Is Jack Cole the Greatest Choreographer You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of?

On Monday September 10th Turner Classic Movies will devote an evening to the movies of Hollywood jazz choreographer Jack Cole. The presentation will be hosted by my friend, Los Angeles Times dance critic and founder of the blog, Arts Meme, Debra Levine, along with TCM’s Robert Osborne.

Cole was born in New Jersey and actually began his career as a Denishawn dancer. He was an early dancer at Jacob’s Pillow. He choreographed for Broadway (Man of La Mancha, Something For the Boys, etc.) before moving to Los Angeles to choreograph for film. He worked on many huge films, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Some Like It Hot, On the Riviera, the list goes on. Yet, strangely, many have never heard of him. Why?

Here he is with Marilyn Monroe:

So, on September 10th, beginning at 8 pm ET (5 PT), TCM will show four Cole-choreographed films: Tonight and Every Night (1945, starring Rita Hayworth), On the Riviera (1951, starring dancer Gwen Verdon, later famous for being Bob Fosse’s main muse), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1952, starring Monroe and Jane Russell), and Les Girls (1957, starring Gene Kelly).

I’ve heard Debra give several talks about Cole, the latest of which occurred at UCLA’s Hammer Museum a few weeks ago when the museum showed a rather hilarious film called The I Don’t Care Girl starring Mitzi Gaynor. Several dance sequences, which I found brilliant, were choreographed by Cole. Gaynor was there, looking gorgeous I might add – I have no idea how old she is now – and she entertained the crowd with her tales of working with Cole, of learning to dance, and of her film career, with loads of dirty jokes thrown in. She can be quite lewd! But sweetly so.

Anyway, Debra is hugely knowledgeable on Cole. You’ll learn so much listening to her talk about him on TCM. It’s tragic he’s so little remembered now when he worked on such classic films. I hope she writes a biography of him someday. Please tune in!

Here’s a sneak preview of Debra speaking with Robert Osborne:

And here’s a clip from The I Don’t Care Girl:

Go here for more information on the exact TCM schedule, and go here and here for more info on Cole.

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2 Responses to Is Jack Cole the Greatest Choreographer You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of?

  1. Philip Sparacino says:

    I am just bowled-over at what I’ve seen and heard tonight about Jack Cole. I can see that I’ve been influenced by him and yet I didn’t even know who he was before tonight. (On one hand I feel very ignorant—on the other, better to learn about Jack Cole now than never.)
    I am a drama and movement therapist at at a small teaching hospital in Queens, New York. I work with the adult mentally-ill population and runs movement groups twice a week on the inpatient units. They like the stuff we do because it’s based on how people really move but with a contemporary, urban twist.
    Our patient population is the most ethnically diverse in the country, so I have to come up with movements that reflect that. And here I’m reading about how Jack Cole knew Indian dance and flamenco and the lindy-hop and I feel so connected to a man whose work I have been watching for years!
    In our groups we do stuff influenced by Thai dance, Chinese Opera, Eurythmy, Cartoons (that South Park sideways-walking stuff and Warner Brothers cartoon movements a la Bugs Bunny), Martial Arts Films, African Dance, some clowning skills, jazz, Latin music dance, and ballet and it’s all kind of mixed into something unique. The whole thing just evolved.
    But you know what? I can’t help feeling that the whole thing was influenced by Mr. Cole. This is a great night!

  2. Jeff says:

    Tonya, great post! It made me remember: I had a teacher when I was a teenager in the Dayton Ballet Co., that was a big fan of Jack Cole.

    You were wondering why he wasn’t better known today, so here’s what I gathered from my former teacher.

    Jack Cole actually had a company of dancers that worked on different films with him. And he ruled that company with an iron fist. He demanded results, no matter whether you were a star or a chorus girl. He did not make allowances based on your level of fame. He simply did not play politics.

    He was really more of an artist. He was interested more in creating a new art with his dance on film, rather than becoming a “name” in the biz.

    Or it could be as simple as time going by, and people passing on and moving on.

    Another interesting tidbit: He evidently had a men’s class that he taught, where the men attending had to take class completely naked! My teacher gave no explanation as to why, maybe is was a beatnik generation thing. He made a joke after telling that story about having to add an extra count to the music for that class (if you get my drift)!

    Cheers,
    Jeff