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Obituaries

Myrna Myron; Ballroom Entrepreneur

June 16, 2001|ELAINE WOO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Myrna Myron, a former chorus girl who founded Myron's Ballroom, a downtown Los Angeles landmark, died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She was 91.

The cause was cancer, said her son and sole survivor, Jim.

Built in 1910 by actress Mary Pickford, the ballroom at Olympic and Grand was a magnet for Hollywood's biggest stars, including Mae West and Rudolph Valentino, who was said to have charged $100 a dance there.

Myron bought the ballroom in 1946 and made it flourish for five decades, starting with the Big Band era, when it attracted such headliners as Harry James, Les Browne, Stan Kenton and Xavier Cugat.

Many movies have been filmed at the ballroom, including "Farewell, My Lovely," "New York, New York," "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" and "The Cotton Club." Figures from the early days of television also broadcast from Myron's, including Art Linkletter and auto dealer Cal Worthington.

In later decades, Myron's became the home of Chippendale's, the male strip joint that drew hordes of women in the 1980s, and Vertigo, one of the first New York-style clubs that catered to the hippest of the hip.

Renamed Grand Avenue about 10 years ago, the ballroom currently is a popular venue for young Latino and Asian American club-goers, regularly drawing crowds of 1,800 and more several nights a week.

Myron grew up in Kenosha, Wis., where Ginger Rogers was one of her high school chums. At 16 she boarded a bus with Rogers for New York, where both were hired as front-row chorus girls on Broadway, Jim Myron said. After finishing high school, his mother traveled the country as a dancer, winding up in a vaudeville act at the old Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles.

She opened several dance studios in the city before turning to ballrooms. She eventually owned five ballrooms in Los Angeles that held from 500 to 5,000 people.

Myron's Ballroom was the most successful, drawing crowds away from Lawrence Welk at the Hollywood Palladium by keeping admission prices low, said Jim Myron, who was his mother's business partner for 50 years.

An astute entrepreneur, Myron became a millionaire many times over, buying up parking lots and coffee shops and making other shrewd investments.

"She wanted to be No. 1 at anything she did," her son said.

But the ballroom was her proudest accomplishment.

"On the night she died, we had 1,800 people in our club and about 1,000 standing outside. The Fire Department closed us down," Jim Myron said. "My mother died happy, knowing that we were still making downtown happen."

Twice divorced, Myron lived for the last three decades in a Los Feliz penthouse apartment. A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. today at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

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