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Bennett, Michael (08 April 1943–02 July 1987), musical theater director and choreographer, was born Michael Bennett Di Figlia in Buffalo, New York, the son of Salvatore Di Figlia, a machinist, and Helen Turnoff, a secretary. Bennett took weekly dance classes, studying ballet, tap, jazz and modern technique. He attended Hutchinson Central Technical High School for Boys, where he studied architectural design, but at seventeen he dropped out of school to go on a year-long European tour in a production of ...

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Celeste, Mme. (06 August 1810–18 February 1882), performer and theater manager, , also known as Mlle. Celeste and Celine Celeste, was born Anastasie Céleste des Rousselles in Marcilly sur Compagne, France, the daughter of Jeanne Marie de Rousselles, a couturière, and Jean Christophe Keppler, a stocking maker. Celeste studied at the Académie de Musique in Paris and also performed in children’s roles at the Paris Opéra, eventually assuming minor corps and pantomime roles....

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Denby, Edwin Orr (04 February 1903–12 July 1983), poet, dance critic, and actor, was born in Tientsin, China, the son of Charles Denby, II, an American diplomat, and Martha Orr. Denby lived in Austria and Detroit, Michigan, with his parents before attending Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, where he earned distinction as class poet. In 1919 he enrolled at Harvard University but left as a sophomore and went to England for a year. When he returned to the United States, he lived and worked on a farm in New Hampshire for five months, then tried Harvard once more before moving to Greenwich Village. He received no college degree. In 1923 Denby returned to Austria, where he underwent psychoanalysis for depression with Dr. Paul Federn, a colleague of Sigmund Freud’s. With Federn’s encouragement, Denby enrolled in 1925 at the Hellerau-Laxenburg School, where he earned a three-year degree in gymnastics and specialized in ...

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Durang, John (06 January 1768–29 March 1822), dancer, choreographer, and theatrical entrepreneur, was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of Jacob Durang, a physician, and Joeann Catharine Arter, who had emigrated from Strasbourg, France, in 1767. Settling first in York, the family moved to Philadelphia in 1778. America’s first native-born theatrical dancer of prominence, Durang was influenced in his youth by Louis Roussell, a French dancer and teacher. In his memoirs he states that he emulated Roussell’s “pigeon wing” and learned the correct way of dancing a hornpipe “in the French stile [ ...

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Hart, Tony (25 July 1855–04 November 1891), actor and singer, was born Anthony Cannon in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Anthony Cannon and Mary Sweeney, both of whom had emigrated from Ireland. He put on amateur performances as a child, but a pattern of delinquency began with disruptions at school and culminated in the near murder of a rival during a performance; his parents placed him in the Lyman School (a state reformatory at Westborough, outside Worcester) in 1865. He escaped several months later and traveled to Boston, where he supported himself as a singer, a bootblack, and a newsboy, and then to Providence, where he sang and danced in saloons and was dubbed Master Antonio by a saloon keeper. He joined a touring circus, and then Billy Arlington’s Minstrels; in 1870, at age fifteen, he joined Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels. Dressed as a little girl, he evoked tears with a sentimental song, “Put Me in My Little Bed.”...

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See Kiralfy, Imre

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Kiralfy, Imre (01 January 1845–27 April 1919), and Bolossy Kiralfy (01 January 1848– March 1932), dancers and producers of realistic-pictorial theater, were born in Pest, Hungary, the sons of Jacob Königsbaum, a cloth manufacturer, and Anna (maiden name unknown). The brothers were born shortly before the unsuccessful Hungarian Revolution of 1848. When Königsbaum, a nationalist, lost his fortune during the revolution, the young boys supported the family as child performers. First Imre, at age five, joined two years later by Bolossy, earned a living for the family by performing traditional folk dances in theaters and at private performances throughout the Austrian Empire. By virtue of their youth the children escaped official censure against public shows of nationalism for performing dances of the Hussars, Hungarian cavalry, and Cossacks. They changed their name from Königsbaum (king’s tree) to Kiralfy, a shortening of ...

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Marilyn Miller Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1928. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-T-5397-005).

