"And he answered, 'That's not sexy. That's like a limp fish. Put that arm out there, strong! That's sexy! That's life, that's alive, that's energy!' "

In his 1984 Cole biography, "Unsung Genius," Loney quotes music arranger Peter Matz: "The persona Marilyn showed in her film musicals was Jack Cole. He grabbed on to something in her. She followed everything he gave her. Phrasing! The gestures, the walk. All of it!"

In fact, "Diamonds" belongs to Cole. He directed it. Feeling unqualified, Hawks opted out of "Gentlemen's" musical numbers. Russell told McCarthy, "Hawks was not even there." Verdon agreed, telling McCarthy, "Jack decided where the camera should be, setup by setup, in consultation with [director of photography] Harry Wild. He also synced camera angles with [editor] Hugh Fowler. Hawks stood by and let Jack do what he wanted."

Cole used a heavy hand in reworking "Diamonds" from the Broadway version, Schaefer recalls: "The original concept for the number was way too square. Cole redid it in a sensual way for Marilyn. He told me, 'I want to make it swing. I want to get it loose.'

"The part where she bumps and grinds, sensually naming famous jewelers, Tiffany's, Cartier, Black Starr -- that's not in the [Jules Styne/Leo Robin] original. That's Jack's material. He wrote it. Then he taught Marilyn how to move on it."

The moves he made

Like Monroe the product of a fatherless home, the New Jersey-born Cole began his career with Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis' Denishawn modern dance ensemble. Disenchanted with Denishawn's pseudo-Orientalism, he studied India's bharata natyam. In a moment of inspired genre-busting, Cole infused Indian dance into his jazz-based supper club act. The cool combination fit surprisingly well with postwar beatnik culture.

An odd-looking man with high cheekbones and one lopsided eye, this exotic creature dressed like an Indian swami garnered bookings at top nightclubs. He was a regular at New York's Rainbow Room and bookings at Ciro's and Slapsy Maxie brought him to Los Angeles. So did Hollywood.

In 1941, Cole and his dancers first appeared in "Moon Over Miami." In 1946, after blessing the formerly shy Rita Hayworth with her sultry "Mame" number, she championed him at Columbia Pictures. (Betty Grable did the same at Fox.) For four years, Cole ran a resident dance group at Columbia, where innumerable dancers ruined their knees perfecting the master's diabolical floor slides.

In 30-plus movies, many uncredited, Cole lighted a blowtorch under 1950s bombshells -- Grable, Hayworth, Bacall, Russell, Gaynor, Ann Miller, Lana Turner, Dolores Gray and Monroe. Fifties screen virgins like Doris Day are not on this list; Cole's work sizzled with sex. Although he purported to loathe L.A. (keeping a Manhattan pied-à-terre for Broadway work), Cole's primary residence was in the Hollywood Hills from 1943 until his death from cancer at 62 in 1974. In his last two years of life, he was a treasured UCLA dance instructor and a scholar with an impressive private dance library.

The partnership

During production planning for "Gentlemen" in March 1952, word of Monroe's nude calendar photos from the late '40s exploded in the media. Darryl Zanuck reacted unambiguously in a memo: "Cover her up." Travilla, Monroe's costumer, ditched his original design for "Diamonds" -- a low-cut rhinestone burlesque bikini worn over a giant fishnet body stocking (photos show Monroe posing uneasily in it).

Replacing this cheesy look was an astonishingly sophisticated form-fitting fuchsia evening gown. Cole, a costume maven, may have influenced it. The classy outfit bears a striking similarity to Hayworth's get-up in "Mame" -- also a strapless evening gown worn with opera gloves designed by Jean-Louis.

(Travilla said in a 1981 L.A. Times fashion column that he lined the hot-pink peau de soie tube with felt to keep all of Monroe's parts moving in one direction. "But underneath that, Marilyn wore Marilyn," he added slyly.)

In July 1953, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" opened to glowing reviews, particularly for Monroe. The Hollywood Reporter praised her "wiggle terps." Newsweek noted that the "camera itself can be the most expressive of dancers" while leaking Monroe's secret, which was "to avoid repose, always keeping lips, hips or some other department at least slightly in motion." Time's critic wrote, "she dances, or rather undulates all over, fluttering the heaviest eyelids in show business."

In her difficult 1954 contract renegotiation with Fox, Monroe demanded the right to approve her drama coach, Natasha Lytess, and her choreographer, Jack Cole. Monroe and Cole worked again in "River of No Return" and "There's No Business like Show Business" (1954), "Bus Stop" (1956) and "Some Like It Hot" (1959).

In the end, Monroe drove Cole crazy too. During the 10-week rehearsal period for "Let's Make Love" (1960), Cole fumed in a dance studio with Monroe showing up late, if at all. The resulting mess of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" ranks many notches below the sparkling perfection of "Diamonds."

But they were friends. By 1962, Monroe included Cole in her close coterie, and they were telephone buddies. She leaned on him, among others, hard in the end.

Jack Cole took a gorgeous woman at the height of her physical beauty and gave her the ability to communicate with her body, a means of expression beyond cinema's main instruments of face and voice. He expanded her repertoire as a film artist. It was an immense gift, and Marilyn Monroe knew it.

calendar@latimes.com