Michael Kidd died on December 23, 2007, at the age of 92, he was an American film and stage choreographer, dancer and actor, whose career spanned five decades, and staged some of the leading Broadway and film musicals of the 1940s and 1950s.
Born Milton Greenwald in New York City on the Lower East Side on August 12, 1915, the son of Abraham Greenwald, a barber, and his wife Lillian, who were refugees from Czarist Russia.
He moved to Brooklyn with his family and attended New Utrecht High School.
He studied chemical engineering at the City College of New York, in 1936 and 1937, but left after being granted a scholarship to the School of American Ballet.
He toured the country as a member of the corps de ballet of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan, and performed in roles that included the lead in Billy the Kid, choreographed by Eugene Loring, which featured an orchestral arrangement by Aaron Copland.
Kidd’s first choreography on Broadway was for E.Y. Harburg’s Finian’s Rainbow, a lyrical musical that explored racial prejudice.
Kidd won his first Tony Award for that play.
However, his next Broadway musicals were not successful.
They were Hold It, a college musical, and the Kurt Weill/Alan Jay Lerner musical Love Life, directed by Elia Kazan, which both had short runs in 1948.
Next came Arms and the Girl (1950), directed by Rouben Mamoulian, with Pearl Bailey and Nanette Fabray, also a flop.
Kidd’s work for the 1954 film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers brought him acclaim.
The film was directed by Stanley Donen, with music by Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
It was written directly for the screen and based on the short story “The Sobbin’ Women”, by Stephen Vincent Benét, which was based in turn on the ancient Roman legend of The Rape of the Sabine Women.
He initially turned down the assignment, recalling in 1997: “Here are these slobs living off in the woods.
They have no schooling, they are uncouth, there’s manure on the floor, the cows come in and out—and they’re gonna get up and dance? We’d be laughed out of the house.”
In 1975 Kidd surprised critics by starring in the Michael Ritchie cult film Smile (1975), a devilishly wicked and clever satire on beauty pageants.
The versatile Michael also directed occasionally for both film (Danny Kaye’s Merry Andrew (1958)) and TV (All in the Family (1971), Laverne & Shirley (1976).
The Academy rectified this awkward situation by awarding him an honorary trophy in 1997 for his outstanding services to the art of dance, joining an extremely small and illustrious group that includes Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story”) and Onna White (“Oliver”).
Kidd believed that dance needed to derive from life, saying that his “dancing is based on naturalistic movement that is abstracted and enlarged” and that “all my movements relate to some kind of real activity”.
He always wanted dance to serve the story, and when beginning a new work he would write a scenario, explaining how the plot drove the characters to dance.
His biggest influences were Charlie Chaplin, “because he expressed through movement the aspirations of the little man”, and the dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine, “because he expressed more than just balletic ability—he was always a character on stage, an exaggerated character, which I do all the time: an exaggeration of ordinary movement”.