Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jack Cole

Jack Cole (1911-1974) was the most influential choreographer you’ve never heard of. As a dancer, choreographer and director, Cole’s relative obscurity today belies the major influence he had on stage and cinema musicals of the 1940s-50s and -60s. Considered the father of modern jazz dance, his many disciples became much more famous than their muse – Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Tommy Tune, Matt Mattox, and Alvin Ailey, among others. According to Agnes de Mille, “They all stole from Cole,” a sentiment shared by his greatest interpreter, the sassy redhead Gwen Verdon – Cole’s protégée.

A New Jersey native, Cole ventured far beyond his modern-dance roots. Entranced by the Asian influences of the Denishawn Dance Company, he studied bharata nātyam with master instructor Uday Shankar (Ravi's uncle). As a dynamic, powerhouse solo dancer, Cole projected tough masculine energy. Photos show the elegant, muscular young Cole striking sphinx-like poses dressed in harem pants and jewels, captivating audiences at NYC’s Rainbow Room with exotic, weird, entrancing movements. In many ways, he was America’s Nijinsky. He was also homosexual, but he remained closeted during his entire career. Even though the field of choreography is not exactly overly populated by heterosexuals, such were the times.

Entering the Manhattan nightclub scene, he infused Afro-Caribbean, Spanish and Asian dance motifs into floor shows. During the late 1930s the Jack Cole Dancers headlined at leading nightclubs, including regular stints at NYC’s Rainbow Room and Ciro's on the Sunset Strip in L.A. He then became a master choreographer for Broadway. stage. Among his many hits were Kismet (1953), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), and Man of La Mancha (1965).

His greatest fame came from his work in nearly 30 films. Miraculously, he was able to coach stellar performances from untrained dance novices: Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth and, most notably, Marilyn Monroe. He made Rita Hayworth sizzle in “Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda (1946). Cole was responsible for Grable’s astonishing “No Talent Joe” number in Meet Me After the Show (1951). Perhaps his greatest triumph was “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” a show-stopping performance by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). That was the role that made her a famous sex symbol, and Cole was responsible for every shimmy, strut, arm gesture, shoulder shrug and hip bump. Monroe, a complete dance novice at the time, was so impressed by his coaching that she insisted he work with her on five more of her film projects.

Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend

20th-Century Fox does not allow embedding, so you’ll have to click the link above to see the production number that made Marilyn Monroe a star. Her every gesture is Cole’s creation; he was even responsible for her breathy singing delivery. Knowing her limitations, he made of showcase number out of her available talents.

Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love

(Jane Russell – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)
Can there be any question that it was a gay man who choreographed this number?

"Marilyn and I had never danced before; we were a pair of klutzes," Russell told Cole biographer Glenn Meredith Loney of Dance magazine. "Jack was horrible to his own dancers, but with us, the two broads, he had the patience of Job. He would show us and show us and then turn us over to Gwen Verdon." Russell said she fled several sessions in exhaustion, while Monroe begged Cole and Verdon to continue into the night. Cole not only choreographed the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes dance numbers, he directed them, as well. Russell revealed that “Gentlemen” director Howard Hawks was not even on the set when the dance sequences were being shot.

Much of Cole's choreography reflected the hip, cool-Daddy flavor of the Beat generation. His infamous knee glides were a trademark, but famously hard on the knees of the dancers. Cole was a slave driver, notoriously demanding of his dancers. He was a known terror in the dance studio, a force to be respected and feared. He cussed a blue steak, sparing no one, and his technique classes were brutal. When a female dancer fainted in rehearsal, others were afraid to stop, hopping awkwardly over her body. He harangued bandleaders who didn't swing and scolded chatting customers during his nightclub performances. Wearing harem pants and sporting a bare chest, he once chased a belligerent client down Wilshire Boulevard wielding a kitchen knife.

In his 1984 Cole biography, "Unsung Genius," Dance magazine writer Glenn Meredith Loney relates that, although Cole purported to loathe Los Angeles (keeping a Manhattan pied-a-terre for Broadway work), his primary residence was in an isolated location in the Hollywood Hills, way up on Kew Drive on a precipice reachable only by a dangerous, narrow twisting road, barely wide enough for one car. This was the perfect place for a closeted gay man to hang out, and Cole lived here from 1943 until his death from cancer at 62 in 1974. In his last two years of life, he was a treasured UCLA dance instructor and a scholar with an impressive private dance library.

Jack Cole: Jazz Dancing


  1. Great appreciation on Cole. He also did that terrific "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" with Marilyn in LETS MAKE LOVE, and her other numbers there, and of course hers in RIVER OF NO RETURN and in THERES NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOWBUSINESS, such as "Tropical Heatwave".

  2. Rita Hayworth was not an untrained dancer. She was a dancer before she became a movie star. Both of her parents were professional dancers and ran a dancing school.

    "From the time I was three and a half … as soon as I could stand on my own feet, I was given dance lessons." Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, that was my girlhood".

    She began performing professionally as a dancer at age 6.

    1. You're 100% correct! Rita Hayworth, a "dance novice"? She danced all of her life!

  3. I lived in his house at 2118 Kew Drive for several years in the 90s. Its was a magical place with the original white marbel in the living room and the original tiles in the bathrooms....just a beautiful magical place high on top of the city...