Alex Romero, 94; choreographer for Elvis in ‘Jailhouse Rock’

Times Staff Writer

Alex Romero, a dancer and choreographer who directed Elvis Presley’s dancing for the movie “Jailhouse Rock” and also worked with Presley on three other films, has died. He was 94.

Romero died Sept. 8 of natural causes at the Motion Picture and Television Fund home, according to Mark Knowles, a dance writer and friend. He had been a resident of the home for several years.

A gracefully athletic dancer, Romero got his start in movies in the early 1940s. He was a featured dancer in “On the Town,” a 1949 film that starred Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He also performed in the 1951 film “An American in Paris,” which also starred Kelly.

He worked as an assistant choreographer before he went out on his own. His earliest solo credits include “The Affairs of Dobie Gillis,” starring Bobby Van and Debbie Reynolds in 1953.


Romero was named staff choreographer for MGM in the late 1940s and held the position for almost 20 years.

“Alex was the last link to the Golden Age of movie musicals,” said Larry Billman, author of the encyclopedia “Film Choreographers and Dance Directors” (1997). “Fortunately, before Alex left he moved movie choreography into the next generation.”

Romero was known for his humor and imaginative use of props in dances he choreographed. In “The Fastest Gun Alive,” a 1956 western, he choreographed Russ Tamblyn, who danced with a shovel as a prop. Romero also worked with Tamblyn on “Tom Thumb” in 1958.

His other film credits include “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm,” a 1962 movie with a number of dance scenes, and “Love at First Bite,” a 1979 comedy starring George Hamilton and Susan Saint James.


For Presley, Romero choreographed “Double Trouble” and “Clambake” in 1967 as well as “Speedway” the next year.

Their most memorable collaboration remained “Jailhouse Rock” in 1957.

“Jailhouse became a signature piece for Elvis, and it helped make rock ‘n’ roll an acceptable dance form for films,” Knowles said.

The production number for the movie’s title song was Presley’s first choreographed routine, according to “Down at the End of Lonely Street: The Life and Death of Elvis Presley,” by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske (1997).

“I guess he thought that I was going to give him some slick dancing steps,” Romero said in the book. “I chose steps that were foreign to him, but that were also like him, so he could pick them up.”

Born Alexander Bernard Quiroga on Aug. 20, 1913, in San Antonio, he started dancing professionally at 15 in a touring dance act started by three of his brothers. The act broke up in the late 1930s. Romero went to work in Hollywood soon after that.

He married Frances Driscoll in 1936. She died in 1997. Romero is survived by his daughters Melinda Akard of Oviedo, Fla., and Judy George of Woodland Hills; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Contributions in his name can be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, Box 51150, Los Angeles, CA, 90051.