The Theater: Last Dance

Gertrude Alexandra Dagmar Lawrence Klasen was a thin, gawky cockney child born to a Danish father and an Irish mother within sound of London's Bow Bells. The most exciting times of her childhood were the nighttime flights from creditors with the family's scanty possessions piled on to a friendly grocer's cart.

She was already calling herself Gertie Lawrence when she won a scholarship at London's Conti Dancing Academy. Another student, Noel Coward, remembers her as a lively 14-year-old with ringlets: "Her face was far from pretty but tre mendously alive. She gave me an orange and told me a few mildly...

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