Spotlight Saturday: Bob Fosse

This week's Spotlight Saturday features American musical theatre choreographer Bob Fosse.

Bob Fosse, 'Give a Girl a Break', 1953

Robert Louis Fosse was born June 23 1927 in Chicago, Illinois, to Cyril and Sara Alice Fosse. He attended dance schools as a child, and began dancing professionally at 13, when he teamed up with Charles Gaff to form The Riff Brothers. After high school, Fosse enlisted in the US Navy, and was assigned to an entertainment unit. With the variety show, Tough Situation, he toured military and naval bases in the Pacific before his discharge in 1947. He then moved to New York where he studied acting at the American Theatre Wing while also dancing with his first wife, Mary Ann Niles, on stage and on television shows such as Your Hit Parade. During the 1950-1 tour of the show, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis saw the couple's act at New York's Pierre Hotel and scheduled them to appear on Colgate Comedy Hour. Fosse was also appearing on the stage, making his Broadway debut in Dance Me a Song (1950) and acting as understudy for the title role in Pal Joey (1952-3), and he took on the part on tour.

Bob Fosse and Viveca Lindfors, 1963 revival of 'Pal Joey'

In 1953, Fosse was signed by MGM. His early film appearances include The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Give a Girl a Break, and Kiss Me Kate. A short scene that he choreographed and performed with Carol Heney in Kiss Me Kate brought him to the attention of Broadway producers. In 1954 he returned to Broadway as the choreographer for The Pajama Game, directed by George Abbott and Jerome Robbins. The production earned him his first Tony Award. He earned another Tony when he again teamed with Abbott for Damn Yankees in 1955-7. It was while working on this musical that he met his third wife, Gwen Verdon, who was starring. Fosse would be recalled as choreographer when the two musicals were adapted for film.

Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse in the film adaptation of 'Damn Yankees' 1958

Fosse's first experience as a director came with the musical Redhead (1959-60), which he also choreographed. The production starred Verdon, and again Fosse's choreography won a Tony. He also won Tonys for Little Me (1962-3, starring Sid Caesar), and Sweet Charity (1966-7, starring Verdon). He was invited to direct the film adaptation of Sweet Charity by Universal, though the finished film received mixed reviews. His next film was Cabaret, an adaptation of Fred Ebb and John Kander's stage production. Starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, the film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director for Fosse. Minnelli and Grey also received Oscars.

'Rich Man's Frug', from the film adaptation of 'Sweet Charity', 1969

Fosse again worked with Liza Minnelli for the TV show Liza with a Z, which won him Emmy awards for direction and choreography. In 1972, Pippin opened on Broadway, and a year later Fosse won Tonys for Best Director (Musical) and Choreography (making him the first person to win a Tony, an Oscar, and an Emmy in the same year - 1973). In 1974, Fosse left musicals for a biopic of tragic comic Lenny Bruce; the film was critically acclaimed, earning six Oscar nominations. He then returned to musicals: Chicago (1975-77), which he co-wrote, directed and choreographed, and Dancin' (1978-82), which earned him another Tony for choreography.

'Manson Trio', Revival of Fosse's 'Pippin'

Following open-heart surgery, Fosse directed All That Jazz (1979), an autobiographical film which was nominated for nine Academy Awards and two Oscars. His last film was Star 80 (1983), a biopic about a Playboy star who was murdered by her husband. He once again returned to theatre, where he wrote, directed and choreographed Big Deal (1986), which earned him his final Tony. The same year, he was involved in a revival of Sweet Charity. When the production moved to Washington D.C in 1987, he suffered a fatal heart attack on opening night, September 23 1987, aged 60.

Fosse's 'All That Jazz', 'Chicago'

An excerpt from Sweet Charity (1969):

Rehearsal footage of the original cast of Chicago (1975) - blurry but so worth it! (This is early stages of rehearsal so some scenes were later tweaked by Fosse):

And Ben Vareen and the cast of Pippin, 'Magic Can Do' at the 1973 Tony Awards:

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Ninette de Valois.

- Selene

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