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Hermes Pan

See also: Categories: History, Dancers, Legends, Choreographers

Born: December 10, 1909
Died: September 19, 1990 (Beverly Hills, California)
Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee (USA)

  • American Dancer
  • Actor
  • Choreographer
  • Musician

Hermes Pan (born Hermes Panagiotopolous) was a famous American dancer and choreographer, principally remembered as Fred Astaire's choreographic collaborator on various famous movie musicals of the 1930s starring Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Having never taken a dance class, he is considered the master of American dance.

Early Life

Hermes Pan was born Hermes Panagiotopolous in 1909 in Memphis, Tennessee, of Greek extraction. His father, the Greek consul in Memphis, Tennessee, was from Aigio in Peloponnese (Greece), where his family had opened the first theater. Following the death of Pan's father, his uncle held Pan, his sister and mother at gunpoint and burned all their shares and money on the grounds, for if he could not have them, no one would.

Hermes and his sister Vasso were eventually raised Catholic by their mother, the former Mary Huston. Penniless, they moved to the poorest area of New York where Hermes learned his first tap dancing steps on the streets from local African American children. At their lowest ebb, the family had only some potatoes and coffee for their meal. They vowed to commemorate that day and every year on June 13, writing down what they did and ate that day in a journal. The date became a family celebration. Eventually, the family headed West with "Sammy", an African American boy they met at a gas station, to Los Angeles, California.

The Beginning of a Career

Pan's career began with an appearance as a chorus boy in 1928 in the Marx Brothers Broadway production of Animal Crackers. He also danced in partnership with his sister Vasso, who subsequently appeared in the chorus of many of the Astaire-Rogers pictures. Hermes first met Ginger Rogers in 1930 when he appeared as a chorus singer in the Broadway musical Top Speed.

Collaboration with Fred Astaire

Hermes met Fred Astaire, whom he physically resembled, on the set of Flying Down to Rio (1933), in which he worked as an assistant to dance director Dave Gould.

While Astaire was trying to work out a series of steps for "The Carioca" number, it was suggested to him that Pan had a few ideas and Pan was invited over. Hermes Pan demonstrated a brief break he had picked up from his street days in New York.

From then on, the two began a lifelong professional collaboration and friendship which included all the RKO (RKO Pictures Inc.) Astaire pictures, including A Damsel in Distress (1937) in which Ginger Rogers did not appear, and for which he was awarded the 1937 Academy Award for Best Dance Direction. He had previously received Academy Award nominations for the Top Hat and "The Piccolino" numbers from Top Hat (1935) and for the "Bojangles of Harlem"' number from Swing Time (1936).

The Astaire-Pan collaboration, involving 17 out of Astaire's 31 musical films and three of his four television specials, is widely accepted as one of the most important forces in dance choreography of 20th century film and television musicals. Astaire called Pan his "ideas man", and while he generally choreographed his own routines, and sometimes worked with other choreographers, he greatly valued the assistance of Pan not just as a source and critic of ideas, but also as a rehearsal partner for the purposes of fine-tuning a routine.

Given Astaire's obsessive rehearsal habits, this was no mean task. Pan also performed the essential function of rehearsing Ginger Rogers, whose many other commitments during the filming of the Astaire-Rogers musicals often conflicted with Astaire's rehearsal schedule. In addition, he recorded Ginger's taps in post production in some numbers.

Pan continued to collaborate with Astaire right up until the latter's last musical picture, Finian's Rainbow (1968), which was a disaster on a number of fronts, not least for Pan himself. The young director, Francis Ford Coppola, had no prior experience with musical films, and proceeded to ride roughshod over Astaire and Pan's plans for the film's dance routines, reintroducing the style of dancing camera of the early 1930s which Astaire had done so much to banish from the Hollywood musical. Eventually, Coppola fired Pan, who had a small walk-on part in the film; Coppola has since acknowledged his own primary responsibility for the film's artistic failure.

Besides choreographing approximately 50 films, Pan, who had an uncanny resemblance to Astaire, himself danced in such motion pictures as Moon over Miami (1941), My Gal Sal (1942), and Kiss Me, Kate (1953). In 1961, he won an Emmy award for choreographing the special television program Astaire Time: An Evening with Fred Astaire.

Personal Life

Pan never married. He was a personal friend to the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who invited him to the country's 2,500 year celebration of Iran's monarchy at Persepolis. He was also close to Diego Rivera, who painted his full portrait. Hermes retained links with his relatives in Greece and made an extensive visit in the 1970s to meet them.

Pan was very close friends with Rita Hayworth and he served as a pallbearer at her funeral.


  • Choreographed over 50 films
  • Known as Fred Astaire's choreographic collaborator, Pan was involved in 17 out of Astaire's 31 musical films and 3 of his 4 television specials
    • The Astaire-Pan collaboration is widely accepted as one of the most important forces in dance choreography of 20th century film and television musicals
    • Pan was not just as a source and critic of ideas, but also a rehearsal partner for Astaire
  • Danced in such motion pictures as:
    • Moon over Miami (1941)
    • My Gal Sal (1942)
    • Footlight Serenade (1942)
    • Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943)
    • Pin Up Girl (1943)
    • Kiss Me, Kate (1953)
  • 1937 Academy Award Winner for Best Dance Direction - A Damsel in Distress (1937)
  • Received Academy Award nominations for the Top Hat and "The Piccolino" numbers from Top Hat (1935) and for the "Bojangles of Harlem"' number from Swing Time (1936)
  • 1961 Emmy Award Winner for choreographing the special television program Astaire Time: An Evening with Fred Astaire

Choreographed Films

Flying Down to Rio (1933) (assistant) Blue Skies (1946)
The Gay Divorcee (1934) I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now (1947)
Roberta (1935) The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Old Man Rhythm (1935) Three Little Words (1950)
Top Hat (1935) Let's Dance (1950)
In Person (1935) Excuse Ky Dust (1950)
I Dream Too Much (1935) Texas Carnival (1951)
Follow the Fleet (1936) Lovely to Look At (1952)
Swing Time (1936) Sombrero (1953)
Shall We Dance? (1937) Kiss Me, Kate (1953) (also dancer)
Damsel in Distress (1937) The Student Prince (1954)
Radio City Revels (1938) Jupiter's Darling (1954)
Second Chorus (1940) (also actor) Hit the Deck (1955)
That Night in Rio (1941) Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
Blood and Sand (1941) (uncredited) Silk Stockings (1957)
Moon over Miami (1941) (also dancer) Pal Joey (1957)
My Gal Sal (1942) (also dancer) Porgy and Bess (1959)
Footlight Serenade (1942) (also dancer) The Blue Angel (1959)
Song of the Islands (1942) Can-Can (1960)
Springtime in the Rockies (1942) Flower Drum Song (1961)
Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943) Cleopatra (1963)
Coney Island (1943) (also actor) My Fair Lady (1964)
Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943) (also dancer) Finian's Rainbow (1968) (also actor)
Pin Up Girl (1943) (also dancer) Darling Lili (1970)
Irish Eyes are Smiling (1944) Lost Horizon (1973)
Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe (1945) Help Me Dream (1981)

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