University of North Carolina at Asheville
D. Hiden Ramsey Library
Special Collections/University Archives

Oral History Register
for

Beale Fletcher and Peggy Fletcher

 


Voices of Asheville Oral History Collection
D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, UNCA

Title

Beale and Peggy Fletcher Oral History

Creator

Dorothy Joynes for Voices of Asheville Oral History Collection

Subject
LCSH:

Fletcher, Beale, 1914-1994
Fletcher, Peggy
Asheville (N.C.) -- History
Dance -- Instruction and Study -- North Carolina -- Asheville
Male dancers

Subject
Keyword:

Land of the Sky Civic Ballet ; Fletcher School of Dance ; Arden House ; Blake House ; Rockettes ; Miss America Pageant ; Keith Vaudeville Circuit

Description

Abstract: The first section of the interview is an extended discussion by Beale Fletcher of the early history of the Arden and Fletcher areas, including the Fletcher Inn, Arden House (hotel), the Blake family, the Westfeldt family, and the Fletcher family. Beale describes how he became interested in dancing, and how he met Peggy, who became his dance partner and wife.  They discuss their experiences traveling together with their children, and talk about the dance studio that they opened.
They discuss the career of their daughter, Maria, who was Miss America in 1962. She performed extensively and won talent contests as a child. Her ambition was to become a "Rockette" at Radio City Music Hall in New York which she succeeded in doing.  She became Miss America during her first year there. Details of the operation of the Miss America Pageant are described in the interview.  The Fletchers' other children, Walter, Margaret and Bonnie, are also discussed.   The Fletchers describe several different aspects of dancing, and talk about various projects that they have been involved in through the years.

Publisher

D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, NC, 28804

Contributor

Fletcher, Beale ; Fletcher, Peggy

Date

Electronic Record Issued: 2002-04-29

Type

Sound ; Text ; Image

Format

Physical Description: 9-page abstract ; 1 90-minute audiocassette and 2 copies ; 2 color photographs ; newspaper articles and brochures

Identifier

http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/oralhistory/VOA/D_H/Fletcher_B&P.html

Source

OH-VOA F561 Be

Language

English

Relation

References:

Coverage

1920's-1992 ; Asheville, NC
Rights No restrictions: Copyright retained by the authors of certain items in the collection or their descendents, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Acquisition

Donor number: 146 ;  Date of acquisition: 1998

Processed By

Dorothy Joynes, Ruth Beard and staff

Interview Date

1992-11-04

Interview Location

207 Governor's View Road, Asheville, NC

Biography

Beale Fletcher was born in the Arden/Fletcher area south of Asheville where his father owned a small dairy. He attended the Fletcher school, and later Christ School (in Arden). He graduated from Vanderbilt University. Peggy (Gatley) Fletcher is from Montreal. At the time she and Beale met, she was dancing six months each year in the United States. They met professionally and became a dance team. Beale showed early talent for performing and was allowed to go to New York with his parents' support; he also partially supported himself in school through dancing.
After beginning their family the Fletchers continued to travel, but when Maria, the oldest, became school age they settled in Asheville. They opened their own studio, the Fletcher School of Dance, and also taught in schools for a period of time. Their appearances during the opening period of a local television station (WLOS) helped their business initially.  In addition to their school, the Fletchers started the Land of the Sky Civic Ballet
in 1948 which was open to anyone through audition. Their son Walter and his wife Linda became studio managers. Walter died in a private plane accident in recent years. His widow Linda was in the process of buying the studio at the time of the interview.  

Note from Peggy Gatley, niece of Peggy Fletcher:

[My] dear aunt's proud maiden name, ... was "Gatley", in Scot's Gaelic it translates as "Heroic Messenger", which she certainly shall forever remain, through each talented dancer that graduates from "Land of the Sky Ballet!"
  The "Gatleys", emigrated to Montreal, Canada, from Loch Lomand, Scotland, in 1923. Peggy was born in Dunbarton, Scotland, 1914. Peggy's father, Harry Gatley, was a Captain of the Horse Guard, of the Royal Scottish Bengal Lancers,who fought the ruthless, tribal, Pathans (related to Osama Bin Laden), in Afghanistan & India. He flew across enemy lines on horseback to deliver messages, true to his name, and regaled Peggy and my father, Robert, on how the fierce Pathans could suddenly attack, then disappear like quick silver into the mountains; similar to what soldiers face there today! Cancer set in after breaking his back during battle on horseback and he died only a year or so after emigrating to Canada. He bequethed his battle claymores, to Aunt Peggy who used them for Highland dance competitions for many years.
  The Gatley's were a proud sette of the Stewart Clan and were related to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Flora Macdonald, freed Charles, disguised as a woman, from a British jail and led him to the boat that left from the Isle of Skye. Peggy's brother Robert Gatley, married my mother Marie, a direct relative of Flora Macdonald, finally bringing the two together, after all those centuries! Flora Macdonald came to live in Ashville, NC, returning to the Isle Of Uist, in Scotland, where she died.  
   Hence, perhaps the meaning behind the name, "Land of the Sky Ballet. "Peggy's mother, "Peggy", used to sing the lullaby, "Over the Sea to Skye", to all of us as babies. I know my father cherished a recording Maria Fletcher did of the  many  old Scottish hymns that her grandmother Peggy Gatley sang to her as a child.
    
