by José Manuel Araque
José Ramón Reachi Fayad was born in México on el March 5, 1903, the son of Antonio Reachi and María Fayad. The Reachis were a family of syrian origin that settled in the area of Chilpancingo, in the state of Guerrero, in the mountains of the Sierra Madre del Sur. José Ramón had at least 11 brothers and sisters. Don Antonio had a store in the center of town, and also traded silver from the mining area.
José Ramón's older brothers were Manuel (b. 1896) and Santiago (b. 1898). As their father was keenly interested in their Education he sent them to the Evangelical School, where they learned English and French at an early age. But José Ramón was different, he had some throat affliction and his parents we told by the doctors that he was going to die young, so they did not send him to School at all.
The Mexican Revolution started in late 1910, and the country entered a decade of wars and political instability. Santiago joined the Maderista campaign under General Juan Almazán in its takeover of the town of Iguala. Then the Federal Army killed Don Antonio. Mexico was in chaos and their lives were in danger. Around 1912 Manuel and Santiago escaped to San Francisco, and reached out for help from their uncle who lived in Scranton, PA.
Since 1908 Rev. Thomas Fayad had established a ministry among the miners in the Poconos Coal Region. Rev. Fayad was a hard working man, he built the St. Joseph Melkite Greek Catholic Church with his own hands, his congregation was poor. He lived with his mother.
On March 21, 1913, María Fayad embarked for New York from Veracruz on the Morro Castle. José Ramón and 4 of his younger siblings came. José Ramón was 10 years old, and he stayed in the US since.
The Reachis were destitute, it was the hardest times. They moved with their grandmother in a modest house a short block from the Church. Rev. Fayad had to rebuild the Church several times too, either because of fire, or because the foundations were caving, the terrain was very unstable as a side-effect of coal-mining. The kids worked during the day, shoe-shining, delivering newspapers, and attended School at night, except José Ramón. Once a year Rev. Fayad knew how to put together a big event at Scranton's Town Hall, to collect money for his impoverished parish.
Manuel and Santiago moved to New York after 1915. While World War I was raging in Europe, Manuel met then unknown taxi-dancer Rudolph Valentino in New York, and they became best friends, they both danced Tango in Rector's in Times Square. The War ended in late 1918, but then the Influenza Pandemic hit, and life did not quite return to normal until Summer 1920. Since July 1920, Manuel worked in the US as a diplomatic liaison for the Mexican governments of Adolfo de la Huerta and Álvaro Obregón, promoting American investments in Mexico. He moved to Los Angeles.
Valentino moved to Hollywood, and in 1921 his performance in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse turned him into the biggest Tango dancing star in the US, his iconic full-body dancing scene became a model to follow. Even his Gaucho clothes were thought to be de rigueur for performers, specially those angling for authenticity. By 1923 Valentino was touring the country with his own "Argentine Orchestra", said to be the same that played for him in the production of the silent movie.
Following the release of the movie, the Poli Theater in Scranton became the stage for the premiere of the revue In Argentina. Roberto Medrano, an Argentine dancer that came to US with Osvaldo Fresedo in 1920, and Mlle. Emilia Delirio, were the star dancers of the show. In Argentina then played in Buffalo and other minor cities before making it big in New York.
To make up for his lack of schooling, José Ramón started taking dance classes in Scranton, and participating in local dance contests. In 1922 and early 1923 he danced the fox trot with one Blanche Kelley.
On April 13, 1923, Valentino and his Orchestra came to Scranton on the Mineralva Tour. Having declared himself on strike against the movie studios, Valentino and his wife Natacha Rambova danced the Tango in 88 locations across the US, helping revive interest for a form that was popular before the Great War. Natacha personally supervised the costumes, the Valentinos were mobbed by adoring fans. José Ramón must have gone to the show in Scranton, and the dance contest that followed.
The same month José Ramón danced in two Tango exhibitions, at the Town Hall and at Saxon's. A few days later, Anton F. Scibilia's revue Land of Tango opened for a whole week at the local Capitol Theater. The revue featured Peruvian Tango dancer Alberto de Lima, Matilde Carpos and Heriberta Martínez, and its own "Argentine players". José Ramón must have seen them.
