In an episode of The Judy Garland Show with guests Martha Raye and Peter Lawford from 1964, a group of six dancers perform a dance called The Nitty Gritty. All the dancers are excellent, but one really stands out, as you will soon see.
The Judy Garland Show aired on CBS on Sunday nights during the 1963–1964 television season. Despite a stormy relationship with Judy Garland, CBS had success with her television specials. For years, Garland had been reluctant to commit to a weekly series, but at this point she was broke and the show was the answer to her financial woes. It only lasted one season, yet it is now much-loved and an important piece of television history.
From the moment The Nitty Gritty starts, a certain dancer stands out thanks to his enthusiasm. That dancer is Bobby Banas. He steals the spotlight in this number. He also choreographed, and wasn’t supposed to dance the number, only stepping in at the last moment when another male dancer was sick.
Before his attention-getting moves for The Nitty Gritty, he appeared in the film adaptation of West Side Story (1961) and got to kiss Marilyn Monroe in the movie Let’s Make Love. During the filming of The Judy Garland Show, Banas was also working as a singing, dancing chimney sweep in Mary Poppins (1964) over at Disney Studios. So, I wonder, how did he get the energy for this performance? Hmmm.
Banas had a long and successful career dancing in the Broadway, Film, and Television industries. Born in New York in 1933, Banas began taking dance lessons with his sister as a boy. After the second World War II ended, the Banas family moved to Los Angeles where Banas began taking class at the Michael Panaieff School of Ballet and attended the Hollywood Professional School. After graduating, he began auditioning for and performing in productions at Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. He was in production of Peter Pan that transferred to Broadway and played for six months. In the 1950s Banas began appearing on The Danny Kaye Show and The Dinah Shore Show.
Banas became a sought-after choreographer and popular dance teacher in Los Angeles.
The Nitty Gritty was written by Lincoln Chase and recorded by Shirley Ellis. It reached Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in summer 1964.
Ellis was a great Soul singer, but she is now remembered for her novelty hits The Name Game (1964), which went to Number 5 on the Pop charts, and The Clapping Song (1965), which went to Number 6. Those to recording sold over two million copies.
Gladys Knight and the Pips covered The Nitty Gritty and Divine did a version of The Name Game. The Name Game was covered by Jessica Lange and the cast of American Horror Story: Asylum (2011) for an episode of the same name.
Ellis left this world in 2005, but Banas is still with us.