A TRUE SHOW BUSINESS LEGEND!
Interview with Miriam Nelson recorded on April 5, 2007. Interviewer is Rusty Frank. Transcribed by Sandy Adler
Rusty Frank: Hello, I’m Rusty Frank and I’m here today with Miriam Nelson. It is Thursday, April 5th, 2007. We’re here to do an interview for the On Tap magazine for the International Tap Association. We’re in Miriam Nelson’s lovely apartment. It’s beautiful. So, Miriam, you ready to begin?
Miriam Nelson: Sure.
RF: My first question is: What is it like being a woman in show business as a choreographer?
MN: Wow. Let’s see. Being a woman. One thing I do know is that for the very most part, if you behave like a lady, you’re treated like a lady. And a choreographer—when I started there were several women that already were in, of course. Agnes de Mille made the big mark, and everybody looked up to her. But there were several other ladies in the business, but I can’t see—in what way do you mean, what was it like being a woman? Do you mean was I respected as much as a man? I think for the most part once I got going, if they saw what I did, it always seemed to be all right, because I’m still working, you know? [laughs] One time, I thought it was very funny… I’ll tell you something I’ve never written in the books.
My very first television show was The Red Skelton Show. I had been recommended by Louis DaPron, a very good choreographer. He was offered the job, and he couldn’t do it because he was going to Las Vegas with Donald O’Connor. He [Louis] did his [O’Connor’s] act. So he recommended me for the job. And I didn’t even know what it was, but he said, “You’ll get a phone call.” And I did. And the producer of the show called, asked if I could come in and do an interview. I did, and he asked me what I had been doing and I gave him some of my credits, and he was very nice and he decided to go with me. I did the first show and they seemed to like that and all of a sudden they were handing me another script for the next show, and that went on for about a year, and I did the rest of the season.
But after I’d been on the show for a while, we’d become a “family.” The director and his wife, we were always having a lot of fun. We would go to somebody’s house for dinner and barbecues. One time I said to him, “How come you hired me when you knew that I had never done any television yet?” And he said, “Well, I thought maybe one day I’d chase you around the desk and I could catch you [laughs]. But he never made any improper gestures, never came on to me. Because as I said, I behaved like a lady, so he behaved like a gentleman.
One time I had a job (I think it was an NBC television show), and they wanted somebody to stage a number for a bunch of guys, like cowboys or something, and it had to be macho looking. I didn’t get the job. Sammy Cahn had written a song, and Sammy said to me later, “Well, they said they really didn’t want a girl. They thought that it had to be a guy teaching a bunch of guys.” He said, “I’d rather have a girl who’s a girl than a guy who’s a girl.” [laughs] And I’ve never told that, either. So I thought that was funny.