Orange County Register: Pepito, Joanne and Nancy Drew (2010)

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Pepito & Joanne project was the subject of three features and two photo galleries in The Orange County Register and on their website, all of which are reproduced here at PepitoAndJoanne.com. The OC Register is based in my hometown, Santa Ana, California, the same city that Pepito and Joanne called home from 1950 onward.  It is my hope to reach many former students of the Pepito & Joanne Academy of Dance. — Melani Carty

Ex-Student Unlocks Mystery of Couple’s Past

The old house fascinated the girl long after her dancing days there ended. The majestic Victorian – a mansion it seemed – stood on the corner of Ross and 15th streets in Santa Ana. It was there, in the 1970s, that young Melani Motzkus studied dance in the house’s mahogany-paneled studio.

For a girl who loved Nancy Drew, the house – and the couple who lived there, Pepito and Joanne Perez – were sources of mystery.

Who were all those pretty people in all those photos on the walls? What was that glamorous life hinted at by their silent presence?

Who were Pepito and Joanne?

“I was imagining that life, of being in showbiz in the 1920s and 1930s, but I was too shy to ask anything about it,” says a now grown-up Melani Carty.

Some 30 years later, in 2003, Carty, who had moved to Virginia, sat at her home computer and looked up her old teacher’s name on Google. As she searched, Carty could still hear Joanne’s gentle-but-firm soprano count out the dance steps: “… 5-6-7-8!”

Then, when an Orange County phone number popped up on her screen, Carty hesitated. “What if I did pick up the phone? And what if I did talk to her and … ask her about all those pictures?

“I thought ‘She’s probably 300 years old by now’.”

Still, Carty dialed. And Joanne, then 95 and still living in the house where the Pepito and Joanne Academy of Dance had held court for several decades – the house where an aging Joanne had been carried from a wheelchair to her piano bench to greet arriving students – answered.

Carty and Joanne talked for three hours that day, and they had two more phone calls later that summer.

All the while, Carty scribbled notes.


The story Carty learned went something like this:

Jose Escobar Perez and Margaret Janet Zettler – Pepito and Joanne’s real names – were both successful in their own right before they met in Hollywood.

Already a favorite in his native Spain, and a hit as he traveled through Cuba and Mexico, Pepito came to the United States in 1922 and found fame on vaudeville.

Joanne, born in Milwaukee, had hit the stage young. As a child, after her father died, she worked to support her mother and herself, using various stage names as a dancer, contortionist, singer and pianist. In 1926, “Joann Falcy, The Twisting Marvel” played the Yost Broadway Theater at Fourth Street and Broadway in Santa Ana. A Santa Ana Register article described her as “a clever and talented acrobatic dancer, whose reputation is national.”

In 1928, Pepito and Joanne were both hired for a pull-out-the-stops stage show performed at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the live-act opener for the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s silent film, “The Circus.”

Pepito and Joanne teamed up on Chaplin’s suggestion. Their act highlighted Joanne’s flexibility. He’d wheel a wooden box on stage and out would pop Joanne as a “mechanical” doll, who could bend in any direction before being stuffed back in the box.

“She was about 5 (feet), 1 (inch) and maybe 100 pounds. She had a mop of naturally curly blonde hair, alabaster skin and blue eyes,” Carty says. “She already looked like a doll.”

They married six months later and, as a couple, earned as much as $1,000 a week. As the movies killed vaudeville, Pepito and Joanne played nightclubs and other engagements, such as the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago. They vacationed at a cottage in Newport Beach.

They settled in Orange County in 1941, and bought the house in Santa Ana in the early 50s. Joanne taught ballet and Pepito ran a charter fishing business. Pepito’s fishing clients included many of his Hollywood friends – most especially Desi Arnaz.

Pepito and Joanne became close to both Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Pepito helped develop the routine that Desi and Lucy later performed on a tour they undertook to convince sponsors to back their idea for a TV show about a Cuban bandleader married to a zany redhead. Pepito also appeared, later, on “I Love Lucy.”

Pepito and Joanne could not have children of their own. But there were all those girls (and occasional boys) that Joanne taught to dance, and for whom Pepito created fantastic props and sets. They performed shows, with the children, at venues as diverse as the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

“She was a very warm and loving person, but firm about dance classes,” says Shirley Gardner of North Tustin who studied at Pepito and Joanne’s house in the 1950s. Students, Gardner explained, would “do what (Joanne) said” and “didn’t goof around.”

