One half of the husband/wife dancing team very popular in the 1930s, Renee de Marco was the role model for grace and agility in the US, well known and beloved by thousands of people. Yet, behind the glamorous facade was a woman with a complex private life and a very talented artist who never made it in Hollywood.
Margaret Evelyn Nerney was born on may 25, 1913, in Burlington, Chittenden, Vermont, to Robert Emmett Nerney, of English ancestry, and Rachel Laduke, who was French Canadian and only 16 at the time.
The family moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania when she was a baby. Renee was educated in a convent, and started dancing as a child. Her precocious, active nature pushed her into a dancing a career very early – she was merely 16 years old when she met Tony DeMarco, a vaudeville dancer. Yet, her parents insisted she graduate from high school, which she did in 1931. By this time, she and Tony were already dancing professionally.
The gist of Renee’s career are not movies nor stage shows, but nightclub and hotel appearances. It would be a very daunting task to make a chronology of all of these, so I’ll just touch upon those I have found on the internet . I already mentioned she met Tony in 1929, and that they started dancing soon afterwards. At first they were vaudeville dancers, and, as their fame grew, so did their reputability and the places they danced became more and more esteemed.
In 1930, the couple made their first headlines, featured in the show “Girl Crazy” off Broadway. In 1932, they got to Broadway in Hot-Cha!. In 1934, they were dancing in the Persian room in New York. In 1935, they made a Vanity Fair editorial.
In 1936, they danced in London, England at the prestigious Grosvenor House. An interesting thing happened to Renee while she was there:
“Imagine how I felt, being invited to dance before the king and queen. It was the happiest day of my life. When we got there I made my mind to i’m have a good look at them before going out to the floor and I sneaked up to a group of men near a doorway and tried to make my way past them. They locked the way and all were looking into the room, and I was sort of trying to make headway without pushing. Then one man, trim, erect, standing there, suddenly seemed to feel that I was persistently near and anxious to get by. He turned around. You can guess it – it was the king himself. He smiled, and I blushed and all kinds of colors, and he said “Are you trying to get through” and before I knew it he had split those manly ranks and I was through. Later I was presented formally and the qeen talked to me for quite a while. Both their majesties are very interested in dancing.”
In early 1938, the couple separated but continued to work together and Renee was later adamant in claiming she was coerced into signing a contract to dance eight more years with Tony (this happened in late 1938). Tony denied Renee’s story, but, no matter how things had really happened, they solved it peacefully and with little fuss by 1941. Both continued their careers efforthlessly afterwards. Renee was a regular at night clubs and occasionally went on stage.
Renee made only one Hollywood movie, in 1953, and a bad one at that – Sword of Venus. It is a listless, boring account of the adventures of Dantes, son of Monte Cristo. It has no good acting names, a paper thin plot and average production values. Could have been worse, for sure, but could have been much better. Renee’s role is quite small. Obviously, Hollywood was not in the cards for her, and no matter how many times she came and tried to have an acting career, it was a “no go”.
By this time, Renee was already semi retired and dedicated to raising her family – she disappeared from the show biz circuit in cca.- 1954.
Renee was a svelte, lean woman, 5 foot 3 inches tall, weighting 103 pounds, with the measurements of 34-23-34, much renown for her agility and grace in the 1930s.
Renee married her first husband, Tony, in 1931, after knowing him for about two years. It’s hard to put a straight line between what’s fact and fiction, business or the real things in Renee and Tony’s relationship. While I understand that their feelings were deeply intervened with their dancing, and, in a way, dancing was a form of making love (as Suzanne Farrell, famous ballerina, notes in her autobiography, to dancers the feeling on the dance floor is sometimes more passionate and intense than anything out of it). I get the feeling that, after she music was over, it was obviously a rocky road. Having a relationship that’s based on dancing is a double edged sword, and Renee and Tony did not quite get the good part in full.
Tony was not the best of husbands either. Born on February 1, 1898, in Buffalo, New York, he was a dancer from his late teens, and was already married once to his dance partner, Nina DeMarco. While he was a stunning presence with a magnetic pull, he lived mostly through his work and had a very strange habit – his famous maxim was that he could not dance with another man’s wife, so naturally, whoever chose to be his partner was either to become wife or never to marry. As a result, he married almost all of the women he danced with – that is obviously not a very good marital record, very similar to George Balanchine who only married his ballet dancers.
They separated in 1938, but due to their working arrangements things constantly oscillated between on/off. I can imagine just how confusing it all was for them, knowing it will never work out, but still enjoying the closeness and desire of dancing together… in the end it was Renee who insisted that they break it. Tony did not help by being signed first as Joan Crawford’s dancing partner, and then by dating Dorothy Lamour.
In late 1938 she dated George Stone, and was seen with Joe Schneck in early 1939. For a time she was in a serious relationship with Desi Arnaz, then a nightclub owner in New York, but Lucille Ball snatched him under her nose.
In 1940, it was clear that there was no chance of ever saving the marriage – not only were the papers explicitly clear in the notion that their arrangement was strictly business, but Renee lived as a lodger in a elegant hotel in New York and not with Tony. Renee was at the height of the popularity and social life in 1940s – she was a free woman for the first time in 10 years (after a suffocating marriage), was named one of the best dressed in several publications, her career was on the rise both with and without her former husband, and she was a sough after guest at many high society soirees and cocktail parties.
In June 1941 Renee went to Reno, Nevada for a quicky divorce from Tony. On August 30, 1941, the marriage was officially terminated. Nobody wasted any time after this. Tony, as per his usual modus operandi, took up with his new dance partner, former ballerina Sally Craven, and Renee went on with her career in high gear. Columnist Bob Musel talked to Tony in January 1942, and he admitted that he carried a torch for Renee for a very, very long time, but that now he is at peace with her decision, and only wants the best for her.
Life went on. In March 1943, Renee married dancer Jody Henderson/Hutchingson. Much like Tony, she married her dancing partner, a tricky proposition. Their daughter was born in May 1943.
Renee for a time worked in Hollywood, and there met and tutored Judy Garland. Renee was Judy’s favorite dancer. A trick of the dance director was to tell Judy, who was notoriously insecure about her singing and dancing, to try and pretend she was Renee and she would immediately dance with more vigor and passion.
Renee was quite active in the Hollywood nightlife. In 1945, she and a string of actresses famously played a strip poker game for charity, where she lost her skirt along with Ann Miller and Nina Foch. Sadly, her marriage to Hutchingson/Henderson fell apart in 1945.
Renee met and fell in love with the influential and famous Hollywood publicity agent, Paul V. Coates. She divorced her husband on August 21, 1947, and married Coates just hours after in Reno, Nevada.
Coates was born on March 10, 1921, in New York, and was to become a columnist for Daily Mirror and several other publications.
Her elder son, Kevin Marley Coates, was born in January 1947. Her younger son Paul Timothy Coates was born on April 3, 1948. She gave up her career to in the mid 1950s to become a high powered wife of a publicity agent, had her nose bobbed, and enjoyed a wide social life.
Her husband died of a heart attack, probably bought over by a unhealthy and stress filled lifestyle, on November 16, 1968. He was just 47 years old.
Renee lived the quiet life afterwards. She moved to Thousand Oaks, California, in the late 1970s. In the mid 1990s, she moved to Bend, Oregon.
Renee Nerney Coates died on November 24, 2000, in Bend, Oregon.
As a special treat, a rare clip of DeMarcos dancing, not Renee and Tony but Tony and Sally, but this type of dance he also danced with Renee.