Ballet Dancer – Actress -Teacher -Animal Lover and Advocate
Diana Elizabeth Banks passed away peacefully in her home that she loved, “Still Meadow Farm”, in High Falls, New York in the early hours of October 2nd, 2020. She had just celebrated her 87thbirthday.
Diana was born in Kokomo, Indiana on September 26th, 1933, the second child of James Richard Banks and Helen March Banks. She grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida and lived there until, after graduating from high school, she left for New York City to study ballet. She started her studies with the New York City Ballet, then went on to study with the American Ballet Theatre and the Ballet Russe. In her twenties while studying, she also taught at the Lighthouse School for the Blind in New York and performed in summer stock for many years, most notably playing Mammy Yokum in “L’il Abner.” She acted and danced in Children’s Theater in New York as well. In her early thirties, Diana performed on Broadway in “Kismet” and “Annie Get Your Gun”. During her eight seasons with the City Center Joffrey Ballet, she travelled twice to Europe and Scotland as Stage Manager of the ballet troupe, and had four U.S. tours. She also spent five seasons with the Lincoln Center. She flew to Alaska in 1971 in a Cessna with her then husband, mountain climber James McCarthy, the pilot of the plane, and wrote a very colorful memoir about the trip, “Off To Alaska”. Her life was full of hard work and adventure.
Diana met actress Pat Carroll, noted for her long running New York play “Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein”, when performing in “Sweet Charity” at the Woodstock Playhouse in the early 1970’s and they began a lifelong friendship that lasted until her death. After leaving the stage she began a new career, first teaching dance at Bennington College, and then joining the faculty in the Theater Department at the State University of New York at New Paltz, putting on “Pippin” and many other shows for the college. She was the Stage Manager for the Catskill Ballet Theatre in Kingston, New York for their productions including “The Nutcracker Suite” every Christmas, as well as choreographing several ballets, among others “Alice in Wonderland” and “Once Upon A Time”, plus numerous jazz pieces during her tenure there. Diana taught an exercise class at Mohonk Mountain House for a few years using the methods of her good friend, New York physician, physical therapist, and mountaineer, Hans Kraus.
Upon retirement, Diana began a new career as the owner of a cat shelter aptly named “Diana’s Cat Shelter”. This was a labor of love and she became well known in the community for her animal advocacy. Cats cared for by Diana had unusually long and pampered lives and could only be adopted by devoted cat lovers. One of the first cats she ever took into her shelter was a cat named Merlyn who became a permanent resident of the shelter, passing away at the age of 19 on the same night as Diana. She had many friends in the community of New Paltz, High Falls, and New York City, as well as in the theater world.
Diana was predeceased by her mother, Helen March, of West Palm Beach, Florida; her father, journalist and author James Richard Banks, of New Haven, Connecticut; her grandmother, “Baba”, folk artist Leora March of West Palm Beach, Florida; and her brothers: artist Richard Banks of Newport, Rhode Island and Palm Beach, Florida; and Douglas Palmer Banks, and David Judd Banks, of New Haven, Connecticut. She leaves behind her sister Valerie Banks Lane and brother-in-law James Arthur Lane of Craigville, Cape Cod, Massachusetts,; three nephews, one niece, and many great-nieces and great-nephews. She also leaves many, many good and devoted friends.
At Diana’s request, there will be no services. There will be a memorial celebration of Diana’s life at Mohonk Mountain House in the future when the Pandemic is over. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Diana’s Cat Shelter, P.O. Box 411, Accord, New York. 12404.