R.I.P. Miriam Nelson, choreographer of classic TV dance scenes
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Father Knows Best do not seem to have a lot in common. But they share one thing, in an unexpected field — dancing. Both series featured the choreography of Miriam Nelson, a tap pioneer who worked for more than seven decades in Hollywood and on Broadway. This past weekend, on August 12, Nelson passed away at the age of 98, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Over her career, Nelson worked with icons. She collaborated with Cole Porter Judy Garland. She planned the wild party scene in Holly Golightly's apartment for Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). For Picnic (1956), Nelson cranked up the sensuality with her slow dance for William Holden and Kim Novak. In a field dominated by men, she played a major part. When you heard Bob Hope and Bing Crosby tap dance in certain movies, you wear actually hearing the recorded footwork of Miriam Nelson.
Her television work flew under the radar, but sticks out in our memories. She choreographed three episodes of The Lucy Show, including a hilarious number in a Greek restaurant involving Lucille Ball, Howard Morris and a lot of handkerchiefs. Nelson choreographed a big partner-twirling dance in the Bonanza episode "Mr. Henry Comstock." You see shots of both above.
Her tap skills came in handy particularly for an episode of Father Knows Best, "Betty Makes a Choice." In the story, young Betty (Elinor Donahue) auditions for a college play, doubting herself along the way. In the end, Donahue performs a lovely tap number. Naturally, it was choreographed by Nelson.
Nelson also worked extensively with The Red Skelton Hour, and did dance scenes for Columbo ("Forgotten Lady"), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Murder, She Wrote.
Married to fellow dancer Gene Nelson, Miriam also appeared onscreen. She played Edward G. Robinson's secretary in Double Indemnity (1944). You can also see her in Pillow Talk.
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