Choreographer Michael Kidd, whose joyously athletic dances for ballet, Broadway and Hollywood delighted audiences for half a century and won him five Tonys and an Oscar, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer.Kidd’s age is often listed as 88, but his nephew, Robert Greenwald, said his uncle was actually 92.
To moviegoers, Kidd was best known for the 1954 film “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” in which a bunch of earthy backwoodsmen (some of them really stage dancers) prance exuberantly with their prospective brides.
He also directed dances for Danny Kaye in “Knock on Wood,” took Fred Astaire out of his top hat to play a private eye in a Mickey Spillane spoof in “The Band Wagon” and taught Marlon Brando how to hoof for “Guys and Dolls.”
There is no Oscar category for choreography, so the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences presented Kidd with a special award in 1997 for “his services in the art of the dance in the art of the screen.”
For his work in theater, Kidd won Tonys for “Finian’s Rainbow” (1947), “Guys and Dolls” (1951), “Can-Can” (1954), “Li’l Abner” (1957) and “Destry Rides Again” (1960).
In one of his few ventures into television, he directed Mikhail Baryshnikov in “Baryshnikov in Hollywood,” which was nominated for an Emmy in 1981.
“I was amazed by his energy and his willingness to reinvent all the time if the situation didn’t work,” Baryshnikov said.
Originally a dancer with the Ballet Theater in New York, Kidd was given a chance to choreograph in 1945 and devised a sentimental story, “On Stage!” in which he also played the male lead. In it, a shy young dancer learns her craft with the help of a backstage worker who returns to sweeping the floor after she achieves her success.
Two years later Kidd was hired to stage the dances for the hit “Finian’s Rainbow” and his career soared.
“Dancing,” Kidd told the New York Times in 1954, “should be completely understandable — every move, every turn should mean something, should be crystal clear to the audience. If you can make them laugh or cry, move them emotionally … you’ve done your job.”
Kidd’s other stage work included “Love Life,” “Arms and the Girl,” “Wildcat” (with Lucille Ball), “Ben Franklin in Paris” (Robert Preston) and “The Rothschilds” (Hal Linden).
He began his movie work in 1952 with “Where’s Charley,” starring Ray Bolger. Other films included “Star!,” with Julie Andrews, and “Hello, Dolly!,” with Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau.
Kidd also choreographed and directed “Merry Andrew,” starring Kaye, and appeared onscreen dancing with Gene Kelly and Dan Dailey in “It’s Always Fair Weather.”
Born Milton Greenwald in New York City, Kidd studied chemical engineering at City College but quit after three years, finding it “too impersonal.” “It didn’t deal with human beings,” he complained. He eventually won a scholarship to the American Ballet school.
Kidd is survived by his wife, the former dancer Shelah Hackett; three daughters; and a son.