Emile Ardolino, 1943-1993
Story by Irwin M. Rappaport
Recording by Whoopi Goldberg
Photo of Emile Ardolino with Whoopi Goldberg © Touchstone Pictures (all rights reserved)
Hey, I’m Whoopi Goldberg. Did you know that Emile Ardolino directed me in Sister Act? You remember that movie where I play a nightclub singer who witnesses a murder, hides from the mob in a convent, and turns the dreary choir into singing and dancing sensation. You know the movie, it was released in 1992 and was a huge hit. At the 1993 Golden Globe awards, I was nominated for best actress, and the picture was nominated for best comedy or musical. But in November of that same year, Emile Ardolino passed away from AIDS at the age of 50.
It’s really interesting, no one on the set knew Emile was ill so his passing came as a shock. And if you’ve ever been on a set and you watch actors and directors talk about what they think needs to happen, it can be very animated and sometimes it seems a little combative. And so I had to really wrack my brain to see if I had, you know, exacerbated everything, I don’t think I did. But I have to tell you, we did a good film, we made a good film, he was really a good director.
Making movies about dancing, however, was Emile’s passion. Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, was perhaps Emile’s best-known picture featuring dance. But it was for his documentary He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’ about ballet dancer Jacques D’Amboise’s work with children that he won an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award in 1983.
According to his New York Times obituary, he loved capturing dance on film because when you’re watching dance on television, “you can be in five seats at the same time — every time you change an angle.”
Emile produced and often directed the acclaimed television series Dance in America from 1975 to 1983. For that series, he received a Director’s Guild award and three DGA nominations, and won another Emmy award. Over the course of his career, Emile was nominated for over a dozen Emmys. His documentary of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker was released just days after his death.
The other films directed by Emile include Chances Are, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Cybil Shepherd, and Three Men and a Little Lady, starring Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg. His last picture, Gypsy, starring Bette Midler, was released after his passing. He won an Emmy as best director, the picture was nominated for best TV movie or mini-series, and Bette won the Emmy for best actress.
The thing about Emile was, he was a gentle soul, he was a gentle soul who loved the idea of being able to move your arms, and move your feet, and to bring joy. I have a vision of Emile reunited with all the dancers we’ve lost to AIDS and dancers we’ve lost over the eons, and I think to myself, my goodness, what a gorgeous performance that would make. I’m in no rush to see it now, but maybe just thinking about it is enough.