Four days ago (just on the cusp of Chrismas Eve), the great Michael Kidd died from cancer in his L.A. home. He was 92.
Kidd was born Milton Greenwald on August 12, 1919 in Brooklyn, New York. Although he studied engineering in school, Kidd soon discovered a passion and talent for dance and would go on to become one of Broadway's greatest choreographers (working on such shows as Finian's Rainbow, Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Lil' Abner, Destry Rides Again, Brigadoon and The Goodbye Girl) sulminating in five Tony Award wins. Kidd eventually emigrated to Hollywood where he worked both in motion pictures (choreographing films like Where's Charley?, Star!, Hello Dolly! and The Band Wagon) and television (directing episodes of All in the Family and Laverne and Shirley). Though he never won an Academy Award for his spectacular film work (nor, unbeliaveably, was he ever even nominated) Kidd did receive an honorary Oscar in 1996.
However, for most people (including myself), Kidd will always be remembered primarily for his amazing contribution to MGM's 1954 musical (and one of my personal favorite films) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a work which may very well feature Kidd at his most creative. The truly interesting thing about this story is how it almost didn't come to be. Initially, Kidd did not want to be involved in the film as he had just come off a Broadway project and wanted a rest. He changed his mind after hearing the splendid score but only agreed to be involved as a general "movement instructor" and not a choreographer as he could never make himself believe that seven strapping "backwoodsy" brothers could possibly dance at the level of a typical movie musical without it looking silly or incredulous. He feared audiences would either laugh at the antics on screen or storm out of the theatre in a huff (a la Singin' in the Rain) or perhaps worse. Director Stanely Donen agreed to include no dancing in the picture, but shortly after Kidd was brought on board, Donen promptly did an about-face saying: "Well, Mike, as long as you're involved in this movie we might as well have some dancing in it." At first Kidd was not pleased at all, but his commitment to the lack of believability in seeing big, strong loggers prance and twirl about like ballet dancers compelled him to come up with a most elegant solution.
His approach was to have the dance numbers centered around typical country activities like chopping wood, raising a barn, etc. Thus, the brothers movement, while still not perhaps technically dancing, are far more consistent with the world that the movie creates and the sequences that Kidd designed were (and still are) enthralling, exciting, funny and, at times, perhaps even a bit suspenseful. Nowhere is this more perfectly represented than in the brilliant six-and-a-half-minute dance sequence that serves more or less as the signature set piece of the whole film. It's a scene that I've watched at least twenty times and I swear I still never get tired of it. Note how the number starts out relatively simple and straightfroward but as it progresses, and the brothers try harder and harder to "one-up" the other suitors and win the affection of the ladies, the level of athleticism required for the feats builds and builds until by the end, in a remarkably adept bit of movement, Frank Pontipee (Tommy Rall) is flipping through the air without the use of his hands. Throughout it all, though, we as an audience accept its "reality" because of the subtle degrees by which it arrived at that point.
So, check it out. It's sheer perfection right down to the little spin and hop into the men's arms that the girls do at the very end.
So, rest in peace, Michael. Thank you for providing the world with some beauty while you were here.
MICHAEL KIDD (1915-2007)