Harold Nicholas, One Half of Famed Sibling Dance Team, Dead at 79

News   Harold Nicholas, One Half of Famed Sibling Dance Team, Dead at 79 Harold Nicholas, the younger half of the famed tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers, of stage and movie-musical fame, died in Manhattan July 3 after heart surgery, according to The New York Times.
Harold Nicholas with Theresa Hayes in Sophisticated Ladies.
Harold Nicholas with Theresa Hayes in Sophisticated Ladies. (Photo by Photo by Craig Schwartz)

Harold Nicholas, the younger half of the famed tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers, of stage and movie-musical fame, died in Manhattan July 3 after heart surgery, according to The New York Times.

The 79-year-old New Yorker came to fame with his brother, Fayard, as youthful performers in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms (both choreographed by George Balanchine) and appeared in Harold Arlen's St. Louis Woman. Their astounding signature leaps, bounds and athletic splits were seen in black vaudeville, nightclubs such as The Cotton Club, in London (with Blackbirds of 1936), on Broadway and in such films as "Down Argentine Way," "Tin Pan Alley," "Stormy Weather" and "The Pirate."

"If those folks in Hollywood ever do get it in their heads to make the life story of the Nicholas Brothers, the dance numbers would have to be computer-generated," wrote dancer Gregory Hines in the introduction to the book, "Brotherhood in Rhythm," a biography of the brothers by Constance Valis Hill, released earlier this year by Oxford Press. "It would be impossible to find two dancer/actors to play the two starring role."

Hines added, "There never was a dancer, tap or otherwise, who, upon seeing those 'Nicholas Splits,' didn't question his or her very own eyes. Could it be? Did they really go down and come right back up sans hands?"

The Nicholas brothers were born in Winston-Salem, NC, to vaudeville musician parents. The younger Mr. Nicholas began dancing at age 5. The "Nicholas Kids" was a trio act that included sister Dorothy, with Fayard as choreographer. The brothers played black vaudeville houses and would later astound millions on film (even if some Southern exhibitors refused to screen their pictures, or edited their sequences out). Mr. Nicholas worked and lived in Europe for several years and was active in the New York and American dance world in his late career, teaching or speaking to young dancers.

After his career in the golden age of film musicals (he and his brother danced with Gene Kelly, a groundbreaking racially-integrated trio, in M-G -M's "The Pirate"), Mr. Nicholas appeared in such pictures as "L'Empire de la Nuit," "Uptown Saturday Night," "Tap" and "The Five Heartbeats."

According to "Brotherhood in Rhythm," Mr. Nicholas appeared in many TV programs and in regional musical theatre productions such as Stompin' at the Savoy in San Francisco in 1981 and the national tour of Sophisticated Ladies in 1982 that played Los Angeles and Las Vegas (he also performed that Duke Ellington tribute at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera in 1989). At age 60, he appeared with Charles Honi Coles in Tappin' Uptown, a revue at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1982. He also starred in the national tour of The Tap Dance Kid, the Broadway musical, in 1985.

In 1991 the Nicholas Brothers received Kennedy Center Honors.

Mr. Nicholas was married to Dorothy Dandridge and Elyanne Patronne. Those marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his brother, Fayard, wife Rigmor Newman Nicholas, sister Dorothy, two children and two stepchildren.

-- By Kenneth Jones