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Dancing Duo

Image: Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society
by Patricia A. Martinelli

The arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 would send the United States reeling for more than a decade. One of the few bright spots during that time was in entertainment, where many people were distracted by movies starring heroic cowboys, the impish Shirley Temple and comedy acts like the Marx Brothers. Then, there was the talented team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that danced their way into America’s hearts on the silver screen.

What many people don’t know is that South Jersey produced its own popular dance team in the early 1930s, whose live performances attracted Hollywood’s attention, as well. Both talented dancers, Peppino Dallolio of Vineland and Pleasantville native Rhoda Griscom were still in high school when they met. Prior to that time, both had appeared on stage in local productions.

After teaming up, the young couple who were billed as “Peppino and Rhoda,” performed in theaters and clubs all over the United States. It was while they were appearing at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia that they were invited to sail to Europe when their engagement ended. After they arrived in England, the team performed at the Mayfair Hotel and the prestigious London Palladium.

At the end of their six-months abroad, Peppino and Rhoda returned to the United States and continued to dance at elegant hotels, theaters and nightclubs throughout the country. In 1933, they signed a six-week contract with the Dells Country Club in Chicago, performing to the music of Guy Lombardo and his orchestra.

Three years later, they were discovered by Hollywood agent Harry Cohn while appearing at the Central Park Casino in New York. He signed them to a long-term contract with Columbia Pictures where they appeared in The Music Goes ‘Round, a low-budget comedy about a group of struggling dancers on Broadway. South Jersey residents had the opportunity to cheer them on when the film was presented for one night only at the Grand Theater in Vineland.

Unfortunately, the couple had to hang up their dancing shoes for a while after Rhoda suffered a back injury on the movie set. Then, she suddenly fell in love and married a German aristocrat named Richard Von Shrenk. After tying the knot in Elkton, Maryland, the couple moved to her husband’s homeland. Although the newspapers reported at the time that she planned to go on dancing, there seems to be no trace of Rhoda after she was wed.

Without his partner, Peppino accepted several small parts in films but never achieved stardom. By then, he found that he had lost his enthusiasm for performing. In 1938, he met and married Jane Connelly and their son, Daniel, was born the following year. For a time, he worked as a salesman for a glass company and found himself selling to some of the same theaters and hotels where he had once been a star.

But entertainment was still in his blood so after a few years, Peppino went into partnership with George McQueen of New Orleans. There, they opened a cocktail lounge and supper club, where he danced with a new partner.

By 1950, Peppino accepted the job of working as a head waiter at Guy Lombardo’s East Point Restaurant on Long Island. Although the position as head waiter was demanding, he noted in an article in the September 4, 1950, edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle: “I still dance plenty. Very often some of my former lady fans come into the Lombardo East Point House and ask me to dance them over to their tables. And I never refuse.”

Peppino, who died in 1983 at the age of 76, is buried at Siloam Cemetery in Vineland.