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Paul Draper; Tap-Danced to Classical Music

September 24, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paul Draper, the gentleman's tap-dancer, who tapped out intricate rhythms to classical music, earning the accolade "aristocrat of tap," has died. He was 86.

Draper, who was prominent in the 1930s and 1940s, died Friday of emphysema at his home in Woodstock, N.Y.

He frequently tap-danced to the sounds of harmonica player Larry Adler, and the duo was often joined by pianist John Colman.

When the three performed in 1942 at the old Philharmonic Auditorium near Pershing Square, Times music critic Isabel Morse Jones wrote: "Draper is the most authentic artist. He has the grace of form, the freedom that is born of control."

When Draper danced solo in 1956 at UCLA's Royce Hall, another Times reviewer commented: "He has evolved a routine which combines tap with techniques of classical ballet and which allows him to base his one-man choreographies on any type of music, classical, folk and popular. Mr. Draper is, of course, a masterful dancer, resilient, elegant and capable of tapping out the most complicated and subtle rhythmical patterns with the greatest of ease."

The dancer's resilience in particular was tested in the McCarthy Era of the early 1950s, when he was accused of being a Communist sympathizer.

In 1950, Draper's dance routine was snipped out of a CBS segment of Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" because the network received protests. His bookings were also canceled on other television programs and at several upscale hotels around the country.

Draper said he was a supporter of several organizations that had been called subversive by the U.S. attorney general's office, but steadfastly denied any Communist affiliations.

He and Adler filed a $200,000 libel suit against a Connecticut housewife who had branded them pro-Communist. After the 1950 trial ended in a hung jury, Draper left the United States to live in Switzerland for three years. He later resumed his career but never recaptured his original popularity.

"I really would have been kind of ashamed if I had not been blacklisted in the climate of those days," Draper told The Times in 1975. "I look back now, almost detached, and I'm not upset. I wasn't too upset even then."

Born in Florence, Italy, and raised partly in London, Draper was a natural dancer who in the United States got a job as a teacher at an Arthur Murray dance studio. He took only six lessons in tap at Tommy Nip's Broadway dance school. Later he enrolled in the School of American Ballet and developed his trademark style of tap and ballet.

In his later years, Draper taught at the Carnegie Mellon Institute.

A widower, Draper is survived by three daughters, Pamela and Kate Draper and Susan Kosowski, all of New York.

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