Pictures Worth A Thousand Memories

Anita Ornoff poses with Bill "Mr. Bojangles" Robinson in her treasured photograph taken at the grand opening of Club Zanzibar in 1946

In early October 1944, Anita Bloom along with five other paraplegic soldiers from the Bronx Veterans Hospital were invited to Madison Square Garden to demonstrate the proper way to use crutches and get into and out of chairs. Later that night they returned for a charity event where they met the legendary showman, Bill “Mr. Bojangles” Robinson. After the show Robinson personally invited each of them to attend the grand opening of Club Zanzibar, his new nightclub. When they arrived, they were treated like royalty and led to the best table in front of the stage in the overfilled room.

When Mr. Bojangles came on stage, he smiled at Anita. “Tonight,” he said to the audience, “I will start the evening off with a dance tribute to Nita. I’ll start with a few slow steps, just as Nita will do one day, and gradually get into the jive, just as she will.”

The tribute surprised her so much that she nearly fainted. After his performance, Robinson approached her and sat down. She leaned over to kiss him, shaking her head over and over again. “How can I ever thank you?” she asked.

Storch and Anita Ornoff catch up on old times in New York

“By proving me right,” he replied.

After Robinson left her side, a tall woman sat on the low stage in front of her. To her surprise the woman was Eleanor Roosevelt. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.

Roosevelt reassured her. “I understand you were WAAC and became injured. With your spirit I know you will conquer your problems just as Bill predicted.”

Before the evening ended, Anita had her photograph taken with Robinson. Many of the stars in attendance that night also signed her photo among them were Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, Danny Thomas, and Larry Storch.

“I still look at…the picture of Bill Robinson and me with all the signatures of the famous entertainers on that memorable night.” she said.

Six decades have passed since that photograph was taken and much has changed in for Anita. She went on to graduate from New York University and became the first female to pass a drivers license test using hand controls. She helped to pass bill HR8041 in the United States Congress in 1954, which opened the door for a 1978 bill that gave veteran status to the women who served in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp.

Learn more about Anita Ornoff and Beyond Dancing

During a recent trip to New York, Anita spent the day with Larry Storch, a well-known comedian and impressionist who also starred in television shows like F Troop and Colombo. Anita and her husband, Hal, shared dinner with Storch, his girlfriend and his manager at Lindy’s at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

Before they left the restaurant he signed a photograph of the two of them. It reads:

To Anita,

Dreams do come true. It was a pleasure catching up after sixty-one years. See you in another sixty-one.

With love Larry Storch