Miriam Nelson, who worked extensively as a choreographer during Hollywood’s golden age, died Aug. 12 at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif., according to her longtime friend James Gray. She was 98.
Nelson was the choreographer for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Jolson Story,” “Picnic,” “Hawaii,” “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” and “The Apartment.” She also appeared as an actress in “Double Indemnity,” “Cover Girl,” “The Jolson Story,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Pillow Talk.” Nelson choreographed the dancers on the opening day of Disneyland in 1955, as well as two Academy Awards telecasts and two Super Bowl halftime shows.
Nelson was known for her enthusiasm for dancing. As she walked by, John Wayne once shouted to a group taking a break on set, “Run for the hills, fellas! Or Miriam will make you dance!”
She was born Miriam Lois Frankel on Sept. 21, 1919, in Chicago and began tap dancing at a very young age. When she was 14, she moved with her family to New York and performed at Billy Rose’s Casa Mañana (with dance partner Van Johnson). She went on to perform in six Broadway musicals from 1939-1943: “Sing Out The News,” “Yokel Boy,” “Very Warm For May,” “Higher and Higher,” “Panama Hattie,” and “Let’s Face It.”
After marrying fellow dancer Gene Nelson, the couple moved to California where she landed a seven-year contract at Paramount Studios. When he was signed by Warner Bros. to star in a series of musical films, Miriam Nelson assisted and co-choreographed his dance numbers and coached Doris Day and his other female costars in films in “Tea for Two,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady,” and “She’s Working Her Way Through College.”
Her TV credits include Judy Garland’s first TV special, “The Red Skeleton Show,” “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” “Father Knows Best,” ”The Lucy Show,” ”The Love Boat,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Designing Women,” and “Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women,” for which she was a Primetime Emmy nominee.
In 1953, Nelson became one of the founding members of SHARE (Share Happily and Reap Endlessly), a non-profit organization composed of women committed to raising funds for developmentally disabled, abused and neglected children, as well as medical research for all forms of developmental disabilities.
In 2009, her autobiography, “My Life Dancing with the Stars”, was published. She was predeceased by second husband, producer Jack Myers, and is survived by her son Chris Nelson, her three grandsons Christopher, Josh, Matt, and her great granddaughter, Emma.