The Golden Age of Hollywood Musicals Comes to MoMA

January 17, 2016

The choreographers who worked on Hollywood musicals were just hacks, right?

Gwen Verdon in The Merry Widow (1952), directed by Curtis Bernhardt, photos courtesy MoMA

Wrong! At least in the case of Jack Cole, master of jazz, modern and “ethnic” dance. He crafted witty, challenging numbers that are fascinating for the way his choreography works with the camera angles. Between 1945 and 1960, he made 18 movies, gaining unprecedented control along the way. He had an eye for design, an ear for rhythm and an unerring instinct for how to move the story along. He made routines for the movie stars who could really dance, like Gwen Verdon, Mitzi Gaynor, Rita Hayworth, Danny Kaye and Ann Miller. But he also figured out how to make non-dancing stars like Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable move like a million dollars.

Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love (1960), directed by George Cukor


Starting Wednesday, the Museum of Modern Art is devoting two weeks of events to this unsung hero, including 18 films and a slew of talks. Hosts and speakers of “All That Jack (Cole)” include today’s hot choreographers Wayne (Wicked) Cilento, Rob (Into the Woods) Marshall, and Mia (Finding Neverland) Michaels, as well as master performers Carmen de Lavallade and Grover Dale.

Meet Me on Broadway (1946), directed by Leigh Jason

Also on hand will be dance critic and Cole researcher Debra Levine,  who has discovered a treasure trove of Cole’s snazzy, savvy routines in Hollywood’s attic. Her passion for Cole’s work and her natural wit make her lectures both fun and educational. The whole series is sure to be an eye-opening escapade through dance-making on the silver screen.

“All That Jack,” which is curated by MoMA’s Dave Kehr, runs through February 4. For more information, click here. NOTE: Because of the blizzard, Debra Levine’s lecture is re-scheduled for Feb. 2.

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