Fosse/Verdon and All That Jazz
In the light of the new TV series Fosse/Verdon I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce one of my favorite choreographers of all time: Bob Fosse.
You’ve probably heard people talking about jazz hands. You probably even know what they are. But who was the man behind the famous jazz hands?
His name was Bob Fosse.
When I was fourteen years old I signed up for classes in jazz dance, without having any idea of what it truly entailed. I fell in love. I’m still in love. And a lot of that is thanks to Bob Fosse. When I think of dancing, I often think about Fosse. Because his choreographies are some of the most joyous choreographies I’ve ever danced.
You probably know of Bob Fosse too, even if you’ve never heard his name. If you’ve seen Sweet Charity, Pippin, Chicago, or Cabaret, you’ve seen the choreographies of Bob Fosse.
So who was Bob Fosse?
Bob Fosse was born in Chicago in 1927. His father was a traveling salesman for The Hershey Company, so it’s safe to assume that he ate a fair amount of chocolate growing up.
At the age of 13 he started performing professionally with Charles Grass — they called themselves The Riff Brothers and toured theatres in the Chicago area. He practically grew up around variety shows and strip joints, which influenced his choreography later — it was sensual. It is also rumored to have influenced his “wandering eye.”
After high school, Fosse enlisted in the navy, where traveled around performing during WWII. He never partook in military action, as he was still in boot camp when the war ended. When he came home, he moved to New York and started performing in the Big Apple.
These performances led to Fosse being discovered by Jerry Lee Lewis, who first put him onto choreography. Shortly thereafter, he started choreographing films and then landed on Broadway. The rest, as they say, is history but it involves choreographing and directing a great number of shows and movies.
Bob Fosse was a man who won more Tony awards than any other choreographer ever has — eight in total.
Like so many other successful people though, his success did not always translate to happiness off stage and screen. Fosse was married three times — the last marriage being the one to Verdon.
Verdon and Fosse met when they were working on Damn Yankees together. Their collaboration soon became personal and Fosse divorced his then-wife and married Verdon in 1960. In 1963 they had a daughter, Nicole, but in 1971 they separated, mainly due to Fosse’s extramarital affairs. Verdon is known to have said: “Bob grew up around strip clubs. Women were his hobby. He’d even cheat on his mistress. Part of him felt guilty, another part was ecstatic.”
Later in his life, he was also struggling with stress, epilepsy, alcoholism and drug addiction, which the semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz shows. The film went onto winning four Oscars.
What’s so interesting about Fosse and Verdon though is that they never stopped loving each other, or working together. In fact, while they separated, they never divorced. Their relationship didn’t pan out, but that didn’t break their friendship.
When two creative forces like Verdon and Fosse come together and art is born, it’s fascinating to watch. You see two people who profoundly change each other’s lives, while influencing thousands of others with their art. It’s the same as when two entrepreneurs come together and a business is born.
My hope for the new Fosse/Verdon production is that we get to see their creative relationship. Of course, I’m biased. I still remember watching All That Jazz, completely enthralled by the dancing. The movie is sad, yet what stuck with me was the thrill of watching them dance. We all view stories differently, just as we interpret them differently and find ourselves in different parts of the plot. Some people will hate Fosse’s choreographies as much as I love them.