You’d be forgiven for thinking that Fosse/Verdon, FX’s latest sumptuous, detailed period piece chronicling a remarkable true story, is a Ryan Murphy production. A biographical drama exploring the interlocked lives of two Broadway legends—director-choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and dancer-actress Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams)—the show owes a clear debt to Murphy’s American Crime Story and more emphatically Feud: Bette and Joan. But Fosse/Verdon is in fact brought to television by a group of producers whose backgrounds are primarily in Broadway, including Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen) and Hamilton‘s Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Though based on Sam Wasson’s 2013 biography Fosse, the series is equally as interested in both Fosse and Verdon, chronicling their decades-long professional and romantic partnership while also exploring both of their complex relationships to the creative work that made them famous.
Ahead of Fosse/Verdon’s April 9 premiere on FX, here’s a timeline detailing the extraordinary true story of Fosse and Verdon’s partnership.
1953: Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon meet at a party hosted by choreographer Michael Kidd.
According to Wasson’s Fosse, Verdon and Fosse knew each other from working at MGM (Fosse was a contracted dancer at the studio while Verdon was choreographer Jack Cole’s assistant and the lead can-can dancer on 1952’s The Merry Widow) and had a lengthy conversation at Kidd’s that night. The two had also crossed paths at the audition for stage musical Alive and Kicking in 1949; Cole was choreographing the show, while Fosse and then-wife and dance partner Mary Ann Niles were auditioning.
1955: Fosse and Verdon unite on the Broadway musical Damn Yankees.
Fosse and Verdon were both already relatively well established by the time they met again, on the original Broadway production of George Abbott’s Damn Yankees. Verdon was a rising star following her Tony-winning performance in 1954’s Can-Can; her turn in that show’s ballet number “The Garden of Eden” famously earned her a standing ovation in the middle of the premiere show, the applause so prolonged that Verdon was called back to the stage from her dressing room to make a curtain call.
Damn Yankees was Fosse’s second musical as choreographer—his first being 1954’s The Pajama Game—and he was initially resistant to the idea of casting Verdon as the female lead. He requested that he and Verdon first meet and rehearse together to see whether they could work together. “I had a reputation for being difficult… and I was,” Verdon said during a 1991 interview on CUNY Television. “I was difficult because I couldn’t stand bad dancing.” Fosse knew of her reputation before their meeting, Verdon said, but there was an instant connection as soon as they met. The rest, as they say, is history; both Fosse and Verdon would go on to win Tony Awards for the show, and this success marked the beginning of a fruitful partnership.
1959: Fosse divorces his wife Joan McCracken.
Both Fosse and Verdon had been previously married when they met, but Fosse was also currently married to his second wife, dancer and actress Joan McCracken. Fosse was unfaithful to McCracken with Verdon for several years before the divorce (Wasson tracks the affair back to Damn Yankees), as McCracken’s health was declining due to complications from diabetes. She would die less than two years after her divorce from Fosse.
April 3, 1960: Fosse and Verdon are married in Chicago.
In 1960, Fosse and Verdon collaborated on the Broadway show Redhead, which marked the first time Fosse was both director and choreographer on a show. Verdon starred, and while the show was on tour in Fosse’s home town of Chicago, the pair got married. Shortly afterwards, Verdon retired from show business to focus on raising a family, and the couple’s daughter, Nicole Fosse, was born in 1963.
January 29, 1966: Sweet Charity premieres on Broadway.
One of Fosse and Verdon’s most famous collaborations was the 1966 original production of Sweet Charity, on which Fosse served as choreographer-director while Verdon played the eponymous role of a dance hall hostess named Charity. Broadway Direct notes it was this show that began to cement “the Fosse style,” wherein dancers contort their bodies into sharp and specific angles during dance numbers. The show received a total of nine Tony nominations, and won Fosse his fifth Tony for choreography.
1971: Fosse and Verdon formally separate.
Fosse’s extramarital affairs had long been a strain on the couple’s marriage, and by the early 1970s it had been pushed to its breaking point. “He was a notorious womanizer,” Kevin Winkler, author of Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical, told Biography. “He was never faithful to any of his wives or girlfriends.” Verdon walked in on Fosse with a “a couple of German girls” during filming of Cabaret, a friend told Wasson in Fosse. “That was it for her. That was the last straw.”
Though Fosse and Verdon separated in 1971, they never divorced, and continued to be involved in one another’s creative work. After his split with Verdon, Fosse dated dancer Ann Reinking and was reportedly involved with actress Jessica Lange for a time.
“There was a connection between them that ran deep,” Winkler says of Fosse and Verdon. “It was forged in the rehearsal room. He once said the best times in his life were working in a rehearsal room with Gwen. He said if he could have put a bed and refrigerator in the rehearsal room and lived there everything would have been great. The trouble started when he left the rehearsal room.”
1972: Fosse finds big-screen success with Cabaret.
Fosse’s second feature as director, following his 1969 adaptation of Sweet Charity, was the 1972 adaptation of Cabaret, which came to represent a breakthrough moment for his career. The film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director for Fosse. Verdon traveled to Berlin, where the film was shot, to help Fosse during the production. This was one of many instances where Verdon worked in an uncredited capacity.
1975: Fosse and Verdon collaborate on Chicago.
Fosse, seeking a new star vehicle for Verdon, returned to Broadway and enlisted the songwriting duo Kander and Ebb to develop a musical adaptation of the play Chicago. Fosse directed and choreographed the show while Verdon starred as chorus girl Roxie Hart. Although Verdon earned another Tony nomination for what would prove to be her final stage role, the show’s run was not smooth: Fosse suffered a heart attack shortly after rehearsals began, and Verdon needed surgery after inhaling a piece of confetti shortly after opening. Liza Minnelli, star of Cabaret and the bigger celebrity, temporarily replaced Verdon, turning Chicago into a hit.
Still, the show’s opening was overshadowed by that of A Chorus Line, which would go on to be the breakout Broadway show of the year. But a few decades later—after Fosse’s death—the 1996 revival of Chicago would open to huge success, ultimately becoming the second longest-running Broadway show of all time.
1979: All That Jazz wins Fosse more big-screen plaudits.
Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film about a womanizing and drug-addicted director saw actress Leland Palmer playing a thinly-veiled version of Verdon, and Ann Reinking effectively playing herself as the protagonist’s girlfriend. Verdon collaborated with Fosse on the film, and developed a close working relationship with Reinking. The lead character, played by Roy Scheider, suffers a heart attack during rehearsals for a Broadway show (inspired by Fosse’s own experience on Chicago) and refuses to quit smoking or drugs despite his doctors’ orders. He later dies in the movie’s song-and-dance finale. All That Jazz went on to garner nine Oscar nominations, of which it won four in technical categories.
September 23, 1987: Bob Fosse dies in Washington, D.C.
On his way to the opening performance of Sweet Charity’s revival at Washington, D.C.’s National Theatre, Fosse collapsed in Verdon’s arms on the sidewalk. Shortly after, he died in the hospital from a massive heart attack. Fosse and Verdon were still married on the day he died, and Verdon never remarried. As Ann Reinking told The Telegraph in 2000, “They were married for ever, and Gwen was with him when he died.”
October 18, 2000: Gwen Verdon dies in Vermont.
Verdon passed away from natural causes at the age of 75, during a visit to her daughter Nicole in Woodstock, Vermont. In the last few years of her life, Verdon had collaborated with Nicole and Reinking on the Broadway revue show Fosse, which recreated and celebrated Fosse’s work. “Gwen’s brought something to this production that no one else could bring,” Reinking said of working with Verdon on the show. “She remembers stuff that no one else could possibly. She’ll watch the dancers and then she’ll see that one of them is not flicking their hand in the way Bob used to want them to. She’ll spot something that is tiny yet important. Her memory is phenomenal.”
Source: Read Full Article