My name is Melani, and I created www.PepitoAndJoanne.com as a tribute to the memory of two great vaudeville entertainers and teachers of the performing arts, Jose Escobar Perez (“Pepito”) and his wife, Joanne Perez.
But I can’t take all the credit for PepitoAndJoanne.com. I have a team of lovely contributors: former students and personal friends of Joanne’s, and some very kind people who have helped me along the way, who are all listed on the Dedications page.
I was a student at the Pepito and Joanne Academy of Dance from 1970 to 1976. I was mesmerized by Joanne, Pepito, their house, and especially all the old vaudeville and nightclub publicity photos on the walls, a peek into their decades as traveling performers, and their amazing celebrity friends. Pepito and Joanne seemed to know everyone in Hollywood, from Charlie Chaplin to Helen Kane, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Marcel Marceau, Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and so many more celebrities of the 1920s-1950s.
What a career they must have had as partners both onstage and offstage, enjoying the golden age of the 1920s … and struggling to keep afloat after a bankruptcy and the challenges of the Depression of the 1930s.
In their heyday, Pepito and Joanne were well-known on the R.K.O. Radio Keith Orpheum vaudeville circuit as the act ‘‘Pepito the Spanish Clown — Assisted By Juanita.” When they retired, they opened the Pepito and Joanne Academy of Dance in Orang County, California, and proceeded to introduce thousand of little girls to the thrill of the performing arts.
I interviewed Joanne three times before her passing in 2004, and my notes about her life led to hours of internet and library research, looking for more details about the life of Pepito and the lovely and talented Joanne.
Thankfully, in recent years, many old newspapers have been digitized and made available on the internet. Using these resources, I have been able to collect hundreds of digital “newspaper clippings” which allowed me to reconstruct timeline tracking Pepito & Joanne’s vaudeville career from Pepito’s time in cabarets and circuses in Spain, Cuba and Mexico, Pepito’s immigration to New York in 1922, Joanne’s early career in 1926 and 1927 as a 16 year old with her own solo vaudeville act, through their meeting in 1928, their courtship and marriage, their years of adapting to the decline of vaudeville and the rise of nightclubs, their retirement from vaudeville at the start of World War II, their dance academy, Pepito’s death in 1975, and all the way up to Joanne’s brief burst of fame in 1990 for presenting the “Lost Pilot” of “I Love Lucy” to CBS.
In 2008, I was fortunate to purchase from an estate liquidator, nearly all of Pepito & Joanne’s collection of personal and publicity photo prints and negatives, 16mm and 8mm home movies, and vaudeville contracts. Also in 2008, I decided to put a tiny bit of the mountain of information I have gathered into my first website. In 2020, I started over and created a new and expanded website, diving deeper into Pepito & Joanne’s amazing vaudeville-radio-nightclub-film-television career, and their beloved dance academy.
It is my hope that other former students of Pepito and Joanne will stumble upon these webpages, enjoy looking at the articles and photos and recital videos, and then contact me using the link at the bottom of this page. If you knew Pepito or Joanne, I would love to interview you for my project.
Be sure to explore this entire website using the top navigation bar, because there is so much more information here than initially meets the eye.
Melani Motzkus Carty