Wednesday, May 19, 2004
June Taylor
Created 'The Jackie Gleason Show' Dances

By BEN SISARIO/The New York Times

June Taylor, the Emmy-winning choreographer whose routines on "The Jackie Gleason Show" brought the chorus line into the television age, died on Sunday at a hospital in Miami, said her sister, Marilyn Gleason. She was 86 and lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Each week "The Jackie Gleason Show" opened with a number by the 16 high-kicking, wide-smiling young women of the June Taylor Dancers. Their routines, created by Ms. Taylor, were intricate, expensive and wholesome-looking updates of the classic Broadway chorus lines.

To accommodate the square format of television, the dancers were often shot from above, resulting in kaleidoscopic patterns of limbs that recalled the films of Busby Berkeley.

Besides the three-minute numbers that opened each show, Ms. Taylor also choreographed longer routines for special broadcasts. In 1953 Gleason and Ms. Taylor collaborated on "Tawny," a ballet of more than 20 minutes with music by Gleason. A review by Jack Gould in The New York Times said the piece cost a reported $30,000 to produce. "Every penny was well spent," he wrote, "for here was popular commercial television displaying artistic vision and imagination."
Ms. Taylor won an Emmy Award for her choreography on "The Jackie Gleason Show" in 1955.

Born in Chicago, Ms. Taylor was a seasoned nightclub dancer when her career was derailed by tuberculosis at age 20. She turned to choreography, hitting the road with her own company. She met Gleason, then a little-known comedian, at a Baltimore nightclub in 1946.

Ms. Taylor began working on television in 1948 on Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" and later worked on "Cavalcade of Stars," which Gleason joined in 1950. "The Jackie Gleason Show" began in 1952 and ran until 1959; it returned to television in 1962 and ran until 1970.

Gleason moved his show in 1964 from New York to Miami, where he could play golf all year long, and Ms. Taylor remained in Florida after the show ended. In 1978 she was invited by the Miami Dolphins football team to direct the team's cheerleaders. She turned her demanding techniques to the squad. She also favored costumes that were throwbacks to her earlier days. The Dolphins' Web site says that it was not until Ms. Taylor retired in 1990 that the women updated their uniforms with, for example, sneakers while they were on the sidelines.

Besides her sister, of Fort Lauderdale, who married Gleason in 1975, Ms. Taylor is survived by a nephew, Craig Horwich of Chicago. Her husband, Sol Lerner, died in 1986.

Ms. Taylor often spoke of television's demands on dance. "One of the first things I learned in television was the necessity of varying the style of the dancing each week," she said in an interview in 1953. "People want something new. My girls, I believe, are the best hoofers in the business. They know tap, ballet, classical ballet, toe work, modern and acrobatic dancing."

Mrs. Gleason, who was a dancer in her sister's group, remarked that speed was a necessity.

"We were on television," she said yesterday, "and we had to move fast. The only comparison was the Rockettes, but we danced four times faster than they did."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times

Submitted by Gayle DePoli