Gardner later befriended Joanne, who was left alone after Pepito died in 1975.

“There aren’t a lot of people as talented as Pepito and Joanne.”


Carty didn’t try to phone Joanne again until about a year after their initial conversations. When Carty tried to find the lost phone number, again using Google, she saw her old teacher’s name attached to an estate sale. Joanne had died in April, 2004.

But that didn’t end Carty’s curiosity.

Two years later, Carty successfully bid on eBay for boxes containing Pepito and Joanne’s old vaudeville contracts, reel-to-reel movies of dance recitals and shows, newspaper clippings, publicity photos and personal snapshots.

“Everything you would wish for if you want to make a documentary is here,” she says.

She set up a website, pepitoandjoanne.com, to chronicle what she’s learned, and to make contact with other former students.

The Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society contacted Carty when they decided to include Pepito as a character in this year’s Historical Cemetery Tour, to be held Oct. 23 at the place where Pepito and Joanne are buried, Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana.

On the tour, costumed actors from Orange County High School of the Arts will perform graveside scenes based on the theme “Strangers In a Strange Land: Immigrants Who Shaped Orange County.”

Pepito has been featured in an earlier Cemetery Tour. But this year’s scene will emphasize the couple’s life together, including their connection to Lucy and Desi.

“For the first time,” Carty says, “she’s the lead and he’s the foil.”

Roberta Reed, co-chair of the tour and treasurer for the Historical Society, adds:

“They were together for 50 years. Really, in a lot of ways, it was Joanne who kept his name alive.”

Now it’s Carty who is keeping alive the names of Pepito and Joanne, piecing together clues from her archive in true Nancy Drew fashion.

“I’m having a ball with this – ‘The Secret of the Old Mansion.'”


Melani Carty invites you to find and reconnect with old friends from Pepito & Joanne days on Facebook. Learn more about the “I Love Lucy” lost pilot episode that includes Pepito Perez doing a clown act. Or read about the 1956 “I Love Lucy: Little Ricky’s School Pageant” episode that included students from the Pepito & Joanne Academy of Dance.

And here’s a Pepito & Joanne Academy of Dance recital at the Balboa Bay Club from 1957. This is a silent film that Melani Carty digitized from an 8 millimeter home movie reel that is part of her Pepito and Joanne collection.


The Orange County Register, October 18, 2010, page 1.



Monday, October 18, 2010

Melani Carty

I want to profusely thank staff writer Theresa Walker, her team leader Andre Mouchard, her deputy editor Rebecca Allen, photo editor Kari Hall, photographer Elizabeth Dodd, and The OC Register’s editor Ken Brusic, for publishing this piece about Pepito & Joanne. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 – 12:08 PM

paloma mansfield

Years ago I went several tiems before the beautiful house and wondered about Pepito. Such a familiar diminutive in my country of origin, Spain. Somehow, in despite of being a faitful O C Register, I missed the articles about Pepito and Joanne. And, lo and behold, this morning, thanks to you, I am connected with such great people and to top it all friends also of my beloved Lucy and Ricky. What richness we have through the web and people like them and you.Now I am wondering about Fermin Valencia, restoring that house. Thanks to him too. I intend to visit often the web and go and look at the house since I live in Fullerton.

May you keep on dancing the beautiful steps that they taught you and sharing your writing and organizing talents with the rest of us.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 – 02:47 PM

Jerry Manson

Dear Melani,

Really enjoyed your interview in the Orange County Register and also your web page.

In the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s I worked at Campbell’s Photo Center on North Main Street in Santa Ana.

Both Joanne and Pepito were are customers.  Whether alone or together I can still remember their stops at the store to have film developed or photos enlarged.

I was even invited to their studio/home.  A wonderful place.

I was A LOT younger back then and didn’t realize what treasurers these folks were.

Keep up the web site it’s like keeping a wonderful & colorful couple alive.

…Jerry Manson

(Using a Mac too!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 – 05:12 PM

Lyn Walker

I saw the great article on Pepito & Joanne in The Register newspaper today.  I was also one of those girls dancing at their studio in the late 60’s early 70’s.  Joanne was fabulous- – and an amazing dancer –of course I thought she was elderly then to me as a kid and she could still do the splits–just amazing!  Rosalind Chao and I were dance partners and Joanne make us work hard. Rosalind of course has gone on to have a very successful acting career.  Pepito and Joanne had a theatrical atmosphere, lots of pictures of Lucy and Desi and wonderful stories to share….truly a great couple!

Thank you so much for such a special website and tribute to them- – my experience with them gave me such wonderful memories … I appreciate all your hard work- — keep it up!  Thanks again.

Lyn Walker

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 – 06:39 PM

Kimberly Kitashima

Hi Melani

I wanted to contact you regarding the website for Pepito and Joanne. I think it is awesome. It brings back a lot of great memories.  I was Miss Joanne’s ballet student for 13 years. I think I might have some more photos that I can send to you.  I already posted a comment on Pepito and Joanne’s Facebook page as well. I can’t tell you all the memories that are rushing back to me. It brings tears to my eyes, tears of joy.  I haven’t danced ballet since the late 80’s but like I said Miss Joanne had a huge impact on me.  You’ve done a great job on the website and your research.  Thank you!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 – 08:29 PM

Lori Coss

I read the article today in The Register and had to smile at all the good memories I have of taking ballet lessons from Joanne in the 60’s.  I probably took lessons from her for five or more years and still remember the studio very well – all of the pictures of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball above the ballet mirrors.  I can also see Joanne sitting at the piano giving us instructions as we pirouetted across the room.  I also remember how she used to demonstrate her doing the splits!!!  I was very impressed!  I went to junior high across the street from her studio so I would occasionally see her in the yard – she never seemed to change.  And as a young girl, I always wondered what it looked like up those grand stairs inside her home.  She must have been in her mid fifties (my age) when I was there,  I also remember seeing Pepito puttering around the house every now and then – he was very nice.  He was Pepito the Clown in some of the I Love Lucy episodes and I do remember making that connection even back then.  I can’t wait to go through this website – it will be fun reminiscing!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 – 01:47 AM

Dennis Halloran

I grew up in that neighborhood and knew the house. I probably delivered the Santa Ana Register or Santa Ana Globe to that house.

I don’t remember meeting them unless it was through St Joseph’s School where I graduated in 1952.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010 – 02:32 PM


Wow…what fun it was to see and hear about Pepito and Joanne. My mom just sent me the article from Oct. 10 in the Register about the project you are doing. I attended the dance studio for about 5 years. Aprox. 1985-1990. I have a lot of pictures and video footage from the different recitals. Let me know if you would like me to send them to you. I have such fond memories of singing and dancing there. It was such an important part of me growing up. Thanks for sharing.

The Cello Museum: Pepito and a Cello Helped Launch One of the Most Popular TV Shows of All Time (2020)

Without this “loaded” cello, the most popular TV show of all time might never have existed.

It was 1951 and due to prejudice in America at the time, it had taken 10 years for Lucille Ball to get a chance to co-star with her Cuban-American husband, Desi Arnaz. CBS gave them only one month to prepare a pilot to see if they could get a sponsor for their TV show. Since they were so short on time and Lucille was about four months pregnant, they decided to use an act they had put together for their vaudeville shows.

They turn to vaudeville – and a vaudeville cello – for inspiration…

Back in the spring of 1950, they decided to see how the public reacted to their acting together, so they put together a “Mr. and Mrs.” vaudeville act. Their friend Pepito Perez, a famous Spanish clown, taught Lucille his act using a cello. This wasn’t just any cello – Pepito had customized it to have special features …


The Cello Museum, https://cellomuseum.org/a-cello-helped-launch-one-of-the-most-popular-tv-shows-of-all-time/

With warm thanks to CelloMuseum.org for the opportunity to be interviewed for this article, and for linking back to PepitoAndJoanne.com.

VIDEO: Lucille Ball Biographer Kathleen Brady Explains Pepito’s Involvement In How “I Love Lucy” Came to Be (2019)

From the “Great Lives” lecture series at Mary Washington University, watch author Kathleen Brady recount the life and career of Lucille Ball, and how the television series “I Love Lucy” was created in 1951. For details on about Pepito’s involvement in the production of the audition (pilot) episode, scroll the video to minute 35:00.

The fascinating story of how the kinescoped recording of the 1951 audition for “I Love Lucy” was “missing” for decades, and later presented to CBS in 1990 by Pepito’s widow Joanne Perez, is the subject of multiple posts on PepitoAndJoanne.com.

