Innovative choreographer Jack Cole is finally getting his due. Long neglected in most discussions of dance on film, Cole introduced radically modern ideas and forms to a sphere often treated as merely decorative. He also lent distinction to the careers of stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and Mitzi Gaynor. Cole came to Hollywood from the world of nightclubs and Broadway.
As dance critic Debra Levine points out, Cole was a preeminent film choreographer when he joined Twentieth Century Fox to coach Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
His film portfolio includes remarkable female solos: “Put the Blame on Mame” for Hayworth in the film noir “Gilda” (1946); “No Talent Joe” for Grable in “Meet Me After the Show” (1951) and “Beale Street Blues” for Gaynor in “The I Don’t Care Girl” (1953).
On Saturday, Aug. 4, the UCLA Film & Television Archive is hosting a tribute to Cole. There will be a screening of “The I Don’t Care Girl” and a discussion with Gaynor, Levine and Larry Billman, founder of the Academy of Dance on Film. Directed by Lloyd Bacon, the movie shows Cole’s hyper-stylized choreography to dazzling effect.
The UCLA event precedes Levine’s guest-host appearance on Turner Classic Movies. “Choreography by Jack Cole,” a four-film Cole homage, airs Sept. 10 on TCM.
UCLA’s tribute is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Billy Wilder Theater, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024, 310-206-8013. Tickets are $10 and I hear they are going fast!