Born Milton Greenwald, Michael Kidd ... Read more »
This Brooklyn-born trained dancer had concurrent careers in Hollywood and on Broadway for much of the 1950s and later worked on several notable, if somewhat overblown, musicals.
Born Milton Greenwald, Michael Kidd first rose to prominence in the early 1940s as a soloist with Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan and Eugene Loring's Dance Players. By the middle of the decade, he had begun to move into choreography and landed his first Broadway assignment in 1947, staging the musical numbers for "Finian's Rainbow". His success was sealed with the first of five Tony Awards and Kidd went on to stage some of the seminal Broadway musicals of the 50s, including "Guys and Dolls" (1950) and Cole Porter's "Can-Can" (1953), which made a star out of Gwen Verdon. By the mid-50s, he added directing to his resume, beginning with "Li'l Abner" (1956) and including "Wildcat" (1960), starring Lucille Ball, "Ben Franklin in Paris" (1964), with Robert Preston, and "The Rothschilds" (1970-71), which raised Hal Linden to stardom. He remained active in the theatre throughout the 80s and into the 90s.
Kidd's feature work began with "Where's Charley?" (1952), starring Ray Bolger. While the film was somewhat erratically paced, Kidd's dance numbers, particularly the "Pernambuco" ballet sequence, received praise. MGM hired Kidd to handle the dance sequences for Vincente Minnelli's "The Band Wagon" (1953), starring Fred Astaire in a cannibalized version of his 1931 stage hit. Kidd, in collaboration with Astaire, fashioned a number of dazzling musical sequences, including "Triplets", featuring Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan as three spoiled babies, and "Girl Hunt", a ballet sequence which satirized film noir detectives. Kidd's best screen work may be 1954's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", directed by Stanley Donen. Working with stage-trained dancers like Jacques D'Amboise, Marc Platt and Julie Newmar (billed as Julie Newmeyer), the choreographer created rousing numbers combining ballet with athletic movement. Nearly all critics cite the barn-raising number as the film's highlight.
After recreating his stage work for the film version of "Guys and Dolls" (1954) and making his acting debut alongside Dan Dailey and Gene Kelly in "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955), Kidd moved behind the camera for the Danny Kaye vehicle, "Merry Andrew" (1958). While many felt that Kidd's direction was assured, the film was perceived as lacking the spark of some of Kaye's earlier efforts. Kidd went on to recreate the musical numbers for "Li'l Abner" (1959), but the heyday of the musical was beginning to wane and it would be nearly a decade before he returned to features. Robert Wise tapped him to stage the elaborate production numbers for "Star!" (1968), the overproduced biopic of stage actress Gertrude Lawrence portrayed by Julie Andrews. Kidd's lavish numbers, especially "The Saga of Jenny" (from "Lady in the Dark"), remain one of the pleasures of this uneven film. Subsequently, Kidd worked on yet another overblown production, Gene Kelly's "Hello, Dolly!" (1969), with a miscast Barbra Streisand. One of the last of the big screen musicals, "Hello, Dolly!" neither captured the charm nor the truly inspired staging of the original stage production. (The latter had featured memorable work from director-choreographer Gower Champion).
For much of the 70s, Kidd concentrated on theater, returning to the screen to offer a wonderful performance as a down on his luck choreographer working at a beauty contest in Michael Ritchie's minor masterpiece "Smile" (1975). For Stanley Donen's nostalgic "Movie Movie" (1978), Kidd did double duty, portraying boxer Harry Hamlin's father in one segment and staging the Busby Berkeley-inspired musical numbers for another. Kidd's last film appearance to date was in Blake Edwards' "Skin Deep" (1989). He was honored with an honorary Oscar during the 1997 telecast.