Available in paperback and Kindle versions.

About Kathleen Brady

Kathleen Brady is the author of the critically well-received “Lucille, The Life of Lucille Ball.” She also wrote “Ida Tarbell: Portrait of a Muckraker.” In recognition of this work she was named a Fellow of the Society of American Historians. Her website is http://www.kathleenbrady.net. She blogs at presentinthecity.com.
Photo Credit: Michelle Bergman

Pepito & Joanne Story Treatment Registration With the Writers Guild of America (2014)

Excited to say that I have registered my Pepito & Joanne story treatment with the Writer’s Guild.  It feels good to have finally reached that milestone after researching since 2003.  But of course I will rewrite and revise, so I am still seeking more info about the lives of these amazing vaudevillians.  Every little detail adds more depth to their story.  If you knew Pepito or Joanne, please email me.

–Melani Carty

Escobar Cousins Reunion (2013)

by Marivi Escobar Santo Tomas,

Grand-niece of Pepito, the Spanish Clown (Jose Escobar Perez)

What a pity Pepito and Joanne aren’t here anymore.  So long I have talked to Joanne for years and never could I comment anything of all this appearing in the newspapers. I had only her narratives from the past.  She was so fond of her family in Spain she had known at her 74!  She always phoned and greeted me for my birthday. I miss her card from abroad that day.  But she has brought me in knowledge to you!

Here in Spain, when somebody is speaking from anyone absent at that moment we say his or her years will whistle.  Didn’t yours whistle a fortnight ago (on Pepito and Joanne’s wedding anniversary)?

Raymond and Annie, his wife, came home at the beach for almost 6 days. My husband and I have just come back home in Terrassa last Wednesday.  I sent you an SMS from my phone when Raymond was with us, but maybe it didn’t arrive, because I’m sure “we” had got an answer.

We spent a really good time. We visited the roman Tarragona and the villages around. Not in a hurry. There was time for everything.Bathing, resting, walking… We have got an age!!

He took photos everywhere and when we sat relaxed at the restaurants our conversation was for Melani.

He said he would do a monument of you, for letting us be known each other.  As we didn’t get an answer to the phone message Raymond told me that on going back home, he would write to you.  So all that will be a good anniversary for Pepito and Joanne in heaven, since the day you found us, the family in Spain, and later my cousin Escobar.

I love you and expect to see you personally one day. Maybe when your book appears.

It was the week from the 16th September to the 20th, 2013.  We could still bathe at the beach and visited the roman walls of Tarragona and its Gothic cathedral.  One day I’ll show them to you. I’m sure.

Last year Raymond and wife came to Spain to visit the places he had discovered where our ancestros had lived. All that he has discovered in these four years.  He is always sending me more and more information about my grand grand grand parents, etc. Where they got married, who with. Where the graves from my grand-grandmother is … incredible !!

And driving back to France I told him we would join him on his way back home.  We met in Zaragoza, where I introduced three more cousins to him, who live there. Two brothers and one sister. Now in their 80s.  One is the highest degree from the army, (general) the other is second degree (coronel), and the sister is mezzo-soprano. She sang in Teatro del Liceo of Barcelona.  He was so proud to meet those important cousins. He spoke long about opera with our cousin Celia and they drove back home happy to know more family. They thanked me of going and introducing the cousins because, if they had gone alone, maybe they wouldn’t have had such reception.

So, this year, by chance, on Saturday 21st September 2013, my eldest cousin General Jaime Esain Escobar (you can see about him in the web), celebrated his 85th anniversary. My husband and I were invited to Zaragoza for the occasion, and knowing Raymond and his wife Annie were with us, they invited to them too.  So on Sunday 21st, we travelled together to Zaragoza and stayed at the hotel where my cousin celebrated the lunch. Raymond was on the clouds, because he met all the second and third generation below us. Most of them of the army too and studying the highest courses to get into the headquarters in Madrid.  So he joked on saying when somebody would annoy him when he was in Spain he would say he had some important authorities in the family.  My cousin Jaime offered them a CD of Spanish music and his sister, another one from herself singing opera. We offered them a lot of Spanish eating products.

We had still time to go around Zaragoza and take the tourist bus, and the next day they drove to San Sebastian and we, back home.  ALL THESE DAYS WERE FANTASTIC.

Pocharte: Pepito the Clown & Joanne the Dancer (2012)

August 19, 2012

Sandra “Pocha” Pena blogged on her “Pocharte” WordPress blog about her 2004 personal interviews with Joanne Perez. “Joanne was a dancer who fell in love with a Spanish clown her mother was dating.  This was way back in the 1920’s so the clown, Pepito, called upon his pal Charlie Chaplin to have Joanne perform in his film premier “Ballyhoo” at the [Grauman’s] Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  The invite was such an honor, Joanne’s mother didn’t protest. The dancer played a wind-up doll alongside Pepito, and fell madly in love with him.  The two began a torrid love-affair that very day.  Needing some distance from her jilted mom, the teenage ballerina and her clown beau settled in Orange County, a charming town an hour south of LA. I interviewed Joanne about a year before she died, and still vividly remember all the stories she told of old Hollywood in Santa Ana, their hangout at the Santora Arts Building and the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms.”

Read Pocha’s blog entry at http://pocharte.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/pepito-the-clown-joanne-the-dancer/

Pepito, Joanne, and Daniger’s Tea Room at the Santora Building in Santa Ana, California (2012)

July 7, 2012

On Saturday, July 7th, the Santora Arts Building celebrated 84 years with a 1920’s-inspired themed celebration which kicked off a month-long celebration highlighting the history of the building from 1928 to the present.  Showcased was a dazzling array of fine art, music, cars, film, and fashions of a bygone era, as well as a tour of old-time “speakeasys” like Proof, that still stand today.  Two large (12 foot) showcase windows in the lobby of the Santora featured displays of the building’s history, its unique architectural design, and the artists/celebrities that were part of its legacy,including Pepito and Joanne Perez of the Pepito & Joanne Academy of Dance.

“Famous Spanish clown PEPITO met DESI and LUCY while at RKO Studios.  After quitting show business, Pepito and his wife, JOANNE, bought and restores an old Victorian mansion on Ross Street in Santa Ana, California, and built a dance school in the rear of the house.  Many students from Pepito and Joanne’s Academy of Dance appear in a segment of the “I Love Lucy” episode “Little Ricky’s School Pageant.”  Desi, Pepito, Lucy, and Joanne became close friends and started to hang around Santa Ana, and the Santora Building, going to DANIGER”S TEA ROOM.  During World War II, onlu military and commercial fishing vessels were allowed into the open ocean, so Pepito got a commercial fishing license.  Throughout the war, he was the only fisherman in Southern California who could take guests out for deep sea fishing.  Many Hollywood sportsmen came down to Santa Ana to meet up with Pepito at Danigers….because they wanted to go fishing!  Thanks to Melani Carty at www.PepitoAndJoanne.com; and Sandra “Pocha” Pena, interview with Joanne Perez, before her death April 1, 2004.”

Wide view of the window display at the Santora Building during the Santa Ana ArtWalk, July 7, 2012.  A formal photo of Pepito and Joanne sits on the pedestal.  Photo courtesy of Ellen Seefeldt.

More about the Santora Building

One of the most beautiful and historic commercial buildings in Orange County, the Santora Building, located at 207 N. Broadway, at the corner of Broadway and Second Street in downtown Santa Ana, California, is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Groundbreaking took place July 7, 1928, and the grand opening was in 1929.  

The Santora’s architectural style is in the Churrigueresque variant of Spanish Colonial Revival design.  One of the most striking features of the Spanish-style structure is its second-story decoration, called Churrigueresque, made of elaborate ornamental cast concrete. The decoration also is accented by gargoyles on the top edge of the building.  The building was designed by Frank Lansdowne, one of the premier architects of the region.  The Santora cost $150,000 to build and originally was owned by the Santora Land Co. The building, which is listed with the National Register of Historic Places, was named Santora as a contraction of the cities “Santa Ana” and “Orange.”

The Santora Building once served as Santa Ana City Hall when City Hall was damaged in a 1933 earthquake. The city staff moved into the building until a new City Hall could be built two years later.  After a period of decline in Santa Ana’s downtown the Santora resurged as an arts complex where a number of different artists moved in including Joseph Musil and his Salon of the Art Deco Theaters. Musil was a set designer for the Walt Disney company and worked on the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.  The Santora now houses art galleries, retail stores and restaurants.  The Santora is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and its record number is 386426.

