Frankie Garcia

Frankie Garcia, 1929–2002

Most of us learned of Frankie’s passing in an e-mail message from Beth Bagnold on Friday, December 13, 2002:

     “Dear Friends, Frankie left us yesterday morning. I am sad to know that this very special person is no longer with us, but relieved that he has left suffering behind and died peacefully. . . . I know that Frankie knew he was loved by all of you.”

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The following obituary was written for Dance Magazine by Murray Louis:

     Frank Garcia, distinguished costumer and director of the Nikolais/Louis archives, died from leukemia December 12, 2002.  He was 73.
     He was born and raised in New York City. After studying fabrics at the Textile Institute in lower Manhattan, he became the director of display advertising for a major New York shoe manufacturer while freelancing in theatrical costume design and construction.
     In 1960 he collaborated on the major Alwin Nikolais work Totem, and in 1961 he created the costumes for his first Murray Louis work, Calligraph for Martyrs.  This collaboration between Mr. Garcia and the two choreographers would continue for forty-two years. In 1980 he became director of the Nikolais/Louis archives.
     Mr. Garcia also created costumes for Hanya Holm, the José Limon Company, Rudolf Nureyev, the Royal Danish Ballet, Batsheva Dance Company, the Dallas Ballet, and the Cleveland Ballet, as well as for many choreographers of the Nikolais/Louis tradition.
     He was an essential part of the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance, designing and executing costumes for both companies. His personal and professional warmth was reassuring to the many dancers he clothed over the years.
     He is survived by a niece and two grandsons.

Frankie’s cousin Angela has provided this additional information:

     Frankie was born in Manhattan to Paco and Mercedes Garcia on March 22, 1929.  (He would have been 74 on March 22, 2003). He grew up and always lived in Manhattan.  He had a sister, Sandra Fatauzzi (deceased), and a son, Kim (also deceased).  He is survived by two grandsons, Jason and Julius; a niece, Vanessa Velez (Sandra’s daughter); and three greatnieces (Vanessa’s daughters; Frankie referred to them as his grandbabies). Frank also has a great-granddaughter (Julius’s daughter); her name is Imani Victorious Garcia, 3 years old.

Memories of Frankie

The following tales and tributes have been contributed by those whose lives Frankie touched.

Norman Ader:
     Sooo sorry to hear about Frankie.  My Christmas card came back.  My memories of him working so hard in the basement at Henry Street seem like only yesterday.  So dedicated to his art, he inspired me, and helped to make my first costumes for Pumpernickel Players.  He always made us feel what we were about to do was about to stun the dance world!  We always saw our success in his eyes, a truly kind and loving man.  He remains a part of us always.  He is about what the dance world has always been about—a kind of spiritual dedication to a gift that we were honored to have flow through us, a gift that would manifest itself in front of our eyes and sometimes if we got it right, would simply bring us to think.

Frankie with Ruth Scherer

Frankie with Ruth Scherer, mid-70s

Photo: Beth Bagnold

Beverly Blossom:
     What stands out in my memory of Frankie?  His delightful and delighted sense of humor, of course!  When I want to be cheered up I think of his special laugh, and I can actually hear it in my mind’s “ear.”

Dudley Brooks:
     Frankie was the kind of person who leaves an indelible impression without having to do anything dramatic enough to tell stories about.  He was always kind, always nice, always sweet, always helpful, and always calm.  And I think he genuinely liked everyone.  He was very self-effacing, but he should go down in the history of costuming if only just for his invention of the easy-to-put-on unitard-without-a-zipper.

Susan Buirge:
     I guess all the stories begin with “I remember. . .”  Well, I remember when Nik was beginning to work on the girls’ trio in Vaudeville of the Elements with the hooped dresses.  We three were Ann Carlton, Carolyn Carlson, and I.  Frankie, of course, knew perfectly well that I was not as tall as the other two long blondes, but he was told by Nik to make the three dresses the same length.  Which is exactly what he did, although he had informed Nik that I was shorter.  But Nik did not want to believe him.  Well, when the three of us girls walked on the stage of the Playhouse for the first rehearsal, Nik looked befuddled at my dress dragging on the floor and asked why.  When we lined up side by side to prove the difference in height, Nik just told me to go downstairs and ask Frankie to shorten the dress.  And that meant having to take the whole thing apart, because the hoops had to coincide.  Dear Frankie patiently said, “Nik just did not want to believe that the three of you were not all the same height.”  Such devotion in such a dear man that gave life, color, and shape to the vision of Nik and thus participated directly in the genius of the works.

