Harold Nicholas

Dancer, Singer
From vaudeville to the Cotton Club, from Broadway to Hollywood, the Nicholas brothers thrilled audiences with their unique blend of athleticism and grace. Hailed by The New York Times as "great tap dancers" and "masters ... Read more »
Born: 03/27/1921 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Filmography

Actor (18)

The Nicholas Brothers: Flying High 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Funny Bones 1995 (Movie)

Hal Dalzell (Actor)

The Nicholas Brothers: We Sing and We Dance 1992 - 1993 (TV Show)

Actor

The Five Heartbeats 1991 (Movie)

Sarge (Actor)

America's Dance Honors 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

Tap 1989 (Movie)

Harold (Actor)

Celebrating Gershwin 1987 - 1988 (TV Show)

Actor

Tapdancin' 1980 (Movie)

(Actor)

Disco 9000 1978 (Movie)

(Actor)

Uptown Saturday Night 1974 (Movie)

Little Seymour (Actor)

Carolina Blues 1944 (Movie)

(Actor)

Emperor Jones 1932 (Movie)

(Actor)

Down Argentine Way (Movie)

Specialty (Actor)

Orchestra Wives (Movie)

Himself (Actor)

Biography

From vaudeville to the Cotton Club, from Broadway to Hollywood, the Nicholas brothers thrilled audiences with their unique blend of athleticism and grace. Hailed by The New York Times as "great tap dancers" and "masters of timing and ministers of grace", the siblings finally received long overdue recognition in the 1980s and 90s. While they had enjoyed a measure of success on stage in the 30s and in film in the 40s, the prevalent racism of Hollywood and the rest of the USA hindered these pioneers from achieving the heights of white counterparts. They enjoyed wider acclaim in post-war Europe, Both brothers also displayed depth as dramatic actors in film roles but neither was able to fully capitalize on those skills either. Instead, they were content to be feted and praised for their career which spanned six decades.

Harold Nicholas was the youngest of three, born to musicians Ulysses and Viola in March 1921. At age five, he joined his elder brother Fayard and sister Dorothy and performed in vaudeville houses in Philadelphia as the Nicholas kids. In 1930, he and Fayard made their professional debut as the Nicholas Brothers on "The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour". While performing at Harlem's Lafayette Theater, a talent scout from Warner Bros. signed the duo to appear in films and the brothers made their debut alongside Eubie Blake in the short "Pie, Pie Blackbird" (1932). Shortly thereafter, the Nicholas Brothers began appearing alongside such notables as Cab Calloway and Ethel Waters at Harlem's famed Cotton Club. Harold also landed a small part as a pint-sized orchestra conductor in 1933's "The Emperor Jones".

During their stint at the Cotton Club, movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn saw them perform and offered the Nicholas Brothers their first feature, "Kid Millions" (1934). Over the next fifteen years, Harold and Fayard performed the balletic jazz routines--tap punctuated by acrobatic feats of skill. In signature moves, the pair would perform splits and jump over one another. These showstopping numbers proved a favorite with audiences of all races (except in the South where their routines would be edited out).

Before they achieved full-fledged success in films, though, the Nicholas Brothers conquered the stage, starring in London in "The Blackbirds of 1936" and on Broadway in "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936". The latter was choreographed by George Balanchine and staged by Vincente Minnelli. Balanchine was so impressed with the dancers, he created an Egyptian Ballet for them in the 1937 Rodgers and Hart hit "Babes in Arms". (The songwriters also penned a special number "All Dark People (Is Light on Their Feet)".) Having vanquished the Great White Way, the Nicholas Brothers set out on a tour of South America in 1939, appearing on the same bill as Carmen Miranda. When Miranda was brought to Hollywood for a featured role in "Down Argentine Way" (1940), so too were the Nicholas Brothers. Although director Irving Cummings wanted to edit their number, dance director Nick Castle argued for including it in its entirety. After a test screening where the audience cheered and demanded the projectionist rewind the film and run an encore of the sequence, the matter was settled. Harold and Fayard had definitely arrived, although they still felt the sting of a racially segregated country.

In 1941, the brothers were teamed onscreen with rising star Dorothy Dandridge (whom Harold would marry in 1942 and divorce in 1951) to perform the Oscar-nominated "Chattanooga Choo Choo" in "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941). The following year, they introduced another tune which caught the Academy's attention, "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" in "Orchestra Wives". But it was their amazing, gravity-defying display of terpsichorean skill in "Jumpin' Jive" from 1943's "Stormy Weather" that assured them a place in the pantheon of memorable movie dance sequences. An all-black musical that featured the likes of Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller, "Stormy Weather" showcased the Nicholas Brothers at their peak. They only went on to appear in a handful of others musicals, most notably their last, "The Pirate" (1948), directed by Vincente Minnelli in which they achieved a small victory in dancing onscreen with Gene Kelly.

