HERMES PAN, born Hermes Pangiotopolous in Nashville, Tennessee, was an American dancer and choreographer. His career began with an appearance as a chorus boy in 1928 in the Marx Brothers Broadway production of Animal Crackers. He stayed in New York for three years. During this time, he met Ginger Rogers when they danced together in the show Top Speed . Both dancers soon moved to Hollywood.
Pan first met Fred Astaire on the set of Flying Down to Rio in 1933 at a time when dancing pictures hardly existed. The two men bore an uncanny physical resemblance to each other, not only facially but in their slim physiques, elegant personal style, professional modesty and professionalism. Astaire once told Pan that he was the only person who could dance the way Astaire did. They became very close friends as well as collaborators and it is reported that their artistic relationship even extended to Pan sometimes doubling as Astaire in long shots as well as taking the woman's role opposite Astaire in preliminary rehearsals. "We thought so much alike about music and rhythms. The minute I saw him dance I said 'Oh, this is the kind of dancing I love.' He seemed to be able to do everything I felt inside and wanted to do."
Pan became dance director on all of Astaire's films and choreographed nine of the 10 films pairing Astaire with Ginger Rogers— Roberta, Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, The Barkleys of Broadway are amongst the best remembered.
In the 1950s Pan choreographed a series of slick musicals transposed from stage to screen including Kiss Me Kate with Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller, Flower Drum Song , Silk Stockings , Pal Joey , The Student Prince , Finian's Rainbow and Can-Can . The sleekest of all was My Fair Lady , and he also designed the non-dancing but nevertheless spectacular staging of Cleopatra in 1963 starring Elizabeth Taylor.
Occasionally, he would appear on screen performing his own dance steps—in Moon over Miami , My Gal Sal , and with Lana Turner and Ray Milland, in A Life of Her Own . He also was able to choreograph off the dance floor onto ice for Sonja Heine and in water for Esther Williams. All in all, Hermes Pan provided the routines for 55 films, and other notable dancers who appeared in his films included Juliet Prowse, Cyd Charisse, and Betty Grable.
Together with Astaire, Hermes Pan changed the face of the screen musical, dispensing with the accepted practice of frequent cutting during numbers, and creating routines so meticulously for the camera that the dances give an impression of being filmed in a continuous take. Their collaboration resulted in dance scenes of wit, mastery, elegance, and spontaneity. Pan will always be remembered as one of the great names of the Hollywood musical along with Busby Berkeley, Robert Alton and the Kelly-Donen team.
The Astaire-Pan collaboration is widely accepted as one of the most important forces in dance choreography of 20th century film and television musicals. Astaire called Pan his "ideas man", and while he generally choreographed his own routines, and sometimes worked with other choreographers, he greatly valued the assistance of Pan not just as a source and critic of ideas, but also as a rehearsal partner for the purposes of fine-tuning a routine. Given Astaire's obsessive rehearsal habits, this was no mean task. Pan also performed the essential function of rehearsing Ginger Rogers, whose many other commitments during the filming of the Astaire-Rogers musicals often conflicted with Astaire's rehearsal schedule. In addition, he recorded Ginger's taps in post production.
He continued to collaborate with Astaire right up until the latter's last musical picture: Finian's Rainbow (1968), which was a disaster on a number of fronts, not least for Pan himself. The young director Francis Ford Coppola had no prior experience of film or stage musicals, and proceeded to ride roughshod over Astaire and Pan's plans for the film's dance routines, reintroducing the style of dancing camera of the early 1930's which Astaire had done so much to banish from the Hollywood musical. Eventually, Coppola fired Pan and has since acknowledged his primary responsibility for the film's artistic failure.
Hermes won an Emmy award for the 1958 television special An Evening with Fred Astaire and was recognized with a National Film Award in 1980, and by the Joffrey Ballet in 1986.
He died on September 19th, 1990 at his home in Beverly Hills a few months before his 81st birthday. He’d got up that day and fed his cat and made his bacon and eggs, toast and coffee. After he finished his breakfast he sat down in his favorite chair in his livingroom overlooking his patio and swimming pool. Later that afternoon, a family member who hadn’t been able to reach him, found him still sitting there, already having departed for higher places.