Frederic Franklin, who has died aged 98, was one of the best loved figures in the dance world. Always genial, always helpful, he possessed a razor-sharp memory of all the ballets he had appeared in. Franklin played an important part in the preservation of many early ballets by George Balanchine, and in 2002 was able to reconstruct episodes from Devil's Holiday, a ballet created – but never seen on stage – by Frederick Ashton.
Franklin, generally known as Freddie, was a major star of the post-Diaghilev Ballets Russes, forming a memorable and long-lasting partnership with the ballerina Alexandra Danilova; her champagne personality and his good looks and charisma combined to stunning effect. This was especially true in such ballets as Léonide Massine's Le Beau Danube and especially Gâité Parisienne. But Franklin also danced with most of the leading ballerinas of his time including Alicia Alonso, Alicia Markova and Maria Tallchief.
As well as dancing leading roles in the Ballets Russes repertory – more than 45 according to some accounts – and creating several roles for Massine, Franklin also appeared in the first performances of Balanchine's Danses Concertantes and Agnes de Mille's Rodeo. He co-founded and directed the National Ballet of Washington, acted as adviser to the Dance Theatre of Harlem and worked with a large number of regional companies throughout the US.
He was born in Liverpool, the oldest of the three children of Fred Franklin, a caterer, and his wife, Mabel. When he was four, his parents took him to see Peter Pan and were amused when, on returning home, the little boy first tried to fly and then announced: "I'm going to be in the theatre."
Shortly afterwards his parents acquired a gramophone and Franklin spent hours dancing to music. He started dance lessons when he was six, although there was a slight hitch when his teacher saw his footwear as the little boy was wearing women's pointe shoes. His first public performance came that year, his efforts rewarded with a huge box of chocolates. He later recalled his reaction: "Well, if I go out there and dance and get a box of chocolates every time, I don't mind doing this again."
He auditioned for Anna Pavlova's company and was provisionally accepted, but the ballerina's death in 1931 put an end to that, so he left for London and joined a troupe called the Lancashire Lads, later renamed the Jackson Boys. They travelled to Paris where they provided support to music-hall stars such as Josephine Baker and Mistinguett.
Homesick, Franklin returned to London and eventually joined the Markova-Anton Dolin ballet, where he first partnered Markova and was fortunate to encounter Bronislava Nijinska, who joined the company as ballet mistress. He was spotted by Massine who was looking for dancers for the company he was forming and, together with Markova, Franklin joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
The company toured the US during the second world war and spent a period in Hollywood, where a short version of Gâité Parisienne was filmed in which Franklin appeared as the romantic hero: blonde, blue-eyed and almost impossibly handsome. In 1942 De Mille made another romantic role for him, this time with a western slant, as the Champion Roper in her ballet Rodeo. Her memoirs attest to Franklin's willingness to adopt new styles and his personal kindness during the making of what proved to be among the first truly American classical ballets.
When the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo temporarily disbanded in the 1950s, Franklin and the ballerina Mia Slavenska formed their own company and premiered A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the Tennessee Williams play, with Franklin as the brutish Stanley and Slavenska as Blanche.
In his later years, Franklin was greatly in demand as a stager. Working with Dance Theatre of Harlem he set the old Romantic-era ballet Giselle in the Louisiana bayous among the Creole community. Every step and gesture was correct but he managed to refresh the old ballet and provide it with real dramatic focus.
In his 90s, he continued to perform with American Ballet Theatre in mime roles such as Madge the Witch in La Sylphide and Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, to all of which he brought considerable distinction. Among the many honours he received was a Bessie award for lifetime achievement. He was made a CBE in 2004.
Franklin is survived by William Haywood Ausman, his partner of 48 years; and his brother John.
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