Dig it! Betty Grable in ‘Diga Diga Do’ 1

Dance · Film

A fabulous YouTube find, a compendium of song-and-dance numbers performed by Betty Grable, in 1954, during a live television broadcast: the premier edition of Chrysler “Shower of Stars” on CBS. Opening the video is Grable in a sizzling demonstration of how song and dance were integrated during the period — in “Diga Do,” a specialty song. The credited choreographer for the show was Robert (Bob) Sidney and the associate director was Miriam Nelson. Both were important Hollywood choreographers.

Other Grable numbers on the video are “One For My Baby,” “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” Which at the time she wasn’t. Grable and her husband, Harry James, were in the midst of marital squabbles fueled by alcohol. However, Betty was the headliner on “Shower Of Stars,” and James is featured on two of her songs.

The jungle beat of “Diga Diga Do,” its third-world theme, and many jazzy choreographic motifs evoke Jack Cole. Cole was close to Grable at the time and could surely have fashioned this rambunctious number for his friend. Alternately, Sidney may indeed have done the number, but good god it is heavily influenced by Cole.

It’s very difficult to pin down. I believe Jack Cole may have choreographed this number. There are so many Cole characteristics in it. The extreme tempo change at 01:22 alone is very characteristic of a Cole number. The little foot patter step that Grable and the chorines perform at 02:40 is Cole. This is not even to mention the half-naked men.

But it’s also very easy to just enjoy “Diga Diga Do” and leave the detective work to me. You can dig it So do!

Betty Grable, Jack Cole at work on “How Come You Do Me?” number from THREE FOR THE SHOW (Col. 1955)

One comment on “Dig it! Betty Grable in ‘Diga Diga Do’

  1. Bob Boross Jun 17,2020 7:14 pm

    I have different thoughts on the choreographic contributions.

    I can see some of your points and there are some Cole-esque gestures in this dance, but I don’t see a full vibrant physicality in the dancers which would have been more characteristic of Cole’s expression. Also, although it’s hard to tell for sure, the male dancer at the rear of the opening trio of males, and then at the back right side when there are four males, looks much like Matt Mattox (check that long neck). Bob Sidney was not schooled in Cole’s style so maybe some of the Cole moves came from Mattox.

    I’m not sure of the times of creation, but parts of this piece does remind me of Cole’s Havin’ A Heatwave (now that dance has the real Cole physicality). If Heatwave came first, in which Mattox danced, then maybe some of Heatwave rubbed off on Diga Do due to Mattox’s contributions to the choreography (?).

    I agree that the music change to a bump and grind sound at 1:22 is much like Cole, but the dancers movements are sedate compared to what Cole was known to do with that style of music (like the Cole and Verdon duet from Happy Ending in On The Riviera). And there’s something about how the females are dancing precariously on their high heels that is non-Cole. Also, would Cole have given Grable such high spikey heels to dance in?

    To me it’s also possible that Miriam Nelson, the associate choreographer, did the female sections – while Sidney/Mattox collaborated on the male dance sections.

    Bob Sidney has an autobiography, With Malice Towards Some, where he praises Cole for his groundbreaking work. He also claims that during a Denishawn performance in LA, Miss Ruth asked the band for music with an Eastern sound, but they only knew a jazzy piece “about a Persian Market.” She decided to dance her dances to it, but count it her way. He claims that Cole always remembered this experience, and that this chance happening with the Denishawn company was the germination of Cole’s pairing of East Indian dance styles with jazz music. IDK…

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