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Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon: Breaking Down Their Famous Broadway Romance and Legacy

Posted on 29 September, 2018 by Sofia
82 out of 100 based on 802 user ratings

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon: Breaking Down Their Famous Broadway Romance and Legacy

By the end of Fosse/Verdon, the name on everybody's lips is gonna be... Gwen Verdon.

The new series from FX sheds a spotlight on the legendary, red-headed Broadway dancer and her on-and-off stage relationship with work-obsessed director/choreographer Bob Fosse. Together, the two reinvented the entertainment industry throughout the '50s, '60s and '70s, but perfection certainly didn't come without a price.

Whether you're a theater fan or not, you're more than likely familiar with the work of Bob Fosse. His innovative choreography -- the signature sultry hip rolls, sideways shuffling and turned-in knees -- landed him nine Tony Awards, three Emmys and an Academy Award, and has influenced the pop culture scene for decades. (Even Beyoncé has gotten on board with the Fosse style; the choreography in music videos like "Get Me Bodied" and "Single Ladies" was inspired by his work.)

Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse

Getty Images

But without Gwen, there would be no Bob, and vice versa. The series does a fantastic job of highlighting just how crucial of a role these two played in each others' lives, even after their decision to separate. "The happiest times I ever had with Gwen were when we were working together," Bob said in an interview in 1971. ''They stimulated all sorts of things.''

Though Bob received much of the praise from their collaborations, Gwen, his longtime muse, is equally paramount when telling the true Fosse story. "I think [Fosse/Verdon] brings a lot of light onto my mother, which is long overdue," executive producer/creative consultant Nicole Fosse -- who is Bob and Gwen's only child together -- explained to reporters, including ET, last week. "She was in the shadow of my father for a long time. She was not the director, she was not the choreographer, although she contributed behind the scenes an incredible amount. So, I'm very happy that she's really being brought forth into the public eye."

The pivotal ups and downs of Bob and Gwen's romantic and creative partnership are phenomenally played out in Fosse/Verdon by Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, respectively, through a series of flashbacks and time jumps. Because of this, you'll definitely want to familiarize yourself with the timeline of their history before the show premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. PT on FX. Here at ET, we've done the work for you -- see below for our official breakdown!

Gwen Verdon, before Bob

Gwen Verdon and Michelle Williams

Getty Images/Eric Liebowitz/FX

Born Jan. 13, 1925 in Culver City, California, Gwen was immersed in showbiz since day one. Her mother, Gertrude Lilian Standring, was a vaudeville performer and dance teacher, and her father, Joseph William Verdon, worked as an electrician at MGM Studios. As a way to combat Gwen's severe rickets (the softening and weakening of bones in children), her parents placed her in ballet at the age of three. At just six years old, she was already performing on stage.

Ballet led Gwen to study other forms of dance, like jazz, tap and ballroom, which she later taught to stars like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She also landed various roles on stage and in film, but it wasn't until 1953, at the age of 28, that Gwen got her big break.

Gwen was a featured dancer in Can-Can on Broadway, and on that stage, a star was born. Despite having a full ensemble of incredibly talented dancers, audiences simply couldn't keep their eyes off of Gwen. Opening night and mid-performance, she upstaged the show's star (French actress and singer Lilo). As she went back into her dressing room to change, a producer told her she had to come back out for a curtain call. Gwen took her bows covered in a towel, as the audience chanted her name and gave her a seven-minute standing ovation. She won her first Tony Award for the performance.

It was a late arrival for a dancer, but it's important to note that 11 years before this, at the age of 17, Gwen had eloped with reporter James Henaghan after discovering she was pregnant but "not in love," as she admitted in a 1983 interview. The two divorced in 1947 and their son, Jimmy, was handed over to the care of Gwen's parents.

Bob Fosse, before Gwen

Bob Fosse Sam Rockwell Desiree Murphy Fosse Verdon FX

Getty Images/Eric Liebowitz/FX

On June 23, 1927, Bob was born in Chicago to father Cyril K. Fosse and mother Sara Alice Stanton. Growing up, Bob was an aspiring dancer, often referred to as a "wannabe" Fred Astaire. He performed in local theaters throughout Chicago, many which were vaudeville and burlesque shows, until he enlisted in the navy in 1945. There, he was assigned to the Tough Situation variety show, where his primary job was to perform at various military and naval bases.

At 18 years old, he tied the knot with his first wife and dance partner, Mary Ann Niles, a marriage that lasted four years. The two appeared together in a sketch titled Call Me Mister, which got the attention of industry greats like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. "Jerry started me doing choreography," Bob, who appeared as a dancer in movies like Give a Girl a Break and Kiss Me, Kate, said in an interview from 1986. "He gave me my first job as a choreographer and I'm grateful for that."

Despite his dreams of becoming a star performer and dancer, Bob found most of his success as a choreographer and director. In 1954 -- two years after he married his second wife, dancer Joan McCracken (portrayed by Susan Misner) -- Bob choreographed his first Broadway show, The Pajama Game, at the age of 26. The show landed him his first-ever Tony Award for Best Choreography. 

1955:Damn Yankees

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