'Mary Poppins' Choreographer Marc Breaux Dies at 89

11:55 AM PST 11/22/2013 by Mike Barnes
Courtesy Everett Collection
Breaux choreographed Dick Van Dyke's chimney sweep number in "Mary Poppins."

With his wife Dee Dee Wood, he also worked on "The Sound of Music," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and the legendary TV variety show "The Hollywood Palace."

Marc Breaux, the choreographer who with his wife Dee Dee Wood created Dick Van Dyke's famous chimney sweep number in Mary Poppins and other spectacular dances for film and television, has died. He was 89.

Breaux died Tuesday in Mesa, Ariz., in an assisted-living facility, his son, Michael, told the Los Angeles Times.

After director Robert Wise saw Van Dyke's lithe performance in 1964's Mary Poppins, he immediately hired Breaux and Wood for another Julie Andrews classic, The Sound of Music, released a year later. Van Dyke also took the pair to work with him on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

Breaux and Wood, proteges of famed choreographer Michael Wood, also designed dances for Norman Jewison's 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), starring Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette, and The Happiest Millionaire (1967), with Fred MacMurray and Greer Garson.

The duo served as the choreographers on the 1960s ABC variety show The Hollywood Palace and created dances for many other variety shows in the '70s.

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Asked in a 1999 interview to describe his style of choreography, Breaux said: "I was more athletic than most choreographers. I actually stole from Michael Kidd. He's very athletic as well. I hired people who could do flip-flops, which you don't really learn in ballet school or in modern dance, and so if they could do a somersault or a cartwheel, I'd say, 'I think I can use you.' "

When Van Dyke landed the role of Bert in Mary Poppins and was asked by studio head Walt Disney if he could recommend a choreographer, the actor came up with Breaux and Wood, who had worked with him on a couple of TV specials.

"I'm not really a dancer," Van Dyke told the Times. "I could move a little, and I was what you call an eccentric dancer — loose-limbed and light on my feet. But they took what I could do and made the most of it. I was just thrilled."

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Born Nov. 3, 1924, in Carencro, La., Breaux studied dance at what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette before serving as a Navy pilot during World War II.

In 1948, he was cast as a dancer in Broadway's Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'! (1948), then met Wood when both performed on a TV show in New York hosted by jazzman Stan Kenton. They married in 1955 and appeared the next year in the Broadway musical Li'l Abner, choreographed by Kidd.

Breaux and Wood eventually divorced and choreographed on their own.

Breaux also worked on Huckleberry Finn (1974), The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976) and Mae West's final film, Sextette (1978), before becoming a film editor.

In addition to his son, Breaux is survived by four granddaughters.

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