The Info List - Felisa Vanoff

Phyllis Elizabeth (Felisa) Vanoff (June 11, 1925 – May 29, 2014) was an American dancer, choreographer, producer, and philanthropist.

Early life and education

Phyllis Elizabeth Caputo was born on June 11, 1925, in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.[1][2][3] Her father, Eugene Caputo, was a Pennsylvania State Representative, and her mother, Velma Lindway, was an artist.[1][2][4]

Shortly after she graduated from high school, she moved from Pennsylvania to Manhattan. There she lived at a boarding house and studied with Vincenzo Celli of the Ballet Russe.[2][3][5] She then traveled to Mexico City for eighteen months of training with Jose Fernandez, learning flamenco and other Spanish dances.[1][5]


During World War II, Vanoff performed in United Service Organizations Camp Shows in the Pacific, touring the Philippines, Korea, and Japan. By the end of the war she had earned a captaincy in the United States Army.[1][2][3] Returning to New York City, she became the lead dancer in Charles Weidman's Dance Theatre.[1][2] She went on to take part in musical performances with Peter Hamilton.[1][2] Later, she was featured on the Fred Waring and Billy Rose television programs.[1][2]

In 1948, she became the first woman choreographer for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, a dramatic student society at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[1][5] The following year, she joined the New York City Opera as a lead dancer, appearing in productions like Carmen and Don Giovanni; she was also the company's assistant choreographer.[1][2] In 1953, she joined the John Butler Dance Theatre where she spent two years as lead dancer, often performing alongside Glen Tetley.[1][2] In 1987, she oversaw the Joffrey Ballet's recreation of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.[1][2] She won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1994 for her co-produced musical City of Angels.[1][2]

Other choreographic roles included the musical Carousel, which starred Bambi Linn and Rod Alexander;[1] Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows;[1][2] and Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas in Salzburg.[1][6] With her husband, Nick Vanoff, she also choreographed numerous Kennedy Center Honors shows.[1]


With her husband, she co-founded the Vanoff Family Foundation, a philanthropic foundation headquartered in Hollywood, California, in 1984.[7] Vanoff later worked with Gordon Davidson to set up an annual charity dinner known as Salon at the Taper,[1][2] the proceeds of which went to Nick's Tix, a philanthropic organization providing access to Los Angeles Music Center concerts for low-income groups like the handicapped, the elderly, and young people.[1][2]

As a member of the Board of Directors of the Joffrey Ballet, Vanoff was credited as a driving force in its move to Los Angeles.[1][2] She also helped organize fundraising events for the Joffrey Ballet, known as "Patron Nights", with interior designer Patti Skouras.[8] Additionally, she served on the Board of Directors of Colleagues,[1] the Heinz Awards,[5] and the Blue Ribbon of the Los Angeles Music Center.[2] She took part in the Great Wagon Days Duck Race, an annual fundraising event organized by the Ketchum/Sun Valley Rotary Club in Rotary Park, a public park in Ketchum, Idaho.[9] She also donated to the St Luke's Wood River Medical Center in Ketchum, Idaho.[10]

Vanoff was a donor to the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, a summer festival in Sun Valley, Idaho.[11] She was also a "Bronze Sponsor" of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce.[12]


She met her husband, Nick Vanoff (1929-1991), when both were dancers in the New York City Opera in the 1950s.[2][13] They had two sons, Nicholas Jr. and Flavio.[1][13] They resided in Beverly Hills, California, and also owned a 8,500-square-foot house in Malibu, once rented by Edgar Bronfman, Jr., which she sold to Peter O'Malley in 2000.[3][14] The Vanoff Black Box Theater at the Brooks School, a private boarding school in North Andover, Massachusetts from which their son Nicholas Jr. graduated in 1980, is named after her and her husband.[15]


She died of cancer on May 29, 2014, at her private residence in Beverly Hills at the age of eighty-nine.[1] She was buried in Sun Valley, Idaho, her favorite winter skiing resort.[1][2][5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Dagan, Carmel (10 June 2014). "Felisa Vanoff, Dancer, Patron of the Arts, Dies at 89". Variety. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Felisa Vanoff, Former Dancer and Choreographer, Dies at 89". The Hollywood Reporter. 9 June 2014. Retrieved 6 July 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d Seitz, John L. (12 June 2014). "Beverly Hills News – Revered Beverly Hills Philanthropist, Patron Of Arts, Felisa Vanoff Dead At 89". The Beverly Hills Courier. Archived from the original on 14 June 2014. 
  4. ^ "Velma Lindway Caputo". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 2 June 1979. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Brown, Emma S. (25 June 2014). "Obituary: Felisa Vanoff / Groundbreaking dancer and choreographer, June 11, 1924 – May 29, 2014". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  6. ^ Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas (TV), Paley Center for Media
  7. ^ Guide to U.S. Foundations, Their Trustees, Officers, and Donors, New York: Foundation Center, p. 237
  8. ^ Marylouise Oates, The Joffrey Ballet's Parties for Patrons Are Too, Too Divine, The Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1987
  9. ^ Megan Thomas, A quack of a time: Duck race benefits community Archived 2014-07-17 at Archive.is, Idaho Mountain Express
  10. ^ St Luke's River 2010 Donors
  11. ^ Reflecting on the 2011 Season Archived 2014-07-28 at the Wayback Machine., Sun Valley Summer Symphony, p. 10
  12. ^ National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce: Los Angeles Leadership Awards 2008 Archived 2011-03-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ a b Blau, Eleanor (22 March 1991). "Nick Vanoff, 61, Former Dancer Who Became Successful Producer". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  14. ^ Danielle Reed, Private Properties: Bat Cave for Less, The Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2000
  15. ^ 'Vanoff Black Box Theater', Brooks Bulletin, Spring 2010, p. 14

External links