Obit, NY Times, Feb 25, 2013.
Matt Mattox, 91, Dancer for the Movies
He was a dancer’s dancer. Watching him was like watching a force of nature. When he left Once Upon A Mattress, his understudy took over. I replaced the understudy and went on for two weeks. The big number was a soft shoe, which Matt tossed off with relaxed efficiency. But he was a jazz dancer, and if he didn’t invent the style—Jack Cole pretty much did—he defined it. No one danced jazz better than Matt.
In 1956, he was the lead dancer in Ziegfeld Follies the only edition to close out of town. Dance captain, George Martin, told me to “watch Matt Mattox," There never was an official understudy, but it was great to try to fit myself into his dynamic moves. When he showed up in NYC, he made a splash among dancers; Gwen Verdon, on Mike Wallace’s show gushed, “A great new teacher has come to town!”
I saw the first New York performance of his concert troupe, Jazz Art. One number was duets with three women, each of whom leaves him flat, a dance from Matt’s heart because he never did figure out women. The Times obit says “Mr. Mattox was married several times.” (Rumor had it to more than one wife at one time.) The dance ended with Matt alone on stage, and as the curtain closed, a female voice shrieked, “Male chauvinist pig!” The women’s movement was surging but it struck me as sadly misplaced. Not long after, a ravishing 18-year old showed up in his class, and soon she and he were off to Paris. Her father brought her back, but Matt stayed.
I saw him once more in the 1980s, when he came to teach at Jacob’s Pillow, sitting with a bright young thing at a table in their outdoor café. He had a goatee, but was as lean, hard-edged, and innocently intense as ever.
One item in his obit floored me; he’d been a WW-II fighter pilot. If I’d known, I’d have asked which fighter he flew, and where he flew it, maybe a bit of pilot talk. As a bomber pilot I did not rank with fighter jocks, who tended to consider bomber pilots “airplane drivers,” but not Matt, as generous in spirit as he was commanding on stage.
After seeing his air flips while standing on planks tossed across saw horses, in the movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, I asked how they’d made it look so real.
“Because it was real. I said they’d better get it in one take because there wouldn’t be a second.”
There won’t be a second Matt Mattox either. One of a kind.