The Santora Building, corner of Broadway and Second Street, Santa Ana, California, circa 1930.

More about Daniger’s Tea Room

The Santora Building’s main claim to fame and most well known tenant was Danigers Tea Room, one of the most popular restaurants in Southern California from 1934 to 1944.  Daniger’s Tea Room was located on the second floor, southwest corner of the Santora Building.  Daniger’s Tea Room was famous for its home-cooked meals, delicious tea, cakes and pie, and pleasant atmosphere.  The Tearoom was known for the best home-cooked meals in Santa Ana , and received mention in the June 1938 issue of Westways Magazine in a feature article titled “Fine Food in California.”  Daniger’s Tea Room was an under-the-radar hot spot for Hollywood movie stars.  All the top celebrities of the time enjoyed the fine foods created by Joe and Irene Daniger, and their clientele included Hollywood celebrities Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Barbara Stanwyk, Andy Devine, Billie Burke, Charles Ruggles, Connie Haines, Lucille Ball, Gracie Allen, George Burns, Joan Davis, Rosalind Russell, Robert Young, William Holden and Alan Ladd, all of whom signed the guest book.  Local stargazers were known to keep a close eye on the Tearoom’s front door to catch glimpses of celebrities.








Irene Daniger: her recollections, as told to Elynore Barton and Maureen Rischard.,0,

Irene Daniger: her recollections, as told to Elynore Barton and Maureen Rischard.


Clifford Combes, Muriel Combes, and Pepito the Spanish Clown (2011)

January 1, 2011

To write the biography of Pepito and Joanne, I have organized their personal archive of photos and newspaper clippings; and researched all the available historical newspaper databases on the internet.  

One of the missing pieces is Pepito’s scrapbook of his entire vaudeville career, which sat in Pepito & Joanne’s Santa Ana parlor for decades, bulging with yellowing clippings and old photos.  The scrapbook was sold off when Joanne’s estate was liquidated in 2005.  If only I could find that scrapbook, so many questions could be answered, and it would be so much simpler to put the P&J archive into chronological order.  After much effort to trace what became of Pepito’s scrapbook, and lots of help from the estate liquidator, there is only one clue: it was sold to a paper collectibles vendor, who then sold it to an unidentified person in Las Vegas.  End of story.  

After the let-down of failing to find the scrapbook, I figured that if I couldn’t find Pepito’s scrapbook, then I would try my best to find people who had worked with Pepito, to see if they kept scrapbooks.

I knew that two of the people who had worked in his act were Margaret Shorey, Pepito’s first female partner/assistant/foil when he came to the United States; and Clifford Combes, whose name I found on a 1928 vaudeville contract for the six-month engagement on the Tivoli Circuit in Australia.

After a long people-search for Margaret Shorey on the internet, I finally found and spoke to Margaret Shorey’s nephew and his wife, which was a delightful experience.  But I was saddened to learn that if Margaret kept a scrapbook of her vaudeville days with Pepito the Spanish Clown, it no longer exists.


Next I turned to finding Clifford Combes or his descendants.  Using Ancestry.com, the Social Security Death Index, and an obituary of his brother Victor Combes, I was able to determine that Clifford had no children and his wife was deceased as well.  Having hit a dead end, I was frustrated, because I did not know the names of any other performers who had worked with Pepito and Joanne in their hey-day.  

When a newspaper article about my Pepito & Joanne research project was published in the Orange County Register in October of 2010, I had my fingers crossed that friends, acquaintences, former students, and maybe even former vaudeville associates might see it and contact me.  I was thrilled that over 20 individuals emailed me after reading the article.  In fact, I have not had the chance to interview everyone yet.

Muriel Combes, age 14, and her big brother Clifford, age 16.  Clifford became acquainted with Pepito as a young boy by pet-sitting his menagerie, and he soon joined Pepito’s act in 1928 as an acrobat and clown.  Muriel enjoyed seeing Pepito & Co. onstage whenever their Orpheum vaudeville circuit schedule brought them back to the Los Angeles area.


Imagine my shock and surprise when I received an email from Muriel Combes, Clifford Combes’s sister, who is a spry 99 years old!  Actually, the email was sent by her daughter, Marilyn, to let me know how much her mother had enjoyed the article and photo of Pepito and Joanne in The Orange County Register.

