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Robert Louis Fosse (June 23, 1927 – September 23, 1987) was an American dancer, musical-theatre choreographer, and theatre and film director.[2] He is known for directing and choreographing musical works on stage and screen, including the stage musicals The Pajama Game (choreography) in 1954 and Chicago in 1975 and the film Cabaret in 1972.

Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse and Viveca Lindfors 1963.jpg
Fosse with Viveca Lindfors in the musical Pal Joey (1963)
Robert Louis Fosse

(1927-06-23)June 23, 1927
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedSeptember 23, 1987(1987-09-23) (aged 60)
Resting placeAshes scattered in the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of Napeague/Amagansett, New York[1]
40°48′N 72°36′W / 40.8°N 72.6°W / 40.8; -72.6
OccupationActor, choreographer, dancer, director, screenwriter
Years active1947–1987
Mary Ann Niles
(m. 1947; div. 1951)

Joan McCracken
(m. 1952; div. 1959)

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

He is closely associated with the distinctive style of his choreography, which includes turned-in knees and "jazz hands".

He was the only person ever to win Oscar, Emmy, and Tony awards in the same year (1973). He was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning Best Director for Cabaret, and won a record eight Tonys for his choreography, as well as one for direction for Pippin.


Early lifeEdit

Fosse was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 23, 1927, to a Norwegian American father, Cyril K. Fosse, a traveling salesman for The Hershey Company,[3] and Irish-born mother, Sara Alice Fosse (née Stanton), the second youngest of six.[2][4] He attended local schools.

As a young man, 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 during World War II, Fosse was placed in the variety show Tough Situation, which toured military and naval bases in the Pacific.

After the war, Fosse moved to New York City with the ambition of being the new Fred Astaire. His first stage role was in Call Me Mister, where he met his first wife and dance partner, Mary Ann Niles (1923–1987).[5] Fosse and Niles were regular performers on Your Hit Parade during its 1950-51 season. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis caught their act in New York's Pierre Hotel and scheduled the couple to appear on the Colgate Comedy Hour. In a 1986 interview Fosse told an interviewer, "Jerry started me doing choreography. He gave me my first job as a choreographer and I'm grateful for that."[6]

Fosse was signed to a MGM contract in 1953.[7] His early screen appearances as a dancer included Give A Girl A Break, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis and Kiss Me Kate, all released in 1953. A short dance sequence that he choreographed in the last (and danced with Carol Haney) brought him to the attention of Broadway producers.[8]


Stage productionsEdit

During the late-1940s and early 1950s, Fosse transitioned from film to theater. 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 Gwen Verdon, whom he was to marry in 1960. For her work in Damn Yankees, Verdon won her first Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. (She had previously won in the Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical category for Can-Can.) In 1957 Fosse choreographed New Girl in Town, also directed by Abbott, and Verdon won her second Leading Actress Tony.

In 1960, Fosse was, for the first time, both director and choreographer of the musical Redhead.[9] With Redhead, Fosse won the Tony Award for best choreography while Verdon won her third Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. The show itself won the Tony for best musical.[10] Fosse's next feature was supposed to be the short lived musical from 1961 entitled "The Conquering Hero", based on a book by Larry Gelbert, but he was replaced as the director/choreographer. The New York Times reported that Fosse quit over a disagreement "over the direction of the show's book."

Fosse quickly took on the job of choreographer of the 1961 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which starred Robert Morse and became a hit musical.[11][12] With Fosse again the choreographer-director, Verdon starred in Sweet Charity in 1966.[13] In 1973, Fosse's work on Pippin won him the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical.[14] He was director and choreographer of Chicago in 1975, which also starred Verdon.[15]

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 69 performances.


In 1957 Fosse choreographed the film version of The Pajama Game, starring Doris Day. The next year, Fosse appeared in the film version of Damn Yankees, which he also choreographed, in which Verdon reprised her stage triumph as "Lola". They were partners in the mambo number, "Who's Got the Pain".

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."[16] In 1977, Fosse had a small role in the romantic comedy Thieves.[17]

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. He won over Francis Ford Coppola, who had been nominated for The Godfather, starring Marlon Brando. Cabaret was shot on location in Berlin and Munich, Germany; [18] Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey both won Oscars for their roles.[19] In 1974 Fosse directed Lenny, a biographical movie about comic Lenny Bruce, starring Dustin Hoffman. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, among other awards.

