Emmy-winning choreographer-actor-producer-screenwriter-director David Winters has taken that final curtain call. He had an energetic, visceral style as a dancer and as a choreographer. His created projects with such diverse showbiz icons such as Alice Cooper, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, The Monkees and Elvis Presley. He danced in the stage version and film of West Side Story, and the groundbreaking concert film The T.A.M.I. Show (1964).
He then began concentrating on choreography, doing his dances for the very groovy television program Hullaballoo (one of my teenage faves), creating the dance called ”The Freddie” for the British group Freddie and the Dreamers. He choregraphed Presley and Ann-Margret in the film Viva Las Vegas (1964) then three more movies with Presley and four more with Ann-Margret. For The T.A.M.I. Show, his dancers backed-up Rolling Stones, James Brown and The Beach Boys.
Winters created the dance “The Freddie”, watch:
For the television special Movin’ With Nancy (1967), he became the first choreographer to be nominated in the history of the Emmys in the category Special Classification of Individual Achievements; this was before the category became Outstanding Achievement in Choreography (for which he was also nominated) was created.
Winters produced and directed over 80 feature films and 200 television programs and movies.
Watch the spectacular opening sequence of West Side Story with Winters :
Winters directed episodes of the television show The Monkees and worked on films and television specials starring Raquel Welch, Tom Jones and Rudolf Nureyev.
He directed Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare (1975) concert film. He choreographed the Streisand version of A Star Is Born (1976) and the camp epic Star Wars Holiday Special (1978). In 1981, he choreographed and served as creative consultant for the television special Diana, starring Diana Ross, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson.
As a kid, he watched Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire on television, and he would dance along with them. After a talent agent discovered him dancing in a show in a Manhattan super club, he was hired to appear in three Broadway musicals, including Shinbone Alley (1957) which starred gay icon Eartha Kitt.
Jerome Robbins, the celebrated ballet choreographer, had seen Shinbone Alley during its brief run and invited Winters to audition for a new musical West Side Story. After one audition, the show’s composer Leonard Bernstein, wrote on Winter’s audition card: ”Fine dancer. Real cute”. Winters was cast as a Jet, Baby John. He later recalled rehearsals under Robbins, who was also the show’s director as well as its choreographer.
In his memoir Tough Guys Do Dance (2018), Winters writes:
Jerry would bring in clippings from the NYC papers where the headlines were always about some gang members going to jail or a rumble between them, in which kids were killed. These pics and articles were put up on the board for everyone to see and to get us in the mood of the piece.
After playing Yonkers in the original Broadway production of Gypsy for Robbins, Winters was cast by Robbins as another Jet, A-Rab, in the film version of West Side Story (1961). In the musical number Cool, he has a raw, emotional solo.
In 1964, he moved to Los Angeles, where he found acting work in television series including Perry Mason and 77 Sunset Strip and he began teaching dance. One of his students was Ann-Margret, whose role in the film version of the musical Bye Bye Birdie (1963) had made her a star. She insisted that he choreograph Viva Las Vegas in which her steamy dance to C’mon Everybody is the best thing in the movie. He choreographed her 1967 Las Vegas act and two television specials.
David was one of the greatest dancers and choreographers that I have ever known. He moved like a panther.
On Hullabaloo his dancers included Donna McKechnie, who would go on to win the 1976 Tony Award for her role in A Chorus Line.
On Friday, McKechnie told The New York Times:
David had his own style — which was an extension of Robbins’. It was sexy, strong and very fluid, but he didn’t over-choreograph. He helped us women step up and have that kind of strength as dancers.
Winters was born David Weizer on April 5, 1939, in London. He emigrated to the USA with his parents when he was 9-years-old. His father was a furrier in England; his mother was a vaudeville performer. After settling in Brooklyn, they opened a candy store.
As a youth, Winters sang and danced at his shoeshine stand on the Coney Island boardwalk.
Winters was married and divorced at least three times. He also had a romantic relationship in the 1970s with Linda Boreman, who as Linda Lovelace stared in the first big commercial pornographic film Deep Throat (1972). For Lovelace, he produced and directed a stage play for her to star in, Pajama Tops, and a campy film, Linda Lovelace For President (1976).
For the past three decades Winters worked primarily as a producer of dozens of low-budget action films, including Thrashin’ (1986), the first film about skateboarding, starring Josh Brolin. But his final film was a return to dance: Dancin: It’s On! (2015), a romance built around a dance competition starring winners and runners-up from the series So You Think You Can Dance, which he directed, produced and choreographed.
Winters had turned 80-years-old a month ago. No cause of death has been announced.
Here’s Winters dancing on Hullaballoo, 1965: