Bob Fosse

Bob Fosse

Fosse with Viveca Lindfors in Broadway musical, Pal Joey (1963)
Born Robert Louis Fosse
(1927-06-23)June 23, 1927
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died September 23, 1987(1987-09-23) (aged 60)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Resting place Cremains scattered in the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of Quogue, New York[1]
40°48′N 72°36′W / 40.8°N 72.6°W / 40.8; -72.6
Occupation Actor, choreographer, dancer, director, screenwriter
Years active 1947–1986
Spouse(s) Mary Ann Niles
(m. 1949; div. 1951)

Joan McCracken
(m. 1952; div. 1959)

Gwen Verdon
(m. 1960; separated 1971)
Partner(s) Ann Reinking (1972–1978)
Children 1

Robert Louis "Bob" Fosse (June 23, 1927 – September 23, 1987) was an American dancer, musical theatre choreographer, director, screenwriter, film director and actor.[2]

He won eight Tony Awards for choreography, more than anyone else, as well as one for direction. He was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for his direction of Cabaret.

Early life and career

Fosse was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 23, 1927, to a Norwegian American father, Cyril K. Fosse, and Irish-born mother, Sara Alice Fosse (née Stanton), the second youngest of six.[2][3] He teamed up with Charles Grass, another young dancer, and began a collaboration under the name The Riff Brothers. They toured theaters throughout the Chicago area. After being recruited, Fosse was placed in the variety show Tough Situation, which toured military and naval bases in the Pacific. Fosse moved to New York City with the ambition of being the new Fred Astaire. His appearance with his first wife and dance partner Mary Ann Niles (1923–1987) in Call Me Mister brought him to the attention of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Fosse and Niles were regular performers on Your Hit Parade during its 1950-51 season, and during this season Martin and Lewis caught their act in New York's Pierre Hotel and scheduled them to appear on the Colgate Comedy Hour. Fosse was signed to a MGM contract in 1953.[4] His early screen appearances included Give A Girl A Break, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis and Kiss Me Kate, all released in 1953. A short sequence that he choreographed in the latter (and danced with Carol Haney) brought him to the attention of Broadway producers.[5]

Although Fosse's acting career in film was cut short by typecasting, he was reluctant to move from Hollywood to theater. Nevertheless, he made the move, and in 1954, he choreographed his first musical, The Pajama Game, followed by George Abbott's Damn Yankees in 1955. It was while working on the latter show that he first met the rising star whom he was to marry in 1960, Gwen Verdon. Verdon won her first Tony Award for Best Actress in Damn Yankees (she had won previously for best supporting actress in Can-Can). (Fosse appears in the film version of Damn Yankees, which he also choreographed, in which Verdon reprises her stage triumph as "Lola"; they partner each other in the mambo number, "Who's Got the Pain".) In 1957 Fosse choreographed New Girl in Town, also directed by Abbott, and Verdon won her second Leading Actress Tony. That year he also choreographed the film version of "Pajama Game" starring Doris Day.

In 1960, Fosse was, for the first time, both director and choreographer of a musical called simply Redhead.[6] With Redhead, Verdon won her third Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical; the show won the Tony for best musical and Fosse won the award for best choreography.[7] Verdon starred in Sweet Charity in 1966, with Fosse again the choreographer-director,[8] and she starred in Chicago in 1975, with Fosse as director and choreographer.[9] (Fosse won the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical in 1973 with Pippin.[10])

Fosse performed a song and dance number in Stanley Donen's 1974 film version of The Little Prince. According to AllMusic, "Bob Fosse stops the show with a slithery dance routine."[11] In 1977, Fosse had a small role in the romantic comedy Thieves.[12]

