A Philadelphia ballerina makes good, stars in a story book love tale

cantinflas and golden

A limited-edition art book tells a bit of ballet history – and a love story – for the first time.

By Ellen Ziegler for The Dance Journal

I’m an artist from Seattle with a focus on artist’s books. My latest project is about a young ballerina – my mother – who falls in love with Mexico’s most famous actor.

Miriam Goldstein was born in Philadelphia in 1920. There’s not much left today of her home “over the store” at 9th and Butler in North Philly. Her father, Oscar Goldstein, had a pharmacy complete with soda fountain that served the neighborhood. Miriam’s brother Robert also became a pharmacist, and her sister Edith went on to be an opera singer with the Philadelphia Opera. Their mother Freda, known as “Ma” Goldstein, was a singer and dancer who entertained troops at the USO during World War I. It was Freda who encouraged her daughters to go into the arts, an unusual attitude for a parent of girls in those days.

My mother took the stage name Miriam Golden when she began dancing with Philadelphia’s Littlefield Ballet as a teenager. She moved to New York to join Balanchine’s Ballet Caravan; when Ballet Theatre (now ABT) was founded in 1940, Miriam joined as a principal dancer. At 20 years old, she’d become a prima ballerina in what was to be American Ballet Theatre, America’s national ballet company.

In 1941, the new company was invited to be in residence for a year at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. There, Miriam met the comedian, actor and bullfighter Mario Moreno Reyes, also known as Cantinflas.

Today Cantinflas is considered the Charlie Chaplin of Mexico – Chaplin himself once said that he was the best comedian alive. The place that Cantinflas holds in the hearts of the Mexican people can’t be overstated. He’s pictured everywhere  – in books, museums, toys, puppets, posters, and in the reruns of his over forty films. Most Americans know him only from his starring appearance in the 1959 movie Around the World in 80 Days as David Niven’s comical valet.

But in 1941 he was just starting out – and so was my mother. They fell in love and, for that year, they were sweethearts. The hand-made book is illustrated with photos, letters, and telegrams recording their long-ago love affair.

Miriam Golden and Mario Moreno remained good friends through the years following Ballet Theatre’s residency in Mexico. When she made the decision to leave the company and take a job dancing in Hollywood at MGM, Mario sent her a telegram wishing her the best of luck – it’s reproduced in “El Torero y La Bailarina” along with photos of young dancers, the two of them holding hands, and a photo from the 50’s that reveals my mother’s decision about her life to come.

My mother told me this story after I grew up; we sat together as she identified now-famous dancers in old photos and shared the meaning of cryptic telegrams.

edith mir mildred bob richie 1952

“El Torero y La Bailarina” brings this delightful story to the public for the first time. It has given me a powerful connection to my mother at a time in her life when she was younger than my own daughter is now. The book is finding its place in book collections at Stanford, Mills College, CalPoly, and other university archives. It gives me great pride to know that her dream of success in the world of dance had been fulfilled. “A girl from Philly makes good!” she’d say – and she would have loved starring in this romantic story.

Miriam passed away in 2010 at age 90. In the days before her death, she talked about how happy she’d been with her life and that it was her time to go. She’d announce “Exit, stage right!” to the family gathered around her. A star till the end.

stop for gas group

Golden was born Miriam Goldstein in Philadelphia in 1920, the second of three children born to Israel and Freda Goldstein. Her sister, Edith Frumin, was an opera singer with the Philadelphia Opera, and still lives in the Philadelphia area.

Golden began her professional career in her teens with the Littlefield Ballet before joining Balanchine’s Ballet Caravan (later New York City Ballet.) She danced in Ballet Theatre’s inaugural performance at Rockefeller Center on January 11, 1940. As a principal, Golden appeared in the first American performance of Tudor’s “Dark Elegies” in 1940. She also portrayed Lady Montague in the premiere of his one-act “Romeo and Juliet” in 1943, with Hugh Laing and Alicia Markova in the title roles and a young Jerome Robbins as Benvolio.

Golden settled in L.A. in 1944 and went on to dance as a “Goldwyn Girl” in MGM film musicals, including “Show Boat” (1951). She worked with such legends as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Cyd Charisse. With Irina Kosmovska, Golden founded the Los Angeles Junior Ballet, which in 1974 became the official school of John Clifford’s Los Angeles Ballet.

For more information about the book, please contact [email protected]


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One reply on “A Philadelphia ballerina makes good, stars in a story book love tale”

  1. This is a fascinating story of youthful exuberance and adventure. What a magnificent tale of young love. The backdrop of looming world war, a group of legendary dancers just beginning their careers, and an audience appreciative of great art becomes such an entertaining tale that one cannot ignore.

    You’re so lucky to have had Miriam Golden as a parent and role model.

    Kindest Regards,

    Duane Burger

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