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Looking Back at the ‘Fosse/Verdon’ Dancing Legends That Inspired FX Series

On April 9, FX debuts “Fosse/Verdon,” about two people who may not be household names, but are certainly in the Pantheon to those who love musicals.

In the Jan. 25, 1950, issue, Variety reviewer Hobe Morrison lamented the stage revue “Alive and Kicking,” but gave one of the few positive mentions to newcomer Gwen Verdon. (Among others in the cast: Carl Reiner.) Variety’s first story about Bob Fosse ran on July 24, 1952, when he signed as a performer with MGM. The two met in 1955, when she starred in Broadway’s “Damn Yankees,” which he choreographed. In the May 6, 1955, review, Morrison had problems with the show, but high praise for both of them. For the 1958 film, they reprised those duties and he also appeared in the “Who’s Got the Pain” mambo number.

The teaming of director-choreographer Fosse and star Verdon was unbeatable for years with such Broadway shows as “Redhead” (1960), “Sweet Charity” (1966) and the original “Chicago” (1975). Fosse also made awards history by winning an Emmy, Oscar and Tony within one year, for “Liza With a Z,” “Cabaret” and “Pippin,” respectively. Even though estranged, he and Verdon remained married until his death in 1987.

In her career, Verdon won four Tony Awards, and was nominated for two others. Though she was a certifiable Broadway Baby, she was born in Culver City and appeared in many films as an uncredited dancer early in her career.

Her big breakthrough was in the 1953 Cole Porter stage musical “Can-Can.” As the second female lead, she stole the show and emerged as a star. But that didn’t boost her stock in Hollywood.

In 1955, Variety ran a page one story that Verdon’s dance number would be cut from “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes” because censors worried about the garter worn on her thigh. Yes, life was very different in the 1950s.

Fosse was born in Chicago and made a few films under his MGM contract, such as the 3D “Kiss Me Kate” and “My Sister Eileen.” But his bigger successes were as a choreographer, with his first stage musical “The Pajama Game” (1954), followed by other hits like “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1961).

After his Broadway hits, he went on to direct five films: “Sweet Charity” starring Shirley MacLaine (1969); “Cabaret” (1972); “Lenny,” with Dustin Hoffman (1974); “All That Jazz” (1979) and “Star 80” (1983) with Mariel Hemingway. Except for “Charity,” they were all studies of the dark-but-hypnotically beautiful worlds of showbiz.

Fosse’s awards tally was outstanding, with a record eight Tony Awards as choreographer (and another as director), plus Oscar nominations as director for three of his five films: “Cabaret” (winning), “Lenny” and “All That Jazz.” That last quasi-musical, starring Roy Scheider, was a semi-autobiographical look at his complex personal relationships, his creative urges and his disregard for his own health.

Fosse died of a heart attack in 1987, collapsing on the street in Verdon’s arms; Verdon continued to work until her death in 2000.

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