Robert Alton

Early Broadway and Hollywood film choreographer who created many classic, influential dance scenes.
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Artist Biography

b. Robert Alton Hart, 28 January 1897, Bennington, Vermont, USA, d. 12 June 1957, Hollywood, California, USA. A particularly innovative and stylish choreographer for the musical stage and Hollywood, Alton appeared on Broadway as a dancer in Take It From Me (1919) and Greenwich Village Follies (1924) before staging the dance scenes for comedian Joe Cook’s last Broadway musical, Hold Your Horses (1933). Thereafter, during the rest of the 30s through to the early 50s, he choreographed a mixture of revues and musical comedies, among which were some of the biggest hits of the day. They included Ziegfeld Follies (1934), Life Begins At 8:40 (1934), Anything Goes (1934), Thumbs Up! (1934), Parade (1935), Ziegfeld Follies (1936), Hooray For What! (1937), Between The Devil (1937), You Never Know (1938), Leave It To Me! (1938), One For The Money (1939), The Streets Of Paris (1939), Too Many Girls (1939), Du Barry Was A Lady (1939), Two For The Show (1940), Panama Hattie (1940), Higher And Higher (1940), Pal Joey (1940), Sons O’ Fun (1941), By Jupiter (1942), Count Me In (1942), Ziegfeld Follies (1943), Laffing Room Only (1944), Hazel Flagg (1953) and Me And Juliet (1953). Alton also served as both choreographer and director on Early To Bed (1943), the 1952 Broadhurst Theatre revival of Pal Joey (with David Alexander), and The Vamp (1955).

In parallel with his stage work, Alton created some classic dance scenes in a number of highly successful and fondly remembered movie musicals, such as You’ll Never Get Rich (1941, the ‘Wedding Cake Walk’ sequence), The Harvey Girls (1946, the Oscar-winning ‘On The Atchison, Topeka, And The Santa Fe’), Ziegfeld Follies (1946, ‘This Heart Of Mine’), Good News (1947, with Charles Walters, ‘Varsity Drag’), Easter Parade (1948, ‘The Girl On The Magazine Cover’, ‘Shaking The Blues Away’, ‘A Couple Of Swells’), The Pirate (1948, with Gene Kelly, ‘Be A Clown’), Annie Get Your Gun (1950, ‘I’m An Indian Too’), Show Boat (1951, ‘I Might Fall Back On You’, ‘Life Upon The Wicked Stage’), and many more. His other film credits, mostly for MGM, included Strike Me Pink (1936), Bathing Beauty (1944, with Jack Donohue), Till The Clouds Roll By (1946), Words And Music (1948, with Kelly), The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949), In The Good Old Summertime (1949), Pagan Love Song (1950, also directed), The Belle Of New York (1952), I Love Melvin (1953), Call Me Madam (1953), White Christmas (1954), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1955) and The Girl Rush (1955). In many cases, stars such as Kelly and Fred Astaire would stage one or more of the numbers in their own movies, and there were other occasions when additional choreographers were called in to work alongside Alton, such as on There’s No Business Like Show Business, when all Marilyn Monroe’s dance routines were created by Jack Cole. In a varied and distinguished career, Allen also directed Merton Of The Movies (1947), the second film remake of Harry Leon Wilson’s endearing novel, which starred Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Alan Mowbray, Gloria Grahame and Leon Ames.