In 1939, the twist was something that happened to a pretzel or a lemon peel. Hustle was what you had to do to make the junior high football team. And the bump was to be avoided at all costs if you were driving a Packard.
And that was the year Lou and Ann Bovis opened an unpretentious drive-in restaurant at an out-of-the-way North Dallas intersection. The intersection, Greenville at Lovers Lane, was later to become the southeast corner of the civilized world. The restaurant, Louann’s, was to serve for 30 years as the hub of the Dallas dancing scene. Anyone who grew up in the area who didn’t try at least once to sneak a half pint of hootch past Ann Bovis was either a sissy, a chicken, a square, or out of it, depending upon the era.
"At first, it was the older crowd," she recalls of her first customers. "They’d bring their kids in here and park them in booths with another couple and go out on the porch and dance. Then SMU found us. Before long we had to expand the dance floor.
"In 1940 we had an elaborate 110 speaker sound system installed by RCA for $10,000. They were so excited by such a big sale that they threw in a free TV set, but it wasn’t much good because there was no TV station here until eight years later. By that time the set wore out from people fiddling with it."
Ann Bovis remembers fondly the troops of young couples who made Louann’s their courting spot. "Mothers and fathers would call here all the time and ask me to go out and look to see if their son or daughter was here, without it being obvious as to what I was doing. I don’t care what the Liquor Control Board said, those kids were a lot better off down there with me than in some beer joint. Goodness knows we were doing everything we could. The girls would hide sloe gin in their girdles or between their legs. If the kids were from a good family I’d just take the bottle away from them. A lot of the 16-year-old girls couldn’t even get permission to date unless the boy agreed to take them to Louann’s.
Ann Bovis’ recollections of Louann’s span 30 years of touch dancing in Dallas. Her memories are full of humor and nostalgia, of good times and bad times. The best behaved group of all, Ann says, was the Aggies of Texas A&M. "In 1969 the Texas Liquor Control Board raided us right in the middle of a big Aggie party. Out of all those boys they found only one bottle. I always favored those Texas A&M kids. They were regular gentlemen.
"Highland Park High School kids had a graduation party there in the early Sixties and flat tore the place up. Fortunately, the principal called a special assembly in the school auditorium and told them that they couldn’t graduate until they paid for fixing Louann’s back like it was
But the roughest kids, Ann recalls, were the Lakewood Rats. No second place. "This was a gang of kids during the Forties and Fifties from Woodrow Wilson High School. It finally got so bad that Lou had to bar them. One of them is a millionaire now, and when they had the Woodrow Wilson homecoming in 1969, his cronies had an elaborate certificate printed up for me to sign giving him special permission to come in for just that one night."
The biggest spenders, according to Ann, were the students from Oklahoma University. But only if they beat Texas. "They would park their cars out here and take buses to the Cotton Bowl. If they won we were in for the biggest night of the year."
Other Bovis remembrances include things lik
The biggest draw. "Definitely Lawrence Welk. He had a New Year’s Eve engagement in Fort Worth in 1958. I got a call from his manager asking if we would be interested in a New Year’s Night booking. New Year’s Night is a gamble, but I agreed, at a fee for him of $3,000 or 60 percent of the gross. I was afraid my customers would think I was crazy, but I had to double my big band night prices from $2.50 to $5. But he packed the place. There must have been 6,000 people."
The biggest scare. "In 1940 we booked our first big band, Woody Herman. It cost us $600. He came in at the exact minute he was scheduled to go on, threw his coat in a chair and walked on the bandstand, playing like he’d been there all night. Over the years we had them all - the Dorseys, Harry James, Guy Lombardo . . ."
The most undependable performer. Jimmy Reed. "He was shooting up pretty heavy by the time he first came to Louann’s. And what was so frustrating was that he would work for $500, because most peole wouldn’t take a chance on him, and then he’d pack the house. His wife and children would stand behind the stage and mouth the words to him. The last time I ever saw his agent I gave him a $50 deposit for another appearance, but Jimmy never came."
The biggest surprise. "When country and western got hot in the late Sixties I agreed to what I thought was to be a performance by Charley Pride. But the agent said I had signed up for Ray Price. He was real good on ’Danny Boy’ though."
The most popular songs. "I would say that the all-time favorites were ’Per-fidia,’ ’Chatanooga Choo-Choo,’ ’The Beer Barrel Polka’ and ’Celery Stalks at Midnight.’"
The most popular dance. "The one that people had the most fun with was the Bunny Hop that Ralph Flanagan would play when he was in. They’d line up and dance all the way out into the garden, past the liquor store and back in the front door."
The vulgarest dance. The alligator. "They would actually get down on the floor and imitate the motions of the sex act. I wouldn’t have it. I’d ask them to leave."
The dirtiest song. "I don’t guess that anyone would think anything about it now, but I took ’What’d I Say’ out of the stack. That’s the one where Ray Charles goes ’unhhh’ and ’ooooh’ and makes all those suggestive noises."
The most unpopular song. Goodnight Sweetheart. "This was the song that Lou played every night before he died in 1950 to let people know it was closing time. It finally wore out and we had to switch to ’Dream.’ "
The most loyal employee. Nonnie Gardner. "Nonnie was with us the whole 30 years. After her hearing went bad she’d get an order wrong every now and then, but she was part of the famiiy."
The best decision. "Erik Jonsson had a big party out here for the Texas Instruments people in the early Fifties, and when he showed off one of those new-fangled transistor radios I decided to buy some stock in the company. It was selling for $16 a share then."
Louann’s burned to the ground in 1970, just three months after Ann Bovis cancelled the fire insurance policy they had carried for 30 years. "My boys, Phil and Louis, are planning to reopen Louann’s somewhere in North Dallas within the next year or two.
"I’m always running into someonewho says that he spent a million dollarsat Louann’s when he was younger. I’dlike to know what happened to all thosemillions."