Dorothy Barrett is a longtime actress and teacher of aspiring actors and performers. She is a regular patron of Vivian's Millennium Cafe, coming to enjoy her breakfast just about everyday.
Dorothy is 96 years old and unfortunately is facing a great personal challenge. Dorothy Barrett is the co-founder of the American National Academy of Performing Arts that has been in Studio City since 1957, where she still teaches students of acting and dance to this day. But recent circumstances has her facing the Academy possibly being closed down and leaving her with no place to live.
Dorothy Barrett loves showing off the photographs she has on the walls of her office, and in almost every room of the American National Academy of Performing Arts.
“Here’s me in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and over here is when I was in ‘Gone With the Wind,’” said Barrett, who at 96 still gets around and is able to show students how to tap and move across the stage.
“That’s the piano that Joan Crawford helped me pay off,” Barrett said, pointing an upright piano in the corner of the dance studio. “She gave me the last $500 I needed to pay it off.”
In a corner of Dorothy’s office, is a signed photograph from Crawford (with whom she appeared in the film Mildred Pierce) and it reads “Good Luck in Your New Endeavor—Joan Crawford.”
Joan Crawford has been in this Studio City space as has actors John Forsythe, funnyman Jerry Lewis and the founder Francis Lederer.
The school has spawned Academy Award winner Helen Hunt (who attended nearby Valley View Elementary School) as well as Erin Sanders, Scarlett Pomers, Mike Nader, Paul Gleason and others.
Actress Amy Castle from Passions and General Hospital is helping save the Academy because the heirs of Lederer are planning to auction the building in May. (See the video here.)
“I don’t want to know about it, I don’t want to think about it, I just cannot believe this is happening,” Dorothy said.
Dorothy lives in the back of the two-story building at 10944 Ventura Blvd. that is 6,247 square feet on a large 6,644 square-foot lot. It was supposed to be auctioned off on May 17.
“I remember when there were tennis courts across the street, it was very nice,” Barrett said, pointing to where the Ralphs complex is now.
She lived in a big white house within walking distance in the Studio City hills near the intersection of Ventura and Vineland.
“This area has changed so much, but in some ways it is pretty much the same,” Barrett said. “The traffic got a bit more.”
Dorothy Barrett was born in Los Angeles Hospital and she became a Valley girl long before it was chic to be a Valley girl. Her father helped run Griffith Park when it was deeded over to the city, and he was killed when a car ran the intersection of a red light just outside the park. Ironically, he had lobbied to have a light installed in the intersection.
She enjoyed acting and became a contract player and an Earl Carroll Girl. She knew and worked with Evelyn Moriarty, a longtime resident of North Hollywood who was a stand-in for Marilyn Monroe and a fellow Earl Carroll Girl, and she knew Marsha Hunt, who lived nearby in Studio City before settling in Sherman Oaks.
Dorothy was rarely credited in the movies, but worked alongside the greats—she has a photograph of her hoofing with Fred Astaire while she was in Blue Skies with he and Bing Crosby, she was a showgirl with Betty Hutton in Dream Girl and a model in the window in Bob Hope’s Where There’s Life.
But Dorothy found her calling in teaching, and for the past 49 years taught dance and theater at the Academy.
Dorothy doesn’t have any heirs, but she has a lot of students who love her, and they are trying to raise money to help her save the Academy. Dorothy says she had no idea her former co-owner sold his share of the business more than 20 years ago.
The Academy, and its fans and supporters, are trying to raise $1 million to keep the operation running and buy out the current co-owner.
“All I really have is them, the students, and the lovely memories of Studio City,” Dorothy Barrett said.
“I’m not going out of this place,” she said defiantly. “I’m not, no matter what.”
All I can say is WOW, what a special lady and am hoping for her to see the end of the rainbow.
After viewing the video below and if you are able to help Dorothy and save her beloved Academy, please contact George Marshall, the owner of Vivian's or fill in the form below. You will be contacted to help you help Dorothy.