Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gene Kelly's Team: Carol Haney: A Powerful Talent in Support of a Powerful Star

In this blog entry, and many to follow, I want to profile individuals who were integral to the success of each of the men I'm profiling. Carol Haney was with Gene for his six most successful years.  She was an assistant, co-worker, choreographer, dancer, devoted employee and friend to Gene.  The title of assistant doesn't begin to cover what she did for Gene and what so many others did for Chaplin, Kelly and Jobs.  I will cover one "assistant" per week as I continue working on my book.  

This article was archived by Google from an old Geocities page that is no longer live.  I'm not even sure who wrote it, but it is excellent.  The article includes information on Jeannie Coyne, who Gene would later marry.

The assistant

Carol had already spent two years of her life at various studios as a chorus dancer. Although she was a tremendously gifted dancer, the movie producers concluded that Carol did not photograph well enough for the camera (as opposed to Cyd Charrise, Vera- Ellen, or Ann Miller, MGM's top end dancers) to become a major dance musical star. However, having the knowledge that Carol had assisted Jack Cole at Columbia with teaching dance routines to the stars before arriving at MGM, Gene Kelly persuaded Carol not to continue wasting her talents in the chorus and join him as a choreographic assistant on a full time basis. Gene Nelson was also interested to sign her for the same purpose, but at Warner Brothers. When she agreed to the offer at MGM, Carol would end up spending her next six years there, working loyally for Gene Kelly, mainly as an assistant choreographer.
During her period at MGM, Carol became friends with Gene Kelly (He would deliver a speech at her memorial service a decade or so later) and frequently participated in his open house entertainment at Rodeo Drive, by as Leslie Caron remembers, dancing, while others such as Judy Garland and Lena Horne sang, and Comden and Green performed comic skits.
So what exactly did Carol do at MGM? Below is a list of the assistance she gave to Gene Kelly that I have found in books of Kelly, the Freed unit, and Vincente Minnelli, during her days at MGM.
bibliography is provided for your convenience:
  1. Carol's first film at MGM was Kelly's 1951 masterpiece An American in Paris (AAIP).Carol is on the left, and Leslie is on the Right. Carol is giving Leslie some words of advice before the camera rolls in the Paris Opera segment of the AAIP ballet
    1. One of the first tasks she was assigned to was to, along with her fellow assistant Jeannie Coyne, pick out the strengths of young starlet Leslie Caron. Leslie Caron remembered Haney and Coyne to be extremely supportive during the process of making the film.
    2. Carol was assigned to rehearse French import Georges Guetary in his big Folies Begere number "I'll build a Stairway to Paradise". Wisecrack Oscar Levant remembers Guetary in performance: "He was pure Carol Haney: he imitated her to a 't'."Vincente Minnelli remembers Carol's dedication to Guetary: "Carol Haney, who was one of Gene's assistants, and who was marvelous, worked with him and worked with him (Guetary) to give him that style which is really American. She worked so hard with him. She just concentrated on him."
      Minnelli remarks on the same issue in his autobiography: "It was more difficult getting a performance out of Georges Guetary, an entertainer with far greater experience. Carol Haney took him in hand, and worked until they both dropped from exhaustion."
    3. Carol was credited to have operated the controls to the flashy lights that lit up the stairs during the actual shooting of the film. The cinematographer, Alfred Gilks, recalls: "The risers were made of glass, with a circuit of lights behind each one. Each riser was on a separate circuit, controlled by a mercury switch. All circuits ran to an ingenious master drum controller devised by Sid Moore of the MGM Electrical Department. During the takes, the controller was operated by Gene Kelly’s dance director, Carol Haney. Because of her complete familiarity with the music and routine, she was able, after a few rehearsals, to operate the controller in perfect sync- as smoothly as a musician in the orchestra playing his instrument."
    4. She helped rehearse Kelly for the Tolouse- Lautrec segment of the AAIP ballet. The dancing in that segment, which Kelly refered to as "strong dancing", was a form of experssion very kindred to Carol, who was instrumental to help Kelly perfect every movement.
    5. Kelly remembers Carol's contribution to the rehearsal procedure: "... So in the initial stages you always had some help. We were also here every night with Jeannie Coyne and Carol Haney, just working out costumes and colors and things like that. The days we really had to use for rehearsals with Leslie and the dancers. If I had composed something, I'd turn it over to one of them. Then I'd compose something else and turn it over to the other one and say, "All right, drill them on it." There again the repertory idea came in. Carol had been with me six years, Jeannie not quite that long, but she had been around studios... Carol Haney's training of dancers was fabulous and continued to be so after she became an independent choreographer. She was that good because I was always so mean. I'd say, "It has to be right! Go back and do it again." Her precision, you know, her eye for seeing that everybody did it on the beat, was wonderful."
