Of June Taylor and Her Dancers

Most show biz buffs know one important thing about June Taylor (1917-2004): that she was the choreographer and dance captain of Jackie Gleason’s various variety shows from 1950 through 1973. But there’s a little more to know than that!

Before the June Taylor Dancers there was June Taylor: Dancer. Originally from Chicago, Taylor started dancing in local nightclubs when she was as young as 14. Until she was 21 she performed in night clubs and cabarets throughout the U.S. and Europe. During this period she also appeared in one Vitaphone short, Cut Out for Love (1937).

In 1938 Taylor was felled by a bout of T.B. She spent two years recovering, and then re-emerged as a choreographer, which isn’t nearly as taxing on the body. She formed the June Taylor Dancers in 1942. In 1948 she got her first TV job, on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, with a company of six dancers. Gleason hired her two years later, and she expanded her company to 16, with a lively style that merged elements of ballet, and jazz and modern dance, along with trad show biz styles like tap and ballroom when the occasion warranted. They were an integral part of Gleason’s productions in the tradition of Broadway revues. In 1953, she and Gleason collaborated on a TV ballet called Tawney (Gleason composed the music).

Starting in 1978, Taylor became the choreographer of the Dolphin Starbrites, the Miami Dolphins’ cheerleading squad. She had moved to the area in 1964 when Gleason began taping his television productions there. In 1975, Gleason married June’s sister Marilyn Taylor, also a dancer, his third and final wife.

For more on variety history, including television variety please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous