Harold Mattox, the Hollywood dancer and choreographer known as Matt who shaped contempo footwork Stateside and in Europe and became a major figure in the evolution of jazz dance, died in France on Feb. 18. He was 91.
France had become home for Mattox, who moved to Paris in the mid-1970s with his dance company JazzArt after stints in Blighty and Gotham.
Born in Tulsa, Okla., Mattox got his start dancing when he was 11 years-old, at the Fox Figueroa Theater in Los Angeles. He had moved to San Bernardino with his parents in the 1930s, and except for a two-year hiatus, during which he served in the Army Air Forces during WWII, Mattox pursued dance as a lifelong passion. He studied with Nico Charisse early on and tapped his wife Cyd for West Coast connections and a start in motion pics.
Bagging nearly 20 bigscreen roles, Mattox became one of Hollywood’s premier dancers. He was cast, notably, in 1954’s Oscar-winning “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” as Caleb Pontipee, and other film credits included “Yolanda and the Thief” (1945), “Till the Clouds Roll By” (1946), “Guys and Dolls” (1955) and “Song of Norway” (1970).
On the TV side, Mattox danced and choreographed for NBC’s “The Bell Telephone Hour.” He also choreographed Broadway musical “Jennie” (1963) and Metropolitan opera “Aida” in 1959. Over three decades, Mattox choreographed almost 30 ballets.
Legit credits feature spots in “Magdalena” (1948), “Once Upon a Mattress” (1959) and the ’57 revival of “Brigadoon.”
Initially considering a career in ballet, Mattox was swayed by his would-be mentor, the prominent Jack Cole, to veer toward jazz technique.
Mattox was extensively trained in ballet and later mashed up tap, modern and folkloric traditions from around the globe to create his own personal brand of jazz dance, which he dubbed “freestyle.”
Starting in the mid-1950s he taught a swath of students his signature style, first in Gotham and later in Europe. Pupils included theatre skipper Graciela Daniele and multihyphenate Barbra Streisand.
Mattox is survived by his wife, Martine Limeul Mattox; three sons and grandchildren.