Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmaker Emile Ardolino died Saturday from complications of AIDS in Bel Air. He was 50 years old.
Ardolino gained prominence in the mid-1970s as a producer and director of dance programming on television. In 1987 he segued into film with the independent hit “Dirty Dancing.” Subsequent film successes included “Three Men and a LittleLady” and “Sister Act.” His last theatrical feature, “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker,” opens at Thanksgiving and his TV production of “Gypsy” starring Bette Midler will air next month on CBS.
He also had a long-term relationship with producer Joseph Papp and translated to television such New York Shakespeare Festival work as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Dance and the Railroad.”
After attending Queens College as a speech and theater major, Ardolino’s initial forays into musical theater were as an actor and included a stint with the touring company of “The Fantasticks.”
Sensing a limited career as a performer, Ardolino studied film and TV technique, focusing on editing and cinematography. He set up his own company in 1967 and was involved in dozens of documentaries and industrial films. He also co-designed and edited the filmed segments for the original stage production of “Oh! Calcutta!,” which garnered him a special Obie in 1969.
In 1975 he began a formal association with PBS as a producer/director for its “Dance in America” and “Live from Lincoln Center” series. For a decade his programs set the standard for dance choreography — classic and modern — on TV. The shows included collaborations with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev, Robert Joffrey and Jerome Robbins. Ardolino garnered 17 Emmy nominations as a producer and a director. In 1981, he received the Directors Guild award in its TV musical/variety section.
Ardolino had stated that the biggest boost to his career came from winning the best documentary Oscar in 1983 for “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’.” The profile of dancer Jacques d’Amboise in action as a teacher won two Emmys and a clutch of other prizes. Still, several years would pass before an appropriate project would afford him a shot at the big screen. “Dirty Dancing,” a coming-of-age tale set among the performers at a Catskill resort in the 1960s, was an instant commercial sensation, grossing more than $ 50 million in its initial U.S. release.
He followed with TriStar’s “Chances Are” in 1988 and two years later did the sequel “Three Men and a Little Lady” for Touchstone Pictures. His biggest success came in 1992 with the Whoopi Goldberg comedy “Sister Act.”
“Gypsy,” made earlier this year, brought his career full circle. It was, he said, the Broadway play that got him hooked on theater.
Ardolino is survived by three sisters and his life partner, Luis M. Rodriguez-Villa.
Services will be held Wednesday at St. Joseph’s Church, Greenwich Village; a memorial service is planned for Los Angeles. The family requests donations be made to the organization God’s Love We Deliver.