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Award-Winning Director and Choreographer Tony Charmoli Dies at Age 99

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Tony had a decades long, award-winning career as a director, a producer, and as a choreographer for television, film, and theater. 

Award-Winning Director and Choreographer Tony Charmoli Dies at Age 99

Tony Charmoli died peacefully on the evening of August 7th at his home in the Hollywood Hills. He was 99. Tony had a decades long, award-winning career as a director, a producer, and as a choreographer for television, film, and theater.

He won three Emmy Awards: in 1956 for Best Choreography for Your Hit Parade, in 1974 for Best Direction for Mitzi Gaynor's Tribute To An American Housewife, and in 1976 for Best Direction for Shirley MacLaine's Gypsy In My Soul. He was also nominated over the course of his long career for ten other Primetime Emmy Awards. Additionally, he won Director's Guild Awards for Mitzi Zings Into Spring in 1978, and John Denver & THE MUPPETS in 1980.

He was born in Mount Iron, Minnesota in 1921 to Italian immigrant parents, as the last of 9 children. They taught Tony a hard work ethic and he applied it to his early love of Dance. He put together shows in his youth, and just after his sixteenth birthday Tony traveled by himself from Minnesota by bus to intern as a dancer for a summer at Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts. On the following Valentine's Day, he met Wilford Saunders, the man he'd spend the rest of his life with.

WW2 broke out while Tony was at the College of Saint Thomas working on his English degree. He and Will joined up. Tony served as Operations Officer for the 43rd Fighter Squadron Air Force during WW2, and volunteered to organize shows in the jungles of Panama to keep the troops entertained. Will served as a secretary to General Eisenhower in Europe.

After the war Tony finished his degree before he and Will moved to New York to pursue Tony's dream of working on Broadway. With his time in the service, Tony was able to study dance for free with all the greatest dance teachers in New York. While auditioning for Broadway, Tony organized dance programs at the YMHA on Sunday nights which helped to develop his reputation as a choreographer. As a result, Tony was asked to see if dance could work on a new thing called television. They were simply attempting to send the picture from one side of Manhattan to the other side of Manhattan. none of them suspected how big this new thing called television was going to be.

As Tony began working on Broadway shows, he also began choreographing for the new TV show, Stop The Music. His good reviews led to him being poached by Your Hit Parade where he received his first Emmy Award. During this time he met a tap dancer named Bob Fosse who wanted to be a choreographer someday. Tony gave his Broadway role in Make Mine Manhattan to Bob when the show went on its National Tour. When Bob returned from the tour, Tony found him work as an occasional dancer on the TV shows he was doing. Because Bob Fosse was insecure about his thinning hair, Tony suggested a derby hat and hired an expert with hat tricks to prep Bob for a solo number that Tony created for him. Will Saunders finally became Tony's full time manager and continued in that role for their long years together.

Tony's Broadway performing credits also includes Dear Judas, Love Life and as choreographer for Woman Of The Year starring Lauren Bacall, Ankles Aweigh, Eddie Fisher at the Winter Garden and directed Shirley MacLaine's 1976 show at The Palace.

Tony Charmoli soon was working both coasts and moved to Los Angeles when he was offered a position on the new Dinah Shore Show. He worked non-stop for decades after that. He worked with nearly all the great stars - Danny Kaye, Shirley MacLaine, Gwen Verdon, Cher, Bette Midler, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Doris Day, Juliet Prowse, Debbie Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Carol Lawrence, Betty White, Lily Tomlin, Lisa Kirk, Rudolf Nureyev... the list is nearly endless. He also worked with both THE MUPPETS and Sid and Marty Krofft. In his later years he directed Star Search and worked with a whole new crop of talent - young Justin Timberlake, Leanne Rhymes and Beyonce among others. He also directed The MISS UNIVERSE PAGEANT for many years (among other pageants) which took him all over the world to meet the heads of state.

Tony formed a special relationship with Mitzi Gaynor for whom he directed multiple TV specials and with whom he won one of his three Emmys.

Tony was known for being fun to work with. He was a creative problem solver. He was a hard worker who didn't wait for an opportunity to come to him. He was more interested in finding movements that worked for the performer and the context rather than forcing a fixed style on every project he did. He also believed that the camera needed to be choreographed just as much as the dancers, and from the very beginning of his career always blocked the camera movements before every shoot.

At the age of 90, Tony bought a computer and with his friend, Paul Manchester created a book of his life's adventures: Stars In My Eyes.


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