George Balanchine: Broadway and Hollywood.

Posted by on 11.26.2010

Get the book I am reading: George Balanchine The Ballet Maker by Robert Gottlieb.

While continuing to create ballets at the Met, Balanchine embarked on a new phase in his career; making dances for Broadway.  His first Broadway show was the 1936 Ziegfeld Follies, but his big break occurred later in 1936 with the smash hit On Your Toes.  This show starred one of Balanchine’s favorite ladies, Tamara Geva and Ray Bolger, who the world now knows as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.  On Your Toes was the first of its kind, incorporating dance into the story line.  Many shows would follow suit, including shows such as Oklahoma.  The second act of this production was entitled Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, which is still performed to this day.  A year after Balanchine’s first big Broadway hit came another success, Babes in Arms, which coincided with his Stravinsky Festival at the Met.

Vera Zorina on the set of On Your Toes
(c) Life

With all of his success on Broadway, Balanchine caught the attention of Samuel Goldwyn, who invited him to Hollywood to work on a movie entitled Goldwyn Follies.  Upon his arrival in California, he met Vera Zorina, a former soloist with Ballet Russes.  Goldwyn had just offered her a seven-year movie contract, with her first movie to be Goldwyn Follies.  Balanchine had always liked elusiveness in women; in most of his ballets the man always pursues the woman who ends up fleeing at the end.  Mr. B found this elusiveness he longed for in Zorina and the couple later married on Christmas Eve 1938.

After Goldwyn Follies, Zorina was cast in a Balanchine’s newest Broadway Project, I Married An Angel, which made her a household name in New York.  After I Married An Angel, Balanchine worked on a successful musical, The Boys from Syracuse, followed by Great Lady, a failure.  It was then back to Hollywood to film On Your Toes and back to Broadway for another hit musical, Irving Berlin’s Louisiana Purchase.  Balanchine spent the next years splitting his time between Hollywood and Broadway making good money for the first time in his life.

The American Ballet was mostly nonexistent by the year 1938.  After the 1937 Stravinsky Festival, Balanchine created no new major ballets until the year 1942.  Lucia Chase, the founder of Ballet Theatre, today’s American Ballet Theatre, invited Balanchine to become a part of the company.  He declined the offer; if he was to become a part of a new company, he wanted it to be his own.

During World War II, there was no chance for Balanchine to have a company of his own, so he would return to Broadway and Hollywood for a brief period.  By 1944 he was able to focus mostly on ballet and creating masterpieces for the best dancers the ballet world had to offer.

Earlier George Balanchine Series posts:

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