I have had the pleasure of speaking to Muriel and Marilyn on the phone, talking about those amazing years in the 1920s.  It is so amazing to hear the stories first-hand for a change, instead of hunting through old newspaper archives.  Muriel’s memories are crystal clear, making me feel like I am right there, watching everything happen on stage.  She the only person I have interviewed, and likely will ever interview, who was at the 1928 premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s film The Circus at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  She knew Pepito and Joanne well, because her big brother Clifford Combes, was a clown and acrobat in Pepito’s act.  

Muriel’s memories of Pepito and Joanne centered on three areas:  their pets, the Grauman’s Chinese Theater premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” in 1928, and Pepito’s special midget clown car.

Muriel Combes prepared to blow out the candles on her cake at her 99th birthday party, 2010.  As a young girl, Muriel was at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1928 for the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s film, “The Circus” and proudly watched her brother Clifford Combes perform in the ballyhoo stage show which preceded the showing of the film.  Clifford Combes and Joann Falcy were the newest members of the act of Pepito the Spanish Clown.  Clifford was inside the lion suit in this surviving film clip from the Ballyhoo on opening night.

The Pets

Pepito’s home was a bungalow in the pleasant, middle-class Athens District of Los Angeles, (now gritty South-Central Los Angeles).  The Combes family lived nearby, and the young boy Clifford was entrusted with caring for and feeding Pepito’s menagerie of animals when Pepito was out of town on the vaudeville circuit.  Sometimes little sister Muriel tagged along and helped Clifford feed the pets.  The menagerie included trick dogs, and even a very mischievous monkey.  Pepito’s trained lion must have been on the road with him, because Muriel does not recall ever seeing the lion at the house.  

When Clifford demonstrated acrobatic talent at age 19 in his high school gymnastics class, Pepito brought him into the vaudeville act.  The eyar was 1927.  Clifford’s first public performance was in the Ballyhoo at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in January 1928.  After 16 weeks at Grauman’s, Clifford toured with Pepito and Joanne at the height of their vaudeville fame, parting ways with them sometime in the 1930s when vaudeville “went blooey.”  

The Premiere

Clifford’s first public appearance was the Grauman’s premiere on January 1928.  Pepito’s act at Grauman’s included a “lion tamer” routine, in keeping with the theme of the evening, and because there was a lion in the Chaplin film.  Clifford was the energetic fellow inside the lion suit.  

Sixteen-year-old Muriel Combes was at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1928 on the opening night of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus.”  Muriel spent a lot of time backstage watching everyone get into costume for The Ballyhoo and apply make-up.  She watched some of the acts from the wings.  She spent some time in the audience watching the ballyhoo.  She doesn’t recall seeing Charlie Chaplin in the audience that night, because she was too busy moving around so she wouldn’t miss any part of the show.  

Muriel recalls that the lion costume was kept in a special locked area backstage, and appeared to be made from an real lion pelt.  

The Clown Car

Muriel has a special memory of riding in Pepito’s special clown car, driven by Pepito, on a July day in 1928.  They drove together on the surface streets of Los Angeles, from the Athens district, all the way down to the docks in Wilmington.  On that momentous day in 1928, Pepito, Joanne and Clifford were departing for a six month tour of Australia with the Tivoli vaudeville circuit.  Upon arrival at the docks, the unusual little car was loaded onto the boat; it was part of Pepito’s stage act. 

Pepito the Spanish Clown, posing with a Charlie Chaplin impersonator in Pepito’s miniature Packard, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, 1928.

Muriel told me in a recent phone interview that Pepito would actually drive the car onto the theater stage and do a routine with it.  Muriel recalls that at the conclusion of her amazing ride in the miniature roadster, her legs were numb from being cramped in the tiny passenger compartment, and she could barely get out of the car or stand up.  Muriel confirms that Pepito’s little car resembled a miniature Packard.

Chaplin Film Clip Sparks Time Travel Controversy (2010)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A short clip from the footage recorded of the 1928 premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s motion picture “The Circus” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Pepito and Joanne were inside the building, getting ready to perform in the Ballyhoo live show that preceded each showing of the film.

Pepito met Joanne in 1928 when they both were hired separately to perform in the live pre-show “Ballyhoo” before each showing of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. 

