchon and Marco entered into a 25 year lease to manage the St. Louis Fox Theatre that was one of the legenardy "Super Fox" Theatres.

Over the years, Fanchon and Marco found many former Sunkist Beauties continued on in show business to become famous. Cyd Charisse (at age 12), Joan Crawford, Dorothy Lamour, Judy Garland (while she performed with her sisters as one of The Gumm Sisters), Doris Day, Donald O'Conner, Janet Gaynor, Bing Crosby, Martha Raye, June Knight, Mitchell & Durant, Eleanore Whitney, and Johnny Downs were all once F&M entertainers. In additon to managing and producing, Fanchon & Marco also owned a franchised Dance Studio company that used the Fanchon and Marco name, just like the Fred Astaire chain. It was at one of these dance studios that a young Lucille Ann "Johnnie" Collier would learn to dance before going on to become the great film star Ann Miller.

Fanchon eventually became a movie studio choreographer and producer for Paramount Studios. Fanny holds the distinction of being the first female producer at a major studio in Hollywood. She produced films at Paramount, Republic, and Twentieth Century-Fox. She married William H. Simon, the proprietor of a string of Los Angeles dairy luncheon restaurants. They adopted two children.

Fanny died in 1965. Marco died in 1977.

Please visit the Fanchon and Marco official family website!! This link will open up in a new web window or tab, depending on your browser's settings.

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