Notable distinctions of Fosse's style included the use of turned-in knees, the famous "Fosse Amoeba," sideways shuffling, rolled shoulders, and jazz hands.[13] With Astaire as an influence, he used props such as bowler hats, canes and chairs. His trademark use of hats was influenced by his own self-consciousness. According to Martin Gottfried in his biography of Fosse, "His baldness was the reason that he wore hats, and was doubtless why he put hats on his dancers."[14] He used gloves in his performances because he did not like his hands. Some of his most popular numbers include "Steam Heat" (The Pajama Game) and "Big Spender" (Sweet Charity). The "Rich Man's Frug" scene in Sweet Charity is another example of his signature style. Although he was replaced as the director/choreographer for the short-lived 1961 musical The Conquering Hero, he quickly took on the job of choreographer of the 1961 musical hit How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which starred Robert Morse.[14][15]

Later career

Fosse directed five feature films. His first, Sweet Charity (1969), starring Shirley MacLaine, is an adaptation of the Broadway musical he had directed and choreographed. Fosse shot the film largely on location in Manhattan. His second film, Cabaret (1972), won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director, which he won over Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather, starring Marlon Brando. The film was shot on location in Berlin and Munich, Germany; [16] Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey both won Oscars for their roles.[17]

Fosse went on to direct Lenny (1974), a biopic of comic Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, among other awards. However, just as Fosse picked up his Oscar for Cabaret, his Tony for Pippin, and an Emmy for directing Liza Minnelli's television concert, Liza with a Z, his health suffered and he underwent open-heart surgery.

All That Jazz

In 1979, Fosse co-wrote and directed a semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz (1979), which portrayed the life of a womanizing, drug-addicted choreographer-director in the midst of triumph and failure. All That Jazz won four Academy Awards, earning Fosse his third Oscar nomination for Best Director. It also won the Palme d'Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. In the summer and fall of 1980, working with All That Jazz executive producer Daniel Melnick, Fosse commissioned documentary research for a follow-up feature having to do with the motivations that compel people to become performers, but he found the results uninspiring and abandoned the project.

In All That Jazz, Fosse not only toyed with the notion of his own death, but immortalized the two people who would perpetuate the Fosse legacy, Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking. Reinking appears in the film as the protagonist's lover/protégé/domestic-partner. She, like Verdon, would be responsible for keeping Fosse's trademark choreography alive after Fosse's death. Reinking played the role of Roxie Hart in the highly successful New York revival of Chicago, which opened in 1996. She choreographed the dances "in the style of Bob Fosse" for that revival, which is still running on Broadway as of September 2016. In 1999, Verdon served as artistic consultant on a plotless Broadway musical designed to showcase examples of classic Fosse choreography. Called simply Fosse, the three-act musical revue was conceived and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Ann Reinking and choreographed by Reinking and Chet Walker. Verdon and Fosse's daughter, Nicole, received a "special thanks" credit. The show won a Tony for best musical.[18]

Later work

Fosse's final film, Star 80 (1983), was a controversial biopic about slain Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten. The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the same topic. The film was nominated for several awards, and was screened out of competition at the 34th Berlin International Film Festival.[19]

In 1986, Fosse directed, wrote, and choreographed the Broadway production of Big Deal. Although nominated for five Tony awards, and winning for best choreography, the production closed after only 69 performances. During this time, Fosse also considered directing more motion pictures. He was close to filming the life of controversial gossip columnist Walter Winchell which, like Star 80, would have dealt with the dark side of fame, the underbelly of show business, and portraying a Svengali-like character much like Paul Snider. However, Fosse died before starting the Winchell project. Fosse was also in negotiations to film an adaptation of his Broadway sensation Chicago starring Madonna after the Broadway revival's success.

Prior to 1983, Fosse was approached by Arnon Milchan and Paul D. Zimmerman to direct Zimmerman's script The King of Comedy (1983), which would have starred James Woods, Sandra Bernhard, and Sammy Davis Jr., among others. Although the subject matter and the script itself intrigued him, Fosse passed on the project. The script was eventually adapted to the screen, and the film, directed by Scorsese. starred Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis.