One full year later, on May 27, 1924, "Reachi and Bordino" went on stage at the Town Hall in Scranton. The note posted before the show claimed that he already had successes in the Big City. He was 21 years old and he wore Gaucho clothes. That weekend, Reachi and Bordino also danced at the Cinderella Ballroom in Wilkes-Barre, a city next to Scranton.
Curiously, José came back to Scranton with his own "Argentine Orchestra" (Juan Carlos Cobian?). And curiously too, just a few days before these shows, the Land of Tango revue returned to Scranton after one full year on the Vaudeville circuits. Anton Scibilia was very busy producing shows in 1924, he was capitalizing on the renewed interest for Argentine Tango in the US. Scibilia had a second revue called Dreamy Spain ramping up, as Land of Tango was winding down. By June, Alberto de Lima and Petite Marita were gone.
On July 13, 1924, Manuel Reachi, at the time General Consul in Los Angeles, secretly married Agnes Ayres in Mexico. Ayres was Valentino’s co-star in The Sheik. José was at the wedding, and returned to New York on August 11 on the steamship Dagfin from Tampico. He had the right connections, and he was ready to jump start his dancing career.
In 1914 Vernon and Irene Castle and Maurice Mouvet wrote books on dancing that included their take on Tango. These books were published after the arrival of Casimiro Aín, an Argentine Tango dancer and teacher that lived in the US from 1913 through 1918, but it’s unclear if he had any influence in them. Maurice claimed he learned to dance Tango from Argentines in Paris before 1910, which surely makes his one of the earliest testimonies on the subject of Tango dancing.
Vernon Castle died in 1918, a big loss to the world of Dancing as the Castles popularized Ballroom in the United States and abroad. Maurice went on to become one of the biggest names in Tango dancing in the US and Europe. He had his own Club on West 51st Street in New York in 1922, and his personal life, his dancing partners, and his marriages were on the news for years. After 1910 he traveled almost every year to Europe, promoting, dancing, learning and teaching, and he became a very important link between the Tango scenes in New York and Europe. But Maurice, like Valentino, learned to dance Argentine Tango in the 1910s. By 1920 Tango music, its beat, were significantly changing, and Maurice danced his own interpretation of the Dance. Maurice also popularized the Apache dance.
In New York Tango dancing was taught by Argentines like Roberto Medrano and Carlos Cruz, and by locals like Don Leno and Fred Lequorne. Medrano was himself a performer and had been to the Vaudeville circuit in 1921 with the revue “In Argentina". Leno, in business since at least 1910, claimed to have taught Valentino to dance Tango. Cruz worked with Lequorne, and in 1925 commissioned Juan Carlos Cobian to record two tracks that showed “the correct tempo of Argentine tango” to aid in his classes.
The American public didn’t quite embrace Argentine Tango the way the French did. A contributing factor may have been the confusion as to what constituted Tango, as the form itself was evolving. In March 1924 for example, Tamara and Fowler published a series of sketches on The Brooklyn Citizen in an attempt to simplify the steps, and thus increase the appeal of Tango. At the same time, some teachers and professional dancers tried to remove the stigma initially associated with the dance, as it had been vilified by the Catholic Church.
In the US Tango was mostly performed by professional ballroom dancers. These dancers made a living in Vaudeville acts and Clubs, and Tango was just one of many rhythms they were expected to perform every night. Many, like Valentino, learned to dance before the beat changed in 1920. And then there was the Jazz craze. The dancers followed Maurice or Medrano or Valentino, and they improvised, and they mixed things up. Anything was possible really, sometimes to hilarious results.
Huge forces were transforming the entertainment industry. Since the early 1900s theaters were splitting time between live performances and movies, and the tradition of the wandering Vaudevillians was already starting to wane.
