“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Bloody Saturday 80th Anniversary – The Tale of Terese Rudolph

Posted: August 12th, 2017 | No Comments »

Here’s a tale from Shanghai’s Bloody Saturday – August 14 1937 – that didn’t make it into my new Penguin China Special (forgive me, you only get 20,000 words with a Special) – Terese Rudolph…

Terese Rudolph was a dancer, showgirl and world traveller. In 1937 she was working in Shanghai, dancing in nightclubs – she was a trained ballerina, tap dancer and all round entertainer originally from Chicago. she was working in the Cathay around the time the bombs fell outside the hotel in August 1937 (“Bloody Saturday”) and her mother was worried enough to inquire after her – thereby getting her picture in the paper Stateside. She was OK and carried on dancing in Shanghai for a while…but there’s more to Terese than just August 1937 in Shanghai….

So here’s her story – Terese was born in 1913 in Budapest and came to America with her family when she was twelve years old. they settled in Chicago.She studied dance with Laurent Novikowf, who had once partnered Anna Pavlova. Apparently she never lost her Hungarian accent. At 17, she became a ballerina with the Chicago Civic Opera Company. In the early 1930s she appeared in various cabarets, nightclubs and reviews in the US and Canada as a “premiere danseuse” or “Hungarian Dancer” act. She was a smash all across the country – ballet, traditional Hungarian folk dancing and a little acrobatics thrown in for entertainment.

Somehow she travelled out to Shanghai and got a gig as the feature act at the Cathay Hotel. Her mum must have been wise to show business. She told the press in August 1937 she was concerned for her 21-year-old daughter in war-torn Shanghai – touching; Terese was over 24 by then. Here she is in her Cathay show…

When the bombs fell on the Cathay apparently Terese had hopped a steamer to Manila. But when she got there the city was paralysed by an earthquake so she hopped another steamer and sailed for Hong Kong – arriving right in the middle of a cholera epidemic. so she got a boat back to Shanghai. So she decided to use her last few dollars to get a ticket home to America. first all her trunks were left on the Bund and then she was left her ride home, the President Hoover, was accidentally strafed and bombed by the Chinese air force, though thankfully wasn’t sunk. however, one of her shapely dancers legs was scratched by glass from a smashed porthole. She got back to San Francisco on September 14th finally, took a train to Chicago and went straight to her mother’s house (also called Terese) on East 61st Street. I think we can all agree though that despite war, bombs, earthquakes, cholera and three weeks at sea Terese looked fantastic when she hit the dock at San Fran…and still with a sense of humour – Terese told the newsboys she’d invented a new dance in Shanghai, the “Shrapnel Swing”.

After Shanghai Terese was soon back in the swing dancing again in American nightclubs in 1938 and up till the start of WW2. Terese (who I think was known as “Teri” to her friends) joined the American United Service Organizations entertaining the troops during WW2. She appeared in America alongside an act called the Gloria Lee Girls. She was in Paris for the city’s liberation.

After the war she returned to America. In 1947 she appeared at the Copacabana in Miami Beach and danced in a review at the Rio Cabana Club in Chicago in 1947, where Billboard magazine noted her as the star of the show.  She then went to run the American Army owned Casa Carioca in Garmisch, Germany, around 1949. The Casa Carioca had an ice skating rink attached and she helped train the ice skaters in dance to improve their shows (though she didn’t skate herself); the skaters were from all over – America, Scotland, Germany. Terese stayed in Garmisch till 1971. Terese Rudolph died of a heart attack at 92 in 2005.


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