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Harold Nicholas

Harold Nicholas

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Also Known As: Harold Lloyd Nicholas Died: July 3, 2000
Born: March 27, 1921 Cause of Death: kidney failure and cardiac arrest following surgery
Birth Place: Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA Profession: dancer, singer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

From vaudeville to the Cotton Club, from Broadway to Hollywood, the Nicholas brothers thrilled audiences with their unique blend of athleticism and grace. Hailed by The New York Times as "great tap dancers" and "masters of timing and ministers of grace", the siblings finally received long overdue recognition in the 1980s and 90s. While they had enjoyed a measure of success on stage in the 30s and in film in the 40s, the prevalent racism of Hollywood and the rest of the USA hindered these pioneers from achieving the heights of white counterparts. They enjoyed wider acclaim in post-war Europe, Both brothers also displayed depth as dramatic actors in film roles but neither was able to fully capitalize on those skills either. Instead, they were content to be feted and praised for their career which spanned six decades. Harold Nicholas was the youngest of three, born to musicians Ulysses and Viola in March 1921. At age five, he joined his elder brother Fayard and sister Dorothy and performed in vaudeville houses in Philadelphia as the Nicholas kids. In 1930, he and Fayard made their professional debut as the Nicholas Brothers on "The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour". While performing at Harlem's Lafayette...

From vaudeville to the Cotton Club, from Broadway to Hollywood, the Nicholas brothers thrilled audiences with their unique blend of athleticism and grace. Hailed by The New York Times as "great tap dancers" and "masters of timing and ministers of grace", the siblings finally received long overdue recognition in the 1980s and 90s. While they had enjoyed a measure of success on stage in the 30s and in film in the 40s, the prevalent racism of Hollywood and the rest of the USA hindered these pioneers from achieving the heights of white counterparts. They enjoyed wider acclaim in post-war Europe, Both brothers also displayed depth as dramatic actors in film roles but neither was able to fully capitalize on those skills either. Instead, they were content to be feted and praised for their career which spanned six decades.

Harold Nicholas was the youngest of three, born to musicians Ulysses and Viola in March 1921. At age five, he joined his elder brother Fayard and sister Dorothy and performed in vaudeville houses in Philadelphia as the Nicholas kids. In 1930, he and Fayard made their professional debut as the Nicholas Brothers on "The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour". While performing at Harlem's Lafayette Theater, a talent scout from Warner Bros. signed the duo to appear in films and the brothers made their debut alongside Eubie Blake in the short "Pie, Pie Blackbird" (1932). Shortly thereafter, the Nicholas Brothers began appearing alongside such notables as Cab Calloway and Ethel Waters at Harlem's famed Cotton Club. Harold also landed a small part as a pint-sized orchestra conductor in 1933's "The Emperor Jones".

During their stint at the Cotton Club, movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn saw them perform and offered the Nicholas Brothers their first feature, "Kid Millions" (1934). Over the next fifteen years, Harold and Fayard performed the balletic jazz routines--tap punctuated by acrobatic feats of skill. In signature moves, the pair would perform splits and jump over one another. These showstopping numbers proved a favorite with audiences of all races (except in the South where their routines would be edited out).

Before they achieved full-fledged success in films, though, the Nicholas Brothers conquered the stage, starring in London in "The Blackbirds of 1936" and on Broadway in "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936". The latter was choreographed by George Balanchine and staged by Vincente Minnelli. Balanchine was so impressed with the dancers, he created an Egyptian Ballet for them in the 1937 Rodgers and Hart hit "Babes in Arms". (The songwriters also penned a special number "All Dark People (Is Light on Their Feet)".) Having vanquished the Great White Way, the Nicholas Brothers set out on a tour of South America in 1939, appearing on the same bill as Carmen Miranda. When Miranda was brought to Hollywood for a featured role in "Down Argentine Way" (1940), so too were the Nicholas Brothers. Although director Irving Cummings wanted to edit their number, dance director Nick Castle argued for including it in its entirety. After a test screening where the audience cheered and demanded the projectionist rewind the film and run an encore of the sequence, the matter was settled. Harold and Fayard had definitely arrived, although they still felt the sting of a racially segregated country.

In 1941, the brothers were teamed onscreen with rising star Dorothy Dandridge (whom Harold would marry in 1942 and divorce in 1951) to perform the Oscar-nominated "Chattanooga Choo Choo" in "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941). The following year, they introduced another tune which caught the Academy's attention, "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" in "Orchestra Wives". But it was their amazing, gravity-defying display of terpsichorean skill in "Jumpin' Jive" from 1943's "Stormy Weather" that assured them a place in the pantheon of memorable movie dance sequences. An all-black musical that featured the likes of Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller, "Stormy Weather" showcased the Nicholas Brothers at their peak. They only went on to appear in a handful of others musicals, most notably their last, "The Pirate" (1948), directed by Vincente Minnelli in which they achieved a small victory in dancing onscreen with Gene Kelly.

