William "Billy" Skipper

William "Billy" Skipper (1921-1987) was a dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker. He started as a dancer, performed in several Broadway shows, eventually turned to choreography, and later became a Las Vegas showman, as well as a filmmaker and producer.

William Skipper Jr. was born February 28, 1921 to William (Willie) Skipper and Ethel (Polly) McPherson. He was there only child. Willie and Ethel divorced and Ethel married Nick Vegliaciah in 1925.

Following his graduation from Murphy High School in Mobile in 1939, Skipper became part of Ted Shawn's Men Dancers at Jacob's Pillow and briefly appeared with Jack Cole's group. Billed as Billy Skipper, Jr., he danced on Broadway in Higher and Higher (1940), Panama Hattie (1940), and Banjo Eyes (1941) before joining the Coast Guard in 1942. Upon his discharge, Skipper returned to Broadway, appearing in Annie Get Your Gun (1946) and Lend an Ear (1948). His last Broadway show was the revue, Almost Crazy (1955), which he choreographed. Skipper continued to choreograph for musical theater throughout the United States, worked occasionally in films, and appeared in, directed, or choreographed over 200 television productions.

From 1965-1967 he was a member of the faculty of the drama department at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, but left in 1967 to become the director of the Ruth St. Denis Foundation. Although Skipper had won a scholarship to study with Ted Shawn, he was a protégé of Ruth St. Denis. He worked on a film that documented her choreography, The First Lady of American Dance, and served as her official and unofficial booking agent over the years. The two lived together several times over the years. Among Skipper's other notable film projects was a documentary, Tallulah and the Bankheads.

He spent much of his life in New York and on the West Coast, but also maintained contact with artists in the Mobile area and made several films locally. Films include As the Grass produced by Spottswood Studios and featuring Sally Maloney and William Skipper.

Skipper died in Mobile Alabama on Oct. 15, 1987.

References

  • Widney, George: "From the archives … Billy Skipper Meets Tallulah." Gulf Coast Historical Review 1 1 (fall 1995): 127-140.

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