Agnes de Mille was raised among screen legends. The niece of Hollywood founder Cecil B. DeMille and the daughter of William de Mille, a Broadway playwright who became a respected film director in the silent era, she was accustomed to movie stardom. But when she saw Anna Pavlova perform, she was so dazzled that she instantly decided to make dance her life.
She began as a choreographer in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s when, as she described it, “there were no rules.” Her breakthrough work, Rodeo, premiered in 1942 and did for dance, as she explained, what the Gershwins were doing in music. This triumph launched her long-term collaboration with Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, beginning with their landmark 1943 musical Oklahoma! De Mille’s singular contribution—integrating dance into the musical’s narrative flow—established her as Broadway’s preeminent choreographer.