Mimi Garrard:
     Frankie made some costumes for my video work a few months before he went to the hospital.  He was showing some signs of fatigue at that time, but he was his most generous self.  I needed to use a costume before he had sewed a part that wouldn’t show in the video.  He was most concerned I let him fix it later.  He made the dancers feel so special.  I have never known a more generous, kind, and considerate person.

Kim Gibilisco:
     [Part of Kim’s biography info reads as follows:]  “Company member June 1994–December 1999.  Married to Bob Turner since December 1998 (Frankie caught my bouquet).”  [emphasis added]

Claudia Gitelman:
     The first quality that springs to my mind when I think of Frank is professionalism.  He understood Nik’s aesthetic and shared his vision of theater.  In the early days he and Nik improvised magic with 19-cent baubles.  Later, as new fabrics became available, Frank made magic with them.  He was master of the perfect fit, shopper par excellence, and patience personified.  Frank has a place in the history of dance as well as in our hearts.

Ruth Grauert:
     I recall that I once needed to be “posh” and had a rather see-through blouse on.  Frankie took one look at me and about ten minutes later presented me with an “undershirt,” which I still have and use on necessary occasions. I don’t believe that any one of us in need was ever neglected by him.
     Frankie and I had something special together in that his son, Kim, had spent a couple of summers with me at Bearnstow.  Kim was one of the earth’s shining young men that we lost too soon. Often we remembered them together.  And perhaps some of you remember Kim visiting the sewing basement at Henry Street Playhouse with Frankie’s younger sister.  They would wait quite patiently for Frankie to quit for the day.

Frankie with Ruth Scherer

Frankie with Nik, Gladys Roman, and Jim Teeters, mid-70s

Photo: Beth Bagnold

Elizabeth Higgins
     Frankie was one of the kindest and gentlest souls I had the good fortune to meet.  From the very first day I began rehearsing with the company he took me into his heart and gave me chocolate.  What more can you ask for in a friend?  Although he is no longer on this plane with us, I am sure that he is somewhere warm and friendly having a cool drink and sharing his chocolate and love with others.

Phyllis Lamhut—Random Thoughts about Frankie:
     I met him forty-three years ago.  He was a fabulous cha cha cha dancer.  Frankie, Bill Frank, and I would hit a few clubs together.  Garcia had rubber legs and a style that was awesome.
     All the costumes he made for me are a big beautiful blur, there were so many.  He cajoled me when I complained that Nik’s designs made me look fat.  I can still see the Junk Dances wig perched on a hat stand in his costume room, and the huge false eyelashes he purchased absolutely thrilled me.  He was also a tactful master of boob placement.
     He lived three blocks away from me in Manhattan.  We often met in Fairway, at the Carvel truck where he had his ice cream, on the corner of 72nd St., and in the subway.  Quiet, meticulous, never bad-mouthing anyone, he was a superb keeper of secrets.
     We had fun in the wonderful Southampton house of Nik and Murray; cooking, cleaning and laughing.
     He took care of his grandmother until she died at a ripe old age.  He suffered at the loss of his sister Sandra and his son Kim.
     I visited him regularly when he was at Roosevelt-St. Luke’s Hospital and noticed his decline.  He had me tidy things up because he couldn’t stand the hospital mess.  He proudly spoke of being a grandpa and showed me photos of his grandchildren.
     His life took many turns and through it all he never stopped being a most wonderful creative artist.  The angels in heaven are flying around in their appliquéd leotards, and the void on earth will never be filled.

Marc Lawton (Angers Company, 7880):

     From over the ocean
     French dancers in motion
     Think of Frankie today.
     Can you hear what they say?

     For so many years faithful,
     For so many works creative,
     For so many dancers, a bagful
     Of colors, textures, and many-a-motif.

     Appreciated in New York and Paris,
     You also excelled as an archivist
     With memory, patience, gentleness.

     Nik, Murray, and much of the dance
     In America and also in France
     Will always remember your kindness.

Lynn Needle:
     I knew Frankie Garcia for twenty-one years, working closely together for most of that time.  As a young 21 year-old dancer, my first impression upon meeting him was one of elegance, dignity, poise, creativity, humor, and utter handsomeness.  He was always close to his sewing machine, never veering too far away, rarely even stepping outside for coffee or lunch, unless of course, he needed a breath of fresh air to clear his mind from rehearsal and performance deadlines.  He would drink coffee and smoke cigarettes all day long and definitely enjoy his lunch.  He was always surrounded by fabric, pins and needles, embellishments, his ironing board, impeccably organized boxes of adornments he might use one day to design a costume, mask, prop, hat, or on occasion a party dress, wedding gown or parade ensemble.  Nothing was impossible for Frankie.  He would be constantly interrupted with questions from Nik and Murray, the staff, and roving dancers who needed his advice on their Saturday night date, outfit, or costume dilemma.  He was always patient and lent an ear to all stories regardless of mundanity, profoundness or length.  Just saying his name out loud made you feel better, because you knew he would be listening and invite conversation and give sage advice.
Frankie with Ruth Scherer