Although the siblings would continue to make appearances together throughout the 50s (i.e., Dwight D Eisenhower's inauguration), Harold opted to launch a solo career in Europe where race was less of an issue. In 1965, Harold and Fayard toured Vietnam with Bob Hope and the USO entertaining American troops. As musical tastes devolved into specialty offerings and rock 'n' roll overtook Tin Pan Alley, the brothers found their act falling out of favor. Each attempted to stretch by undertaking dramatic roles. Harold earned excellent notices as a gangster in "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974) but found it difficult to break the typecasting as a musical performer. Instead he returned to Broadway replacing Gregory Hines as the star of the Duke Ellington revue "Sophisticated Ladies" in 1982 and then toured in the popular "The Tap Dance Kid". He basically played himself in "Tap" (1989), helmed by Nick Castle Jr, and graced Robert Townsend's "The Five Heartbeats" (1991) and (in his final acting role) "Funny Bones" (1995). In the 1990s, the Nicholas Brothers began to finally receive their due as recipients of numerous accolades (e.g., the Kennedy Center Honors) and as the subject of books and documentaries. Harold succumbed to kidney failure and cardiac arrest following surgery in July 2000.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Funny Bones (1995) Hal Dalzell
2.
 Five Heartbeats, The (1991) Sarge
3.
 Tap (1989) Harold
4.
 Tapdancin' (1981)
5.
 Disco 9000 (1978)
6.
 Uptown Saturday Night (1974) Little Seymour
7.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1926:
At age five, made vaudeville debut in Philadelphia dancing with brother and sister as the Nicholas Kids
1930:
Professional debut with brother Fayard on "The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour"
:
While performing at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, spotted by a talent scout from Warner Bros. and signed to appear in films
1932:
Film debut, the musical short "Pie, Pie Blackbird" also featuring Eubie Blake
1932:
Performed alsongside Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters and Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club; went to perform as headliners there until 1940
1933:
Film debut in bit role as a pint-sized orchestra leader in "The Emperor Jones", starring Paul Robeson
:
While performing at the Cotton Club, seen by Samuel Goldwyn who offered the brothers their first feature
1934:
Feature film debut, "Kid Millions"
1935:
Had integral role in "The Big Broadcast of 1936"
1936:
Appeared on the London stage in "Blackbirds of 1936"
1936:
Broadway debut, "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936". directed by Vincente Minnelli and choreographed by George Balanchine
1937:
Had featured role in the Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical "Babes in Arms"; Balanchine provided the choreography
1939:
Toured South America with Carmen Miranda
1940:
Breakthrough film, "Down Argentine Way", also featuring Carmen Miranda
1941:
Teamed onscreen with Dorothy Dandridge and brother Fayard in the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" number in "Sun Valley Serenade"; number nominated for a Best Song Oscar
1942:
Introduced the Oscar-nominated song "I've Got a Gal In Kalamazoo" in "Orchestra Wives"
1943:
Performed what is considered their best screen dance in the all-black musical "Stormy Weather"
1944:
Made solo appearance in "Carolina Blues" (while brother Fayard was serving in the military)
1948:
Last film as the Nicholas Brothers, "The Pirate"; broke color barriers by dancing with Gene Kelly; film directed by Vincente Minnelli
1948:
Toured the southern USA with Dizzy Gillespie
1950:
Moved to France
:
Had career in Europe and North Africa as a dancer and singer
1953:
Performed with brother at the inauguration of US President Dwight Eisenhower
:
Headlined at the Sands Hotel with Frank Sinatra
1964:
Appeared in the French film "L'Empire de la nuit"
1965:
Toured Vietnam entertaining troops with Bob Hope and the USO
:
Returned to the USA
1974:
Cast in dramatic role as a gangster in "Uptown Saturday Night"
1982:
Returned to Broadway succeeding Gregory Hines in "Sophisticated Ladies", a revue of songs by Duke Ellington
1985:
Toured in the stage musical "The Tap Dance Kid"
1989:
Had featured role in "Tap"
1991:
Appeared in "The Five Heartbeats"
1992:
Subject of the film documentary "The Nicholas Brothers: We Sing and We Dance"; aired on A&E
1995:
Final acting role, "Funny Bones"
1996:
Taught at Harvard as a visiting dance artist with Fayard
1998:
With brother, was feted with a tribute at Carnegie Hall
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

He was named after the silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd.

"The Nicholas Brothers were known as the "flash act" for their ability to walk up walls, fly through the air, leap down staircases and syncopate steps with an apparent ease that caused many a dancer to injure himself in attempted imitation." --From "Black and Blue" Playbill.

"As they flipped and leap-frogged, even a casual observer could see that all dancers, including Fred Astaire, had picked up steps, routines, and distinctive rhythmic quirks from this unusual team." --From "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks" by Donald Bogle, 1973.

"We couldn't be Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire--all they wanted us to do is dance, and the more spectacular the better. Of course that was disappointing." --Harold Nicholas in Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2000.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Dorothy Dandridge. Actor, singer. Married on November 2, 1942, divorced in 1951; met while performing at the Cotton Club in 1939; appeared with the Nicholas brothers in the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" number in "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941); mother of Harolyn; died in 1965.
wife:
Elyanne Patronne. Second wife; mother of Melih; divorced.
wife:
Rigmor Newman Nicholas. Manager. Swedish had been companions for more than ten years before their marriage; survived him.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Ulysses Nicholas. Musician, vaudeville orchestra director. Died of a heart attack in1935.
mother:
Viola Nicholas. Musician, vaudeville orchestra director.
brother:
Fayard Nicholas. Dancer, singer, choreographer. Born on October 20, 1914 in Mobile, Alabama; choreographed the team's act and later choreographed the "Butter and Egg Man" dance for the Broadway musical "Black and Blue" (1989).
sister:
Dorothy Nicholas. Dancer.
daughter:
Harolyn Suzanne Nicholas. Born on September 2, 1943; mother Dorothy Dandridge; mentally retared, born with brain injury.
son:
Melih Nicholas. Mother, Elyanne Patronne.
step-son:
Frederick Newman.
step-daughter:
Annie Newman.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers" Oxford University Press

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