Michale Kidd (right) with Fred Astaire
August 12, 1915
New York City, New York, US
|Died||December 23, 2007
Los Angeles, California, US
|Occupation||Choreographer, dancer, actor|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Heater (m.1945)
Shelah Hackett (1969–2007)
Michael Kidd (August 12, 1915 – December 23, 2007) was an American film and stage choreographer, dancer and actor, whose career spanned five decades, and staged some of the leading Broadway and film musicals of the 1940s and 1950s.
He was probably best known for his athletic dance numbers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a 1954 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical, and for choreographing Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the "Girl Hunt Ballet" and "Dancing in the Dark" numbers in the 1953 musical film The Band Wagon.
Kidd, who was strongly influenced by Charlie Chaplin as a dancer and choreographer, was unusually well-respected, and his judgment was granted deference by the leading dancers of his era. British critic and biographer Michael Freedland said that "when Gene Kelly danced through the street with a dustbin lid tied to his feet in the 1955 film It's Always Fair Weather, the man who usually planned his own routines did it to Kidd's order.
Early life and dance career
Kidd was born Milton Greenwald in New York City on the Lower East Side, the son of Abraham Greenwald, a barber, and his wife Lillian, who were refugees from Czarist Russia. He moved to Brooklyn with his family and attended New Utrecht High School. He became interested in dance after attending a modern dance performance, and went on to study under Blanche Evan, a dancer and choreographer.
He studied chemical engineering at the City College of New York, in 1936 and 1937, but left after being granted a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. He toured the country as a member of the corps de ballet of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan, and performed in roles that included the lead in Billy the Kid, choreographed by Eugene Loring, which featured an orchestral arrangement by Aaron Copeland.
He adopted the name "Michael Kidd" in 1942, which was derived from his longtime nickname "The Kid".
In 1941, Kidd became a soloist and assistant to Loring in his Dance Players. He moved on to become a soloist for Ballet Theater, later known as the American Ballet Theater. While at the ABT, he created his own ballet, On Stage! (1945). Although the play and his performance were well received, and Kidd was hailed one of the great hopes of America's postwar ballet, he left Loring's company for Broadway in 1947 and never again worked in ballet.
Broadway and Hollywood
Kidd's first venture in Broadway was for E.Y. Harburg's Finian's Rainbow, a lyrical musical that explored racial prejudice. It brought Kidd the first of his Tony Awards for best choreography. However, his next Broadway musicals were not successful. They were Hold It, a college musical, and the Kurt Weill/Alan Jay Lerner musical Love Life, directed by Elia Kazan, which both had short runs in 1948. Next came Arms and the Girl (1950), directed by Rouben Mamoulian, with Pearl Bailey and Nanette Fabray, also a flop.
His next play, Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls (1950), cemented his reputation as a Broadway choreographer. It was based on Damon Runyon short stories, with book by Abe Burrows, and earned Kidd his second Tony Award. The play attracted the attention of movie producers, and he was lured to Hollywood.
His first film was a 1952 film adaptation of Frank Loesser's 1948 Broadway musical, Where's Charley?, starring Ray Bolger repeating his Broadway performance in the lead role. But his first big film success came the following year, with The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.
The Band Wagon, which featured the music and lyrics of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, included an extensive dance sequence at the end, the "Girl Hunt Ballet" featuring Astaire and Charisse, which was a spoof of hard-boiled Mickey Spillane novels. Kidd was hired to stage the film's dances at Astaire's request, because he was nervous about the ballet. Kidd said that he made Astaire comfortable by pretending that he was just making up the steps spontaneously. The film also featured "Shine on Your Shoes," set in a 42nd Street penny arcade and featuring Astaire and LeRoy Daniels, a real-life shoe-shiner, and "Dancing in the Dark" with Charisse, set in Central Park.
Kidd's work for the 1954 film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers brought him acclaim. The film was directed by Stanley Donen, with music by Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was written directly for the screen and based on the short story "The Sobbin' Women", by Stephen Vincent Benét, which was based in turn on the Ancient Roman legend of The Rape of the Sabine Women. He initially turned down the assignment, recalling in 1997: "Here are these slobs living off in the woods. They have no schooling, they are uncouth, there's manure on the floor, the cows come in and out - and they're gonna get up and dance? We'd be laughed out of the house."
The entire cast, even extras, consisted of a melange of dancers, acrobats and stuntmen, including the ballet dancers Jacques D'Amboise of the New York City Ballet and Marc Platt, formerly of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Except for Howard Keel and Jane Powell, the roles of the brothers and their brides were all played by professional dancers at Kidd's insistence. Mercer said that the musical numbers were written at Kidd's behest, as an example "of how a songwriter sometimes has to take his cue from his collaborators."  For example, Kidd explained to Mercer and dePaul his conception of the "Lonesome Polecat" number, the lament of the brothers for the women, and the two worked out the music and lyrics.
