This Tuesday we are spotlighting the elegant and charming…
Unfortunately, Hollywood considers musical dancers as hoofers. Regrettable expression.
French ballet dancer Leslie Caron was discovered by the legendary MGM star Gene Kelly during his search for a co-star in one of the finest musicals ever filmed, the Oscar-winning An American in Paris (1951), which was inspired by and based on the music of George Gershwin. Leslie’s gamine looks and pixie-like appeal would be ideal for Cinderella-type rags-to-riches stories, and Hollywood made fine use of it. Combined with her fluid dancing skills, she became one of the top foreign musical artists of the 1950s, while her triple-threat talents as a singer, dancer and actress sustained her long after musical film’s “Golden Age” had passed.
Leslie Claire Margaret Caron was born in France on July 1, 1931. Her father, Claude Caron, was a French chemist, and her American-born mother, Margaret Petit, had been a ballet dancer back in the States during the 1920s. Leslie herself began taking dance lessons at age 11. She was on holidays at her grandparents’ estate near Grasse when the Allies landed on the 15th of August 1944. After the German rendition, she and her family went to Paris to live. There she attended the Convent of the Assumption and started ballet training. While studying at the National Conservatory of Dance, she appeared at age 14 in “The Pearl Diver,” a show for children where she danced and played a little boy. At age 16, she was hired by the renowned Roland Petit to join the Ballet des Champs-Elysees, where she was immediately given solo parts.
Leslie’s talent and reputation as a dancer had already been recognized when on opening night of Petit’s 1948 ballet “La Rencontre,” which was based on the theme of Orpheus and featured the widely-acclaimed dancer ‘Jean Babilee’, she was seen by then-married Hollywood couple Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair. Leslie did not meet the famed pair at the end of the show that night as the 17-year-old went home dutifully right after her performance, but one year later Kelly remembered Leslie’s performance when he returned to Paris in search for a partner for his upcoming movie musical An American in Paris (1951). The rest is history.
Lise – An American in Paris (1951)
Daddy Long Legs (1955) – Sluefoot – Leslie Caron & Fred Astaire
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron- An American in Paris
Fun Facts About Miss Leslie Caron
One of the few actresses to have danced with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in the movies, other actresses that have also done this includes Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Vera-Ellen, Debbie Reynolds, and Rita Hayworth.
Member of jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980
Was president of the jury at the ‘Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin’ in 1989.
For Peter Hall’s 30th birthday her present was – simply – a Rolls Royce.
Returned to work 3 months after giving birth to her son Christopher Hall to begin filming Gigi (1958).
Received the 2,394th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame [December 2009].
Once romantically linked (1995-1996) to handsome “Laredo” actor Robert Wolders who married older actress Merle Oberon and was the companion of older actress Audrey Hepburn until her death in 1993. Leslie is five years older than Wolders.
She and her daughter, Jennifer Caron Hall, co-starred on an episode of The Love Boat (1977), in the parts of mother and daughter, both con artists, engaged in fleecing millionaires.
Born in New York City to Maurice Hines Sr. and Alma Hines, Gregory Hines began tapping when he was two years old, and began dancing semi-professionally at the age of five. Since then, he and his older brother Maurice performed together, studying with choreographer Henry LeTang. Gregory and Maurice also learned from veteran tap dancers such as Howard Sims and The Nicholas Brothers whenever they performed in the same venues. The two brothers were known as “The Hines Kids”, making nightclub appearances, and later as “The Hines Brothers”. When their father joined the act as a drummer,the name changed again in 1963 to “Hines, Hines, and Dad”.
Hines performed as the lead singer and musician in a rock band called Severance in the year of 1975-1976 based in Venice, California. Severance was one of the house bands at an original music club called Honky Hoagies Handy Hangout, otherwise known as the 4H Club. In 1986, he sang a duet with Luther Vandross, entitled “There’s Nothing Better Than Love”, which reached the No. 1 position on the Billboard R&B charts.