Although the siblings would continue to make appearances together throughout the 50s (i.e., Dwight D Eisenhower's inauguration), Harold opted to launch a solo career in Europe where race was less of an issue. In 1965, Harold and Fayard toured Vietnam with Bob Hope and the USO entertaining American troops. As musical tastes devolved into specialty offerings and rock 'n' roll overtook Tin Pan Alley, the brothers found their act falling out of favor. Each attempted to stretch by undertaking dramatic roles. Harold earned excellent notices as a gangster in "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974) but found it difficult to break the typecasting as a musical performer. Instead he returned to Broadway replacing Gregory Hines as the star of the Duke Ellington revue "Sophisticated Ladies" in 1982 and then toured in the popular "The Tap Dance Kid". He basically played himself in "Tap" (1989), helmed by Nick Castle Jr, and graced Robert Townsend's "The Five Heartbeats" (1991) and (in his final acting role) "Funny Bones" (1995). In the 1990s, the Nicholas Brothers began to finally receive their due as recipients of numerous accolades (e.g., the Kennedy Center Honors) and as the subject of books and documentaries. Harold succumbed to kidney failure and cardiac arrest following surgery in July 2000.

Relationships

Frederick Newman

Step-Son

Annie Newman

Step-Daughter

Dorothy Dandridge Actor

Wife
Married November 2, 1942, divorced October 1951 met while performing at the Cotton Club c. 1938-39 appeared with the Nicholas Brothers in the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" number in "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941) mother of Harolyn died in 1965 of drug overdose

Fayard Nicholas

Brother
born on October 20, 1914 in Mobile, Alabama choreographed the team's act and later choreographed the "Butter and Egg Man" dance for the Broadway musical "Black and Blue" (1989)

Dorothy Nicholas

Sister

Ulysses Nicholas

Father
died of a heart attack in1935

Rigmor Nicholas

Wife
Swedish had been companions for more than ten years before their marriage survived him

Viola Nicholas

Mother

Harolyn Nicholas

Daughter
born on September 2, 1943 mother Dorothy Dandridge mentally retared, born with brain injury

Melih Nicholas

Son
mother, Elyanne Patronne

Elyanne Patronne

Wife
second wife mother of Melih divorced

Milestones

1998

With brother, was feted with a tribute at Carnegie Hall

1996

Taught at Harvard as a visiting dance artist with Fayard

1995

Final acting role, "Funny Bones"

1992

Subject of the film documentary "The Nicholas Brothers: We Sing and We Dance"; aired on A&E

1991

Appeared in "The Five Heartbeats"

1989

Had featured role in "Tap"

1985

Toured in the stage musical "The Tap Dance Kid"

1982

Returned to Broadway succeeding Gregory Hines in "Sophisticated Ladies", a revue of songs by Duke Ellington

1974

Cast in dramatic role as a gangster in "Uptown Saturday Night"

1965

Toured Vietnam entertaining troops with Bob Hope and the USO

1964

Appeared in the French film "L'Empire de la nuit"

1953

Performed with brother at the inauguration of US President Dwight Eisenhower

1950

Moved to France

1948

Toured the southern USA with Dizzy Gillespie

1948

Last film as the Nicholas Brothers, "The Pirate"; broke color barriers by dancing with Gene Kelly; film directed by Vincente Minnelli

1943

Made solo appearance in "Carolina Blues" (while brother Fayard was serving in the military)

1942

Performed what is considered their best screen dance in the all-black musical "Stormy Weather"

1941

Introduced the Oscar-nominated song "I've Got a Gal In Kalamazoo" in "Orchestra Wives"

1940

Teamed onscreen with Dorothy Dandridge and brother Fayard in the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" number in "Sun Valley Serenade"; number nominated for a Best Song Oscar

1940

Breakthrough film, "Down Argentine Way", also featuring Carmen Miranda

1939

Toured South America with Carmen Miranda

1937

Had featured role in the Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical "Babes in Arms"; Balanchine provided the choreography

1936

Appeared on the London stage in "Blackbirds of 1936"

1936

Broadway debut, "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936". directed by Vincente Minnelli and choreographed by George Balanchine

1935

Had integral role in "The Big Broadcast of 1936"

1934

Feature film debut, "Kid Millions"

1933

Film debut in bit role as a pint-sized orchestra leader in "The Emperor Jones", starring Paul Robeson

1932

Film debut, the musical short "Pie, Pie Blackbird" also featuring Eubie Blake

1932

Performed alsongside Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters and Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club; went to perform as headliners there until 1940

1930

Professional debut with brother Fayard on "The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour"

1926

At age five, made vaudeville debut in Philadelphia dancing with brother and sister as the Nicholas Kids

Returned to the USA

Had career in Europe and North Africa as a dancer and singer

Headlined at the Sands Hotel with Frank Sinatra

While performing at the Cotton Club, seen by Samuel Goldwyn who offered the brothers their first feature

While performing at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, spotted by a talent scout from Warner Bros. and signed to appear in films

Bonus Trivia

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He was named after the silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd.

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"The Nicholas Brothers were known as the "flash act" for their ability to walk up walls, fly through the air, leap down staircases and syncopate steps with an apparent ease that caused many a dancer to injure himself in attempted imitation." --From "Black and Blue" Playbill.

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"As they flipped and leap-frogged, even a casual observer could see that all dancers, including Fred Astaire, had picked up steps, routines, and distinctive rhythmic quirks from this unusual team." --From "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks" by Donald Bogle, 1973.

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"We couldn't be Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire--all they wanted us to do is dance, and the more spectacular the better. Of course that was disappointing." --Harold Nicholas in Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2000.

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