Alex Romero: From Mexico to Metro

It’s rare to find a photo of Alex Romero when he is NOT in the act of choreographing. Here, he is shown with Vera-Ellen and Gene Kelly, rehearsing for “On the Town” (1949)

I love it when you can draw a line from vaudeville all the way to (relatively) modern times. The career of dancer and choreography Alex Romero (Alejandro Bernardo Quiroga, 1913-2007) traces such a journey, and more besides.

Romero was the 23rd and youngest child of General don Miguel Quiroga Cantu, who was killed in the Mexican Revolution. His mother was still carrying him in the womb when she fled to the U.S., giving birth to Alex while she and some of her younger children were living in San Antonio. When he was eight, the family moved to Los Angeles. Several of his brothers had a vaudeville dance act called the Romero Brothers, which Alex joined when he was 15 (circa 1928). Nicknamed “Pup”, it was actually Alex who taught his older brothers to tap dance, having studied the skill from hanging out in vaudeville theatres. In addition to American vaudeville, the act who also played dates abroad such as the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The act broke up in 1939, as war was coming to Europe.

From 1941 through 1955, Romero worked as dancer in Hollywood films. From 1944 through 1947 he was at Columbia, under Jack Cole, later at MGM. He danced in 30 pictures during this period, and so many of them classics, I’m tempted to list every one, but will restrict myself to some: The Heat’s On (1943), Follow the Boys (1944), Hollywood Canteen (1944), a live action sequence in Disney’s The Three Caballeros (1944), Ziegfeld Follies (1945), The Jolson Story (1946), The Pirate (1948), Words and Music (1948), On the Town (1949), Annie Get Your Gun (1950), An American in Paris (1951), and Texas Carnival (1951).

Today, Romero is even more celebrated however as his work as a choreographer. His credits along those lines start in 1944 and include some of the above-named pictures he danced, as well as other Freed Unit musicals, often with Gene Kelly. His collaborators over the years included guys like Hermes Pan and Michael Kidd. He is especially known today for his choreography in several Elvis movies, including Jailhouse Rock (1957), Clambake (1967), Double Trouble (1967), and Speedway (1968). Other interesting credits include Tom Thumb (1958) and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) with Russ Tamblyn, The George Raft Story (1961), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962 — that vaudeville scene!), and The Stripper (1963). He choregraphed that memorable disco number in Love at First Bite (1979) as well as George Hamilton’s follow-up comedy Zorro, the Gay Blade (1981). In 1980 he worked on Xanadu and Marilyn: The Untold Story. He danced in Steve Martin’s Pennies from Heaven (1981). His last credit was the 1993 bio-pic Zelda, about Zelda Fitzgerald.

Nor did he leave variety entertainment behind. He choreographed TV variety programs for Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and Perry Como, and choreographed live night club acts for Ann Miller, Bobby Short, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, and others.

For more on vaudeville and variety entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.