Matt Mattox, 1921-2013

Matt Mattox, veteran Broadway and screen dancer and renowned dancing teacher, has died:

Hollywood considered Matt Mattox one of the best dancers in the country when he was cast to dizzying effect in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” the 1954 Oscar-winning film celebrated for its imaginative and masterful dance moves.

Billed as one of the “frontier Romeos” in the musical set in the American West, the classically trained Mattox memorably vaults over a sawhorse, pirouettes on a plank and poetically wields an ax in striking choreography by Michael Kidd.

“Everyone on the movie set agreed that he was the best dancer of all,” Jacques d’Amboise, who was a leading figure in American ballet when he danced alongside Mattox as one of the film’s rowdy brothers, said this week in a French media report. “He’s up there on Mt. Everest with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.”

On Broadway he originated the parts of Harry Beaton in Brigadoon and Jester in Once Upon a Mattress. To most people he’s probably best known for portraying Caleb, one of the backwoods Pontipee brothers, in the Hollywood musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, considered by many (including me) to be the best movie musical of all time.

His real lasting contribution may be as a teacher:

Mattox, 91, who developed an influential method of teaching jazz dance, died Monday in France, his family announced. He had lived in southern France since 1980.

“He was superhuman. This guy could do anything,” said Bob Boross, a dance professor at Radford University in Virginia who studied with Mattox at a rare U.S. workshop he gave at UCLA in 1986 and later wrote his graduate thesis on him.

He called his method “freestyle dance”.

Note Mr. Mattox’s great longevity. There’s a lesson to be learned here. Of the “seven brothers” he is the first of those those who were actually dancers to die. Howard Keel and Jeff Richards, both non-dancers, died at considerably earlier ages. The remainder are all alive. It’s understandable that Russ Tamblyn and Jacques D’Amboise are still kicking. They were in their early twenties when Brides was made. But Tommy Rall is still alive, too, at 84 and Marc Platt, the oldest of the principle dancers, turns 100 this year. He danced “Dream Curly” in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma back in the 40s. Great physical activity in youth and a life of high physical activity continuing into old age clearly contributes to a long and healthy life.

2 comments… add one
  • Jean

    What a beautiful tribute to Mr Mattox. I have always enjoyed musicals, but I never focus on the top billed stars. I am always watching the dancers. Seven Brides is one of my favorite films because of the outstanding dancers all pulled together in one place. I do wish sites like IMDB and BIDB would give more credit to these athletic and gifted actors and dancers. Most frequently there isn’t even a photograph to accompany their entry. What a pity. Someone as talented as Matt Mattox and Marc Platt ( Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo & the original Dream Curly in Oklahoma on Broadway) deserves at least a photo by their names! And how about Mr. Platt…..nearly 100 years young!

  • Lynnette Mattox Brown

    My Father was born on August 18, 1922. He is survived also by his children Pam, Richard, Lynnette and others. He also has numerous grandchildren that he never was able to meet. I’ am his daughter.

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