Michael Kidd. Choreographer, Dancer, Director.
Legend of the Arts
1915 – 2007
From Broadway to Hollywood, Michael Kidd was a well respected award winning choreographer, dancer, director and actor.
Mr. Kidd would often draw on ideas/inspirations for his choreography from silent screen era of Charlie Chaplin. Mr. Kidd would often speak about Chaplin who had the great ability of comedy, bringing to life a character with emotions and most importantly connecting with his audience.
Mr. Kidd summed up/defined his choreography with.
“Human behavior and people’s manners, stylized into musical rhythmic forms. I always use real-life gestures, and most of my dancing is based on real life.”
And it was from that Mr. Kidd studied and used such inspirations for his future choreography works.
Born Milton Greenwald, 12 August 1915, Brooklyn, New York USA.
His parents Abraham Greenwald, a barber, and his wife Lillian were refugees from Czarist Russia. Mr. Kidd had two brothers, Dr. Harold Greenwald and Phil Greenwald. Whilst there are two variations in how Mr. Kidd came to changing his name, one story was Michael was always referred to as Phil’s kid brother, and the other story in 1942 Mr. Kidd was performing with Ballet Caravan and all the dancers were urged to adopt “American” names.
Mr. Kidd had an interest in dance while in high school, and it was during those years he took dance lessons in modern dance under Blanche Evan. He had a natural ability for dance; after High School graduation he made the decision to study/major in chemical engineering at New York’s City College. It was about 2 to 3 years in to his academic studies that he changed his mind and wanted to dance professionally.
Mr. Kidd was awarded a scholarship in dance by Lincoln Kirstein, and in 1937 attended the School of American Ballet (New York City Ballet). His debut came the same year with American Ballet in the production of The Eternal Road, in the corps de ballet. He studied with such greats as Anatole Vilzak, Ludmila Shollar, Léonide Massine and Muriel Stuart.
In 1939 Mr. Kidd joined and toured nationally with Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan (A second company of American Ballet), starting in the corps de ballet and eventually becoming a soloist.
One of his most notable roles at the time was in Eugene Loring’s ballet, Billy the Kid 1938 (Choreographer: Eugene Loring. Ballet Company: Ballet Caravan). It was during the Christmas break of 1939 that Mr. Kidd performed in the lead role of this ballet production, revising his role in the 1942 Broadway production.
In 1941 Mr. Kidd also became an assistant and a soloist with Eugene Loring’s Dance Players.
From 1942 to 1947, Mr. Kidd was with Ballet Theatre (Now American Ballet Theater) as a soloist. Mr. Kidd was in ballet productions by Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free and Interplay, David Lichine’s Helen of Troy, to name a few. It was during this time Mr. Kidd was given the opportunity to create his own ballet, On Stage! in 1945.
In 1947 Mr. Kidd left the world of ballet for Broadway and eventually the bright lights of Hollywood. He never again toured with a ballet company. He made his mark on the world of stage and film. It was not, however, Mr. Kidd’s first time on Broadway; during 1939 Mr. Kidd made his Broadway debut as a dancer in Filling Station.
Mr. Kidd’s first Broadway production as a choreographer was for Finian’s Rainbow in 1947 for which he won a Tony Award for Best Choreography.
The stage production of Guys and Dolls in 1950, not only provided him with a second Tony Award for Best Choreography, it set him up as one of the leading choreographers. Including, bringing him attention from the Hollywood movie production companies.
Li’l Abner, 1956 was Mr. Kidd’s debut Broadway production as Director and Choreographer. Mr. Kidd was originally to be involved with the film version of Li’l Abner as choreographer in 1959. After some hesitation, the choreography role went to his then assistant Dee Dee Wood.
During the ensuing years Mr. Kidd directed and/or choreographed Broadway shows such as Can-Can, Destry Rides Again, Guys and Dolls, Skyscraper, The Rothschilds, and The Goodbye Girl, just to name a few productions.
Mr. Kidd’s last Broadway production as a director was The Goodbye Girl (1993), for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical.
There was also Hollywood where Mr. Kidd was involved in many standout movie productions.
Mr. Kidd’s first Hollywood movie was in 1936 as a dancer in Happy Days Revue.
Mr. Kidd did have an early uncredited choreographer’s role in an Errol Flynn movie, Another Dawn (1937). However it was not until 1952 that Mr. Kidd was first credited as choreographer for the Hollywood production of Where’s Charley? that he would receive further opportunities.
Mr. Kidd would use Integrated Musical vocabulary that was developed and already used by legendary greats Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins. Mr. Kidd expanded on the development and making use of that technique, which is evident in the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).
Initially Mr. Kidd turned down the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. His well thought out process is explained by the following quote.
“I can’t see any dancing in this picture. You got these seven slobs living out in the country. They got horse manure on the floor. They’re unwashed. They’re unshaven. They look terrible. These people are going to get up and dance? We’ll be hooted out of the theater! It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Mr. Kidd continues with,
“Had to find a way to have these backwoods men dance without looking ridiculous. I had to base it all around activities you would accept from such people—it couldn’t look like ballet. And it could only have been done by superbly trained dancers.”
Take a look at the Barn Dance scene where the locals came together to help build a barn.
Mr. Kidd choreographed and combined dance and acrobatics with such props as logs, and the building of the barn as an integral part of the story line. Another example would be how Mr. Kidd included Russ Tamblyn who is not a dancer, but an exceptional gymnast/acrobat.
Regardless if it was for a Broadway production, Movie or TV Show, Mr. Kidd’s process to choreography had to make sense to him before he could deliver to the audience a stand out production that would at least be believable and enjoyable to watch.
A brief look at his film/TV credits: Hello Dolly, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Bandwagon, Guys and Dolls, That’s Dancing, Baryshnikov in Hollywood, Everybody Dance Now and Laverne and Shirley.
Mr. Kidd moved back to Broadway, where he probably enjoyed longer lasting success in comparison to Hollywood, in part due to the change of the Golden Era of Hollywood and the change of direction studios were taking at that time.
Mr. Kidd has worked with many great dancers, choreographers, actors and actresses that include Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Stanley Donen, Marc Breaux, Jacques D’Amboise, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Bernadette Peters, and Onna White.
Even today, Mr. Kidd’s choreographic style/technique is taught in ballet/dance schools alongside other legendary choreographers and dancers.
Sadly, at the age of 92, cancer took hold and Michael Kidd passed away on December 23, 2007 at his home in Los Angeles.
First choreographer to win five Tony Awards: Finian’s Rainbow (1947), Guys and Dolls (1951), Can-Can (1953), Li’l Abner (1957), and Destry Rides Again (1959).
Honorary Academy Award 1997. In recognition of his services to the art of the dance in the art of the screen.
Palm Springs International Film Festival, Career Achievement Award for Choreography 1996.
1981 Emmy Award Nomination for Baryshnikov in Hollywood.
Inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.
Did You Know?
Movie acting debut in, It’s Always Fair Weather (1955).
Directed dance scenes for Janet Jackson two music videos, When I Think of You (1986) and Alright (1990).
About Andrew Choreographer:
My passion is teaching classes for various ages, levels and abilities through jazz dance, exercising and/or warm up classes as well as writing about my chosen craft.
I have choreographed for Rick Evans Band, and had roles on the TV series Neighbours, The Flying Doctors and various TV commercials.
I place a strong emphasis on technical dance training, including dance education of past and present dancers/choreographers who have contributed to the arts.
I am contactable on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.