In 1979, Fosse co-wrote and directed a semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz (1979), starring Roy Scheider, which portrayed the life of a womanizing, drug-addicted choreographer-director in the midst of triumph and failure. Ann Reinking appears in the film as the protagonist's lover, protégé and domestic-partner. 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 exploring the motivations of people who become performers. But he found the results uninspiring and abandoned the project.[citation needed]

Fosse's final film, Star 80 (1983), was a controversial biographical movie about Dorothy Stratten, a young Playboy Playmate who was murdered. 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.[20]

During this time, Fosse considered directing more films. He was close to filming the life of controversial gossip columnist Walter Winchell, starring Robert De Niro as Winchell. Like Star 80, it would have dealt with the grim and manipulative side of entertainment; the underbelly of show business. He planned to portray a Svengali-like character much like Paul Snider in Star 80. The Winchell script was written by Michael Herr; he adapted it as a novel, published in 1990. Fosse died before starting the Winchell project.

Prior to 1983, Fosse was approached by Arnon Milchan and Paul D. Zimmerman to direct Zimmerman's script The King of Comedy (1983). Fosse toyed with the idea of having the film feature Andy Kaufman as Rupert Pupkin, Sandra Bernhard as Masha, and Sammy Davis Jr. as the successful comedian/TV talk show host. Although the subject matter and the script intrigued him, Fosse passed on the project.

Warren Beatty approached Fosse twice to direct Dick Tracy (1990) and a film about the life of Edie Sedgwick, which was to have starred Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sedgwick and Al Pacino as Andy Warhol. Fosse turned both projects down. Beatty's Edie Sedgwick project was never made.

Fosse also considered making a film based on his musicals, Big Deal and Chicago with Madonna as Roxie Hart, Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Kelly, and Jack Nicholson as the slick lawyer, Billy Flynn. Neither project came to fruition. Other projects that Fosse was approached to direct were A Single Man, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood who had written The Berlin Stories, which was later adapted as Cabaret. Toward the end of his life, Fosse was also in talks to direct a remake of The Bad and the Beautiful.


Fosse was an innovative choreographer and had multiple achievements in his life. Notable distinctions of Fosse's style included the use of turned-in knees, the famous "Fosse Amoeba", sideways shuffling, rolled shoulders, and jazz hands.[21] 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."[11] 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.

For Damn Yankees, he took a great deal of inspiration from the "father of theatrical jazz dance", Jack Cole.[11] 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.'"[22] 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, 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.[8]

Personal lifeEdit

Fosse married dance partner Mary Ann Niles (1923–1987) on May 3, 1947 in Detroit.[23] In 1952, he married dancer Joan McCracken in New York City;[24] this marriage lasted until 1959, when it, too, ended in divorce.[25]

His third wife was dancer and actress Gwen Verdon. In 1963, they had a daughter, Nicole Fosse, who later also became a dancer and actress. Fosse's extramarital affairs put a strain on the marriage and by 1971 they were separated, although they remained legally married until his death in 1987. Verdon never remarried.[11][26][27]

Fosse met dancer Ann Reinking during the run of Pippin. According to Reinking, their romantic relationship ended "toward the end of the run of Dancin."[28] Throughout the 1970s, Fosse was also sporadically linked with actress Jessica Lange.

During rehearsals for The Conquering Hero in 1961, Fosse was revealed to have epilepsy, when he suffered a seizure onstage.[11]


On September 23, 1987, Fosse died at George Washington University Hospital from a heart attack, while the revival of Sweet Charity was opening at the nearby National Theatre.[2] He had collapsed in Verdon's arms on the sidewalk outside the Willard Hotel.

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

Awards and nominationsEdit

At the 1973 Academy Awards, Fosse won the Academy Award for Best Director for Cabaret. In the same year he won Tony Awards for directing and choreographing Pippin and Primetime Emmy Awards for producing, choreographing and directing Liza Minnelli's television special Liza with a Z. He was the first and so far only person to win all three major industry awards in the same year.

