Michael Kidd was an award winning American choreographer who over his long and productive career spanning decades revolutionized choreography on the American stage and cinema. A talented choreographer who reached the pinnacle of his glory with the dance numbers in ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’, he was best known for his energetic and exuberant productions that enthused the audiences and made them want to groove along. At the peak of his career during the 1940s and 1950s, he is credited to have staged some of the leading Broadway productions and film musicals of that time. An intuitive dancer to whom choreography came naturally, he developed the technique of “integrated musical’ in which dance movements are integral to the plot. One characteristic of his which distinguished him from other choreographers was that his dancing was based mostly on real life, using the gestures people normally perform in their day-to-day lives. This quality made him extremely popular as even people without technical knowledge of dance moves could connect with his performances. He won several awards for his productions and became the first choreographer to win five Tony Awards. He was also awarded an honorary Academy Award in recognition of his services to the art of dance.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on August 12, 1915, in New York City, to Abraham Greenwald and his wife Lillian. His father worked as a barber, and both he and Lillian were refugees from Czarist Russia.
His family moved to Brooklyn where he attended New Utrecht High School. He developed an interest in dance and studied under Blanche Evan, a dancer and choreographer.
Eventually he decided to study engineering and enrolled at the City College in New York to study chemical engineering. However, he was granted a scholarship to the School of American Ballet and left the City College to pursue his dream.
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He joined the corps de ballet of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan and toured the country, performing in many roles including the lead in ‘Billy the Kid’ which was choreographed by Eugene Loring.
In 1942, he adopted the name “Michael Kidd” when he was performing for Ballet Theater (now called American Ballet Theater). The company gave him the chance to create his own ballet, ‘On Stage’ in 1945.
’On Stage’ was very well received and Kidd was hailed as one of the great hopes of postwar American ballet. However, Kidd soon lost interest in ballet and left the company.
He started performing for Broadway in 1947. His first choreography on Broadway was for ‘Finian Rainbow’, a musical that explored racial prejudice. It was much acclaimed though he failed to repeat this success with his next musicals.
In 1950, he choreographer Frank Loesser’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ which became a hit and earned him a Tony Award. With highly popular numbers like ‘Adelaide’, the musical became one of theater’s greatest musicals.
After tasting success in the Broadway, he ventured into Hollywood and choreographed the film, ‘Where's Charley?’ in 1952 which was the film adaptation of the Frank Loesser hit Broadway musical of the same name.
In 1954, he choreographed the Hollywood musical, ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brother’, directed by Stanley Donen. There was a barn-raising sequence in the movie which went on to become popular as one of the most exuberant dance numbers on screen.
Kidd, who already had experience acting on stage, decided to put his acting skills to test in the films. He made his movie acting debut in the 1955 musical, ‘It’s Always Fair Weather’ which also had Dan Dailey and Gene Kelly in starring roles.
In 1958, he directed and choreographed ‘Merry Andrew;, a musical film which starred Danny Kaye. Saul Chaplin composed the music while the lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer.
He turned his attention to Broadway by late 1950s and directed and choreographed ‘Destry Rides Again’ (1959), ‘Wildcat’ (1960), ‘Subways Are for Sleeping’ (1961) and ‘Ben Franklin in Paris’ (1964). He also choreographed ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ which never opened officially.
He started taking up supporting roles in movies during 1970s, playing the cynical choreographer for a beauty pageant in the 1975 film, ‘Smile’. His performance was called a "finely etched semiautobiographical performance” by film critic Roger Ebert.
During the 1980s and 1990s he directed and choreographed television programs and music videos including ‘When I Think of You’ (1986) and ‘Alright’ (1990).
Awards & Achievements
Kidd was the first choreographer to win five Tony Awards, the first of which he received for the lyrical musical ‘Finian's Rainbow’. He received a total of nine Tony Award nominations over the course of his career.
In 1997, he was awarded an honorary Academy Award "in recognition of his services to the art of dance in the art of the screen".
Personal Life & Legacy
He married dancer Mary Heater in 1945. The couple had two daughters and eventually divorced.
He tied the knot for the second time in 1969, with Shelah Hackett; his second wife bore him a son and a daughter. The couple remained married for life.
He lived a long and productive life. He became sick with cancer during his last years and died on December 23, 2007 at the age of 92.