Sincerely,
Peggy Gatley, B.ed
 
 

List of names

[2/365] Baryshnikov, Mikhail
[1/1] [1/79] Blake, Robert
[2/23] Crawford, Joan
[2/401] Creech, Jessie
[1/206] Dempsey, Jack
[2/538] Fletcher, Bonnie
[1/88] Fletcher, Dr. George Washington
[1/469] Fletcher, Linda
[2/538] Fletcher, Margaret
[1/332] [1/482] Fletcher, Maria
[1/469] Fletcher, Walter
[1/224] Fletcher, Peggy Gatley
[1/192] Hempville, Elsie
[1/332] Herbert, Dr. Pinkney
[2/186-205] Hays, Hubert
[2/186-205] Hays, Leona
[1/440] Hyatt, Marguerite
[1/223] Keith Vaudeville Circuit
[1/379] Koontz, Edward J.
[2/347] Murray, Arthur
[1/440] Norris, Angie
[2/23] Parks, Bert
[1/223] Roe, Jimmy
[1/79] Ross, Col. Malcolm
[1/79] Rutledge, Fred
[2/401] Sanders
[1/1] [1/123] Shepard, Katharine Bynum
[1/79] Shuford, Charles
[1/482] Silvers, Monte
[1/206] Tunney, Gene
[1/79] Vanderbilt, George
[1/440] [2/401] Weaver, Alice
[1/79] Westfelt, George

Side 1:

[1]  Beale tells about the Arden House, known in the area for big Christmas parties.  The house was built to accommodate a 3-story tree and every year three parties were given - complete with presents - one for friends, one for blacks and another for the poor - there was an orchestra and food.  It burned in 1922, was rebuilt, his aunt lived there after the grandparents died.  It later deteriorated and was torn down. [Katharine told me to ask about this house] [Katharine Shepard]

[40]  The Blake houses were famous in the area.  Royal Pines is one of them.  There is a swimming pool and recreation area around it.  It is now a restaurant.  He gave a talk to the DAR there about family history (see enclosure). [Robert Blake]

[79]  The houses in the Arden area were big and open to friends who dropped in on Sunday.  Tea was always ready.  Several of these houses still stand. [George Vanderbilt, Robert Blake, Charles Shuford, Fred Rutledge, Col. Malcolm Ross, George Westfelt]

[88]  He tells about his grandfather who settled in the Fletcher area before the train came through which picked up livestock for Charleston, from whence they would go to New York and Boston by boat (enclosure). [Dr. George Washington Fletcher]

[99]  His great grandfather settled in Essex, VA (see enclosure).

[108]  The Fletcher Inn was torn down around 1930 to accommodate drivers over what is now Highway 25.  They could cover 10 miles a day.  "Fletcher Stop" for the train gave the name to the area.

[123]  The old airport (now Steel Case Trucking Company) was on property owned by Katharine's grandfather.  It is 3 1/2 air miles from the new airport (he is a pilot). [Katharine Bynum Shepard]

[154]  He went to Fletcher School and then Christ School in Arden, NC (only had 11 grades - see enclosure).

[161]  His father had a small dairy and he started dancing in the cow barn to the rhythm of the blacks milking.  They played a rhythm and he beat it out with his feet [poor cows!].  He became a parlor entertainer and when he was attending a WWI soldier parade he stole the show by beating out the drum rhythm.

[192]  His aunt taught social dancing.  Whenever there was a show he world get in it. [Elsie Hempville]

[206]  His mother had a boarding house and he watched the boxers and took a few lessons in college. [Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney]

[223]  He was singled out as having talent and he told his mother that he wanted to study dancing in NY.  She invested $100 and he worked his way through school dancing. [Keith Vaudeville Circuit, Jimmy Roe]

[24]  Peggy, from Montreal, came to the US. for 6 months every year dancing.  He was told he needed a partner and they became a team. [Peggy Gatley]

[257]  They stopped traveling long enough to have babies and since, because of hotel restrictions during the war, they weren't allowed to have children in the room they smuggled them in in foot lockers (a delightful story).  They became known as "Beale and Peggy Fletcher, America's most versatile dance team."

