DeMille, Agnes (1905 – 93)
American dancer and choreographer.
SP – Signed photograph: 3″x4″ black/white glossy image signed late in life (side profile).
Born into a well-connected family of theatre professionals. Her father, William C. DeMille and her uncle, Cecil B. DeMille were Hollywood directors. Her mother, Anna, was the daughter of Henry George, the economist. On her father’s side, Agnes was the granddaughter of playwrights Henry Churchill DeMille and Matilda Beatrice DeMille.
Mme. DeMille had a love for acting, originally wanting to become an actress but was told that she was “not pretty enough,” so turned her attention to dance. As a child she had longed to dance but dance at that time was considered more of an activity rather than viable career option. She did not seriously consider dance as a career until graduating from college.
Lacking flexibility and technique, not to mention not possessing a dancer’s physique, classical ballet was the most widely known dance at the time but it limited her opportunities. DeMille taught herself from watching film stars on the set with her father in Hollywood; these were more interesting for her to watch than perfectly turned out legs, and she developed strong character work and compelling performance. One of DeMille’s early jobs, thanks to her father’s connections, was choreographing DeMille’s Cleopatra (1934). DeMille’s dance director, LeRoy Prinz, clashed with the younger DeMille. Her uncle always deferred to Prinz, even after agreeing to his niece’s dances in advance, forcing Agnes to leave the film.
DeMille graduated from UCLA with a degree in English. She then moved to London to studywith Dame Maria Rambert, eventually joining Rambert’s company, The Ballet Club, later Ballet Rambert, and Antony Tudor’s London Ballet.
DeMille went on to found the Agnes DeMille Dance Theatre, later revived as Heritage Dance Theatre. She was a lifelong friend of modern dance and Martha Graham. 1992, published Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, a biography of Graham that de Mille worked on for more than 30 years. Despite suffering a stroke, DeMille went on to author five more books on dance and theatre.