A revealing story captured in a comprehensive oral history conducted for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, in 2003, with George and Ethel Martin, the two great Jack Cole dancers.
Ethel kicks it off, with a small assist from her husband.
Ethel: Jack [Cole] told me, ‘I know Kenny [Williams]’. He was then assistant to – who choreographed for Fred Astaire?
George: Hermes Pan
Ethel: And Kenny was [Pan’s] assistant and now Kenny was going to be doing this film called The Lodger. And he hired me. Well, after $40 a week, my first salary with that was like $100-and-something. And I wasn’t on that longer than a week when they came to me and they said, ‘Would you like to be Merle Oberon’s dancing double’?
Well, this is my first Hollywood picture, and I think I hit gold. I really do. Paid me $500 a week and I said ‘Oh my god, I’ve really made it. I’m in Hollywood and I’m making $500 a week!’
But you don’t realize that you work for four weeks or three weeks and then it’s over and you do something else, and that you go from film to film.
When asked by interviewer Liza Gennaro (a choreographer, scholar, and Indiana University professor) to define ‘dance double,’ the always cheeky Ethel Martin replied,
“It means that when her gorgeous face moved aside for two seconds and she was asked to do something, I had to do it.”
View Meryl Oberon/Ethel Martin dance number in the video @ 23:11.