“Miss Georgia” Deane of Mendon may not have become a world-famous actress like Eleanor Powell who she so admired as a young girl growing up in Salem.
But who is to say she didn’t emerge as a potent a force in her own right in the world of entertainment?
“I thought Hollywood would grab me for sure!” the spry, spunky, reddish/brown-haired peanut of a woman—ninety-six years young—said in her home on September 14th. “I wanted to sing and dance like her…and Gene Kelly!”
Owner/Operator of Deane School of Dance and orchestrator of The Greater Milford Ballet Company’s upcoming production of “The Nutcracker” at King Phillip Regional High School in Wrentham (December 19th and 20th), Miss Georgia and her sisters (she was the middle child) were encouraged in their ambitions by their mother—Pauline (Sorrente) Distasio; a sentiment that their father, Ferdinand “Freddie” Distasio, did not share.
“Our father was a village blacksmith in Italy and then a carriage maker. He didn’t approve,” she said, her brown eyes twinkling. “He said we’d all end up working in a factory anyway.”
Instead, shortly after Georgia’s graduation from Curry College (then “The School of Elocution and Expression,” on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston—Class of 1940) where her concentration was in Oratory and Theater, Helen, Maryann and Georgia became “The Three Deane Sisters” on the RKO jazz-and-vaudeville show circuit. This opened the door to all kinds of memorable moments including one that is still vivid in Georgia’s mind: abrupt announcement by management of a cancellation of the group’s performance on stage at a dinner theater in Buffalo. The reason? “I’m sorry but we were just bombed.”
It was December 7th, 1941.
Whether agreeing, reluctantly, to play “straight woman” one night for Comedian Red Buttons, telling a little lie in order to teach Greek folk dancing (after unabashedly securing an instructional book from the library to learn what she needed to know), beating breast cancer or defying the desire of her first husband (she has been married three times) to walk away from her chosen pursuit and “get fat” (“these men wed women and won’t let them dance!”), she has stayed true to the vision her mother planted in her mind.
“My mother used to travel with us, made muffins for the girls…she was the driving force in my life…I think she pushed me more. When I was seven, eight, she brought me to amateur competitions, just for the experience. She didn’t care if I won or not. I loved show business even at that age. I’d tell the pianist ̒play until you’re unconscious!’”
Deane School of Dance began after the war. “Helen thought it would be nice to be ʽdefense girls.’ She said, ‘let’s help the country.’ She lasted two, three weeks, did polished rivets for the airplanes and then said ‘I can’t do this.’ Maryann never did it. She became a stenographer. I lasted four months as a defense girl. It just wasn’t working out.”
Helen started the dance academy in their native Salem where a niece of Georgia’s now operates a studio bearing the same name; hers has more than twice the number of students as Georgia’s one hundred twenty-five pupils in Mendon. Like Georgia, she is undoubtedly proud of each and every one.
A full ninety-one years after being bitten by the show-business bug, Georgia Deane is still going strong.
“I still perform, that’s what keeps me alive,” she told me. “Mostly on cruises, on the Norwegian line out of Boston because I don’t like to fly.
“I guess I’m still acting, in my own way.”
Rod Lee is a career journalist, author, longtime observer of the Blackstone Valley scene and president of the Webster Square Business Association in Worcester. Email him at [email protected]