    6. Leslie Caron remembers Carol's contributions to the choreography and Kelly's creative process: "Gene had sort of told Carol Haney to see what I could do best. Gene was very clever as a choreographer. He would find out what the best points of a dancer were and make up a ballet around that. In other words, he suited the ballet to you, and not you to the ballet. He took advantage of my good points. Carol was helping very much with the choreography. She would sort of think up things and present them to Gene, and if Gene liked them he would incorporate them, and if he didn't he would change them- that sort of thing. She was truly an assistant."
  2. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
    1. Like AAIP, Carol and Jeannie Coyne were assigned to rehearse the young starlet. In this case, the two assistants were also given tap teacher Ernie Flatt, and also the task of teaching Debbie Reynolds to appear to dance as well as Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor.the SITR team- from left, Jeannie Coyne (looking lovingly at Gene), Stanley Donen (looking protective), Gene Kelly (looking back at Jeannie), Carol, and Donald O'Connor (both looking amused).
    2. The choreography of "The Broadway Ballet" was done with Carol in mind- Kelly had wanted her to appear as the femme fatale in the dance. When Arthur Freed didn't like Carol's screen test, he called for stock dancer Cyd Charrise to dance the role. Carol beared the embarrassment and took the task of rehearsing Charrise for the dance. Charrise remembers: "I'll always remember Carol fondly for the way she helped me, when her heart must have been breaking. If it had been me I think I might have just walked out. She was truly fond of Gene, so she stayed and worked with me..."Charrise is also quoted in a Donen biography on this issue: "I was never told that Carol Haney was originally meant for my role. She even rehearsed me throughout that whole sequence and never once brought it up.".
    3. Does this caption from a corbis portrait of Carol suggest what happened with the "Broadway Melody" fiasco? If so, I'm glad Carol was not too disheartened by that experience:
      Carol Haney, who bounced to fame after opening as a featured dancer in the smash Broadway hit, The Pajama Game, says she's glad she wasn't born beautiful. With a round face, blue eyes that slant upward at the outer corners, and brown hair cropped short and brushed flat from the crown of her head to her eyebrows in a shaggy fringe, Miss Haney recalls that she once made a living in hollywood as a dancer and finally got a chance for a screen test. By the time studio make up men got through reshaping her face and covering her hair with wigs [ed: the black femme fatale wig and makeup??], she "looked lake an idiot," as Carol says. Instead of becoming a movie Queen, she taught the stars to dance for films. But the yearning to perform at last took her to the stage, where she has registered with an impact that makes her one of the most talked about performers of today.
    4. Carol and Jeannie Coyne also took the weird task of manouvering the airplane motors that made the crazy veil come to life, in time to the music in the "Crazy Veil" dance.
    5. Carol, with Jeannie, enjoyed the entertainment of Donald O'Connor whilst rehearsing and noting O'Connor's improvisations in his tour de force number, "Make 'em Laugh".O'Connor recalls:
      They didn't have a solo dance for me in the movie, and we thought we'd have to do another number like Moses Supposes. And Gene picked out a tune called, "Follow in my Footsteps."
      And then one day, we were in the rehearsal hall and Roger Edens (ph), who was a great writer, came in and he gave us this sheet music, lead sheet, on Make 'Em Laugh.
      And Kelly was busy, so he said: "why don't you go in and get the pianos, and take the girls in" -- which was Carol Haney (ph) and Jeanie Coyne (ph) his assistants-- and he said, "why don't you see what you can come up with."
      So I went in and I'd have the pianist, I called for a lot of props, and the girls thought I was the funniest man in the world. They -- I really had their funny bone. I'd say hello in the morning and they'd fall down on the ground laughing.
      And so, I started doing these pratfalls and whatever they laughed at the most, I said write it down. So, that's how the number came about. Through love and laughter. And also, it was all spontaneous.
  3. Carol and Jeannie flew all around Europe to assist Kelly's dream project Invitation to the Dance in 1952-53.
      Gene, Jeannie and Carol during the creative process Gene and Carol between takes I think during the Circus segment