Ruth Sherer and Frankie at the Joyce Theatre, February, 1988

Photo: Michael Ballard
     Frankie was always impeccably groomed with perfectly pressed slacks, cashmere sweaters, and a varied wardrobe that was classic, sophisticated, yet so hip.  He had style that was so personal, memorable, and the envy of many.  He made you want to dress up!
     Often he would teach work/study students how to sew with the patience of a saint.  I vividly remember lying on my back with Tim Harling next to me on his work table on 18th Street when he was painting our nipples, ribs and pelvic structure on to flesh-toned unitards for the Persons and Structures costumes.  They were brand new (unlike the old Tensile Involvement costumes) and were custom made for each of our anatomies.  As he painted and we felt the tickle and coldness of the wet paint, we were told to stay still and wait for it to dry!  He sensed our impatience and eventually painted some of them on our beloved “Chatch,” a mannequin relic from Henry Street Playhouse, who didn't complain.
     An even more vivid memory was the day the Challenger exploded.  I was called out of rehearsal into the costume shop for a fitting and the radio was on, as it often was offering background news to Frankie as he worked endless hours preparing for a New York season or foreign tour.  I heard the announcement on the radio that the Challenger had exploded and time seemed to be suspended.  I will never forget that moment or the pale blue milliskin unitard I had on that day.  It was a unitard Frankie had given me that was in his “special box.”  Once I saw it, my eyes lit up and he gave it to me.  I still wear it and ironically was wearing it on September 11 for my morning ballet class, which I never made once the news of the WTC unfolded.
     My souvenirs from Frankie are priceless.  I have a 1930s pillbox hat with feather and veil he gave to me, which he found at a flea market, an L.L.Bean teddy bear he gave to Max when he was born and a special pop-up book entitled A Night in the Swamp, which Max adores, and Christmas ornaments, which he hand-picked from India.  He was so generous and loving!
     Frankie was a confidante to many, a teacher, a perfectionist, and a true friend.  Secrets were kept secret and fantasies shared and appreciated.  When Tito and I visited him during his last days in the hospital, we had a party.  We talked and laughed, told old stories, shared pictures, ate Jell-O, flirted with the nurse, and we felt as though no time at all had gone by.  I miss him and think of him every time I dress up, wondering if he would approve.  He is my fashion conscience both in and out of the studio.
     God bless him, with all my love, Lynn

Helen Kent Nicoll:
     I can tell you that more than any one specific event that I can recall, I marveled at how Frankie understood bodies.  All bodies.  But I would like to think that he was particularly attentive to mine because we always had to make so many adjustments: skirts were always too long (I was shorter than the other woman), straps were too thin (I always needed extra support in the breast area), the pants that were part of every unitard construction had to be fitted just right (I hated that saggy butt feeling and wanted the leg line to give the illusion of the longest leg).  Frankie worked magic.  I always felt long and, except for the yellow submarine costumes of Proximities, I, for the most part, felt lean.
     Then there were the appliqué nightmares.  Scherezade and Geometrics had endless hours of sewing.  We would stand on the costume table and sew onto each other for hours.  However, I had no patience and was the only one in the company who couldn’t sew, so Frankie took pity on me and often rescued me from this daunting task.  Always calm, always calming, he was always there to see me through my costume crises.  When I left Murray and went out on my own, Frankie made a few of my costumes.  The one I will treasure is a simple blue leotard that was the most beautiful shade of blue and was fitted perfectly to my body.  It never pulled or rode up or caused me any problems.  In fact, when I danced I felt completely free.  I danced that solo, Indigo, in that costume for almost ten years.
     But beyond Frankie’s genius in the costume area, he was the heart and soul of the Nikolais/Louis organization.  He was the magnetic center of it all and a safe sanctuary to rest a weary head when the air was chaotic and tensions and tempers were flying.  I loved that man and will miss him terribly.