By the mid-1950s Hollywood's output of movie musicals had begun to wane, and he worked on only two during that decade. He made his movie acting debut in It's Always Fair Weather (1955), directed by Gene Kelly and Donen, in which Kelly, Kidd and Dan Dailey played three ex-GIs meeting ten years after the war, only to discover they had little in common. The film featured an exuberant number in which the three dance with garbage can lids fastened to their feet. The downbeat film was a critical success but was not heavily promoted by the studio, and failed at the box office. The film was originally designed to be a sequel to the 1949 film On the Town, but Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin were unavailable, and the film lacked chemistry between the three actors. The production was marked by constant strife between Donen and Kelly, with much of it stemming from Donen striving unsuccessfully to include a ten-minute dance solo by Kidd, "Jack and the Space Giants." Kelly rejected that, which Kidd took as a personal insult, and Donen went further, ending his collaboration with Kelly for the rest of their lives. The "Jack" number appears as a bonus feature on a DVD of the film, and one recent commentator suggests that Kelly's judgment was not wrong, as the number was listless and did not advance the plot. 
Kidd was both director and choreographer for the musical comedy film Merry Andrew (1958), starring Danny Kaye. But by the then the era of movie musicals was pretty much over, and Kidd turned his attention to Broadway, where he had continued to work while choreographing movies. At the same time that he was choreographing The Band Wagon he was staging dances for Cole Porter’s Broadway musical Can-Can. In that show he created dance numbers for Gwen Verdon which helped make her a Broadway sensation.
His other Broadway shows during the 1950s included Li'l Abner in 1956, which he directed as well as choreographed for which he won another Tony Award. His choreography was adapted for the film version in 1959, but after Merry Andrew he made no other films until Star!, with Julie Andrews, in 1968. Neither film was successful.
On Broadway he directed and choreographed Destry Rides Again (1959), with Andy Griffith, Wildcat (1960), which starred Lucille Ball, Subways Are for Sleeping (1961), a musical comedy about homelessness, and Ben Franklin in Paris (1964), starring Robert Preston. He also choreographed the famous Broadway flop Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966), a musical version of the Truman Capote novella with Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain that never officially opened.
He choreographed the 1969 film adaptation of the hit Broadway play Hello, Dolly! The film which was beset by tension on the unhappy set, with Barbra Streisand clashing with her costar Walter Matthau and director Gene Kelly; Kidd also had conflicts with set designer Irene Sharaff and Kelly, to the point that he and Kelly were no longer on speaking terms. The film was not a success as a musical, with Kelly and Kidd making little use of the widescreen format of the film, "shoveling more and more bodies on screen with no apparent purpose." 
He went on to direct and choreograph the 1970 Broadway musical The Rothschilds, starring Hal Linden, and directed The Goodbye Girl, with Bernadette Peters and Martin Short, a 1993 adaptation of the 1977 Neil Simon film that was his final Broadway play. Although he was nominated for a Tony Award for best director, reviews were mixed. In The New York Times, Frank Rich said that "Kidd, who did much to define slam-bang Broadway and Hollywood musical-comedy style in the 1950's, directs 'The Goodbye Girl' in a mechanical reduction of that style: everything is fast, furious, loud and downstage center. Not that any director could overcome this musical's physical production."
As an actor, he played the faded, cynical choreographer for a cheesy beauty pageant in the satirical 1975 film Smile. Roger Ebert called it a "finely etched semiautobiographical performance." He played other small acting roles, as well as directing episodes of the TV comedy Laverne and Shirley as well as scenes for Janet Jackson in two music videos, “When I Think of You” and “Alright.”
Kidd died of cancer at the age 92 at his home in Los Angeles, California. His marriage to the dancer Mary Heater in 1945 ended in divorce. At his death he was survived by his wife Shelah Hackett, whom he married in 1969, two daughters from his first marriage and a son and daughter from his second.
Kidd was the uncle of filmmaker and political activist, Robert Greenwald. His older brother was Harold Greenwald, a prominent psychotherapist and best-selling author of the 1958 book The Call Girl, who was an expert in the study of prostitution.
In a 2012 appreciation of his work, Dance Teacher said that "Kidd drew from the vocabularies of ballet, modern, social dance and acrobatics. But above all, his choreography stemmed from realistic movements and gestures. Following in the tradition of Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins, who developed the integrated musical, Kidd created dances that helped to carry the plot and flesh out the characters. He put the story first, communicating it through dance." Kidd once said that "every move, every turn should mean something. Dancing should be completely understandable."  In Seven Brides for Seven Brothers he employed leading ballet dancers, but insisted that his dancers avoid ballet dance moves, and instead focus on "work movements like ax wielding."
Kidd said that his "dancing is based on naturalistic movement that is abstracted and enlarged," and that "all my movements relate to some kind of real activity." He always wanted dance to serve the story, and when beginning a new work he would write a scenario, explaining how the plot drove the characters to dance.
Although he came from the world of classic ballet, a Los Angeles Times critic noted at his death that he had "a healthy disdain for its pretensions." He staged a comedic ballet sequence for the 1954 Danny Kaye film Knock on Wood, in which Kaye is chased into a theater and hides on stage during a performance by a Russian ballet company. The sequence allowed Kidd to lampoon the stylistic excesses he'd observed as a dancer at the American Ballet Theater.
