Jack Cole: Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance

The fact that we are in the throes of Fosse/Verdon at the moment inclines us to acknowledge dancer and choreographer Jack Cole (John Richter, 1911-1974).

Cole was a bridge from the old vaudeville days to the modern era. He started out performing with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn with the Denishawn Company in 1930. Knowing of his legacy, I find it impossible to imagine that he wasn’t influenced by Joe Frisco as well. As a dancer he appeared in the Broadway shows The School for Husbands (1933), Caviar (1934), Thumbs Up! (1934), May Wine (1935), Keep ‘Em Laughing (1942) and Ziegfeld Follies of 1943, and the films Moon Over Miami (1941), Tonight and Every Night (1945), and Eadie was a Lady (1945).

While he danced in night clubs, his Denishawn training also primed him to seek out and absorb ethnic influences from all over the world and incorporate them into his work.In the mid ’40s he became a choreographer for stage and screen. His Broadway credits in this capacity included Something for the Boys (1943), Allah Be Praised (1944), Magdalena (1948), Alive and Kicking (1950), Kismet (1953), Jamaica (1957), Donnybrook! (1961), Kean (1961), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Foxy (1964), and Man of La Mancha (1965). His film credits are even more extensive, with 27 of them starting with Kismet in 1944. He worked especially closely with Marilyn Monroe, choreographing her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), River of No Return (1954), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), Some Like it Hot (1959) and Let’s Make Love (1960). He also staged dances in Gilda (1946), The Jolson Story (1946), and The I Don’t Care Girl (1953), the George Jessel produced bio-pic about Eva Tanguay.

In addition to Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, Cole is said to have influenced Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, Tommy Tune, Alvin Ailey and Michael Bennett. 

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.