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Geoffrey Lamont Holder (August 20, 1930 – October 5, 2014) was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. His parents emigrated to Trinidad from Barbados. Holder was a stage, television, and film actor, voice-over artist, choreographer, dancer, painter, singer, and Tony Award winning stage director and costume designer. He was married to fellow dancer and actress Carmen de Lavallade whom he met when both were in the cast of the musical House of Flowers, together they had one son, Léo.
In 1952, choreographer Agnes de Mille saw Geoffrey Holder dance in St. Thomas. She invited him to New York; he would teach at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance for two years. Holder was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York City from 1955 to 1956. He made his Broadway debut in House of Flowers, a musical by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote. He also starred in an all-black production of Waiting for Godot in 1957. He began his movie career in the 1962 British film All Night Long, a modern remake of Shakespeare’s Othello. He followed that with Doctor Dolittle in 1967 as Willie Shakespeare, leader of the natives of Sea-Star Island. In 1972, he was cast as the Sorcerer in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*. The following year he was a henchman – Baron Samedi – in the Bond-movie Live and Let Die. He contributed to the film’s choreography. In addition to his movie appearances, Holder became a spokesman for the 1970s and 1980s 7 Up soft drink “uncola.” In 1975, Holder won two Tony Awards for direction and costume design of The Wiz, the all-black musical version of The Wizard of Oz. Holder was the first black man to be nominated in either category. He won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design. The show ran for 1672 performances. As a choreographer, Holder created dance pieces for many companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for which he provided choreography, music, and costumes for Prodigal Prince in 1967, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, for which he provided choreography, music, and costumes for Dougla (Dougla is a word used mainly by people of Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana to describe Caribbean people who are a product of African and Indian descent) in 1974, and designed costumes for Firebird in 1982. In 1978, Holder directed and choreographed the Broadway musical Timbuktu! Holder’s 1957 piece “Bele” is part of the Dance Theater of Harlem repertory. In the 1982 film Annie, Holder played the role of Punjab. He was in the 1992 film Boomerang with Eddie Murphy. He was also the voice of Ray in Bear in the Big Blue House and provided narration for Tim Burton’s version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He reprised his role as the 7 Up Spokesman in the 2011 season finale of The Celebrity Apprentice, where he appeared as himself in a commercial for “7 Up Retro” for Marlee Matlin’s team. Holder was a prolific painter, patrons of his art included Lena Horne and William F. Buckley, Jr., an ardent art collector, book author, and music composer. As a painter, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship in fine arts in 1956. A book of his photography, Adam, was published by Viking Press in 1986.
House of Flowers, Original Musical, 1954 – Banda dance choreography, performer
Josephine Baker, musical review, 1954 – Performer
Waiting for Godot, revival (all black cast), 1957 – Performer
The Wiz, original musical, 1975 – Direction, costume design (Tony Award for Best Costume Design and Best Direction of a Musical, 1975)
Timbuktu!, original musical, 1978 – Direction, choreography, costume design, playbill cover illustration
The Wiz, revival, 1984 – Direction, costume design
The Boys’ Choir of Harlem and Friends, staged concert, 1993 – Staging