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Gwen Verdon Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (2)  | Spouse (2)  | Trade Mark (2)  | Trivia (25)  | Personal Quotes (4)

Overview (5)

Born in Culver City, Los Angeles, California, USA
Died in Woodstock, Vermont, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameGwyneth Evelyn Verdon
Nicknames Gwennie
The Superior Posterior
Height 5' 4" (1.63 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Gwen Verdon was born to the theater. Her mother, Gertrude, was a vaudevillian and dancer. Her father, Joseph, was an MGM studio electrician. She had to wear corrective boots as a child to straighten out her legs, which were misshapen by childhood illness. Nonetheless, she first appeared as a tapper on stage at age 6. She got her break in Bob Fosse's "Damn Yankees" in 1955. She married Fosse in 1960 and separated from him, although never divorcing him, in the mid-'70s. More stage and screen work quickly followed with highlights in "New Girl In Town", "Redhead", "Sweet Charity", and "Chicago". She and her daughter, Nicole Fosse, created the current stage musical "Fosse". Upon her death, Broadway dimmed all of its marquee lights in tribute.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: John Sacksteder <jsack@ka.net>

A star was born January 13, 1925 in Culver City, California. Her name was Gwyneth Evelyn Verdon, and she was the only Broadway star who had the capability of outshining greats, such as Ethel Merman. Her parents were English emigrants, Joseph William and Gertrude Verdon and she had one brother, William Vernon. Joseph was an electrician at MGM and Gertrude was a former dancer and vaudeville veteran. When she was a child, Gwen was afflicted with rickets, a disease that left her legs so badly misshapen that she was called "Gimpy" by other children and had to wear orthopedic boots and stiff braces. Gertrude placed her daughter in dance classes at the age of 3 in hopes of strengthening her legs and improving her carriage. By the age of 6, Gwen was studying many dance forms (ballroom, Balinese, tap, jazz, juggling, flamenco). She attended Hamilton High School in LA, where she was cast in a revival of "Show Boat". However, she shocked her parents and instructors by abandoning her budding career to elope with tabloid reporter James Henaghan. The marriage last 5 years and left Gwen 22-years-old, divorced and with a son, Jim Henaghan (aka Jimmy). She trusted Jimmy to the care of her parents and went to work as temperamental Jack Cole's assistant choreographer, where she helped him with shows like "Magdalena" and "Alive and Kicking". Although she landed a few small film roles as a "specialty dancer", Gwen was more often delegated to instruct actresses such as Jane Russell, Lana Turner, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Cole cast Gwen in his show "Alive and Kicking", but the show was a bitter disappointment to both Cole and Gwen and closed quickly. Ms. Verdon returned to Hollywood to raise her son and teach dance. However, 1953 brought 28-year-old Gwen a big break in the Cole Porter musical "Can Can", which was choreographed by Michael Kidd. Her role as "Claudine" in "Can Can" brought Gwen a Tony. At the conclusion of the "Garden of Eden" number, the house went wild. Verdon left the stage, went to her dressing room and changed into her bathrobe. The audience would not stop applauding until she took another bow... which she did--dressed in her bathrobe. Her next role was as "Lola", the sexy, volatile seductress and assistant to the Devil in "Damn Yankees", a role choreographed by Bob Fosse (she also played the part in the film version). Gwen won her second Tony for this role. Fosse chose Verdon over Marilyn Monroe. Fosse and Verdon collaborated on "New Girl In Town" and "Redhead", bringing her her third and fourth Tony's. Fosse and Gwen were married in 1960. Ms. Verdon took a six-year hiatus to have daughter Nicole Fosse. In 1966, she returned to the stage to portray the role of "Charity Hope Valentine" in "Sweet Charity", with a Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields score, book by Neil Simon and choreography by none other than Fosse, himself. It ran over 600 performances. This musical was turned into a movie in 1969 with Shirley MacLaine in the lead. Gwen coached MacLaine throughout. Gwen and Bob legally separated in 1971 due to Fosse's extramarital affairs, but never actually divorced. They remained close friends and worked together on "Chicago", where Gwen played "Roxie Hart", the musical "Dancin'" and Fosse's autobiographical film, All That Jazz (1979). In recent years, Gwen and daughter Nicole collaborated to create the Broadway show "Fosse", about Bob. Along with her two children, Verdon had four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Gwen continued to instruct dance and musical theatre up until 1999. Best known for her verve, sass and vivacity, Gwen was not only perhaps the best dancer this world has ever seen, but she could act and sing, a triple-threat. Her voice had a rough-hewn, grainy quality and yet... it was still very feminine and beautiful. Unfortunately, while at the home of her daughter, Gwen passed away on October 18, 2000 in Woodstock, Vermont due to natural causes. The same day, the lights on Broadway were dimmed in honor of the passing of one of its brightest stars.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ashley Phipps <LavernShrl@aol.com>

