Acrobatic dancerTommy Rall

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Raised in Seattle, Rall’s mother signed him up for dancing lessons at the age of 4. That led to him performing acrobatic dance acts in vaudeville theaters, so the family moved to Los Angeles to give him a shot at bigger stages. It worked: as a pre-teen he started landing roles, including the Andrews Sisters’ vehicle, Give Out, Sisters (1942), and several others as part of Universal’s jitterbug dance troupe, “Jivin’ Jacks and Jills”.

Rall makes a grand entrance in Kiss me Kate.

Rall stood out so much he found himself in demand, including on Broadway. Choreographer Donald Saddler created “extraordinary” dance routines for him, and Rall “was suddenly so admired by the audience that [the producer] put his name on the marquee under the three stars,” said Broadway composer Jerry Herman. “It was very, very earned by him. He was a terrific singer and dancer.” Hollywood soon lured him back, with roles in Kiss Me Kate (1953), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954: see clip below), and My Sister Eileen (1955). But extravaganza Hollywood musicals started to die out, and so did Rall’s career, even though he was one of the “greatest dancers living,” declared actor and dancer Donald O’Connor — “above [Fred] Astaire and [Gene] Kelly.” Rall landed a few roles here and there (Funny Girl in 1968, and Pennies from Heaven in 1981), but was mostly unknown by modern audiences. After a couple of heart surgeries, he died from congestive heart failure in Santa Monica, Calif., on October 6. He was 90.

What’s Acrobatic Dancing?

There’s no doubt who is the star of this scene: Rall is in the red shirt (far left in the still scene).

From This is True for 11 October 2020