    1. From the biography "Gene Kelly" (Clive Hirschhorn), on the planning stages of the film: "So he [Gene] rented a house, called Moulin de la Roche, from a well-to-do French family in a small village six miles from Chartres, and he and Kerry as well as his assistants Jeannie Coyne and Carol Haney and his secretary, moved to France for the summer... The working conditions were idyllic and with Jeannie and Carol around, Gene was able to 'Block out' his choreography with the two dancers 'trying each new step for size' as he went along. For Gene it was the perfect creative setup, and he and his entourage spent a blissful couple of months preparing a picture which he hoped whould contain the synthesis of his art..."
    2. Worked out the score for the second segment "Ring around the Rosy" with boy wonder composer-pianist-conductor Andre Previn. The music was not composed at the time the sequence was shot, only to the counting-out-loud of both Carol and Jeannie. Carol then subsequently had to be locked in a little room with Previn, trying to remember what the time measures and beats were and Kelly's intentions for the dance. What Previn worked out was fabulously a jazzy score with clarinet, sax and piano solos (played by Previn himself!).Previn remembers: "What he [Gene] didn't tell me, was that he had already shot the ballet and that I would be presented with thirty minutes of silent film to which I'd have to put appropriate music! Some of the ballet, I discovered, had, in fact, been shot to Malcolm Arnold's music, some of it to Carol Haeny and Jeannie Coyne counting beats off camera, but most of it to nothing. So I said to Gene, "How do I know whether what they're dancing is meant to be a bridge passage, or a waltz, out of tempo, in tempo, or what?" Well, he gave me Carol Haney, and together we sat in a claustrophobic little viewing theatre in the music departments which had all sorts of sophisticated knobs that allowed you to stop the film, or make it go up or down, or backwards or sideways- frame by frame- and between the two of us, sitting in taht terrible little room from 9 am to midnight for three long weeks- during which time Carol tried to remember the tempi and the ideas behind the moves Gene had choreographed- I finally managed to chart down some sort of musical framework for myself, so that not once during the whole of "Ring Around the Rosy" was I able to develop an idea without considering the restrictions imposed by the film..."

      Carol dancing with gene for the animators the actual cartoon
      Carol bellydancing? Rehearsing the start scary genie bit with Gene
    3. The two girls assisted Kelly in probably the most ambitious segment of the film- the fully animated "Sinbad the Sailor" cartoon. Carol gets her first appearance credit here as scherazade the scary genie woman, dancing two dances: one featured at the start of the sequence, and I believe the featured belly dancer that follows the chase sequence is also her. These oriental dances, choreographed by Carol, are obviously influenced by her earlier training with Jack Cole, who was himself a master of oriental dances.
    4. Haney is credited by a site on MGM cartoons to have personified the serpent in the beginning of the cartoon sequence for the animators.
    5. Footage of Carol dancing in place of the cartoon "Scheherazade" is often shown in Gene Kelly documentaries.

    See that small glowing spec on the bottom right? That's Carol I think in the outfit she was in when she was dancing in the scene for the animators
  4. Brigadoon, or "Brigadoom", would be Carol's last film with Gene Kelly. Her contributions are not noted as much as in Kelly's earlier films.

    Is that Carol on the left in a pre- Pajama Game cropped hairstyle?... with Minnelli and Kelly in the foreground working or worrying about something.

    1. Vincente Minnelli remembers in his autobiography: "The film went as easily as it had for 'The Band Wagon', helped immeasurably by Gene's assistants, Carol Haney and Jeanne Coyne. With Gene so busy on the choreography, I depended on Carol to fill in when Gene was occupied elsewhere. This was to be her last picture as assistant choreographer. She would be leaving for New York and Pajama Game, and fromthat point on, she was known as STAR."

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if you'll see this but something confuses me.
    You say that Haney's first picture working with Gene Kelly was "An American In Paris, " but quote Kelly saying that Carol had been with him for six years and that was longer than Jeanne Coyne?
    Also, Carol Haney was one of the "A Day In New York" ballet dancers-she's the one who makes Kelly swoon- in "On The Town" which was shot in 1948, or '49.


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