Marjorie June Taylor (December 14, 1917 – May 16, 2004) was an American choreographer, best known as the founder of the June Taylor Dancers, who were featured on Jackie Gleason's various television variety programs.
Early life and career
Taylor was born in Chicago, the daughter of Percival Guy Taylor and Angela Taylor. She started taking dance lessons at age eight; by age 14, she lied about her age and became one of the dancers at the Chicago nightclub, Chez Paree. At age 19, she was touring the US and Europe as a dancer in various nightclubs. She returned from London and began performing again in Chicago. In 1938, at age 21, Taylor collapsed on stage, ill with tuberculosis; she spent the next two years in a sanitarium, after which she turned to choreography, founding her own dance troupe in 1942, which made their first professional appearance at Chicago's Blackhawk restaurant.
In 1946, Taylor met Jackie Gleason at a Baltimore nightclub. The two became friends when Taylor helped Gleason overcome a case of stage fright. In 1948, Taylor made her television debut on The Toast of the Town starring Ed Sullivan, where six of her original dancers appeared as The Toastettes, bringing the chorus line to television. Two years later, Taylor joined Gleason's Cavalcade of Stars, and followed him, along with 16 dancers, to The Jackie Gleason Show, where her signature was the overhead camera shot of the dancers making kaleidoscopic geometric patterns.
Taylor was initially dubious about joining Gleason on his DuMont Network show because it meant signing a long-term contract; her husband, Sol Lerner, suggested she take the offer. The high-kicking, smiling routines that formed the first three minutes of each broadcast were Broadway-based and redolent of The Rockettes. In addition to Gleason's show, the June Taylor Dancers also made appearances at the General Motors "Motorama" auto shows in New York and Boston and on Stage Show. Gleason and Taylor also worked together to produce a television ballet, Tawny, in 1953; the music was done by Gleason and the choreography by Taylor.
Taylor won an Emmy Award for choreography in 1955. Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke and daughter of Mercer, became the group's first African-American dancer in 1963. In 1965, the June Taylor Dancers added male performers to the troupe.
In 1978, Taylor, who lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after Gleason moved production of his show from New York to Miami Beach, began choreographing the Miami Dolphins cheerleading squad, the Dolphin Starbrites, and served in this capacity until 1990. The Starbrites, famous for their one-piece bathing suits and go-go boots, performed Broadway-style halftime shows.
In popular culture
- On May 9, 2000, Taylor was interviewed by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation's Archive of American Television. This interview can be seen at the Archive's website.
- In 2001, Taylor was featured on episodes of A&E's TVOGRAPHY, a program about America's favorite TV shows.
- Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town - 1948
- Jackie Gleason's Cavalcade of Stars - 1950
- The Jackie Gleason Show - 1952-1959 and 1962–1970
- Stage Show - 1955-1956
- What's My Line? - 1956
- Schnier, Sanford (9 August 1964). "June, As In Platoon; She's the Topkick". The Miami News. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
- "June Taylor". StreetSwing.com. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
- "June Taylor, 86, Dies: Created Gleason Dances". The New York Times. 18 May 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
- Zink, Jack (18 May 2004). "June Taylor, diva of dance for Jackie Gleason, dies at 86". Sun-Sentinel. Deerfield Beach, Florida. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
- O'Day, Billie (10 November 1959). "I'm a Slave Driver Says June Taylor". The Miami News. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
- Butterfield, C. E. (3 June 1953). "Jackie Gleason Gets Ovation as Composer-Conductor". Reading Eagle. Reading, Pennsylvania. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
- "Show Business' Newest Ellington". Ebony. December 1963. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
- "Pick Duke's Granddaughter As June Taylor Dancer". Jet. 26 September 1963. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
- Ash, Agnes (5 August 1965). "June Taylor Dancers Going to Add Men". The Miami News. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
- Esterbrook, John (18 May 2004). "Dance Legend June Taylor Dies". CBS News. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
- "Jackie Gleason To Marry For Third Time Tuesday". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 12 December 1975. Retrieved 19 November 2010.
- "June Taylor Lerner grave photo". Find A Grave. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
- Rosen, Michael (9 May 2000). "Interview: June Taylor, Choreographer". Television Academy Foundation. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
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- June Taylor Interview Seven part interview at Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation.