Hello, my name is Melani Carty, creator and webmaster of PepitoAndJoanne.com. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, my family lived in Santa Ana, California, and my Grandmother Eva lived in a nearby apartment, on 15th Street near the corner of Parton.

Every time we went to visit Grandma, we drove past an incredible Victorian house just a couple of blocks away, on the corner of 15th Street and Ross. The sign on the front of the house read “Pepito & Joanne Academy of Ballet.”

The Pepito and Joanne Academy of Ballet art 1502 N. Ross Street, Santa Ana, California, circa 1960s.
Formerly the historic Ford House, the structure is on the City of Santa Ana Register of Historic Places.

That sign inspired my mother Nancy to fulfill a long-held dream of hers to take dance lessons. Mom enrolled herself, my sister Heidi, and me, and from 1970 to 1976, we attended Joanne’s once-weekly ballet classes.

The entrance to the Pepito & Joanne dance studio at the rear of their house, as it appeared in 2006 during the estate liquidation phase.

We were mesmerized by Joanne, Pepito, their mahogany-paneled dance studio, their Victorian house, and the Little Theater out back, where Pepito taught pantomime.

Me in the dance studio, getting ready for a recital, June of 1972.

Especially intriguing were all the old vaudeville and nightclub publicity photos on the walls — a tantalizing peek into Pepito and Joanne’s decades as traveling vaudeville performers, and their amazing celebrity friends, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. 

Signed cast photo from “I Love Lucy” Season 6, Episode 163, “Little Ricky’s School Pageant,” the “Enchanted Forest” recital-within-the-episode. Joanne and Pepito are pictured in the back row, flanking Vivian Vance who played “Ethel Mertz.” This photo once hung on the wall of Joanne’s dance studio in Santa Ana, and is familiar to all who entered those doors.

We have many fond memories of performing in the annual dance recitals, which were held in the huge backyard of the Victorian house, on the first Saturday of June each year.

My sister Heidi (“Ball and the Jack”), my mom Nancy (“Peter Gunn” group number) and me (Pink Ballet), posing on the tiny stage in Pepito’s “Little Theater” building behind the main house, after the annual dance recital, June, 1973.

I wish I hadn’t been such a shy kid, and had put aside my reticence and asked Joanne a few questions about her storied past. Heck, “Harriet the Spy” was one of my favorite books, and I had so many detective-type questions bursting inside me. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s, that I suddenly had the opportunity to learn the whole story of Pepito and Joanne. The only problem was that researching and organizing the boxes of their clippings and photographs and vaudeville contracts was a little bit like “The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” … but without the happy ending.

This newspaper article from The Orange County Register explains what happened next …

Melani Carty, of Lovettsville, Va., was a student at a dance studio in Santa Ana in the home of Joanne and Pepito Perez from 1970 to 1976 beginning at age 9. In 2009, Carty created PepitoAndJoanne.com to document the Perez’s fascinating lives and vaudeville career. The image projected on the wall is from a home movie of Joanne, dated 1929. — Photo by Elizabeth Dodd

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

Monday, October 18, 2010 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…

Keep reading

It is my hope that this website will be discovered and enjoyed by many other former students of Pepito and Joanne. Please get in touch — I would dearly love to hear from you.



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