as herself from the trailer for The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
September 25, 1905|
Hoosick Falls, New York, U.S.
|Died||June 9, 1977
Arlington, Virginia, U.S.
Harriet Hoctor (September 25, 1905 — June 9, 1977) was a ballerina, dancer, actress and instructor from Hoosick Falls, New York. Composer George Gershwin composed a symphonic orchestral piece (Hoctor's Ballet) specifically for Hoctor in the film Shall We Dance (1937).
Born to Timothy Hoctor and Elizabeth Kearny, Harriet Hoctor was one of four children, the others being Martin Francis ("Frank"), John, and Eloise. Harriet Hoctor never married.
Hoctor's maternal aunt, Annie Kearney, was a social secretary to a wealthy woman in Hoosick Falls who took an interest in young Harriet. At the age of twelve she was sent to New York City and placed under the tutelage of Russian ballet master Louis H. Chalif of the Normal School of Dancing. In 1930 Hoctor lived with Kearney in a house on Murray Hill, Manhattan, just around the corner from the home of J. Pierpont Morgan.
By the time she was sixteen, Hoctor was touring in vaudeville on the same bill as the Duncan Sisters. She was asked to join their act and became a key player in their Topsy and Eva show presented on Broadway. Hoctor appeared in a doll ballet and was informed that Florenz Ziegfeld was offering her a trial part in his production of The Three Musketeers (1928). By 1929, she was given the first opportunity to dance during a ballet staging of George Gershwin's An American in Paris.
She appeared in the Vanities revue of Earl Carroll in 1932 after a year of performing in England, at the London Hippodrome tapping up and down an escalator en pointe. At the request of Ziegfeld she did not sign a contract to remain abroad. Hoctor would appear on the same billing as such comedians as Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and George Jessel.
In the late 1930s, she was a dancer in a number of Hollywood movies. She appeared as herself in The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), and Billy Rose's Casa Manana Revue (1938). Shall We Dance featured Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Edward Everett Horton, and Hoctor danced with Astaire.
Hoctor joined Billy Rose Productions in 1940, dancing and choreographing at Rose's night club, The Diamond Horseshoe. Hoctor opened her own dance school in Woburn, Massachusetts in 1945. She commuted to New York for shows. She continued teaching in Boston until she retired in 1974. Many of her students achieved success in their careers. She designed her own costumes. Hoctor enjoyed ping pong as a hobby. As a trained dancer, she avoided tennis, golf, swimming, and ice skating—activities that build up the shoulders, produce arm and wrist muscles, and thicken the ankles.
Harriet Hoctor died in Arlington, Virginia, at the Northern Virginia Doctor's Hospital, in 1977, aged 71. Her death came after an extended illness. She was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in her native Hoosick Falls following a Mass of Christian Burial at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
The summer she died, playwright Frank Wirmusky cast This Is Your Life, Hoosick Falls. The play transformed one hundred and fifty years of the town's history into an hour long theatrical performance. Actors depicted twelve Hoosick Falls men and women from the past who made important contributions in various endeavors. One of those portrayed was Hoctor. Actress Kelly Thompson donned beads prior to appearing on stage as Hoctor, looking like a 1920s era flapper.
- Bennington Banner, Obituary, June 11, 1977, p. 2
- Bennington Banner, "In Falls, a proud past, a promising future", August 5, 1977, p. 6
- Bismarck Tribune, "Romantic Story of the Belle From Hoosick Falls", August 18, 1930, p. 6
- Syracuse Herald, "Foreign Nations Which Once Sent Stars To US Now Import Our Dancers", August 12, 1932, p. 14
- Harriet Hoctor Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
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