As in his choreography for both the Broadway and 1955 film adaptation of Guys and Dolls, and in the "Girl Hunt Ballet," Kidd's choreography in Seven Brides exuded masculinity. One history of the musical theater observes that "Kidd forged dances, and shows, in which men were men, leaping high, stout hearted, and passionate about their dolls."  He choreographed "for the little guy, the working guy, the guy defined by his job and the movement that job entailed."
- Where's Charley? (1952) - choreographer
- The Band Wagon (1953) - choreographer
- Knock on Wood (1954) - choreographer
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) - choreographer
- Guys and Dolls (1955) - choreographer
- It's Always Fair Weather (1955) - actor
- Merry Andrew (1958) - director and choreographer
- Li'l Abner (1959) - original choreography
- Star! (1968) - choreographer
- Hello, Dolly! (1969) - choreographer
- Smile (1975) - actor
- Filling Station (1939) - ballet - dancer for the role of "The Gangster"
- Billy the Kid (1939) - ballet to the music of Aaron Copland - dancer
- Pocahontas (1939) - ballet to the music of Elliott Carter - dancer cast as an "Indian Man"
- Billy the Kid(1942 revival) - director and dancer
- Interplay (1945) - ballet to the music of Morton Gould and choreography of Jerome Robbins - dancer
- Fancy Free (1946) - ballet the music of Leonard Bernstein and choreography of Jerome Robbins - dancer cast as a "Sailor"
- Finian's Rainbow (1947) - musical - choreographer - Tony Award for Best Choreography
- Hold It! (1948) - musical - choreographer
- Love Life (1948) - musical - choreographer
- Arms and the Girl (1950) - musical - choreographer
- Guys and Dolls (1950) - musical - choreographer - Tony Award for Best Choreography
- Can-Can (1953) - musical - choreographer - Tony Award for Best Choreography'
- Li'l Abner (1956) - musical - director, choreographer, and co-producer - Tony Award for Best Choreography
- Destry Rides Again (1959) - musical - director and choreographer - Tony Award for Best Choreography and nominated for Best Direction of a Musical
- Wildcat (1960) - musical - director, choreographer, and co-producer
- Subways Are For Sleeping (1961) - musical - director and choreographer - Tony Award Nomination for Best Choreography
- Here's Love (1963) - musical - choreographer
- Ben Franklin in Paris (1964) - musical - director and choreographer
- Skyscraper (1965) - musical - choreographer - Tony Award Nomination for Best Choreography
- Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966 - never officially opened) - musical - choreographer
- The Rothschilds (1970) - musical - director and choreographer - Tony Award Nominations for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography
- Cyrano (1973) - musical - director and choreographer
- The Music Man (1980 revival) - musical - director and choreographer
- The Goodbye Girl (1993) - musical - director - Tony Award Nomination for Best Direction of a Musical
- Freedland, Michael (6 January 2008). "Michael Kidd: Top choreographer of American musicals, he turned dance routines into works of art". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
- Straus, Rachel (May 2012). "Michael Kidd: Energizing the golden age of musical theater". Dance Teacher 34 (5): 60–61.
- Tobias, Patricia Eliot (24 December 2007). "Michael Kidd, Choreographer, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
- "Michael Kidd". Times of London. 5 January 2008. p. 72.
- Kisselgoff, Anna (March 13, 1994). "For Michael Kidd, Real Life Is Where The Dance Begins". New York Times. pp. H10. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
- "Michael Kidd". The Independent. 29 December r2007. p. 44.
- D'Amboise, Jacques (2011). I Was a Dancer. Random House. pp. 158–161. ISBN 1400042348.
- Furia, Philip and Patterson, Laurie (2010). The Songs of Hollywood. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 188. ISBN 0195337085.
- Feaster, Felicia. "It's Always Fair Weather (1955)". TCM.com. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Hess, Earl J; Dabholkar, Pratibha A. (2009). Singin' in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece. University Press of Kansas. pp. 203–205. ISBN 0700617574.
- Kennedy, Matthew (2014). Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s. Oxford University Press. pp. 135–140. ISBN 0199925674.
- Santopietro, Tom (2007). The Importance of Being Barbra: The Brilliant, Tumultuous Career of Barbra Streisand. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 67. ISBN 0312375611.
- Rich, Frank (March 5, 1993). "Review/Theater; How Far Two Good Sports Will Go". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Ebert, Roger (Jan. 1, 1975). "Smile (1975)". rogerebert.com. pp. Roger Ebert. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Ravo, Nick (2 April 1999). "Harold Greenwald, 88, Expert On Psychology of Prostitutes". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Segal, Lewis (29 December 2007). "AN APPRECIATION; Choreographer of the common; Comfortable in any genre, the graceful Michael Kidd turned everyday tasks into physical art.". Los Angeles Times. pp. E1.
- Flinn, Denny Martin (2008). The Great American Book Musical: A Manifesto, a Monograph, a Manual. Limelight. ISBN 0879103620.
- "26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame." The New York Times, March 3, 1981.
- Michael Kidd at the Internet Broadway Database
- Michael Kidd at the Internet Movie Database
- Michael Kidd at Find a Grave