Hines made his movie debut in Mel Brooks’s History of the World, Part 1. Critics took note of Hines’s comedic charm, and he later appeared in such movies as The Cotton Club, White Nights alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov, Running Scared, Tap and Waiting to Exhale. On television, he starred in his own series in 1997 called The Gregory Hines Show on CBS, as well as in the recurring role of Ben Doucette on Will & Grace. In 1999, Hines made his return to television with Nick Jr.’s Little Bill, as the voice of Big Bill in which he won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer In An Animated Program.
Hines made his Broadway debut with his brother in The Girl in Pink Tights in 1954. He earned Tony Award nominations for Eubie! (1979), Comin’ Uptown (1980) and Sophisticated Ladies (1981), and won the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Jelly’s Last Jam (1992) and the Theatre World Award for Eubie!. In 1989, Gregory Hines created “Gregory Hines’ Tap Dance in America,” which he also hosted. The PBS special featured seasoned tap dancers such as Savion Glover and Bunny Briggs. He also co-hosted the Tony Awards ceremony in 1995 and 2002.
In 1990, Hines visited with his idol, Sammy Davis, Jr., as he was dying of throat cancer, unable to speak. After Davis died, an emotional Hines spoke at Davis’s funeral of how Sammy had made a gesture to him, “as if passing a basketball … and I caught it.” Hines spoke of the honor that Sammy thought that Hines could carry on from where he left off.
Hines was an avid improviser. He did a lot of improvisation of tap steps, tap sounds, and tap rhythms alike. His improvisation was like that of a drummer, doing a solo and coming up with all sorts of rhythms. He also improvised the phrasing of a number of tap steps that he would come up with, mainly based on sound produced. A laid back dancer, he usually wore nice pants and a loose-fitting shirt. Although he inherited the roots and tradition of the black rhythmic tap, he also influenced the new black rhythmic tap, as a proponent. “‘He purposely obliterated the tempos,’ wrote tap historian Sally Sommer, ‘throwing down a cascade of taps like pebbles tossed across the floor. In that moment, he aligned tap with the latest free-form experiments in jazz and new music and postmodern dance.'”
Throughout his career, Hines wanted to and continued to be an advocate for tap in America. In 1988, he successfully petitioned the creation of National Tap Dance Day, which is now celebrated in 40 cities in the United States. It is also celebrated in eight other nations. Gregory Hines was on the Board of Directors of Manhattan Tap, he was a member of the Jazz Tap Ensemble, and a member of the American Tap Foundation (formerly the American Tap Dance Orchestra). He was a good teacher, influencing tap dance artists Savion Glover, Dianne Walker, Ted Levy, and Jane Goldberg.
In an interview with The New York Times in 1988, Hines said that everything he did was influenced by his dancing–“my singing, my acting, my lovemaking, my being a parent.
Hines died of liver cancer at 57, on August 9, 2003, en route to hospital from his home in Los Angeles. He had been diagnosed with the disease more than a year earlier but had informed only his closest friends. At the time of his death, he was engaged to Negrita Jayde. Hines is interred at Saint Volodymyr’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cemetery in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, the country in which he met Negrita. Negrita, who died in 2009, is buried next to him.
Gregory Hines Solo Tap Scene White Nights
Fit As A Fiddle: Steve Martin & Gregory Hines
Gregory and Maurice Hines in the Cotton Club
Fun Facts about Mr. Gregory Hines
He and Maurice Hines were cast as brothers in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club (1984), set in the Harlem club where their grandmother had been one of the elite black entertainers performing for a whites-only audience in the twenties and thirties. Coppola encouraged the brothers to improvise so they based one scene on their real-life reunion in “Eubie!” and admitted the tears were real.
In the late ’60s he decided to try his hand at performing rock ‘n’ roll music, and writing his own songs.
Was aged six when he and brother Maurice Hines performed, as the Hines Kids, at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
Had his professional debut when only 5 years old.
When he was in his twenties he worked on a farm.
Was considered for the part of “Winston Zeddemore” in Ghostbusters (1984).
Hines made his feature film debut in Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part I (1981). He was a last minute replacement for Richard Pryor, who had to cancel his appearance in the movie due to his freebasing accident.
