Synopses & Reviews
Armed with an eighth-grade education, an inexhaustible imagination, and an innate talent for dancing, Hermes Pan (1909-1990) was a boy from Tennessee who became the most prolific, popular, and memorable choreographer of the glory days of the Hollywood musical. While he may be most well-known for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals which he choreographed at RKO film studios, he also created dances at Twentieth Century-Fox, M-G-M, Paramount, and later for television, winning both the Oscar and the Emmy for best choreography.
In Hermes Pan: The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire, Pan emerges as a man in full, an artist inseparable from his works. He was a choreographer deeply interested in his dancers' personalities, and his dances became his way of embracing and understanding the outside world. Though his time in a Trappist monastery proved to him that he was more suited to choreography than to life as a monk, Pan remained a deeply devout Roman Catholic throughout his creative life, a person firmly convinced of the powers of prayer. While he was rarely to be seen without several beautiful women at his side, it was no secret that Pan was homosexual and even had a life partner. As Pan worked at the nexus of the cinema industry's creative circles during the golden age of the film musical, this book traces not only Pan's personal life but also the history of the Hollywood musical itself. It is a study of Pan, who emerges here as a benevolent perfectionist, and equally of the stars, composers, and directors with whom he worked, from Astaire and Rogers to Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Bob Fosse, George Gershwin, Samuel Goldwyn, and countless other luminaries of American popular entertainment.
Author John Franceschina bases his telling of Pan's life on extensive first-hand research into Pan's unpublished correspondence and his own interviews. Pan enjoyed one of the most illustrious careers of any Hollywood dance director, and because his work also spanned across Broadway and television, this book will appeal to readers interested in musical theater history, dance history, and film.
"I always considered Hermes Pan to be my 'other father', and though I knew much of his story, in this wonderfully informative book John Franceschina has filled the gaps." --Ava Astaire McKenzie
"John Franceschina's Hermes Pan: The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire restores glory to an overlooked dance genius, while also bringing back to life the golden age of Hollywood musicals. I ran out and began renting every Hermes Pan DVD I could find." --Richard Hornby, Professor of Theatre, University of California, Riverside, Theatre Critic, The Hudson Review
"The life and work of one of Hollywood's most prolific dance creators has finally been written. Above and beyond Hermes Pan's iconic partnership with Astaire on nineteen films over a period of 35 years, Franceschina gives us incredible detail on the multiple tasks a Hollywood 'Dance Director' of the 1930s'-1950's performed." --Larry Billman, author of Fred Astaire: A Bio-Bibliography, and Film Choreographers and Dance Directors
"Hermes Pan was a uniquely American choreographer. His stylish dance direction defined not only the style of Hollywood film dancing but also that of American artistic dance as a whole. Anyone interested in the history dance in America should know what is in this fine book." --James Thomas, Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, Wayne State University
"Interesting reading." --DC Theatre Scene
"Read this book with YouTube videos by your side." --Dance Magazine
"Hermes Pan: The Man Who Dance with Fred Astaire provides a wealth of factual information about Pan's life and his movies, with the salutary effect of sending the reader back to look again at his films with a heightened sense of the process that brought those films to the screen." --Dance Chronicle
Hermes Pan: The Man who Danced with Fred Astaire
is a rags-to-riches story about a boy from Tennessee who, armed with only an 8th grade education, an inexhaustible imagination, and an innate talent for dancing becomes the most prolific and popular choreographer of the glory days of the Hollywood musical. As luck would have it, Pan's movie career began and ended working with Fred Astaire, the most famous dancer on film. The pair made nearly two dozen movies and television shows together and in Astaire, Pan found an artistic soul mate with whom he would develop a symbiotic relationship for the rest of his life. A devout Roman Catholic, Hermes was interested in perfecting the souls as well as the physical technique of his dancers and the book explores the profound effect he had on the lives of stars such as June Haver, Ann Miller, Rita Hayworth, Linda Darnell, Ginger Rogers, and Betty Grable. The book examines each of Pan's eighty-nine films offering a panoramic view of Pan's choreography from "Flying Down to Rio" in 1933 to "Aiutami a sognare" (Help Me Dream) in 1980 and comments on the development of Pan's art throughout his fifty-year career. Although Pan lived what many considered a life without scandal or controversy, as a Catholic and homosexual gentleman living as one of the "A-List" of Hollywood's elite, Pan had many personal conflicts and doubts. The book explores these in full along with his unease with the film community, his spiritual vocation as well as his artistic philosophies.
The self-made choreographer of films such as "Top Hat", "Swing Time", "Moon Over Miami", "Kiss Me Kate", "Can-Can", "My Fair Lady", "Porgy and Bess", and "Cleopatra", Hermes Pan is proof that the American Dream is still alive.
About the Author
is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theatre at The Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of Sisters of Gore: Seven Gothic Melodramas by British Women
, Gore on Stage: The Plays of Catherine Gore
, Homosexualities in the English Theatre from Lyly to Wilde
, The Dramatic Works of the Marquis de Sade
(3 volumes), Duke Ellington's Music for the Theater
, David Braham: The American Offenbach
, Harry B. Smith: Dean of American Librettists
, They Started Talking: The Autobiography of Frank Tuttle
, Socialists, Socialites, and Sociopaths: The Plays of Frank Tuttle
, and Against the Grain: Theatre from Ritual to Realism
Table of Contents
1. Black Bottom to Broadway
2. Try Dancing
3. Fifteen Cents a Dance
4. The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire
5. Chica Chica Boom Chic
6. Red Robins, Bob Whites, and Bluebirds
7. Wonderful Nonsense
8. He Could Make a Wooden Indian Dance
9. The Life of an Elephant
10. Star Turns
11. Seventy-Five Watusi Witch Doctors
12. Help Me Dream