[290]  When the children got older they bought a house trailer and later Peggy's mother came to live and they traveled all over the US.

[332]  When Maria had to go to school (later Miss America), they opened a dance school.  First on 70 N. Market, while living in a trailer, and later two more schools.  They also taught in schools.  There was a petition signed by 600 against this "sin" - so they went to St. Genevieve's where it was ok. [Maria Fletcher, Dr. Pinkney Herbert]

[379]  When Asheville got TV (it was WFBC, now channel 4) he offered to have a little child on to sing a song on the government sponsored program out of Greenville.  Biltmore Dairies agreed that, if this was a success, he would be signed on for 13 weeks.  This reached 300,000 at one time.  It worked and Fletcher got his advertising.  He started with 200 students and after a few months on TV there were 1,900.  Branch outlets were all around - American Legion halls, church halls.  Maria went around training teachers.

[440]  There were other studios of several hundred students each. Weaver had the only straight ballet studio.  Fletcher students opened their own studios. [Alice Weaver, Marguerite Hyatt, Angie Norris]

[469]  The Fletchers settled with two studios - one in Fletcher, one in Asheville, incorporated in 1969.  Their son and his wife managed one. [Walter Fletcher, Linda Fletcher]

[482]  Maria won contests when she was 7 with folk songs taught by her mother.  She won talent contests in school to raise money.  At 12 she was MC on a TV show.  Above all she wanted to be a Rockette and was to be auditioned in fall.  The Jr. Chamber of Commerce asked her to be in Miss Asheville contest - the Fletchers said no because she wouldn't be available for parades etc. [if she simultaneously became Miss Asheville and a Rockette].  She did run and won.  When she went to N.Y. she was told the JC's would want her time and the Rockettes wouldn't audition her.  Her manager in Asheville made her feel duty bound to return. [Maria Fletcher, Monte Silvers]

Side 2:

[2/12]  Before leaving NY the Rockettes gave her a mock ceremony and crowned her as Miss America before she ran for Miss NC contest.

[2/23]  Everyone wanted to tell her what to do - Land of Sky group said to use ballet, Business Manager said tap dance. Since Joan Crawford was president of Pepsi Cola (her sponsor), some said she should do a dramatic reading of Stella Dallas.  Fletcher had the idea of her recording 3 part harmony (voice over) in Charlotte and tap dance to her own singing (on tape).  She won, singing Somebody Loves Me. [Joan Crawford, Bert Parks]

[2/71]  The show was in Atlantic City and the Fletchers needed $ for the trip.  They were able to get Biltmore Dairies to have her endorse milk in the paper which made Pepsi mad - as both were drinks.

[2/110]  He explains how the Miss America pageant works.  This is non profit and used as a technique to hold tourists over in Atlantic City the week after Labor Day.  Sales people in Atlantic City pay the bills - TV etc. - thousands of dollars.  Miss America is paid a fee ($250) for performances and gives exclusive rights to sponsors and agrees to go where needed for a year.

[2/157]  When asked as Miss America what the most exciting time in her life was she said when she became a Rockette - no one happy to hear!

[2/186]  He graduated from Vanderbilt on a scholarship.

[2/205]  Peggy was always singing Scottish ballads and Maria took part in Mountain Youth Jamborees which began in 1927.  People came from 12 surrounding states. [Hubert Hays, Leona Hays]

[2/347]  It is now illegal to sell dance studio names (see Robert Bunn interview). [Arthur Murray]

[2/365]  He describes floors used by dancers.  Baryshnikov brought his own "Marley" floor (unrolls and prevents slipping) but tap dancers need a wood floor especially built for them.  "Slip No More" is a product used. [Mikhail Baryshnikov]

[2/401]  The Civic Ballet was started in 1946.  The Fletchers started the Land of the Sky Civic Ballet in 1948 which is open to anyone through audition.  Most students come from Fletcher school but the Civic Ballet is separate from the school. [Alice Weaver, Sanders, Jessie Creech]

[2/502]  The 18th Nutcracker suite will open in December (enclosure).

[2/538]  Beale plays a tape made by Peggy singing Try to Remember.

Thanks.

Walter, a dancer, married Linda.  He was killed in an air crash and Linda is running the Asheville studio and will buy out her in-laws.  She is working with Peggy on The Nutcracker Suite (enclosure). [Children: Maria, Walter, Bonnie, Margaret]

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