Warren Beatty approached Fosse twice to direct Dick Tracy (1990) and a film about the life of Edie Sedgwick which was to have starred Michelle Pfeiffer as Sedgwick and Al Pacino as Andy Warhol. Fosse turned both projects down, and the Edie Sedgwick project was never made. Fosse was also in talks to direct a remake of The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).


Fosse was an innovative choreographer and had multiple achievements in his life. For Damn Yankees, he took a great deal of inspiration from the "father of theatrical jazz dance", Jack Cole.[14] He also took influence from Jerome Robbins. New Girl in Town gave Fosse the inspiration to direct and choreograph his next piece because of the conflict of interest within the collaborators. During that piece, Redhead, the first he had directed as well as choreographed, Fosse utilized one of the first ballet sequences in a show that contained five different styles of dance; Fosse's jazz, a cancan, a gypsy dance, a march, and an old-fashioned English music hall number. Fosse utilized the idea of subtext and gave his dancers something to think about during their numbers. He also began the trend of allowing lighting to influence his work and direct the audience's attention to certain things. During Pippin, Fosse made the first ever television commercial for a Broadway show.[5]

In 1957, both Verdon and Fosse were studying with Sanford Meisner to develop a better acting technique for themselves. According to Michael Joosten, Fosse once said: "The time to sing is when your emotional level is too high to just speak anymore, and the time to dance is when your emotions are just too strong to only sing about how you 'feel.'"[20]

Personal life

Fosse was first married from 1949 to 1951 to dance partner Mary Ann Niles (1923–1987). He remarried in 1952 - to dancer Joan McCracken; this marriage lasted until 1959, when it, too, ended in divorce.[21]

His third wife was dancer/actress Gwen Verdon. In 1960, they had a daughter, Nicole Providence Fosse, who later also became a dancer/actress. He separated from Verdon in the 1970s, but they remained legally married until his death in 1987. Verdon never remarried.[14][22][23] Throughout the 1970s Fosse was also sporadically linked with actress Jessica Lange.

During rehearsals for The Conquering Hero in 1961, it became known that Fosse had epilepsy, when he suffered a seizure onstage.[14]


On September 23, 1987, Fosse died from a heart attack at George Washington University Hospital, while the revival of Sweet Charity was opening at the nearby National Theatre.[2]

Though Fosse's extramarital affairs put a strain on his and Verdon's marriage and by 1971 they were separated, they never divorced. She held him in her arms as he suffered a fatal heart attack in his room at the Willard Hotel as the show Sweet Charity was beginning nearby. He was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

He was cremated and shortly thereafter Gwen Verdon and Nicole Fosse took his ashes to Quogue, Long Island, where Fosse had been living with his girlfriend of four years, and scattered his ashes in the Atlantic Ocean as he had requested.[1]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
1955 Tony Award Best Choreography The Pajama Game Won
1956 Damn Yankees Won
1957 Bells are Ringing Nominated
1958 New Girl in Town Nominated
1959 Redhead Won
1963 Best Direction of a Musical Little Me Nominated
Best Choreography Won
1964 Best Actor in a Musical Pal Joey Nominated
1966 Best Direction of a Musical Sweet Charity Nominated
Best Choreography Won
1972 National Board of Review Awards Best Director Cabaret Won
1973 Academy Awards Best Director Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Director Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Direction Won
Bodil Awards Best Non-European Film Won
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Director Won
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Liza with a Z Won
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy. Variety or Music Won
Outstanding Choreography Won
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Musical/Variety Won
Tony Award Best Direction of a Musical Pippin Won
Best Choreography Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director Won
Outstanding Choreography Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Director of a Musical Won
New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Musical Nominated
1975 Academy Awards Best Director Lenny Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Director - Motion Picture Nominated
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Nominated
Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Nominated
1976 Blue Ribbon Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Tony Award Best Book of a Musical Chicago Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Nominated
Best Choreography Nominated
1978 Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Film (Mejor Película Extranjera) Lenny Won
Tony Award Best Direction of a Musical Dancin' Nominated
Best Choreography Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Choreography Won
1979 New York Film Critics Circle Best Director All That Jazz 3rd place
1980 Academy Awards Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Bodil Awards Best Non-European Film (Bedste ikke-europæiske film) Won
1984 Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear Star 80 Nominated
1986 Tony Award Best Book of a Musical Big Deal Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Nominated
Best Choreography Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of Musical Nominated
Sweet Charity Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Big Deal Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Outstanding Choreography Big Deal Won
Sweet Charity Won
1994 American Choreography Awards Won