Won Broadway’s 1992 Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical) for “Jelly’s Last Jam,” for which he also shared a Best Choreographer nomination with Hope Clarke and Ted L. Levy. He was also nominated for Tonys three other times: as Best Actor (Featured Role – Musical) in 1979 for “Eubie!”, which he recreated in the television version with the same title, Eubie! (1981); ; and as Best Actor (Musical), in 1980 for “Comin’ Uptown” and in 1981 for “Sophisticated Ladies.”
In 1954 he and brother Maurice Hines they were cast in the Broadway musical “The Girl in the Pink Tights”.
He had a reunion with brother Maurice Hines when they were both hired for the Broadway musical, “Eubie!” in 1978. It earned him a Tony nomination, as did his role in another musical, “Sophisticated Ladies”.
His own stage show took him from New York’s Bottom Line to spots as far-flung as Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Japan and Monte Carlo.
Inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2004.
Once a song and dance man, always a song and dance man. Those few words tell as much about me professionally as there is to tell.
James Francis Cagney, Jr. (July 17, 1899 – March 30, 1986) was an American actor and dancer, both on stage and in film, though it is film where he has had his greatest impact. Known for his consistently energetic performances, distinctive vocal stylings and deadpan comic timing he won acclaim and major awards for a wide variety of performances. He is best remembered for playing multi-faceted tough guys in movies like The Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces and was even typecast or limited by this view earlier in his career. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him eighth among its 50 Greatest American Screen Legends. No less a student of drama than Orson Welles said of Cagney that he was “maybe the greatest actor to ever appear in front of a camera.”
Cagney was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. His biographers disagree as to the actual location: either on the corner of Avenue D and 8th Street or in a top floor apartment at 391 East Eighth. His father, James Francis Cagney, Sr., was of Irish descent. By the time of his son’s birth, he was a bartender and amateur boxer, though on Cagney’s birth certificate, he is listed as a telegraphist. His mother was Carolyn (née Nelson); her father was a Norwegian ship captain while her mother was Irish. Cagney was the second of seven children, two of whom died within months of birth; he himself was very sick as a young child, so much so that his mother feared he would die before he could be baptized. He later attributed his sickness to the poverty in which they grew up. The family moved twice while he was still young, first to East 79th Street, and then to East 96th Street.
The red-haired, blue-eyed Cagney graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City in 1918, and attended Columbia College of Columbia University where he intended to major in art. He also took German and joined the Student Army Training Corps, but dropped out after one semester, returning home upon the death of his father during the 1918 flu pandemic.
He held a variety of jobs early in his life, giving all his earnings to his family: junior architect, copy boy for the New York Sun, book custodian at the New York Public Library, bellhop, draughtsman, and night doorman. It was while Cagney was working for the New York Public Library that he met Florence James, who would help him on his way to an acting career. Cagney believed in hard work, later stating, “It was good for me. I feel sorry for the kid who has too cushy a time of it. Suddenly he has to come face-to-face with the realities of life without any mama or papa to do his thinking for him.”
He started tap dancing as a boy (a skill that would eventually contribute to his Academy Award) and was nicknamed “Cellar-Door Cagney” after his habit of dancing on slanted cellar doors.
He was a good street fighter, defending his older brother Harry, a medical student, against all comers when necessary. He engaged in amateur boxing, and was a runner-up for the New York State lightweight title. His coaches encouraged him to turn professional, but his mother would not allow it. He also played semi-professional baseball for a local team, and entertained dreams of playing in the Major Leagues.
His introduction to films was unusual; when visiting an aunt in Brooklyn who lived opposite Vitagraph Studios, Cagney would climb over the fence to watch the filming of John Bunny movies. He became involved in amateur dramatics, starting as a scenery boy for a Chinese pantomime at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, one of the first settlement houses in the nation, where his brother Harry performed and his soon-to-be friend, Florence James, directed. He was initially content working behind the scenes and had no interest in performing. One night, however, Harry became ill, and although Cagney was not an understudy, his photographic memory of rehearsals enabled him to stand in for his brother without making a single mistake. Therefore, Florence James has the unique distinction of being the first director to put him on a stage. Afterward, he joined a number of companies as a performer in a variety of roles.
