Jack Cole (choreographer)

Jack Cole (April 27, 1911 – February 17, 1974) was an American dancer, choreographer, and theatre director known as "the Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance".[1]

Jack Cole
Portrait of Jack Cole LCCN2004662721.jpg
John Ewing Richter

(1911-04-27)April 27, 1911
DiedFebruary 17, 1974(1974-02-17) (aged 62)
  • choreographer
  • dancer

Early lifeEdit

Jack Cole, born John Ewing Richter, made his professional dance debut with Denishawn at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City in August 1930. Only months earlier, he had begun his training as a modern dancer, studying with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Cole was entranced by the Asian influences Denishawn utilized in its choreography and costuming.[2] Cole also performed briefly with Humphrey-Weidman, and was influenced by the pioneering modernists, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman,.[3] Eager to make a living as a dancer during the Depression, Cole soon left the modern dance world and opted for opportunities in nightclubs, where he partnered, first, Alice Dudley, and then for years danced as part of a trio with Anna Austin and Florence Lessing.

Cole's career trajectory was a unique one for an American dance artist. He started at the very roots of modern dance, then segued into a blazing commercial career in nightclubs across the nation, first at Manhattan's Embassy Club, then opening the Rainbow Room on its inaugural evening in October 1934. His career spanned three major arenas: nightclub, Broadway stage, and Hollywood film. He ended his career as a desired coach to Hollywood stars and a highly innovative choreographer for the camera.[4]


Cole choreographed the "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" sequence in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Cole was a performer in Broadway musicals, starting with The Dream of Sganarelle in 1933. His first Broadway credit as a choreographer was Something for the Boys in 1943. Cole is credited with choreographing and/or directing the stage musicals Alive and Kicking, Magdalena, Carnival in Flanders, Zenda, Foxy, Kismet, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Kean, Donnybrook!, Jamaica, and Man of La Mancha.

He studied the Indian dance form Bharata Natyam and used other ethnic material in his dances. The Jack Cole Dancers performed in nightclubs in the late 1930s, including the Rainbow Room.[5]

His film work includes Moon Over Miami, Cover Girl, Tonight and Every Night, Gilda, Down to Earth, The Merry Widow, Meet Me After the Show, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, On the Riviera, There's No Business Like Show Business, The I Don't Care Girl, The Thrill of Brazil, Kismet, Les Girls, Let's Make Love, Some Like it Hot, Designing Woman, Three for the Show, Lydia Bailey, Eadie Was a Lady and many others. He was famous in Hollywood for his work with Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Jane Russell, Mitzi Gaynor and Marilyn Monroe. Cole worked closely with Monroe in particular, influencing her iconic performance in "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and in five other films.[6] Although Howard Hawks is credited as the sole director of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", both the film's co-star Jane Russell and assistant choreographer Gwen Verdon contend that Monroe's iconic musical number, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", was actually directed by choreographer Cole. Russell said, "Howard Hawks had nothing to do with the musical numbers. He was not even there."[7]


Cole virtually invented the idiom of American show dancing known as "theatrical jazz dance." He developed a mode of jazz-ethnic-ballet that prevails as the dominant dancing style in today's musicals, films, nightclub revues, television commercials and music videos.[8] According to Martin Gottfried, Cole "won a place in choreographic history for developing the basic vocabulary of jazz dancing—the kind of dancing done in nightclubs and Broadway musicals."[9]

Cole-style dancing is acrobatic and angular, using small groups of dancers rather than a large company; it is closer to the glittering nightclub floor show than to the ballet stage.[10]

Cole is remembered as the prime innovator of the theatrical jazz dance heritage.[1]

Cole's unmistakable style endures in the work of Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Gower Champion, Peter Gennaro, Michael Bennett, Tommy Tune, Patsy Swayze, Alvin Ailey (who was a dancer in the musical Jamaica), and countless other dancers and choreographers including Wayne Lamb. Verdon said that "Jack influenced all the choreographers in the theater from Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse down to Michael Bennett and Ron Field today. When you see dancing on television, that's Jack Cole." Verdon was Cole's assistant for seven years.[11]

If not for Cole, it is unlikely Gwen Verdon would have gone on to achieve fame as a dancer; without his instruction, many now-immortal stage and screen actresses probably would not be remembered as dancers today.[12]

Cole's choreography in the "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" sequence in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was reinterpreted by Madonna for her music video of "Material Girl".

Cole and his subjects dance. Choreographer Chet Walker titled Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project, given its world premiere in May 2012 at Queens Theatre in New York's Flushing Meadows Corona Park.[13][14]


  1. ^ a b "Jack Cole: Jazz (documentary)". Dance Films Association. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  2. ^ Broussard, Paula (June 2006). "Father of theatrical jazz dance: Jack Cole". Dance Teacher. 28 (6): 82–87. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  3. ^ "Jack Cole biography" filmreference.com, retrieved April 6, 2010
  4. ^ Levine, Debra. "Jack Cole" Archived 2018-02-19 at the Wayback MachineThe Dance Heritage Coalition, America's 100 Irreplaceable Dance Treasures, 2012
  5. ^ Levine, Debra."American Master Choreographer Jack Cole Feted at Jacob's Pillow" huffingtonpost.com, August 19, 2010
  6. ^ Levine, Debra. "Jack Cole Made Marilyn Monroe Move" Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2009
  7. ^ McCarthy, Todd (1997). Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood (1st ed.). New York: Grove Press. p. 508. ISBN 0-8021-1598-5. OCLC 35919352
  8. ^ "Jack Cole" theatredance.com, retrieved April 6, 2010
  9. ^ Gottfried, Martin. Nobody's Fool. Simon and Schuster, 2002, ISBN 0-7432-4476-1, p. 167
  10. ^ Gottfried, Martin (1979). Broadway Musicals. The Netherlands: Harry N. Abrams, B.V. pp. 112. ISBN 0-8109-0664-3.
  11. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna. "Jack Cole Is Dead; A Choreographer", The New York Times, February 20, 1974, p. 40 "Cole died Sunday in Los Angeles after a brief illness"
  12. ^ Grubb, Kevin Boyd (1989). Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 57. ISBN 0-312-03414-8.
  13. ^ "Is Queen's Theatre's The Jack Cole Project Broadway Bound?". BroadwayWorld.com, Nov. 30, 2011.,
  14. ^ Walker, Chet. "Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project". Chet Walker.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-10-22.

External linksEdit