It was a delight to learn, after checking credits (“Who did this?”) on this sexy dance between William Holden and Kim Novak in PICNIC (1955), a YouTube phenomenon, that the choreographer was our good friend Miriam Nelson who died in 2018 at age 98. Deliciously done, Miriam.
It was my honor to share a meal with this (rare, female) film choreographer, occupying a red leather banquette at The Smoke House restaurant in Burbank. She gave me her very distinctive memories of Jack Cole dating to the 1930s in revues. The widow of dancer/choreographer Gene Nelson lived right around the corner at the time. Miriam was a very good friend of Robert Birchard and he often told me about her before I had the chance to meet her. She wrote in her autobiography as follows about her number for PICNIC:
“I was hired to teach Kim (Novak) and Bill (Holden) to dance in Picnic, 1955. They would be filming all day and I would get them in the evening, when they were both tired. That wasn’t the only challenge I encountered. Kim was painfully shy and inhibited, not a good thing for a dancer, and Bill didn’t want to dance, so I had to deal with that. I also dealt with rehearsal conditions in Hutchinson, Kansas, which were unusual to say the least. We rehearsed at a jukebox joint surrounded by bar patrons.”From Miriam Nelson’s autobiography, My Life Dancing With The Stars
I do wish James Wong Howe had kept his camera fluid, although he does have beautiful framing shots … I don’t love the closeups, but I “get” them. I appreciate the little choreographic details, like when the duo changes their hand grip, the pauses (a perfect thing to give non-dancers to do), and the way Holden is leading Novak toward the end. I like how Miriam staged the couple right at the brink of falling into the water. Marvelous.