Today, movie fans are used to “Brothers”

We have Owen, Andrew and Luke Wilson, Ralph and Joseph Fiennes. Let’s not forget Alec, Daniel, Billy  and Stephen Baldwin.  In the Forties and Fifties, however, actor brothers were encouraged to take different names.  Hence Dana Andrews and Steve Forrest; James Arness and Peter Graves.

Among the most talented of the actor-brother duos in their time were George Sanders (that All About Eve costar who for a while was Mr. Zsa Zsa Gabor) and his older sibling Tom Conway (check him out in the 1943 classic, I Walked With A Zombie).

There have been brothers behind the scenes.  Writers, the Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip) and the Goldman brothers (William and James). Producers and directors such as the Korda brothers (Alexander, Zoltan and Vincent) not to mention the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan).

And, of course, there have always been Brother acts — performers such as the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo, Gummo and Chico), the Ritz Brothers (Al, Jimmy and Harry), the Mills Brothers (Herb, John, Harry and Donald) and, of course, the Disney Channel’s own Jonas Brothers (Nick, Joe and Paul-Kevin).

Hello Everybody.  Joe Morella and Frank Segers (not brothers, except in our love of classic movies) here today to highlight one of the most talented brother acts — EVER– the Nicholas Brothers.

They were captured on film as early as 1932, when the duo — Fayard was 18 and Harold was 11 — appeared in a musical short, Pie, Pie, Blackbird.

Fayard’s last movie appearance was in 2006, the year he died. Harold ended his career with an appearance in 20th Century Fox’s 1991’s title, The Five Heartbeats. That was nine years before he died.)

Their parents were professional musicians, and the brothers were born into the business.  They’d witnessed all the best best performers on the Black Vaudeville Circuit. They took to dancing easily, and were totally self taught.

They both were assertive, highly physical dancers performing heart stopping cartwheels with acrobatic abandon, and landing in full splits.  Ouch!

Catch the Nicholas Brothers in 1943’s Stormy Weather, a Fox production costarring Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller (a sublimely funny and talented pianist-organist), Dooley Wilson (yes, he of “Play it again, Sam”) and tap dancing pioneer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

The Brother’s “Jumpin’ Jive” number in the film so impressed Fred Astaire that he declared it the single best movie dance sequence he had ever seen. (The photo at the top of today’s blog shows the Brothers in full flight during this number, spurred on by Calloway’s big band.)

It’s worth seeing these amazing dancing Brothers in any context so why not take a look at 1941’s Sun Valley Serenade with Fayard and Harold — who was once married, by the way, to actress Dorothy Dandridge — supporting costars Sonja Henie, John Payne and bandleader Glenn Miller. Also, Paramount’s The Big Broadcast of 1936 with George Burns, Gracie Allen, Jack Okie and Bing Copsby. 

The Nicholas Brothers’ career was not overlooked. Fayard and Harold were 1991 Kennedy Center honorees (along with Gregory Peck and Betty Comden and Adolph Green) and have a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. They were, as Russian ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov once remarked, the most amazing dancers he has ever seen.

 

 

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