September 24, 1987
BOB FOSSE, DIRECTOR AND CHOREOGRAPHER, DIES
BOB FOSSE, DIRECTOR AND CHOREOGRAPHER, DIES; A Veteran at 13
By JOHN T. McQUISTON
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.
After World War II, he formed a dance team with his first wife, Mary-Ann Niles, appearing in nightclubs and stage musicals. In the early 1950’s, he was a dancer and actor in several films, including ”Kiss Me Kate” and ”My Sister Eileen.” During that period he married his second wife, Joan McCracken.
In 1954, he began a successful run as a Broadway choreographer, winning a Tony Award for his first venture, ”The Pajama Game.” He also choreographed the film version of the hit musical. He had a similar success with the Broadway stage and film productions of the musical ”Damn Yankees.”
Other Broadway shows he choreographed were ”Bells Are Ringing” and ”New Girl in Town.” First Broadway Musical
In 1959 he directed his first Broadway musical, ”Redhead,” which starred his third wife, dancer Gwen Verdon. He went on to direct such hits as ”How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” ”Sweet Charity,” ”Pippin” and ”Chicago,” all of which he choreographed in his characteristically jazzy style.
Mr. Fosse won three television Emmy awards in 1973, for producing, directing and choreographing ”Singer Presents Liza With a ‘Z’ ” and in so doing won that year’s Triple Crown of show business.
A few weeks earlier, he had also won an Oscar for the film version of ”Cabaret” and Tonys for directing and choreographing ”Pippin.” He was the first person ever to win all three honors in one year.
”Liza With a ‘Z’ ” starred Liza Minnelli, who received an Oscar for her performance in the film ”Cabaret.”
In a change of pace, he next directed the somber Lenny Bruce biography ”Lenny” and co-choreographed and appeared as an actor in the film ”The Little Prince.”
In his 1978 Tony Award-winning production of ”Dancin’,” Mr. Fosse presented a celebration of dance in all its varied forms. Among the performers was Jill Cook, who recalled that she decided to be a dancer after seeing ”Sweet Charity.”
”When I auditioned for ‘Dancin’,’ I danced with him for about an hour and a half. I thought, ‘This is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done, even if I don’t get the job.’ ” His Portrait in Film
In 1979 after open-heart surgery, Mr. Fosse made ”All That Jazz,” a semiautobiographical film portrait of a chain-smoking director-choreographer who dies of a heart attack.
In April 1986, Mr. Fosse wrote, directed and choreographed the Broadway musical ”Big Deal,” based on ”Big Deal on Madonna Street.”
In an interview with Leslie Bennetts of The Times while working on ”Big Deal,” Mr. Fosse said: ”I think I have changed a lot. Getting sick had something to do with it, and age too; it just plain slows you down. I think I’m better off that I’ve slowed down. Maybe I’m getting soft. I have little relapses where I go crazy, but mostly the guy in ‘All That Jazz’ is gone. Once in a while he pops out of the closet, but there is the fear of death; you think, ‘How much longer can I go on like this?’ ”
After the death in 1980 of the choreographer Gower Champion, Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote that Mr. Fosse ”may now be the last active theater choreographer who knows how to assemble an old-fashioned, roof-raising showstopper in which every step bears the unmistakable signature of its creator.”
Joseph Papp, producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival, recalled last night that Mr. Fosse, as a young sailor in the Pacific during World War II, performed in variety shows put together by Mr. Papp.
”I saw at once that he was footjoy, carefree, jaunty,” Mr. Papp said. ”He loved to dance. On some islands he would perform in the hot sun for five or six hours. He’d go on until he nearly collapsed from the heat.”
”With the death of Michael Bennett in July, and now Bob Fosse, the musical theater has lost two giants, two great choreographers,” Mr. Papp said.