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Miller, Marilyn (01 September 1898–07 April 1936), dancer and actress, was born Mary Ellen Reynolds in Evansville, Indiana, the daughter of Edwin D. Reynolds, a lineman for the Cumberland Telephone Company, and Ada Thompson, who had theatrical aspirations. The Reynolds’ marriage broke up when Edwin was reassigned to another locale, and Marilyn’s mother rejected transferring the family. Marilyn was brought up by her mother and a stepfather, Oscar Caro Miller, who had sung, danced, and performed acrobatics in vaudeville and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas....

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Mills, Florence (25 January 1895–01 November 1927), entertainer, was born Florence Winfree in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John Winfree, a carpenter, and Nellie Simons, who did laundry. Educated locally, by age five Mills was winning contests in cakewalking and buck dancing. Her first professional engagement came as Baby Florence Mills in the second company (1902) of the Williams-Walker ...

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Lola Montez. As Mariquita in Un Jour de Carnaval de Seville. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112186).

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Montez, Lola (1818–17 January 1861), dancer and actress, was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland, the daughter of Edward Gilbert, a professional soldier, and Mary Oliver. At age four Eliza, as she was known, left with her parents for Calcutta, where her father had been posted. After his death in 1824, her mother remarried, and Eliza was sent by her stepfather, John Craigie, to live in Montrose, Scotland. Rebellious and individualistic even at this early age, Eliza was placed in the care of Sir Jasper Nicholls, a distinguished soldier and friend of her stepfather, with whose daughter Fanny she continued her education in Paris and Bath. In 1837 she eloped with Thomas James, an officer in the Indian army on leave in England; they had no children....

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Nikolais, Alwin (25 November 1910–08 May 1993), choreographer, designer, and composer, was born in Southington, Connecticut, the son of John Nikolais and Martha Heinrich. From an early age he studied music. During his high school years he was an organ accompanist for silent films at the Westport Movie House. In 1929 he graduated from Lewis High School in Southington....

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Parker, H. T. (29 April 1867–30 March 1934), dance, music, and theater critic, was born Henry Taylor Parker in Boston, the son of William Fisk Parker and Susan Sophia Taylor Parker, whose occupations are unknown. He entered Harvard University in 1886 but apparently left in 1889 without graduating. He was immediately attracted to the writing of criticism and acquired the dual position of New York correspondent of the ...

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Ritchard, Cyril (01 December 1898–18 December 1977), theatrical comedian, dancer, and director, was born Cyril Trimnell-Ritchard in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, the son of Herbert Trimnell-Ritchard, a hotel owner, and Margaret Collins. After Jesuit schooling, in 1916 Ritchard entered Sydney University, where for one year he pursued a medical career. At nineteen he was a chorus boy in Oscar Straus’s ...

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Turnbull, Julia (18 June 1822–11 September 1887), ballerina and actress, was born in Montreal, Canada, the daughter of the actor and playwright John D. Turnbull. Her mother’s name is unknown. When she was three years old Julia’s parents moved the family to Albany, New York, where they managed a stock company. It was then that Julia and her sisters, Emily and Caroline, made their debuts as child actresses. In April 1828, at the age of five, Julia played the role of Justin in ...

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Wayburn, Ned (30 March 1874–02 September 1942), theatrical director and dance teacher, was born Edward Claudius Wayburn in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Elbert Wayburn, a machinery manufacturer, and Harriet Beech. Educated in Atlanta and Chicago schools, Wayburn worked his way into vaudeville by ushering at an opera house, taking small parts in amateur plays, directing at an acting school, and becoming a specialty dancer....

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White, George (1890–10 October 1968), dancer, actor, and producer, was born George Weitz in the slums of New York City’s Lower East Side. Little is known of his parentage other than that his mother’s first name was Lena. He started to work at a tender age as a messenger boy, but he also danced for small change in the music halls of the Bowery until he was seven, when his family moved to Toronto. Canada did not offer him opportunities to be around racehorses, so at the age of eleven he ran away from home and became a racetrack exercise boy and jockey, first in Buffalo, then Detroit. He bet the horses avidly for many years. It was at about this time that he took the name White....

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Winfield, Hemsley (20 April 1907–15 January 1934), actor and dancer, was born in Yonkers, New York, the son of Osbourne Winfield, a civil engineer, and Jeraldine (maiden name unknown but perhaps Hemsley), an actress and playwright. Educated at public schools, Winfield showed an early interest in theater, perhaps prompted by his mother’s involvement. In 1924 he received his first role in a major production, in ...