Marina del Rey resident Betty Scott Culiner was destined to be a dancer before she was even born in Hollywood in 1929.
“Before I was born, my mom went to a mind reader and was told, ‘You’re going to have a daughter and she’s going to dance all over the world,'” Culiner said.
So, at age six, her mom enrolled her in ballet classes, where Culiner studied under Nico Charisse, ex-husband of renowned dancer and actress Cyd Charisse.
Culiner — who, throughout her dancing career appeared in hundreds of performances on stage, in the movies and on television — was a natural.
Now, at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 19th, Culiner will share her inside story, answer questions and show film clips from some of her many performances, at the Lloyd W. Taber-Marina del Rey Library, 4533 Admiralty Way, in Marina del Rey. Information, (310) 821-3415.
The event, sponsored by Friends of the Library, will be held in the Greg and Mimi Wenger Community Room. All are welcome to attend.
“She has told me so many wonderful stories, I want her to share them with our neighbors,” said Virginia Harms, president of Friends of the Marina Library, who met Culiner at the gym in the Marina City Club.
“I was so impressed with her many accomplishments,” Harms said. “The friendlier we got, the more I heard, I thought, ‘Wow, this would be a great program for the library.’ She was a terrific dancer.”
And many choreographers and casting directors thought the same as Harms. Before Culiner was even a teenager, she had danced in several movies.
By the age of 14, she was on the road with a show called The Waltz King, traveling across the country from San Francisco to Chicago. Locally, she performed at the original Philharmonic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles.
Also as a teen, Culiner appeared at the Greek Theater and at the Civic Light Opera in Los Angeles, performing in light operas.
And during World War II, Culiner performed for injured American soldiers in hospitals.
“It was terrible,” she remembers. “They were bed-ridden and most of them had no legs. That cruel war. It was just so awful.”
In 1948, at just 21, Culiner joined the original Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a famous ballet company that toured mainly in Europe.
She took the Queen Mary from New York to South Hampton, England to join the ballet company.
Culiner remembers that she couldn’t get out of her cabin because she felt so sick aboard the Queen Mary, as the boat had no stabilizers.
With Ballet Russe, Culiner toured in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Tangiers, until the company disbanded.
Culiner had a ritual she did prior to each show.
“Before I did any performance, I would bend over and tap on the floor three times as a superstition to do a good job,” she said.
With the disbanding of Ballet Russe, Culiner returned to Hollywood and was given the opportunity to audition for Gene Kelly at MGM Studios. The audition was a success.
“And Gene Kelly said to the front office, ‘Put her in all the unions and central casting. I want her to work in all my movies,'” Culiner said.
Culiner danced in An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, among other films.
Of Kelly, Culiner says, “I always thought he was terrific. He got me into everything.”
Culiner also worked on the movie I’ll Cry Tomorrow with Susan Hayward and in a movie with Bing Crosby.
“He hit on me,” Culiner said of Crosby. “He tried to date me. I said, ‘I’m going with somebody.'”
Culiner laughs as she recalls working on the movie Bagdad with Vincent Price and Maureen O’Hara, when a camel spit on her.
“We were out in the desert shooting [the movie],” she said. “That’s when the camel spit on me. I was just walking by, minding my own business.”
For many of the movies and television shows she worked on, Culiner also helped teach choreography to the actresses.
It was hard work, she says. Sometimes she would spend up to 12 hours a day dancing on movie sets.
“The choreographers liked hiring me because they knew I could teach,” Culiner said.
Culiner even assisted choreographer Bob Fosse on My Sister Eileen in teaching dance numbers to the female stars, including Janet Leigh, who became a dear friend to Culiner throughout the years.
“Janet Leigh would not do a movie unless I was in it,” Culiner said. “I taught her. I would learn all the routines and teach her. Janet was forever having me hired.'”
Culiner remembers a period when Howard Hughes was “madly in love with Janet Leigh” and would stop by the rehearsal halls to check on Leigh.
“Howard would come in and peek in on us,” Culiner recalls. “He’d just open the door and peak in on us and see what we were doing.”
Later, Culiner worked in television. She appeared in every episode of The Alan Young Show and frequently appeared on The Colgate Comedy Hour musical variety show, where she worked with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope and Donald O’Connor, among others.
She appeared on the first-ever color television broadcast in the United States, which was an episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour, hosted by Donald O’Connor in 1953. One thing she says she remembers well is that the body makeup was awful.
Culiner also worked on The Glen Miller Story and the I Love Lucy Show, teaching Lucille Ball dance steps and also dancing on the show.
Culiner also remembers being four months pregnant and working on The Red Skelton Show. Skelton wouldn’t let her leave the show, even though she was pregnant, because of his superstition.
“He said, ‘You cannot quit the show. We’ll put you on a barstool and let you look pretty,'” Culiner said. So that’s exactly what she did.
Several months later, Culiner had a daughter, Melissa, with her late husband Alexander Culiner, whom she met when he introduced himself to her on the set of I Love Lucy.
Alexander Culiner had been practicing medicine in South Africa and had come back to the U.S., where his friends had been trying to set him up with girls he wasn’t interested in.
He was watching I Love Lucy and said, “That’s what I like and he pointed to me,” Culiner said. “He knew one of the executives [on the show], so he came down and introduced himself to me. The rest is history.”
Shortly after having Melissa, Culiner, who danced about 30 years in hundreds of performances, retired from the industry.
The thing she misses most about her dancing days are the people.
“I miss the people because they were so darn good to me,” she said.
Today, Culiner, who has lived in the Marina since the mid-1980s, likes to go to movies and she keeps a box at the Hollywood Bowl for the summer concerts.
Best of all, she’s happy.