Tony-Winning Choreographer Danny Daniels Dies at 92

July 23, 2017

Danny Daniels (aka Daniel Giagni, Jr) Oct. 25, 1924–July 7, 2017

Danny Daniels, dancer, choreographer and director, died in his Santa Monica home surrounded by family on Friday, July 7, 2017. He began his 74-year career at the age of 5 tap dancing in the beer halls of his home town, Albany, New York. His family moved to Hollywood and at age 14 he was a featured tap dancer in the Paramount film “The Star Maker” starring Bing Crosby. He returned to New York at age 16 and began his Broadway career when Gene Kelly selected him as a chorus member in “Best Foot Forward.”

Courtesy the Giagni family

He went on to become a lead in five other Broadway shows including “Billion Dollar Baby” (Tony nomination), “Street Scene” (Tony nomination), “Make Mine Manhattan” (Tony nomination). He collaborated with Morton Gould in the creation of the “Tap Dance Concerto”, a classical work that used a tap dancer to perform the line of rhythm written into the score. He performed the Concerto throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Daniels was a pioneer of television choreography in the 1950s when shows were broadcast live. His first assignment was the Martha Raye series. Over the decades he went on to choreograph six other TV series, including for Judy Garland and Perry Como, and more than 100 television shows for major stars such as Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor and John Denver. He won an Emmy for the TV special “Fabulous Fifties” which introduced Dick Van Dyke.

His theater choreography included 16 shows, among them, “Annie Get Your Gun” with Ethel Merman (Broadway), “High Spirits” with Bea Lillie (Broadway), “High Spirits” with Cicely Courtneidge (London), “Ciao Rudy” with Marcello Mastroianni (Rome), “1491” with Chita Rivera (Los Angeles) and “Wonderful Town” with Nanette Fabray (Los Angeles). He received four Tony nominations for his choreography, winning in 1984 for “The Tap Dance Kid.”

His directing credits include a revival of “Best Foot Forward” (which introduced Christopher Walken and Liza Minnelli), his own production of “Stuff ‘n Nonsense”, and the off-Broadway play “Bermuda Avenue Triangle.” Included in Daniels’ eight film credits are “Pennies from Heaven” for which he taught Steve Martin to tap dance, and “Stepping Out” starring Liza Minnelli. Daniels also directed and staged two Las Vegas acts for Mizti Gaynor and a touring act for Nannette Fabray. Forty years after appearing in the chorus of “Best Foot Forward” Daniels again worked with Gene Kelly, both as a choreographer (“American in Pasadena”) and as a dancer in Kelly’s Atlantic City night club act.

In the 1970s he opened a dance school in Santa Monica, CA, to teach new tap dancers and created a company that toured the western United States and appeared on several TV specials.

His wife, Bea, predeceased him. He is survived by his three children, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. A Celebration of Life will be held from 11 am to 1 pm on August 15, 2017, in the Grand Pavilion of St. Monica’s Church, 725 California Av., Santa Monica 90403. In lieu of flowers the family would appreciate donations in his memory to the Danny Daniels Papers in the UCLA Library Special Collections. Donations may be sent to UCLA Library Development, 11334 Young Research Library, Box 951575, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1575.