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  Johnny Duncan was born in 1923 and raised on an 80-acre farm 100 miles north of Kansas City, Missouri. Johnny was raised during the depression and like most people was very, very poor. His father was a barber and cut hair every Saturday, in a small town about 12 miles from the farm. During the depression, you could get a shave and haircut for 2 bits.

During the depression years in the 30's, Johnny learned to tap dance at the age of 9. Johnny's dad would give him 10 cents to go to the picture show while he cut hair. Instead of going to the show he started tap dancing in a little bar, named the Sugar Bowl. There was a jukebox in the Sugar Bowl Bar, and people would put nickels into the jukebox and Johnny would tap dance to the music. The people would throw pennies, nickels and dimes at his feet.



One year, Johnny will never forget it. They didn't have the money to make the farm payment, which was $125.00 per year. His mother and father did not know what they were going to do. They were all gathered around the kitchen table his mother was crying, tears were running down his father's cheeks. His mother was sure they were going to end up in the poor house.

Johnny got up from the table went into his bedroom and got 2 socks he had been saving his money in from tap dancing at the Sugar Bowl. He dumped the money on the kitchen table. His mother and father could not believe their eyes. They said, "Where did you get this"? Johnny said, "I got it from the Sugar Bowl tap dancing". Johnny's dad got up from the kitchen table went over to him and kicked him in the butt and then grabbed him and hugged him and said "Thank you Son". They didn't have to go to the poor house after all. Johnny's dad decided to give him tap dancing lessons for 25 cents/hour and that is how he learned to professionally tap dance.

Johnny later teamed up with a little girl by the name of Lou Fischer and soon became the dance act of Duncan and Fischer, from 1933 to 1938. They were doing a Vaudeville show at the Tower Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. A talent scout from 20th Century Fox was in the audience one night, unknown to them, and watched their dance act. That evening he came back stage and spoke with Johnny and his parents. Johnny was only 15 at the time. The talent scout signed Johnny to a 6-month contract at 20th Century Fox for $50.00 a week (About $2,000 dollars/week now).

They still had the problem of traveling to California; the talent scout gave them $300.00 and 3 months to move to California. They sold all of their belongings and farm equipment they had. They bought a new car because their old 1929 Chevy wouldn't make it that far. They bought a 1938 Chevy for $515.00. They were on their way to a new life and the adventure of a lifetime was beginning for Johnny.

Questions: email John directly.


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