THE RELEVANT QUEER: American Choreographer Jack Cole, Died February 17, 1974

Jack Cole and Marilyn Monroe in the shooting of Let’s Make Love (1960). Ph: Getty Images

“The trouble with choreography is you have to get the person out of the way before you can bring out the dancer.”

TRQ: Jack Cole, Died February 17, 1974

Dancer and choreographer Jack Cole, known as the “The Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance,” was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Openly gay, Cole was sent to boarding school after his parents divorce and went on to discontinue all contact with him.

Cole began his career in dance at the Denishawn Dance Company under Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. He is credited for codifying jazz dance into theatrical choreography. The “Cole technique” has become the basis of theatrical jazz dance today. Cole’s disciples included Bob Fosse, Alvin Ailey, Gwen Verdon, and Tommy Tune..

“They all stole from Cole,” confirms choreographer Agnes de Mille.

Verdon, a Tony-award winning actor and dancer, was Cole’s assistant for a number of years. “When you see dancing on television, that’s Jack Cole,” she says.

Cole was known for being exacting, shaping every detail of a choreographed performance. His work with Marilyn Monroe and Chita Rivera is some of his most well known.

Having worked with Cole for her role in West Side Story, Rivera says, “Jack was demanding but rightly so. He dictated every last detail of how he wanted you to twist an arm or the exact shape you needed with your hands. I remember once he worked with us for hours on how a particular handclap should sound.”

Cole choreographed and directed Monroe’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” sequence from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The film’s director, Howard Hawks, was not even on set for filming the scene.

In 1953, the sequence pushed the envelope. Monroe sparkles in a tight fuchsia satin dress, her blonde hair glowing under the lights. She touches herself while flirting with a crowd of men in white tie and tails.

Monroe was not a natural dancer, but she understood her sex appeal. With this in mind, Cole developed what has been described as a micro-choreography that worked off of Monroe’s smallest movements: shrugs of the shoulder, turns of the neck. Cole surrounded Marilyn’s feminine sensuality with a room full of men vying for her attention. Monroe had to rehearse the scene intensely, for hours upon hours. For the 1950’s, the effect is entrancing and nearly pornographic.

Madonna taps into scene’s triumph of the feminine allure when she appropriates this choreography to ironic, anti-materialistic and feminist effect for one of her most recognised videos, “Material Girl.”

Cole also took the opportunity to insert beefcake into his work, including Jane Russell’s number, “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love,” in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds. Cole himself appropriates the look and feel of the era’s gay beefcake magazines into “No Talent Joe,” Betty Grable’s song in Meet Me After the Show. In Designing Women, starring Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall, Cole plays effeminate choreographer Randy Owen, who uses dance moves to defeat a group of thugs.

Cole died in 1974.

Jack Cole and Marilyn Monroe in the shooting of Let’s Make Love (1960). Ph: Getty Images
Jack Cole and Marilyn Monroe in the shooting of Let’s Make Love (1960). Ph: Getty Images




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