He left college to tour with Earl Carroll‘s Vanities, playing five shows a day on the movie circuit for three months. “They said if I was interested in joining them, I had to be in Kansas City the next morning. So I quickly quit school and joined the show.” The movie circuit consisted of performing between movie screenings at theatres across the country.
His fledgling career was interrupted by the World War IIdraft. He spent the next three years in an Army uniform, chauffeuring officers and the occasional entertainer – such as Marlene Dietrich and Dinah Shore – around Europe. He received five Battle Stars and the Bronze Star.
After his discharge and the GI bill, he went to New York City, where he immediately enrolled at the former Alviene School for the Dramatic Arts, where Fred Astaire studied. He was also a student at the American Theatre Wing from 1947–50, studying dance with Russian ballet teachers Helena Platova and Edward Caton, English ballet teachers Antony Tudor and Margaret Craske, Modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Hanya Holm and Doris Humphrey, Japanese modern teacher Yeichi Nimura, and African-American modern dance innovator Katherine Dunham.