Pam Levy-Arauz:
     I remember a day of walking around Montpellier with Frankie and Kim Giblisco.  It was warm and beautiful outside.  Kim and I wanted to shop, and Frankie was right there with us.  Whenever we fretted about whether or not to buy something, he would say, “Oh it looks gorgeous. Buy it dear!”
     And then there were the little gifts at a Joyce opening or at Holiday time.  Everything personalized.  It made us feel special.
     I remember Frankie being so patient with all of us and our little costume issues.  He was always under so much pressure but managed to find time to help us with all of our complaints (or at least hand over a piece of elastic or thread for us to fix it ourselves).
     Although at the time I occasionally resented that we all had to help with costumes, it eventually became a source of pride.  It meant a lot to me that Frankie allowed such clumsy hands to play with his creations.  Those “sewing circles” were also a great time to sit and chat with the others and to be with him.  He was always a source of comfort in a tumultuous environment.  His sense of humor, humanity, warm support, and wisdom enabled me to continue on days I thought I couldn’t.  He was a rarity—a gem.
     And of course, there was the time he made g-string body stockings for the women in the company and, on mine, ended up sewing the “butt” part in front!  That was so funny!
     I will miss him.

Frankie in his sewing room with postcards

Frankie in his sewing shop at the Broadway studio with his many postcards

Photo: Sari Nordman

Sari Nordman:
     I found one picture of Frankie in his old sewing room on West Broadway.  I forgot about the postcards he used to place on his wall until I saw this picture.
     I remember Frankie as a person who had a soft voice and smile.  He once made me redo a shirt that I had sewn for a boyfriend of mine.  I had left the sleeves long as I didn’t know exactly how short I should cut them.  Before giving my gift, I showed it to Frankie and he noticed the sleeves.  Without a word, he took the shirt and pinned the sleeves.  Then he told me to sew the sleeves all over again.  I felt like that was a good thing to do and did what he asked me to.  He had a tender spirit.
     P.S. from Ruth:  Frankie cherished all the postcards sent him by the dancers on tour, but he was especially fond of those “naughty” French ones.

Gerald Otte:
     When I first came to Henry Street, I knew that there was a refuge downstairs under the stage.  That refuge was presided over by Frankie Garcia.  He was always there ready to listen, suggest, laugh, and generally help any and all who ventured down there.  With all the wonderful but difficult turmoil that was Henry Street Playhouse, we needed the anchor that was Frankie.
     No matter where we migrated—36th Street, 18th Street, 5th floor, 7th floor—there was that special place that Frankie made that was more than the costume shop.  It was an extension of Frankie: honest, delightful, funny, silly, safe, and loving.

Sara Pearson:
     I arrived at the Space in June of 1973.  As a scholarship student, my job (in addition to stuffing press kits and running to the bank at 4:55 p.m. for Betty) was to assist Frankie in any way he needed.  His costume shop was in the basement then and my first assignment was to sew up endless seams of black fabric and then, to my delight, peruse the garment district for highly specific sparkly ornaments.  What an introduction to the streets of New York! 
     Every afternoon after class I would work with Frankie, taking breaks to run errands or watch Nik and Murray rehearse or choreograph my own comp studies.  It was 95 degrees the entire summer and I was in heaven. 
     From then through 1987, Frankie and his costume shop became a second home to me.  Bumming one of his True cigarettes, we’d smoke, sit, work, talk, be quiet, and enjoy the most comfortable, easy companionship I have ever known.  He taught me how to cut, sew, mend, rip, breathe, laugh. 
     One of the last times I saw him was at Janis Brenner’s 2000 New York season.  We ended up sitting next to each other, and I was anxiously hemming a costume that needed to be worn the next day.  He gave me a great sewing lesson as we laughed and talked, catching up after over ten years. 
     Being with him was always effortless, enjoyable, relaxing, in the truest sense.  How did he do it?  At once we were laughing, happy, so much easy love.  Frankie, couldn’t you have lasted until after our New York season next week?  I’m flipping out over my costumes: I’ve completely ripped apart a new pair of pants and am redesigning them for tomorrow—help!  Where are you??  I don’t need your body—just your advice and loving laughter.
     (P.S. I haven’t smoked in 20 years, but at this point I wouldn’t mind a drag either.)

Jim Van Abbema
     Gerald Otte and I visited Frankie at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx on December 3, and again on December 10, just two days before he passed away.  Our final visit was very short; Frankie was heavily sedated and was just not up to receiving visitors.  But on our December 3 visit, Frankie was in great spirits, even though it was clear he knew his time was limited.  We joked and laughed and reminisced—and ogled together at the soap opera hunks on TV!
     Frankie, like many of us on the tech staff, was content to remain in the background, but he was always there, and always there for us.  Over the years—at the Playhouse, The Space, or the 18th Street studios—on those very rare occasions when he could not be found in his costume shop or the studio, and one of us should phone him at home to find out if he was on his way, we would invariably hear, “Frankie no here; Frankie work!”  And in minutes, Frankie would arrive.  And he would be where he knew he belonged—there, for us.