Happy Birthday to the “Father of Jazz Dance,” Jack Cole

Jack Cole (originally John Ewing Richter) was born on April 27th, 1911 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Following his parents’ divorce, Cole ran away from home to study dance with Rush St. Denis and Ted Shawn. He quickly joined the Denishawn Company and also performed with the Humphrey-Weidman Group before leaving the modern dance world to pursue a commercial dance career.

Cole choreographed for the nightclub scene, Broadway stage, and silver screen throughout the mid-twentieth century. He founded a troupe of twelve dancers (which included the likes of Gwen Verdon, Carol Haney, and Matt Mattox) to serve as the core ensemble in much of his highly technical work. Some of Cole’s Broadway choreography credits included ALIVE AND KICKING (1950), KISMET (1962), A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1962), and MAN OF LA MANCHA (1965). In Hollywood, Cole worked on such iconic films as “On The Riviera” (1951), “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), and “Some Like It Hot” (1959) and coached starlets like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell, Mitzi Gaynor, and Betty Grable.

Cole, who is now known as the “father of theatrical jazz,” drew upon East Indian, Afro-Cuban, and American Lindy dance styles as the foundation of his sensual, vigorous, and incredibly meticulous choreography. Signature movements included grand, bounding leaps from a deep plié, upper body contractions with strong port de bras, long knee slides across the stage, and isolations of the head, hands and individual fingers. Cole’s powerfully theatrical and informed work inspired the next generation of choreographers including Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett, Peter Gennaro, and Alvin Ailey, and his legacy continues to inspire dance today.

 

 

67 years ago…Verdon and Fosse made strikingly similar Broadway debuts

Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse made strikingly similar Broadway debuts.  Gwen performed in and assisted Jack Cole on ALIVE AND KICKING, a Follies-style musical revue with comedic sketches, songs, and production numbers.  The show opened on January 17th, 1950—just three days before Bob Fosse’s Broadway debut.  He performed his “Fosse and Niles” act with his first wife, Mary Ann Niles, in DANCE ME A SONG (also a musical song-and-dance revue) which opened January 20th, 1950.

ALIVE AND KICKING closed after a mere 46 performances and DANCE ME A SONG closed after only 35.  Nevertheless, the musicals—which played at theaters only six blocks away from each other—helped to launch the bright and legendary Broadway careers of Verdon and Fosse.

L to R: Bob Scheerer, Cliff Ferre, and Bob Fosse in the Broadway show, DANCE ME A SONG, 1950.

Jack Cole and Gwen Verdon dancing “Dove’s Blues” in the Broadway show, ALIVE AND KICKING, 1950.

“On the Riviera” Gwen Verdon 1951

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Gwen Verdon in solo Stage dance performance On the Riviera, 1951

On the Riviera, 1951 20th Century Fox, directed by Walter Lang

Please join Verdon Fosse Legacy Wednesday, January 20, 7pm at the All That Jack (Cole) MOMA film series for a screening of On the Riviera with introduction by Nicole Fosse.

On the Riviera, 1951 starring Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney, Corinne Calvet, and Gwen Verdon. 89 min.

Though unbilled in the main credits, Cole protégée Gwen Verdon features prominently in this dance-rich Fox Technicolor movie, as she leads nominal star Danny Kaye on a world-dance tour that includes Cole’s signature version of Hindu jazz in “Rhythm of a New Romance.” Cole’s dark side surfaces in the creepy, pseudo-whimsical “Popo the Puppet.” As Busby Berkeley had done 20 years earlier, Cole completely commandeers the mise en scène from the mediocre director of record for an amazing finale, aptly titled “Happy Ending.”

Version 2Gwen Verdon & Danny Kaye in On the Riviera, 1951

All That Jack (Cole) MOMA Film series

January 20–February 4, 2016

The choreographer Jack Cole (American, 1911–1974) stands Continue reading

Age 25 Gwen Verdon Broadway debut Alive and Kicking with Jack Cole, 1950

Alive and Kicking a “New Musical Revue” production opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on January 17, 1950 and closed on February 25, 1950, after 46 performances.

Gwen Verdon pictured in performance with famed choreographer Jack Cole. The above image is from an archival paper indexed reference file stamped “Fosse Verdon Archives” and according to the handwritten notes by Gwen Verdon verso, this particular image was published in Dance Magazine’s April 1983 issue and was originally captured during the “Dove’s Blues” an “East Indian” themed dance number from her 1950 Broadway debut show Alive and Kicking.

Below detail image of promotional handbill flyer top center picture and corresponding caption reading “Jack Cole and Dancer.” Continue reading