Isadora Duncan was an American dancer born in 1877 on what is now the site of a Walgreens at the corner of Geary and Taylor in San Francisco. Until recently, I had known little else about her, except, of course, that she died of strangulation when her long scarf becoming entangled in a wheel and rear axel of the car she was riding in. Decades ago I had even slogged through Isadora, the 1968 biopic starring Vanessa Redgrave, but remembered only her flouncy, freeform dancing style that seemed to scream “Catch me, I’m springtime!”
For the Karel Reisz-directed film, Redgrave was nominated for an Oscar as the woman who eschewed the rigid formality of ballet and created her own method of movement. Vincent Canby, in his New York Times review, called Duncan “the high priestess of modern dance, a lady who never wrote of her Art without capitalizing it and who may have been—even with all her lovers, vanities and her muddled philosophy—this century's most innocent, most implacable, most successful American revolutionary.”
Among her exploits and endeavors, it was Duncan’s school in Paris that resulted in a surprising connection between the dancer and a little girl who later became one of Hollywood’s most enduring character actors. At age 10, Elsa Lanchester joined Duncan’s Bellevue School, where she was enrolled for two years. In a 1969 interview with Dick Cavett, Lanchester spoke about life with husband Charles Laughton, her own acting career and her wickedly funny and delightfully low opinions of the legendary dance teacher she had as a child.
Lanchester talks about Isadora Duncan at the 5:47 mark…
…and continues at the beginning of this clip: