Manny Dias Collection [1919-1950]

Dublin Core

Title

Manny Dias Collection [1919-1950]

Date

1919-1950

Description

Manny Dias, also known as the “Blonde Bombshell,” was a dancer and entertainer in Lowell. He was born in Lowell on November 19, 1909 to Domingos (born in Graciosa in 1876) and Avelina Dias (born in Spain around 1890). Manny later took advantage of this mixed Portuguese-Spanish background in his entertainment career.

Manny was an entertainer from a young age, with the first mention of one of his performances in the Lowell Sun in 1919. At 10 years old, he performed in a Christmas show at the International Institute. He continued to perform at local events in the following years and relied on cultural dance standards in his acts (the Lowell Sun regularly references his Spanish, “Russian,” and “Chinese” dance styles). In 1924, at 15 years old, Manny changed his act and performed as a female impersonator for the first time at the Alumni Night at the Lincoln School. His performance, where he performed as a woman and then revealed his true gender at the end, landed him a gig performing this act at the Crown Theater.

After graduating from the Lowell Evening High School, he spent the summer of 1928 performing around the country with his manager, Lowell Police Officer Daniel Brennan. After his return, he began to develop plans to establish his own dancing school, which he opened in 1931. At 22 years old, Manny opened his school in the Montgeau building in Lowell, called the “Dias School of Dancing.” His first few years of business were so successful that he was able to move to a larger space in Kearny Square in 1934. He also officially changed the name to “Diaz School of Dancing,” reflecting a spelling change of his last name that he used throughout his career. He may have switched to the Spanish spelling (ending in –z instead of –s) because of his Spanish-based acts. In 1936, the Diaz School of Dancing switched venues for the final time to the Rex Center. Manny kept teaching local students until 1941, when he decided to focus on performing.

Over the many decades of his career, Manny performed at dozens of local venues. The list includes Crown Theatre, Brick Bar, 17 Room, Moulin Rouge, Bella Donna, Haufbrau, Shirley Club, Del’s, Mirror Lounge, Chuck’s, 4 Leaf Clover, White Rock Club, Happy Helen’s, Hidden Palace, Brookside Café, Idle Hour, Derby, White Eagle Café, Banjo Pub, and Jan’s By The Lake. He also performed in towns around Massachusetts and traveled to Boston to study under Stanley Brown in 1936. He was known for sharing his talents through volunteer performances at local hospitals, churches, and veterans' groups.

In 1950, however, chaos hit Manny’s career. On February 13, he was at his regular gig as the MC at the Bella Donna club, when he was arrested alongside the bar manager and other performers by undercover police officers in the audience. They were arrested over an alleged "presentation of an immoral show”. One of the other performers arrested that night was Ann Fisher, an exotic dancer also known as “Ann Arbor.” The trial started on February 28 and was mostly focused on Fisher’s performance. Eventually, Manny was found innocent since he did not play a role in the “immoral” section of the show. All the other defendants (except the club manager) were fined.

Unfortunately, trouble found him again in May when he was suddenly banned from performing by the Lowell License Commission. The LCC had instated a rule that they would not issue licenses to any club where a female impersonator performs. This included performers who “are, or who have ever been, female impersonators.” This effectively banned Manny from getting hired at any local club. Although he performed as a female impersonator at the start of his career, he claimed that he had not performed that act for over 14 years. Many suggested that he should solely perform in other towns, but he responded to this by saying he was "born and raised in Lowell, owns property and lives here, and declared ‘I’m not going out of town until this thing is cleared up – until I’m cleared’”.

Although it is impossible to know all the details of his shows, the last mention of his female impersonation act in the Lowell Sun appeared in February of 1932. This supports his claim of taking the controversial act out of his show early in his career. (The item in this collection titled "Grand Opening of The New Rathskeller Cafe" suggests he may have been female impersonating as late as 1938, but this is not confirmed.) However, the LCC would still not budge. Manny took it to court, where he lost his fight to overturn the ban. Thankfully, the local community banded together in support of Manny and made many calls to the commission until, in December of 1950, the LCC changed the wording of the rule to only include current female impersonation acts.

Manny continued to perform locally into his 60s until he retired in 1977. He lived on and off with his supportive older sister, Dolores Dias, and her husband and children. Dolores was a performer herself, winning the 1931 Miss Lowell pageant and even making it to the Hollywood auditions in a national “Make Me A Movie Star” contest put on by Paramount Pictures in 1932.

Manny died at Lowell General Hospital in 1981 from cancer. He left behind a legacy that included both his successful entertainment career, as well as his passion for his community.

References:
-Lowell Sun, 1919-1981.
-Naturalization Records. National Archives at Boston, Waltham, Massachusetts.
-State of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Death Index, 1970-2003. Boston, MA, USA: Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Health Services, 2005.
-United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.

Creator

Dias, Manny

Subject

Dance teachers
Dogs
Entertainers
Female impersonators

Coverage

Lowell (Mass.)
Billerica (Mass.)
Dunstable (Mass.)

Source

Collection donated to the Center for Lowell History by Dolores Friant.

Publisher

UMass Lowell, Center for Lowell History

Rights

In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. In addition, no permission is required from the rights-holder(s) for educational uses. For other uses, you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Relation

The Portuguese American Oral Histories collection includes an interview with Dolores Friant, Manny's niece, about his life and impact on the Lowell community. You can read it here: https://umlportuguesearchives.omeka.net/items/show/1419

Format

JPEG
PDF

Language

English

Type

Image
Text

Identifier

DiasManny_

Collection Items

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