Anaheim High Class of ’51 graduate Jo An (Burdick) Gottlieb credits living a life she describes as a “dream come true” to being at the right place at the right time.
In one instance, the right place and time happened to be sitting on a curb in 1939 at age 5 with her parents and sister in front of Anaheim’s old Chung King Cafe on Center Street (now Lincoln) waiting for the Halloween Parade to begin.
“Looking to the east I saw the band approach with girls out front holding these shiny things.” The objects that caught her attention were batons being tossed and twirled by the band’s majorettes. From that day forward, Jo said her dream was to be the “best darn baton twirler ever.”
But she never imagined that from her humble beginnings, practicing with a bamboo pole in the alley behind her home at 500 N. Vine Street, that she would one day lead the nation’s top parades as a majorette, appear on stage and screen with entertainers like Frank Sinatra and own her own baton, dance and music studio. In Jo words: “It’s been one fabulous ride.”
Because money wasn’t available for lessons, she learned to dance by standing at the sidelines of friends’ classes and imitating the moves of movie stars she watched during double features she attended with her older sister, Wanda Lee, an Anaheim Class of ’47 graduate. (Jo’s talented older sister was class speaker and also played lead rolls in the school plays. She earned first place in public speaking contest on the Constitution and was given a scholarship to the famed Pasadena Play House.)
Any extra money earned by her family went into patenting her father Harry’s inventions, one of which was the Burdick Scotch Watchman Automatic Time Valve, a water-saving device installed at Stanford University, El Rancho Golf Course and publicized in Popular Mechanic Magazine.
Finally, thanks to a visit from a cousin from Wyoming, Jo An received her first real baton when she was 8 years old. Her older cousin saw how creative she had been without any formal lessons and sent her a hand-me-down baton that had a steel ball instead of the usual soft rubber.
Jo An remembers conking herself in the head several times with the 32-inch baton, but she kept persevering, and by the time she was a freshman at Anaheim High, band director William Cook had Jo An and her friend, Joanne Lee, marching with the older, more experienced majorettes during the pre-game National Anthem.
“We really thought we had arrived when we got to wear white shorts, navy blue sweaters and home-made tassels to go on our rubber white rain boots,” said Jo An. Her talents grew along with her stature. By her junior year, Jo An, a 6-foot-tall blonde, was leading the Anaheim High Marching Band as the head twirling majorette.
Next stop on her journey was Fullerton Junior College, where she also led the band as head drum major and twirler. She then attended Pasadena City College and realized her dream of serving as the Official Rose Parade Majorette. She was also chosen as the only paid majorette in the Rose Parading leading Tommy Walker’s famed Toppers Band. For five additional Rose Parades, Jo marched the 7 1/2 –mile parade route in her high-heeled boots and top hat. Tickets to the Rose Bowl game, with seats at the 50-yard-line, were one of the job perks, but she was always too tired to attend.
During this time, Jo An was chosen as California VFW State Poppy Queen and traveled to San Francisco to lead a parade, perform at other events and lead the California VFW Ball with the State Commander in a specially designed formal. Her photo appeared in newspapers throughout the state.
Along with the fun and glamour, there was work. To earn income Jo An started busing tables at Knott’s Berry Farm at the early age of 13. Her big sis, Wanda Lee, was one of more than 80 hostesses and waitresses serving patrons who stood in long lines for Mrs. Knott’s chicken dinners, homemade boysenberry pies and her famous biscuits served with boysenberry jam.
It wasn’t long before Jo moved from busing tables to landing the job of can-can dancer at the Ghost Town Calico Saloon. Her career continued a steady climb and in 1953, at age 19, Jo was one of five chosen out of 2,000 who tried out at a RKO Movie Studio’s audition to become a Las Vegas showgirl. She arrived in Las Vegas in March of 1954 by train and was soon dancing and singing with Frank Sinatra at the Sands Hotel Copa Room.
Rehearsals started at 2 a.m. until sun up for the next few weeks and Jo An was chosen to sing “I’ve Got the Pinks” with Frank Sinatra. “The New Ziegfield Follies Copa Show was a sell out night after night,” remembers Jo An. “We did two shows a night with Mondays dark. I shared a semi-private dressing room with Irene King, who sang “I’ve Got the Reds.” The room was right next to Frank’s, who sang “I’ve Got the Green’s” (meaning money), so they were given queenly treatment. Frank would have hot tea delivered to their dressing room and prior to each show, would pop in for a visit and have a cup of tea. He also sent each girl in the show a long-stemmed yellow rose with a person good-luck note, mementos Jo still treasurers.