Pepito Meets Joanne:  Their Matchmaker Was Charlie Chaplin (1928)

VIDEO: “The Ballyhoo” of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” (1928)

Pepito the Spanish Clown and His First Lion Act (1927)

Los Angeles Times: Looks to Be Difficult Feat (1928)

Los Angeles Daily News: Pretty Dancer to Wed Clown (1928)

Several years ago I purchased a 2004 reissue DVD of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” specifically to see Pepito the Spanish Clown who appears in the the bonus footage of “The Hollywood Premiere 1928,” a short film showing people coming to Grauman’s Chinese Theater on opening night.  

I recently have been trying to track down the source of the footage to see if there might be more performance footage available for my documentary film on Pepito & Joanne.  Due to the fact that Pepito, his ZaZa the Dancing Horse, and Pepito’s costumed lion appear briefly in the Ballyhoo portion of the Chaplin premiere footage, I am hoping maybe the out-takes from that day might include Joanne doing her mechanical doll contortion act.  

Imagine my surprise when, last night, I stumbled across some big news about this very same Chaplin premiere footage.  A “time traveler” has been discovered in this same footage  by a man named George Clarke in Belfast, Ireland!  An older woman in black hat and dark shoes, walking into the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1928 to buy a ticket to see Chaplin’s new film, is purportedly talking on a cellphone!  

News of this “discovery” is spreading rapidly on the internet, and the story has even been taken up by some TV news channels, and even Jay Leno!  Searching the phrase “chaplin time traveler,” here’s a handful of the hundreds of links this morning:

TIME Magazine   The Chaplin Time Traveler: What Does Science Say?

CNN   Cell phone ‘time traveler’ seen in silent film

ABC News   ‘Time Traveler’ in 1928 Charlie Chaplin Film?

Washington Post   Was a time traveler captured in footage of a Charlie Chaplin movie premiere?

The Telegraph   Charlie Chaplin time traveller spotted in old film

Huffington Post  ‘Time Traveler’ Caught In 1928 Charlie Chaplin Film? (VIDEO)

KSCW-TV Kansas City   Mysterious ‘Time Traveler’ Spotted in Charlie Chaplin Film

The footage is un-doctored; I have checked and it is identical on the 2003 “The Circus” bonus DVD disk.  The woman definitely is holding her hand to her cheek, but in my opinion there is no cellphone in her hand. 

I’ll bet these events will throw a kink in my plan to license the Chaplin Ballyhoo footage for my Pepito & Joanne documentary film … now that it’s the subject of an urban myth, the licensing fee will be astronomical, thanks to a woman who was probably shielding her eyes from the sun, or scratching an itch.

By the way, in 2006, Orange County local science fiction author Tim Powers published a best-selling novel titled “Three Days To Never” in which the plot revolves around Charlie Chaplin’s missing concrete footprints from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a time machine, a lost Chaplin film found in a garden shed at an old house, and other clues.  Pepito and Joanne’s story involves Charlie Chaplin as their matchmaker who paired them up to work together in the Grauman’s Ballyhoo; and the sole canister of 16mm film containing the “Lost Pilot” for “I Love Lucy” tucked away for 39 years in their Santa Ana Victorian home.  Tim Powers’ book is fantasy/science fiction, while Pepito and Joanne were real people! Were they the inspiration?

–Melani Carty

P.S.  Two of the funniest comments I have read online about the Chaplin time traveler are, “Hey, it’s Marty McFly! (a reference to “Back to the Future” films), and “Can you hear me then?” (a clever spin on the cellphone commercials that ask “Can you hear me now?”).  And as my husband correctly points out, if that lady could get cellphone reception in 1928, she’s doing a whole lot better than most of us in 2010.  

Orange County Register: Were You A Dance Student of Joanne Perez? (2010)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Were you a dance student of Joanne Perez?     OCRegister.com

Joanne and Pepito Perez ran a dance studio in Orange County that they opened in 1941 when their days on the road as performers ended. Memorabilia collector Melani Carty attended the dance school in the 1970s (when she was Melani Motzkus.) Carty now runs the website pepitoandjoanne.com. She hopes to hear from other former students or anyone with knowledge of Pepito and Joanne’s careers and life together.

The photos in this slide show are from student dance performances throughout the years that Carty has in her collection. If you recognize someone in the photo and want to contact Carty, go to pepitoandjoanne.com and click “Contact” to reach her.


The Orange County (California) Register


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