Silent filmmaker Richard Norman wasn’t the only creative mind living and working at 6337 Arlington Road. His wife and muse Gloria Norman is remembered as one of Jacksonville’s most beloved figures.
A young Gloria grew up in Merrionette Park, Illinois and hoped to become an actress. But her well-to-do family would have nothing of it. Proper society ladies didn’t work as actresses, they protested.
But when a dashing young filmmaker came to town announcing a local production of a film called The Wrecker, Gloria auditioned. She landed a part as a bridesmaid in the movie’s wedding scene – and later as the real-life bride of the filmmaker, Richard Norman. The newlyweds moved back to Richard’s hometown of Jacksonville, FL, where he continued working as a filmmaker and inventor, and later a film distributor.
Meanwhile, from the mid 1930s through the 1950s, Gloria taught hundreds of young Jacksonvillians to trip the light fantastic at the Gloria Norman School of Dance. The school began on the second floor of the Norman Studios’ main production/film processing building. But Richard, who still worked in film at the time producing promotional pieces for the Pure Oil Co. and distributing Joe Louis fight films, decided all that tapping and hoofing made too much noise. So he built a dance floor in the stage building (currently owned by Circle of Faith Ministries sanctuary but hopefully to be purchased by the nonprofit working to restore and reopen the complex).
Many local residents hold fond memories of taking dance classes from Gloria and performing recitals held at local schools and at the Florida Theatre or Jacksonville Civic Center. A number of them, later saw their children take lessons from her as well.
A favorite recollection is of the couple’s matching Hudson Terraplane cars, one of which was converted into a mini-limousine outfitted with wooden benches. For students whose parents were unable to drive them to classes, Gloria would pick them up and drop them off, making that mini-limo a familiar sight around town.
“With her flame red hair, boundless energy and dazzling personality, she greeted us and proved to be an inspiration for us all to be our very best,” said Patsy Allen Fittipaldi in an article written by Cleve Powell for the Old Arlington, Inc. newsletter. “Whether it be tap, ballet, acrobatics, or modern dance, Mrs. Norman molded us into perfect little ‘Rockettes.’”
Have a story to tell? We’re looking for firsthand stories, photos or any other memorabilia from the Gloria Norman School of Dance for use in museum-type displays, a planned documentary, etc. If you have something to share, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!