Friday, January 3, 2014

Was Life Really a "Cabaret" for Bob Fosse ...

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon in “Damn Yankees."
Was Life Really a "Cabaret" for Bob Fosse? Yes. No. Maybe. Sam Wasson's New Bio Tells All ... Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, Wed At Last ... Angela Lansbury — an Oscar At Last! ... Flash! — I am NOT Lis Smith. (I Am Too Old and Too Smart For That Role.)
Friday, January 3, 2013
by Liz Smith

“’CHICAGO’ would be Fosse’s penitent thank-you to Gwen Verdon. After all she had given him and all he had taken, ‘Chicago’ was his way — his only way — of giving back. Perhaps he felt guilty for being a bad husband; perhaps he felt guilty for (finally) passing her on the rise to artistic renown — whatever his reasons, he told all who asked that he did it for her.”

Click to order Fosse.
So writes Sam Wasson in his new, massive and hugely entertaining biography, “Fosse,” about the life, career and many, many loves of dancer/actor/choreographer/director Bob Fosse.

I read this book, which runs a galvanizing 599 pages in one sitting (I did break for snacks and a few thankful prayers that I’d never been involved with anybody quite as crazy as the brilliant, tortured Mr. Fosse. I knew him ever so slightly.)

"FOSSE" takes us from his burlesque-performing childhood, which appeared to have permanently scarred him — the sordid atmosphere, the ruined women, the things no thirteen-year-old should experience. These events would become a template for much of his future work, tinged dark, lurid and louche.

Fosse’s long climb — from Hollywood disappointment to Broadway success (and failure), back to Hollywood again where he failed spectacularly and triumphed even more spectacularly — are colorfully and candidly explored. Wasson conducted hundreds of interviews.

The battered, sometimes black heart of this book is Fosse’s compulsive womanizing, and the remarkable effect he had on the majority of his women, even the most casual fling. He was married three times, to Mary Ann Niles, Joan McCracken (from whom he learned so much) and finally and forever to the magnificent Broadway musical star Gwen Verdon. His relationship with Verdon — whom he never divorced, despite significant relationships with women such as Ann Reinking — would defy belief if Fosse didn’t inspire a strange worship amongst his women.
Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse.
Ann Reinking, Bob Fosse, and Gwen Verdon.
Verdon, however, was adored and punished more than the others because of her huge talent, which Fosse alternately revered and resented. (Chita Rivera, who starred alongside Gwen in “Chicago” was outraged by Fosse’s treatment of Verdon.) If any relationship is befitting the title “Furious Love” it is Verdon and Fosse. But fatefully, he died in Gwen’s arms, after collapsing on a New York street.
Chita and Gwen.
Liza in her Fosse-directed, Oscar-winning portrayal of Sally Bowles in "Cabaret."
Clockwise from above: Gwen Verdon and MM; Verdon on the cover of Time; Shirley MacLaine in the massive Fosse film flop of Gwen Verdon's stage triumph, "Sweet Charity."
The more one reads “Fosse,” the more one wants to escape his massive insecurities, cruelties and neurosis. But his talent and how feverishly he worked on everything, compels one to continue. Wasson writes intelligently and passionately about Fosse’s psyche and his talent. Sometimes the prose gets a bit purple, but if anything deserves such ripeness, it is the life of Bob Fosse. (The chapters on “Cabaret” for which he won an Oscar, and “All That Jazz” — his self-directed, devastating, thinly disguised screen autobiography — are worth the price of the book!)

Every page has a juicy detail, a significant revelation. This is a must-read for students of Fosse, dance, film and stage direction, as well as the conflicts of genius, a bizarre upbringing and a raging, unapologetic, sensuality.
BY THE way, if you are not familiar with Gwen Verdon, be aware she is revered as a star beyond almost any other who danced and sang onstage. (Her credits include “Damn Yankees” (watch the clip above with Fosse himself — you'll be amazed) ... ”Can-Can” ... ”New Girl In Town” ... ”Redhead” ... ”Sweet Charity” ... ”Chicago.”) Be aware of something else. The next time you happen to catch the movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and delight in the shimmying of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, know that just out of camera range is choreographer Jack Cole and his muse, Gwen Verdon, showing the movie stars how to look like they can actually dance!
Choreographer Jack Cole and Gwen Verdon.
IT WAS AN EVENTFUL NEW YEAR'S EVE. I WAS Hobnobbing with the attractive Madeleine and her hubby the gifted Andrew Lloyd Webber in Barbados in a gorgeous mansion by the sea. Now I am back in little old New York no worse for wear.

And my longtime friends, Lily Tomlin and her love, the writer Jane Wagner, got married on the eve of 2014 ... My wish isthat their happiness will be as great as their combined talents.

(P.S. I am adjusting to the freezing temperature in New York. I love the idea of a new year, don't you? We can all forgive each other and ourselves and start over!)
Just Married! Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner.
OUR pet “American,” the great actress Angela Lansbury received an “Honorary” Oscar at the Academy’s Governors event last year. (She will be mentioned at the coming Oscar telecast, but won’t have the pleasure of standing up before her millions of fans, to receive her golden guy. I say it’s a cheat.)

Now Angela has added “Dame” to her name in Great Britain. Talk about “deserving!” Dame Angela Lansbury. And as we all know, there is nothing like a dame!
I WANT to send an un-salute to all of you who felt it was necessary to point out that I am not the Lis Smith of the former-Governor Eliot Spitzer — headlined-saga of recent weeks. This was a waste of your time and mine and the Internet.

And I must point out that I am not young enough for Mr. Spitzer. But you knew that.
I don't think so ...

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