Margarita Dreams of Stardom

margarita vere johns jr.

Anita Mahfood, stage name Margarita, had aspirations of one day traveling to the United States to pursue a career in show business, according to her sister Conchita. Here is a photo from the Star Newspaper in 1961 that shows Margarita in her attempt to fulfill her dream of life on the stage. She was not only a rhumba dancer, but she was an actress as well and a performer extraordinaire. Here she rehearses for a performance with Vere Johns Jr., son of Vere Johns and Lucille Johns who were not only both impressarios of the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour (the talent show that launched so many musical and comedy careers on the island), but were actors themselves. This caption reads, “Money Talks Soldier–The curvesome Margarita (noted Jamaican dancer) and Vere Johns Jr., American-born son of Mr. and Mrs. Vere Johns, have teamed to form the latest dancing combination. They are here seen rehearsing the sequence entitled ‘The G.I. and the Girl.’ Junior served three years in the U.S. Armed Forces.”

It wasn’t the first time that Vere Johns Jr. and Margarita had teamed up for performances with a Vere Johns Production. The following advertisement ran in the Daily Gleaner on April 1, 1956 for the Vere Johns Production of “Easter Frolics” where Margarita is billed as the “shimmy-shaking bombshell” and Vere Johns Jr. appears in the same performance.

margarita april 1 56

That Christmas season, Margarita also performed during a Vere Johns Production with Vere Johns Jr. in “Xmas Morning Revels” and the two performed a “Rock and Roll” scene.

margarita dec 24 1956

In fact, Margarita was so much a part of the Vere Johns Production team, she played the role of a dance club dancer in the documentary, “It Can Happen to You,” which was filmed by the Jamaica Film Unit in the 1950s. In the film, which I was finally able to find last year after many years of searching, Margarita tastefully dances the rhumba in a costume full of ruffles that she herself designed and sewed, and among her are bar patrons enjoying the band and dance. One of the main extras in the film is none other than Lucille Johns herself. Below is a photo of Vere and Lucille Johns, who is wearing the same dress in which she appears in the film.

vere johns and lucille johns

Vere and Lucille Johns.

 

The following is an excerpt from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist: [Margarita] began dancing at clubs all over Kingston and she made her own costumes since she was skilled at sewing. Faye Chin says, “We danced together. We were in a group on stage. She used to do rumba; I do creative dancing, limbo dancing. It’s Alan Ivanhoe Dance Troupe I was in. She was an individual dancer and whenever they’re having performance like pantomimes or the theater used to have opportunity hour, she would dance there. She was a terrific dancer and she taught herself to dance. We became friends and we really became close and we were friends for a long long time until she passed.” Saxophonist Herman “Woody” King knew Margarita in those early days and says the clubs were her calling. “She was a great rumba dancer. The clubs would want her. Of course she had to go. That’s how she earned her living and she enjoyed it too,” King says.
Margarita always began her dance the same way with the same air of anticipation, the ultimate show-woman. As the spotlight hits one spot on the center of the dance floor, the music begins and Margarita is in the corner of the room, out of view. She saunters to the center, ruffles rushing through the tables of men, women, who turn their heads to see her passage to the light. When she comes into full view, the rhythms of the drums at their height, the audience is captivated, fully immersed in her powerful magic. She was auditioning for her dream. One day she wanted to dance on the stages in the United States, but she had to make a name for herself.

Margarita performed with the same circuit of performers, as did most Kingston entertainers of the day. She first met Don Drummond in the 1950s at the Bournemouth Club when they appeared on the same bill together. Ads appear in the Daily Gleaner in June, 1955 for Drummond and “Marguerita (Rhumba Dancer)” together on the same bill with others, including Pam Pam & Gloria, jitterbug dancers, with whom Margarita frequently performed. Margarita performed at the Ward Theatre, Club Havana, Club Baby Grand, Club Adastra, Carib Theatre, Glass Bucket, Rialto Theatre, Ritz Theater, and Queens Theatre, among others where she frequently received top billing. She played the role of a dance club dancer in the documentary, “It Can Happen to You,” which was filmed by the Jamaica Film Unit in the 1950s. On November 23, 1955 she performed in a show called the “Sundown Serenade” at the Ritz Theater with Bim & Bam, Danny Hyacinth Clover, Wonder Brothers and Did & Don’t. This type of billing with a theme for the show was a common feature for clubs in an attempt to attract tourists. Another was at the Ward Theatre on Christmas morning 1959 for a show called “Chrismania” which featured, among others, The Jiving Juniors, Lascelles Perkins, and music by Ken Williams and his Club Havana Orchestra. She also performed that same morning at the Carib Theatre for a show called “Xmas Morning Revels” featuring a similar line up with the addition of Vere Johns and Mrs. Vere Johns, music by Frankie Bonitto and his Orchestra. Artists frequently performed in multiple shows all over the city for Christmas. The clubs themselves also tried to capture themes, and Club Havana, where Margarita frequently performed, advertised itself as “Jamaica’s Latin Quarter.”

One comment

  1. Hi Heather. I was online doing a little family history research and really enjoyed your article. I was wondering if you could help me find a copy of “It Can Happen to You”. I’d love to see it. Thanks :).

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