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JUNE PETERS

“You’re old,” the toddlers have told her with unveiled honesty, as she catches them coming down the 30-foot slide at Club Disney, the children’s entertainment and party center in Thousand Oaks. “Yes, I am,” June Peters says fondly, giving the little ones hugs as they busily pursue their play. The children often call her grandma and she is the oldest employee there. Nearly eighty, June is actually a great-grandmother. She has shunned retirement and prefers to keep limber playing with the children at the Club.

“Limber” is perhaps the key word that describes June Peters' life, from her youth to her senior years. “I never crawled,” she remarks. “My mother said I just started walking at six months old.” Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, June loved to dance. So, her mother enrolled her in a dance class at nine years old. Her teacher, an old circus performer and vaudevillian, noticed that when he asked his students to try back flips, June would stand, bend completely over backward and touch the floor. That remarkable agility led her teacher to discourage her dancing and encourage a more unusual career. He taught her how to be a contortionist.

During her pre-teen and teenage years, June traveled the country performing in clubs, at fairs, and on theatre stages. Her most famous act as a contortionist was documented in “Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not’” and performed as part of a circus show in a 1934 Wallace Beery-Jackie Cooper movie. June did a “teeth balancing act.” Bent over backward at the waist, she balanced herself by her teeth on a small pole that spun around. She has publicity photos to prove it.

She was part of “show business” and performed on vaudeville stages with celebrities like Oliver Hardy, Monty Montana, Leo Carrillo, and even Bob Hope. Vaudeville shows then had singers, comedians, dancers, animal acts, rope artists, whistlers, baton artists, and sometimes contortionists. Her bit lasted perhaps six or seven minutes and after twisting herself into a variety of uncomfortable positions, she capped her performance with her spinning teeth balancing act.

Illness brought her contortionist career to an end by her late teens. She moved to California, married, divorced, and worked at variety of jobs from selling automobiles to neon signs to real estate. “I was taught in show business,” she says, “that the show must go on. If you’re shot up with buckshot, you get off to the wings before you die. And that philosophy has gotten me through a lot.”

When June Peters is working at the top of Club Disney’s slide, giving children the go-ahead to go down, she’ll ask them the name of their favorite Disney character. “Hercules coming down!” she might be heard announcing as they take off. And if she’s working at the bottom of the slide, she’ll “high-five” them as reach them end.

Believe it or not, she’s still pretty limber for a grandma.