Fosse was inducted into the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York on 27 April 2007. The Los Angeles Dance Awards, founded in 1994, were called the "Fosse Awards", and are now called the American Choreography Awards. The Bob Fosse-Gwen Verdon Fellowship was established by his daughter Nicole in 2003 at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company


Stage productions



  1. 1 2 Gottfried, Martin (2003). All His Jazz: the Life and Death of Bob Fosse. Da Capo Press. pp. 449–50. ISBN 0-306-81284-3. Retrieved 2010-09-18.
  2. 1 2 3 John T. McQuiston (September 24, 1987). "Bob Fosse, Director and Choreographer, Dies". New York Times. Robert Louis Fosse was born in Chicago on June 23, 1927, the son of a vaudeville entertainer. He began performing on the vaudeville circuit as a child, and by the age of 13 he was a seasoned veteran of many burlesque shows. ...
  3. "Hardcover in Brief". The Washington Post. November 18, 1990. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  4. "Choreographer and Director Bob Fosse Dies". Los Angeles Times.
  5. 1 2 "Bob Fosse Biography"; accessed January 27, 2010
  6. 'Redhead', accessed January 27, 2010
  7. "'Redhead' Broadway" playbill, accessed January 12, 2016
  8. "'Sweet Charity' Broadway" playbill, accessed January 12, 2016
  9. "'Chicago' Broadway" Archived December 20, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. playbill, accessed January 12, 2016
  10. "'Pippin' Broadway" playbill, accessed January 12, 2016
  11. Brenner, Paul. [The Little Prince at AllMovie] accessed January 12, 2016
  12. Eder, Richard. "Movie Review. 'Thieves'" New York Times, February 12, 1977
  13. Cutcher, Jenai (2005). Bob Fosse, The Rosen Publishing Group, ISBN 1-4042-0446-6, pp. 21, 27
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 Gottfried, Martin (1998). All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse. Da Capo Press. pp. 49, 65, 81, 85, 104, 116, 124–125, 130, 139. ISBN 0-306-80837-4.
  15. "That's Dancin: Fosse on Broadway, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
  16. "'Cabaret' Notes", accessed April 20, 2016
  17. "'Cabaret' Awards", accessed April 20, 2016
  18. The Broadway League. "Fosse - IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information".
  19. "Berlinale: 1984 Programme". Retrieved 2011-01-06.
  20. Joosten, Michael.Dance and Choreography (2009), The Rosen Publishing Group ISBN 1-4358-5261-3 Dance and Choreography, p. 4
  21. Sagolla, Lisa Jo. The girl who fell down: a biography of Joan McCracken (2003), UPNE; ISBN 1-55553-573-9, p. 204: "They were wed in a simple civil ceremony by New York's deputy chief clerk at 3:30 pm on December 30, 1952."
  22. Berkvist, Robert."Gwen Verdon, Redhead Who High-Kicked Her Way to Stardom, Dies at 75", The New York Times, originally published October 19, 2000, accessed August 8, 2009
  23. Pacheo, Patrick."Remembering Gwen Verdon — Bob Fosse's inspiration was perhaps Broadway's greatest dancer",, November 3, 2000; accessed August 8, 2009.
  24. "Liza with a 'Z". The Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-22.

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