Joe Layton; Choreographer, Director for Stage, TV


Joe Layton, dancer, choreographer, director and producer who won Tony awards for Broadway hits “No Strings” and “George M!” and an Emmy for the first of his four Barbra Streisand television specials, has died. He was 64.

Layton, who also worked on the closing ceremonies for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, died Thursday at a hospital in Key West, Fla., after an extended illness.

The peripatetic “stager,” as he liked to be called, created not only for the musical stage and television, but also for concerts and film.


He showcased such concert stars as Julio Iglesias, Joel Grey, Raquel Welch, Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Vic Damone and Ann-Margret. On film, he staged the flapper-era dances for the 1967 “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Bette Midler’s war-era antics for the 1991 “For the Boys.” He also served as executive producer for “Annie” in 1982.

In addition to his four specials for Streisand beginning with the Emmy-winner “My Name Is Barbra” in 1965, Layton created television shows for Cher, the Carpenters, Diana Ross, Olivia Newton-John, Carol Burnett, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson.

“I look at the person who’s to star in the show and try to see what it is he needs, then use my imagination to provide whatever it is,” Layton told The Times in 1966. “I also like to tell a story, not with a lot of dialogue, but visually. After all, TV is a visual medium, isn’t it?”

He was also known for creating large-scale productions such as the Lionel Richie portion of the closing ceremonies for the 1984 Olympics and President Clinton’s inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1993. Los Angeles audiences also saw his work in fund-raisers for AIDS Project Los Angeles such as the 1985 “Commitment to Life I” honoring Elizabeth Taylor and Betty Ford and the 1991 “Commitment to Life V” honoring Midler.

In recent years, Layton had served as creative director of the entertainment division of Radio City Music Hall Productions and had staged the currently touring Rockettes show with Susan Anton.

Born Joseph Lichtman in Brooklyn, Layton was graduated from New York’s School of Music and Art in 1948. He made his Broadway debut as a dancer in “Oklahoma!” in 1947, and danced in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in 1949 and “Wonderful Town” in 1953. After serving in the Army in the early 1950s, he danced with a French ballet company for six months.


Layton moved into choreography in the late 1950s and earned his first significant recognition for “Once Upon a Mattress” in 1959, the show that propelled Carol Burnett to fame. The same year he choreographed “Sound of Music” for Mary Martin.

He earned his Tonys for the dances in “No Strings” in 1962 and “George M!” in 1969.

By 1970, Layton had moved into directing, with “Scarlet” at London’s prestigious Drury Lane Theatre and “Two by Two” on Broadway.

Because of his love of North Carolina’s outer islands, Layton rewrote and for two decades directed the outdoor historic play “The Lost Colony” in Manteo, N.C., where private memorial services will be conducted.

A public memorial will be scheduled for July in New York, and a Joe Layton Arts Scholarship Fund is being established.

Layton is survived by his son, Jeb James Layton.