From July 21 through July 26, 1924, Anton Scibilia premiered his new revue, Land of Joy, at the Orpheum in Allentown, PA. The revue consisted mostly of Spanish song and dance numbers, which were accented by Bill Adams, a comedian that joked about his difficulties trying to communicate with the many beautiful “señoritas”.
Scibilia’s revue was not really new. From Land of Tango Scibilia brought Matilde Carpos and cuban Heriberta Martínez. From Dreamy Spain he drew Fidel Irazábal and Mlle Emilia Delirio, who danced the Apache and the Tango, and Señorita Albertini, a Spanish soprano. Even the plot and the comedian were inherited from Land of Tango.
Land of Joy was larger than its predecessors, more than 20 people were part of the troupe. That first week, Scibilia presented a second revue called “Cubanola” alongside Land of Joy, the show was still evolving. In August, they were at the Majestic in Harrisburg, PA; at the Rajah in Reading, PA; and at the Poli in Bridgeport, CT.
Señorita Carmela (Babe Hanrick’s new artistic name) joined the troupe on September 1, when they opened at the Orpheum in Altoona, PA. She was doing the “Castagnette Evolution” with Mr. Vincent Martínez (said to be from Buenos Aires). She was 16 years old. They spent a week in Altoona, and the program and the cast were still fluid, the show was centered on Delirio and Irazábal. On the second half of the week, an alternative revue, Oh Those Cuban Babies, was presented by the same cast.
Later that month the troupe went to the York Opera House, in York, PA, and to Lafayette Square in Buffalo, NY. But when the troupe hit the Heaven Theater in Olean, NY at the end of the month, Emilia Delirio and Fidel Irazábal had split for the Pantages circuit. In their place, Señorita Carmela was dancing the Tango with Vincent Martínez. In mid November they were at the Lyric Theater in Reading, PA. Then they took a break.
In 1924 the Tango scene in New York featured Juan Carlos Cobian, a renowned Argentine musician that played in October and December at the Hippodrome (6th Avenue at 44th Street) for dancers Cortez and Peggy, and Mills and Sielle. Also, Roberto Medrano danced at the Mark Strand Theater in a revue that accompanied the release of Valentino’s A Sainted Devil in October/November. The movie was a flop, one in a series of disappointments in Valentino's mid-career.
José Reachi (and possibly Babe Hanrick too) must have seen the hit show Lady, Be Good, which premiered at the Liberty Theater on December 1, highlighting the rise of the Fred and Adele Astaire to the top of the popular dancing craze in Broadway and America.
In Pennsylvania, the Lancaster Sunday News announced on December 28 that the Land of Joy revue, featuring José Reachi and Señorita Carmela, would appear at the Fulton Opera House the upcoming week.
1. Manuel Reachi was a sympathizer of Venustiano Carranza, and worked for Roberto V. Pesqueira, Carranza's representative in the US since 1914. He was also deeply connected with the government of Álvaro Obregón since 1920. Obregón's personal physician was the best man at the wedding with Agnes Ayres. In March 1923 Manuel helped director Marshall Neilan shoot scenes for the movie The Eternal Three inside Obregón's Chapultepec Castle. Sadly, the film is lost.
Manuel was instrumental in connecting Enrico Caruso Jr., the son of the legendary tenor, with ex-President Adolfo de la Huerta, who was also a tenor and taught Enrico Jr. to sing. Manuel then co-wrote the movie El cantante de Nápoles for Caruso Jr. Manuel went on to direct his own movies in Mexico, and worked with Luis Buñuel.
2. Santiago Reachi went to Mexico to help Pancho Villa escape prison in Christmas 1912, and then returned to the US in 1915. He became a very successful salesman, and later, as a publicist, he helped launch the career of Cantinflas, the legendary Mexican comic actor. Santiago became one of the most powerful men in the Mexican film business in the 1940s with his POSA Films. He later wrote a book about his life stories, in which he claimed that his brother Manuel taught Valentino to dance.
2. Santiago Reachi's Villa and the Revolutionist
Exposition Press, Hicksville, NY 1976
3. The fascinating blog "The American Menu" by Henry Voigt