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Cole, Jack

COLE, Jack

Choreographer. Nationality: American. Born: New Brunswick, New Jersey, 27 April 1914. Education: Studied with Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, and others. Career: Dancer with Denishawn Concert Dancers, 1930–32, and the Humphrey-Weidman Dance Group, 1932–33; 1933—dancer on Broadway in The School for Husbands; 1937—danced with his own group; 1943—choreographed the Broadway musical Something for the Boys; later shows include Kismet, 1953, Jamaica, 1957, Candide, 1959, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 1962, and Foxy, 1964. Died: 17 February 1974.

Films as Choreographer:


Kismet (Dieterle); Cover Girl (C. Vidor); Jammin' the Blues (Burks—short); Tonight and Every Night (Saville)


Gilda (C. Vidor); The Jolson Story (Green); The Thrill of Brazil (Simon) (co)


Down to Earth (Hall)


On the Riviera (W. Lang); Meet Me after the Show (Sale)


The Merry Widow (Bernhardt); David and Bathsheba (H. King)


The I Don't Care Girl (Bacon); Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks); The Farmer Takes a Wife (Levin)


River of No Return (Preminger); There's No Business Like Show Business (W. Lang)


Three for the Show (Potter); Kismet (Minnelli); Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (Sale)


Les Girls (Cukor)


Some Like It Hot (Wilder)


Let's Make Love (Cukor)

Films as Actor:


Moon over Miami (W. Lang); Designing Woman (Minnelli)


By COLE: article—

In Dance in the Hollywood Musical, by Jerome Delamater, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

On COLE: article—

Kisselgoff, Anna, "Recalling an Innovator of Film Choreography," in the New York Times, section C, 7 February 1994.

* * *

Credited as one of the primary influences in show business choreography, Jack Cole combined modern dance, jazz, and ethnic—particularly oriental—movement into a unique style that he exploited in a variety of commercial settings. Although he began as a modern dancer with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, he soon became involved with stage and night club performances and maintained those affiliations long after becoming a significant force in Hollywood. Working primarily at Columbia, Twentieth Century-Fox, and, occasionally, MGM, Cole provided individual dances in many musical and nonmusical films as well as choreographing all the numbers in a variety of musicals. Cole's importance outweighs the films—and, indeed, the stage shows—he worked on. As mentor to a number of major dancers, as an innovator of dance movement, and as a filmmaker concerned with the relationship of camera and dance, Jack Cole provided a model for filming dance but often in films that have reputations inferior to his own.

During his stint at Columbia, Cole founded a permanent troupe of twelve dancers who formed the core of his work on such films as Tonight and Every Night, Down to Earth, and The Jolson Story. The troupe provided the studio with the equivalent of one of its departments: trained professionals, under contract, ready at any moment to rehearse for a film. Gwen Verdon, Carol Haney, and Matt Mattox were members of Cole's unit at Columbia, and each helped perpetuate Cole's influence. Although jazz and modern dance were the basis of their education with him, they also studied ballet and ethnic dance. Cole recognized the need for variety in their training and the possibilities inherent in using that variety in his choreography. Gwen Verdon has discussed the way in which Cole integrated all aspects of dance into a theatrical whole: "When we danced with him . . . , we had to do absolutely authentic dances, but in jazzy costumes to jazz music." The understanding of how to use different forms of dance, combine them with unexpected kinds of music, and adapt them to the needs of the show or film led to remarkable innovations. It also led to frustration, for, as Glenn Loney has suggested in a series of articles in Dance Magazine, "he seldom had major artistic control; instead, he tailored his contribution to the demands of others."

In spite of a difficult and iconoclastic personality, Cole was admired in Hollywood. He was often called on in difficult situations, to help temperamental stars, as with Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, or to provide material that would seem authentic, as with the biblical epic David and Bathsheba. His work is most evocative, though, in musicals, and he demonstrated his diverse interests in many films: a modern-dance parody of Marlon Brando in Les Girls; Latin American influences in "Heat Wave" from There's No Business Like Show Business; oriental dance in Kismet. Always concerned with photographing dance, Cole insisted on tight control of the shooting and editing of the material he prepared and tried to work with directors to integrate the dances into the totality of a film. He seldom had the opportunity, however, to influence the films beyond the musical numbers. Fortunately, the record of his work on film survives and gives credence to the claim that he provided the legacy inherited by Bob Fosse and others.

The dancer Barrie Chase has articulated Cole's contribution to contemporary dance style: "his combining of modern, oriental and jazz movement, his way of digging into the ground, of breaking down dance steps and body movement, of exact counting of every part of every step." Never happy working in Hollywood, Cole was, however, important as a teacher and innovator. He made occasional screen appearances (in Designing Woman, for example), but always returned to the stage and the classroom for sustenance. Perhaps Cole's independent spirit worked against him in Hollywood, for those who succeeded in developing the musical genre were, by nature, collaborators. Cole, on the other hand, was unique, and, although willing to tailor his material to the needs of a film, rarely agreed to a subordinate role. His ideas have become part of the vocabulary of contemporary dance and are present in films far removed from his direct contact, but his real genius may have been his ability to link innovation with show business savvy. Marilyn Monroe doing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes demonstrates that Jack Cole had a remarkable theatrical flair. Jack Cole's style will endure because it makes artistic endeavor part of popular expression.

—Jerome Delamater

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