Spouse (2)

Bob Fosse (1 April 1960 - 23 September 1987) ( his death) ( 1 child)
James Henaghan (1942 - 1947) ( divorced) ( 1 child)

Trade Mark (2)

Flaming red hair
Throaty, grainy, yet girlish singing voice

Trivia (25)

Taught Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe to dance.
Mother of Nicole Fosse (b. 1963)
Mother of Jim Henaghan (b. 1943).
First married at the age of 17 (to a tabloid reporter).
Brother: William F. Verdon
Suffered from childhood disease that caused her legs to be badly bent and misshapen; her mother enrolled her in dance to strengthen them.
Dance teacher in Culver City was Clara Reid.
Before Sweet Charity went to Broadway, something terrible happened to Gwen. Her throat began hurting, but she continued to sing until she was almost completely voiceless. She was hospitalized, and it was discovered that a feather from one of the boas used for costume was wrapped around her vocal chords.
Although uncredited, Gwen was assistant choreographer in the film version of Sweet Charity (1969), starring Shirley MacLaine.
Although she and Bob Fosse separated in '71, they remained married until his death in '87.
Daughter of British emigrants to the U.S.A., who worked in Hollywood and lived in Culver City, where Gwen Verdon was born.
After her electrifying performance as "Claudine" in "Can-Can", Broadway critics hailed her as the greatest Broadway "discovery" since Mary Martin sang "My Heart Belongs To Daddy".
Did not pursue dancing as a career until 1948.
Received further ballet training from Ernest Belcher, Marge Champion's father.
Won four Tony Awards: one as Best Supporting or Featured Actress Musical) in 1954 for "Can-Can;" and three as Best Actress (Musical) in 1956 for "Damn Yankees!," a role she recreated in the film version of the same name., Damn Yankees (1958); in 1958 for "New Girl in Town," in a tie with her co-star Thelma Ritter; and in 1959 for "Redhead." She was also nominated as Best Actress (Musical) in 1966 for "Sweet Charity" and in 1976 for "Chicago."
Never pulled the diva act and was not overly-possessive about her award-winning stage roles. In fact she gamely coached Shirley MacLaine on the set of Sweet Charity (1969), who was recreating Gwen's title character.
For Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Gwen coached stars Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in both their dance and walk -- Monroe with less sex, Russell with more. It's rumored that at one point in the film, Verdon dubs both Monroe's and Russell's swaying bottoms.
She was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 1998 by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C.
Went on stage for a performance of "Sweet Charity" after finding out her mother passed away. She claimed that the only way she could cope was to go on with the show.
Was with husband, Bob Fosse, when he collapsed from a heart attack just prior to opening night of a revival of "Sweet Charity" at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. (he was the director/choreographer, she was the assistant choreographer.).
Collected glass perfume bottles.
Portrayed "Lola" in the stage version of "Damn Yankees!" and reprised her role in the movie, Damn Yankees (1958).
Gwen Verdon ranks with Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, and Carol Channing among Broadway's greatest stars of the 1950s and 1960s.
Has never appeared in a film nominated for the the Best Picture Oscar.
She was portrayed by Michelle Williams in the 2019 FX original series, Fosse/Verdon (2019).

Personal Quotes (4)

I like the character of Charity because she's so hopeful. She's never bitter, and plenty of things happen to her that could make her bitter. She always thinks tomorrow's going to be beautiful. And someday it will be.
These girls I've played are naive and pure. They are looking for someone to really love. But they aren't very bright, and they haven't been brought up in a family situation that enables them to evaluate. As for the prostitutes, well they're 'loved' every 20 minutes, or what substitutes for love in about 90% of American homes-- I'm pretty cynical about that.
Sex in a dance is in the eyes of the beholder. I never thought my dances sexy. I suppose that's because I see myself with my face washed, and to me I look like a rabbit.
On second husband Bob Fosse: "Bob Fosse 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. In the end, it helped lead him to an early death".

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