“I was 6 feet tall in stocking feet and Irene, 5-foot-10,” said Jo. “We were the tallest in the show, especially with the addition of 3-inch high heels, and made Frank look even smaller.” Other girls who made the cut were Evelyn Cherry, kid sister of movie star June Haver, and Randy Brown, who later changed her name to Felicia Farr, married Jack Lemmon and left the Sands to become a movie star. Jo still sees many of the girls at annual show girl and dancer reunions held in Hollywood or Las Vegas.
Las Vegas was star studded during this time and hanging out at the pool with celebrities was a daily routine for Jo An. “Many stars came to see us and we attended after-show parties at the hotel where we met Milton Beryl, Danny Thomas, Mae West and her Hunks (appearing at the Desert Inn), Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Danny Thomas, Bob Hope and many others.
Jo An remembers one evening when Frank Sinatra hired limousines to take the cast to a special movie showing of his latest film, “Suddenly,” in which he played a hit man whose roll was to shoot the president from an apartment where he held a family hostage.
Next stop for Jo An was the stage of Moulin Rouge in Hollywood. She appeared with Sophie Tucker, a singer and comedian who was one of the most popular entertainers in America during the first two-thirds of the 20th century.
Considered an “entertainment palace,” the Moulin Rouge was the largest nightclub in America. Shows were performed on a massive stage with a 60-foot-wide double revolving turntable and staircase, swings that could be lowered from the ceiling and the first walk-around that allowed the showgirls to walk into the audience and then back onto the stage.
While performing at the Moulin Rouge, Jo was chosen to appear in the first coast-to-coast televised color broadcast of the Emmy Awards. Jo and her “twin,” wearing extravagant 3-foot-tall pink wigs and gowns with a huge hoop skirt with hundreds of hand-sewn mirrors, flanked Jimmy Durante for the opening of this historical broadcast. During this time, Jo was also a Carolyn Leonetti model and did some movie work at Universal International in her spare time.
After nine months at the Moulin Rouge, Jo An left the stage to tour with a dance teacher convention traveling across the nation with stops in Houston, Chicago, Boston and New York, where she was offered a contract to appear at the famed Latin Quarter Nightclub. Instead, Jo opted to return to Anaheim to open the Jo-An Burdick Dance, Baton, Music and Modeling Studio in Anaheim at Lemon and Broadway. Younger sister Linda Burdick, AHS Class of 1962, taught baton twirling, ballroom, ballet and tap at the studio; her mother was the receptionist and costume designer.
In 1960, Jo An married orchestra leader, clarinet and sax musician Bernard Gottlieb, known professionally as Bernie Bernard. A musical contractor for Disneyland in ‘60s and ‘70s, Bernie’s 30-piece orchestra backed major stars for Disneyland’s special summer season performances. Bernie also played for The Righteous Brothers’ Bobby Hatfield (an Anaheim High grad) & Bill Medley, Engelbert Humperdinck, Peggy Lee, Kay Star, Vicki Carr, Phyllis Diller, George Gobel, The Osmond Family and The Jackson 5. Jo remembers holding Michel Jackson on her lap during their Disneyland appearance.
Along with being beautiful and talented, Jo An also had brains. Upon graduating from CSU Fullerton in December 1979 with a bachelor’s of science in physical education, she went on to obtain her California teaching credential and became a physical education teacher at Fullerton High, introducing yoga and jazz dance to the curriculum. Jo also earned a real estate license and pilot’s license.
The couple still lives in Anaheim and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary April 9th, 2010. Now in her 70s, Jo An’s life is still filled with activity.
She cares for her beloved husband and enjoys time with her two children. Son Mike is senior computer engineer with Experion, and daughter Dr. Shannon Gottlieb Dominguez lives in Maui with her husband Robert. Jo has been a member and judge of the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Judging Association for more than 55 years. She presently volunteers weekly at Anaheim Family Justice Center, so the ride continues.