Thursday, November 17, 2005

Interview with Julius C. Fields

The interview with Lawrence Goldsby was so well-received, I thought that it would be good to learn about others who have been coming/living in Santo Domingo. One such person is Julius C. Fields. I have known Julius for a couple of years now, but it wasn't until recently that I got a chance to have an in-depth talk with him and find out how he made his way to Santo Domingo. Check it out:

When and where were you born?:
I was born in Hampton, South Carolina on June 27. I was the sixth of eight children to reach adulthood. My early years were spent in Hampton with my family. When I was about 10 years old an Uncle asked my mother if I could come to New York to live with him, because he had no children. I spent one year there and returned to Hampton because my aunt was not interested in children and was not very supportive.

Where were did you go to school?:
I was schooled in Hampton until the 8th grade, and then went to NYC to high school. In those days they didn't have a high school for Black students in Hampton. I attended Morris High School in the Bronx, which is where I started my modern dance training. During this time a high school was constructed in Hampton, and I returned to finish high school there. After high school I attended Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, and graduated with honors in English-Drama, with a minor in Biology. I then went to NYC to attend New York University for graduate studies. This was paid for by the State of South Carolina, so that they wouldn't have to admit me to the University of S.C.

What did you do after finishing your studies?:
I continued studying dance and taking drama classes. It was also during this time that I started dancing professionally with my brother, James F. Fields. We got a contract to perform at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, with Joe Lewis. During this time I was drafted into the Army. I was sent to Germany where I directed and choreographed shows for the 7th Army. I also choreographed the Ice Shows at the Casa Carioca in Germany. After leaving the Army I returned to New York to pursue a career in the performing arts.

What was your first professional job after arriving back in NYC?:
I danced and assisted my brother as Choreographer in nightclub revues. I was in Clarence Robinson's Tropicana Review on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, and was with the Larry Steele's Smart Affairs, which was the first show of color to play the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. We toured the Chittlin Circuit with Dinah Washington, Brook Benton, Little Richard, etc. Played the Apollo Theater several times. In those days there was a large group of Black Theaters all across the USA.

Besides Broadway, what other things did you do?:
My career lasted about 12 years. My last professional show was Hello Dolly, with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. In this show I was the dance captain. I injured my back and was never able to dance professionally again. Before this I appeared on Broadway in the original West Side Story, Finians Rainbow and Showboat, among others. I also worked in quite a few shows at Lincoln Center (Kismet, Guys & Dolls and the King & I). I was in the movies Cotton Comes to Harlem, Cactus Flower, The Out of Towners, West Side Story and Sweet Charity (along with others). I also appeared several times on television on the Ed Sullivan show, East Side/West Side, among others. It was a very nice time, though we made no money. I think the most I ever made on Broadway was $256 per week. But then you have to remember the tickets cost $7.50.

What did you do after you stopped dancing professionally?:
After spending several years on full salary from my injury in Hello Dolly, I negotiated a settlement with the Insurance Co. in 1971, and bought a liquor store in the Bronx. The business flourished until 1994 when the building was torched by a group that the Bodega next door had a problem with and I lost everything. After having had my left hip replaced in 1989 and having problems with my right, which was replaced in 1996 I decided to retire. I still accept employment in the movies when time permits and have a small part in an upcoming movie On the One, as a choir member. The movie stars Eartha Kitt, Ben Vereen and Roger Robinson. Also during this period I directed Title III Educational Programs for the School Systems of New York and Boston, Mass.

What was Harlem like back then?:
Harlem back then was wonderful. There were many bars and clubs where Gays could hang out. We would have these elaborate, grand balls several times a year. Full orchestra, gowns and such. All kinds of people came. It was a very creative and wonderful time then. I never had to go downtown to socialize, it was all right there in Harlem. Of course it is going through a major change now, with the gentrification and many people who can't afford it any longer are being displaced.

When did you first come to the Dominican Republic?:
I first came to the DR on a cruise that docked in Puerto Plata. I saw the beautiful beaches AND the people. It was a bit frightening to see so many armed persons in the streets and guarding properties. This was in the early 70's. During this time crime was very low and there was a healthy respect for the police. It was nothing like it is now. The scene was much smaller then and people tended to know one another. There were hotels like the Colon and the Victoria. During this time there were other Americans living here and it was a much more cohesive group. We would get together often and cook and have fun together.

How long have you lived here?:
After renting an apartment for several years with my running buddy, Tom Brown, he and I decided to purchase a condo in the mid-80's, which is where I still live. I still have a condo in NYC and I travel back and forth.

What changes have you seen to the Gay scene in Santo Domingo?:
In the early days of my visits to Santo Domingo the Gay scene was much more laid back and fun. It was not a profession in those days as it seems to have become today. There was never any great demand for money although you knew the situation and you acted accordingly. Being robbed was extremely rare and if one was reported for robbery he was jailed. (Guilty until proven innocent.) Another thing that may have influenced the availability of fine young men was that Dominican women were expected to be virgins at marriage. At the private parties at our homes one would meet a large selection of fine young men who did not frequent bars and nightclubs. This is a change which needs to be reversed.

Thank you Julius for your time.
It was a pleasure, Anthony.


Mario Sessions said...

Another one for you Anthony, I fill like I know Mr. Fields. and I have never met him.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I have never met Mr. Fields but I think many of the regular visitors to Santo Domingo have had interesting lives that you should share with us.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there are many ex-pats that live in Santo Domingo who are very interesting individuals. How about interviewing Jerry from Jay-Dees, the owner of the Sports Bar you mention frequently and Sylvester Paige. How did they all come to move to Santo Domingo and how have they accomodated to life there? How different is it for them from their previous hometown?

Anonymous said...

I have had the pleasure of meeting Juluis an outstanding meet he was very cordial and always willing to talk and listen to us newjacks coming down to his other country

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of meeting Julius on one of my trips to Santo Domingo. I was even invited to his home for dinner along with some of his friends. He was a wonderful host. It was great learning from him how the DR USE to be. It is so great when Americans who live there invite you into their homes, which gives us visitors a chance to truly experience how they live daily in a foreign country. He's a Great Guy! On your next visit there, introduce yourself to him and other Americans who live there. You can learn a wealth of information from them. I did. As usual, Great Job Anthony!

TSB-SDQ Newsletter said...

I've had the pleasure of knowing Julius for several years now and yes, he is a wonderful person. But not until recently did I know about his professional dancing and many other acheivements. Julius is also a wonderful cook and being that I'm usually working at the bar, I had to pass on his most recent dinner invitation, but being the great guy that he is, he sent a plate to the bar for me. Julius, dinner was great, especially the potato salad and fried chicken. Great job on the interview Anthony. Regards, David Lee

Anonymous said...

I met Julius in 1997 during my first trip to the DR. He has remained a dear aquaintance and I was delighted to read your interview with him on your blog.
Julius is a treasure and if you are fortunate to be invited to have a meal at his apartment don't decline. You're in for a treat, as he is an excellent cook.

New Wave Black Man said...

It just goes to show you how little we know about people we think you know. Great interview. I will never look at Julius in quite the same way again. Not that it was bad at all but I see we have alot more to talk about. Thanks

kenny said...

I have had the pleasure of meeting Julius fields and , talking to him on serveral occaions and your right what and interesting man. I have also had the pleasure of knowning that he and my uncle (Harold Person) was one of the few Black babys on broadway in the early days. Great interview Anthony you never know who is sitting next to you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anthony for sharing Mr. Fields' wonderful story. We have so much great history among us!

Keep bringing it to us!