Jerome Robbins (October 11, 1918 – July 29, 1998) was an American theater producer, director, and choreographer known primarily for Broadway Theater and Ballet/Dance, but who also occasionally directed films and directed/produced for television. His work has included everything from classical ballet to contemporary musical theater. Among the numerous stage productions he worked on were On the Town, High Button Shoes, The King And I, The Pajama Game, Bells Are Ringing, West Side Story, Gypsy: A Musical Fable, and Fiddler on the Roof. Robbins is a five time Tony Award winner and a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. He also received two Academy Awards, including the 1961 Academy Award for Best Director with Robert Wise for West Side Story. A documentary about his life and work, Something to Dance About, featuring excerpts from his journals, archival performance and rehearsal footage and interviews with Robbins and his colleagues, premiered in PBS in 2009.
Robbins was born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz, exactly one month before the end of World War I, in the Jewish Maternity Hospital in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side – a neighborhood populated by many immigrants. The Rabinowitz family lived in a large apartment house at 51 East 97th at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue. Known as "Jerry" to those close to him, Robbins was given a middle name that reflected his parents' patriotic enthusiasm for the then-president. Rabinowitz, however, translates to “son of a rabbi”, a name Robbins never liked, since it marked him as the son of an immigrant. So he took the name "Robbins".
In the early 1920s, the Rabinowitz family moved to Weehawken, New Jersey. 10 years earlier, Fred and Adele Astaire had lived there briefly as children, only a block away from one of Robbins's boyhood homes. His father and uncle opened the “Comfort Corset Company,” a unique venture for the family, which had many show business connections, including vaudeville performers and theater owners.