Academy Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Best Director Cabaret Won
1975 Best Director Lenny Nominated
1980 Best Director All That Jazz Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated

Tony Awards

Year Category Work Result
1955 Best Choreography The Pajama Game Won
1956 Best Choreography Damn Yankees Won
1957 Best Choreography Bells are Ringing Nominated
1958 Best Choreography New Girl in Town Nominated
1959 Best Choreography 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
1973 Best Direction of a Musical Pippin Won
Best Choreography Won
1976 Best Book of a Musical Chicago Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Nominated
Best Choreography Nominated
1978 Best Direction of a Musical Dancin' Nominated
Best Choreography Won
1986 Best Book of a Musical Big Deal Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Nominated
Best Choreography Won

Primetime Emmy Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Liza with a Z Won
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy. Variety or Music Won
Outstanding Choreography Won

Golden Globe Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Best Director Cabaret Nominated
1975 Best Director - Motion Picture Lenny Nominated

BAFTA Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Best Direction Cabaret Won

Drama Desk Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Outstanding Director Pippin Won
Outstanding Choreography Won
1978 Outstanding Choreography Dancin' Won
1986 Director of a Musical Sweet Charity Nominated
1986 Director of a Musical Big Deal Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Won

Cannes Film Festival

Year Category Work Result
1975 Palme d'Or Lenny Nominated
1979 Palme d'Or All That Jazz Won

Directors Guild Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Cabaret Nominated
1973 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Musical/Variety Liza with a Z Won
1980 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures All That Jazz Nominated


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 Fosse in 2003 at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Ann Reinking, as well as Verdon, helped keep Fosse's unique choreography alive after his death. Reinking played the role of Roxie Hart in the 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 February 2019. 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.[29]



  1. ^ a b Gottfried 2003, pp. 449–50.
  2. ^ a b c McQuiston, John T. (September 24, 1987). "Bob Fosse, Director and Choreographer, Dies". The 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. ^ Gottfried 2003, p. 11.
  4. ^ "Hardcover in Brief". The Washington Post. November 18, 1990. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  5. ^ Wasson, Sam (2013). Fosse. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780547553290.
  6. ^ "Showbiz Today Jerry Lewis Roasted". givethechanceakid. 1986.
  7. ^ "Choreographer and Director Bob Fosse Dies". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ a b "Bob Fosse Biography" PBS; accessed January 27, 2010
  9. ^ 'Redhead' PBS, accessed January 27, 2010
  10. ^ "'Redhead' Broadway" Playbill, accessed January 12, 2016
  11. ^ a b c d e 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 978-0306812842. (Subscription required (help)). Cite uses deprecated parameter |subscription= (help)
  12. ^ "That's Dancin: Fosse on Broadway, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" PBS.
  13. ^ "'Sweet Charity' Broadway"Playbill, accessed January 12, 2016
  14. ^ "'Pippin' Broadway" Playbill, accessed January 12, 2016
  15. ^ "'Chicago' Broadway" Archived December 20, 2015, at the Wayback MachinePlaybill, accessed January 12, 2016
  16. ^ Brenner, Paul. [The Little Prince at AllMovie] accessed January 12, 2016
  17. ^ Eder, Richard. "Movie Review. 'Thieves'", The New York Times, February 12, 1977
  18. ^ "'Cabaret' Notes" Turner Classic Movies, accessed April 20, 2016
  19. ^ "'Cabaret' Awards" Turner Classic Movies, accessed April 20, 2016
  20. ^ "Berlinale: 1984 Programme". Retrieved 2011-01-06.
  21. ^ Cutcher, Jenai (May 1, 2005). Bob Fosse. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 21, 27. ISBN 978-1404206403.
  22. ^ Joosten, Michael (September 4, 2009). Dance and Choreography. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 4. ISBN 978-1435852617. Retrieved 2017-09-21.
  23. ^ Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952
  24. ^ New York City, Marriage Indexes, 1907-1995
  25. ^ 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."
  26. ^ Berkvist, Robert (October 19, 2000). "Gwen Verdon, Redhead Who High-Kicked Her Way to Stardom, Dies at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2009.
  27. ^ Pacheo, Patrick (November 3, 2000). "Remembering Gwen Verdon — Bob Fosse's inspiration was perhaps Broadway's greatest dancer". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 8, 2009.
  28. ^ Pacheco, Patrick. "Every Step She Takes" Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1998
  29. ^ "Fosse". Internet Broadway Database.
  30. ^ "Liza with a 'Z". The Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-22.

Further readingEdit

  • Beddow, Margery (1996). Bob Fosse's Broadway. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. ISBN 0-435-07002-9.
  • Gottfried, Martin (1990). All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse. Bantam. ISBN 978-0553070385.
  • Grubb, Kevin Boyd (1989). Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-03414-8.
  • Wasson, Sam (2013). Fosse. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-547-55329-0.

External linksEdit