In his first professional acting performance, Cagney danced costumed as a woman in the chorus line of the 1919 revue Every Sailor. He spent several years in vaudeville as a hoofer and comedian, until he got his first major acting part in 1925. He secured several other roles, receiving good notices, before landing the lead in the 1929 play Penny Arcade. After rave reviews, Warner Bros. signed him for an initial $500-a-week, three-week contract to reprise his role; this was quickly extended to a seven-year contract.
Cagney’s seventh film, The Public Enemy, became one of the most influential gangster movies of the period. Notable for a famous scene that makes dramatic use of a grapefruit, the film thrust Cagney into the spotlight, making him one of Hollywood’s biggest stars as well as one of Warner Brothers’ biggest contracts. In 1938, he received his first Academy Award for Best Actor nomination, for Angels with Dirty Faces for his subtle portrayal of the tough guy/man-child Rocky Sullivan. In 1942 Cagney was awarded the Oscar for his energetic portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. He was nominated a third time in 1955 for Love Me or Leave Me. Cagney retired from acting and dancing in 1961, deciding to spend time on his farm with his family. He exited retirement, twenty years later, for a part in the 1981 movie Ragtime, mainly to aid his recovery from a stroke.
Cagney walked out on Warners several times over the course of his career, each time returning upon much improved personal and artistic terms. In 1935, he sued Warners for breach of contract and won; this marked one of the first times an actor had beaten a studio over a contract issue. He worked for an independent film company for a year while the suit was being settled, and also established his own production company, Cagney Productions, in 1942, before returning to Warners again four years later. Jack Warner called him “The Professional Againster”, in reference to Cagney’s refusal to be pushed around. Cagney also made numerous morale-boosting troop tours before and during World War II, and was president of the Screen Actors Guild for two years.
James Cagney shows us how to dance down stairs
Great Dance Routine: James Cagney and Bob Hope
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Fun Facts about Mr. Jimmy Cagney:
Famous for his gangster roles he played in the 1930s and 1940s (which made his only Oscar win as the musical composer/dancer/actor George M.Cohan most ironic).
Cagney’s first job as an entertainer was as a female dancer in a chorus line.
(1942-1944) President of Screen Actors Guild (SAG)
Pictured on a 33¢ USA commemorative postage stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series, issued 22 July 1999.
Was best friends with actors Pat O’Brien and Frank McHugh.
Earned a Black Belt in Judo.
He was voted the 14th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Extraordinarily (for Hollywood), he never cheated on his wife Frances, resulting in a marriage that lasted 64 years (ending with his death). The closest he came was nearly giving into a seduction attempt by Merle Oberon while the two stars were on tour to entertain WWII GIs.
His electric acting style was a huge influence on future generations of actors. Actors as diverse as Clint Eastwood and Malcolm McDowell point to him as their number one influence to become actors.
Lived in a Gramercy Park building in New York City that was also occupied by Margaret Hamilton and now boasts Jimmy Fallon as one of its tenants.
Though most Cagney imitators use the line “You dirty rat!”, Cagney never actually said it in any of his films.
His performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) is ranked #6 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
His performance as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931) is ranked #57 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) is ranked #88 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time.
Turned down Stanley Holloway’s role as Eliza’s father in My Fair Lady (1964).
Turned down the lead role in The Jolson Story (1946), which went to Larry Parks.
Broke a rib while filming the dance scene in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) but continued dancing until it was completed.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan at a ceremony at the White House on 26 March 1984.
Wrote that of the sixty-two films he made, he rated Love Me or Leave Me (1955) costarring Doris Day among his top five.
A studio changed his birth date from 1899 to 1904 to capitalize on his youthful appearance.
He refused payment for his cameo in The Seven Little Foys (1955) even though he spent ten days learning his complicated tap routine for the film.