Gwen Verdon

Active - 1951 - 2009  |   Born - Jan 13, 1925 in Culver City, California, United States  |   Died - Oct 18, 2000   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Musical, Comedy Drama, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Gwen Verdon became a professional performer at 22 -- rather late for a dancer, though she managed to make up for lost time by becoming one of the top Broadway personalities of the 1950s and 1960s. Before this happened, however, Verdon was a "gypsy," bouncing around from one chorus job to another. She essayed brief dancing roles in such 20th Century Fox films as On the Riviera (1951), David and Bathsheba (1951), and Dreamboat (1952). Reportedly, she and Carol Haney worked as choreography assistants to Gene Kelly in 1952's Singin' in the Rain. (Verdon later claimed that she and Haney post-dubbed some of Kelly's taps in the title number, standing ankle-deep in a drum full of water to match the soggy onscreen action.) In 1953, Verdon went to Broadway to star in Cole Porter's Can Can, winning a Tony and Donaldson award as a result; likewise honored with Tonys were her subsequent performances as Lola in Damn Yankees (a role she repeated for the 1958 film version) and the title roles of New Girl in Town (a 1957 musical version of Anna Christie) and Redhead (1958). In 1968, she starred in Sweet Charity, which like many of her earlier Broadway triumphs was choreographed by her longtime husband Bob Fosse. Her last Broadway show was 1975's Roxie Hart, directed by her now ex-husband Fosse; after this, she gave her lovely legs a long rest and concentrated on straight acting. Returning to films in 1984, Gwen Verdon was seen in character parts in such films as Cotton Club (1984), Cocoon (1985), and Alice (1990). She died in October 2000 at the age of 75.

Movie Highlights

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Factsheet

  • Overcame rickets as a child by taking dance classes to strengthen her legs.
  • Left a growing dancing career and eloped with first husband James Henaghan at age 17.
  • After her divorce from Henaghan, returned to dancing and performing in numerous chorus lines. Breakout role came with the 1953 Broadway production of Cole Porter's Can-Can.
  • The fiery redhead met future husband and frequent collaborator, director-choreographer Bob Fosse, while portraying the infamous Lola in the 1955 stage production of Damn Yankees.
  • Final Broadway role was playing Roxie Hart in the 1975 razzle-dazzle musical Chicago.
  • A thinly veiled depiction of her life with Fosse appears in his 1979 semiautobiographical film, All That Jazz.
  • Though separated from Fosse for 15 years, they never officially divorced, and continued working together until his death in 1987.
  • Teamed with daughter Nicole to create the 1999 Tony-winning musical revue Fosse, spotlighting the director's unique choreography.