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« Songs in Minor Keys [by Lera Auerbach] | Main | Letters and Comments from All Over: an End of Summer Special »

September 03, 2021


David, our fearless leader here, asked me what I thought of this dance. I replied more or less as follows:

"Oh, I agree with the writer Laura Leivick: It's quite possibly the sexiest dance ever put on film.

"The choreographer (uncredited) was Miriam Nelson.
Her IMDb bio: 'Debuted on Broadway in 1938. Married fellow dancer Gene Nelson. When Gene joined the Signal Corps, Miriam went to Hollywood and signed an acting-dancing contract with Paramount. She eventually became a choreographer in film, choreographing many musical numbers for Gene once he had a contract with Warner Bros. After her divorce from Gene, she eventually married producer Jack Meyers. Miriam was an extra in the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffanys, playing the girl arguing with the man wearing an eye patch. Taught Ingrid Bergman her dance scene in Cactus Flower. In 1969 she choreographed Disney on Parade. She married producer Jack Meyers and was eventually widowed. She returned to the stage in 1992 when her friend Marge Champion produced Ballroom at the Long Beach CLO. Her autobiography, with a forward written by Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards, was published in 2010.'
(Me again): "It also didn't hurt that the cinematographer of the film was James Wong Howe (with uncredited Haskell Wexler as the Second Unit Camera Operator), that Jean Louis had designed Kim Novak's dress, or that the little outdoor spot they were dancing in had been designed by Jo Mielziner, who, with colleagues art director William Flannery and set decorator Robert Priestley, won an Oscar for Art Direction-Color for their work on this film. Of course, crucial to the effect of the dance scene was George Duning's Oscar-nominated score. His 'Theme from "Picnic"' (which reached Number One on the 1956 Billboard charts) was, as the resisting stars gradually inched together, suavely introduced to and then--Oh, Mama!--melded with the music of the 1930 song 'Moonglow' by Columbia's musical director Morris Stoloff. The fact that Holden, allergic to dancing, had to get practically falling-down drunk to do the scene, while Novak couldn't wait to tear herself away to go to church, located this superficially cool summer-evening intimacy on top of an underground volcano of banked fires; the individuals can barely relate while the sliding musics mate them. Someone reviewing it brilliantly compared it to a baked Alaska; as Laura quipped to me about Holden, 'He can bake my Alaska any time.'"

Yes, Holden was too old for that role. Yes, Holden and Novak were known to be awful dancers. Yes, there was an actual hurricane bearing down on the Kansas town where it was filmed; yet while barely touching and hardly moving, Holden and Novak created one of the most moving, charged, and iconic dance scenes in movie history, a thrill to watch, some 60+ years later.

Thank you for the wonderful comments, Emily and Mindy.

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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