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Gwen Verdon

Gwen Verdon

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Also Known As: Gwenyth Evelyn Verdon, Gwyneth Verdon Died: October 18, 2000
Born: January 13, 1925 Cause of Death: natural causes
Birth Place: Culver City, California, USA Profession: actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, dance teacher to Hollywood stars, Hollywood columnist

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Petite, saucy redheaded star of Broadway musicals during their golden age in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. A child tap dancer and daughter of a Hollywood studio gaffer, Verdon took a stab at a variety of careers--from dance instruction to reviewing the nightclub scene for The Hollywood Reporter where she first saw the legendary jazz choreographer Jack Cole's work in the late 1940s. She worked both as his assistant choreographer and principal dancer before making her adult film debut in a small part in the "Popo the Puppet" number with Danny Kaye in "On the Riviera", followed by a bit as a slave girl in "David and Bathsheba" (both 1951). Verdon became an overnight Broadway sensation as a show-stopping featured dancer in Cole Porter's "Can Can" (1953); it was her work with her choreographer and later her husband Bob Fosse, however, that made her a four-time Tony winning Broadway legend. Beginning with the seductive witch Lola of "Damn Yankees", the couple fashioned an onstage persona for Verdon that combined the disparate elements of an alluring vamp--whether prostitute or hardened murderer--with an inner sweetness and a heartbreaking vulnerability. Highlighting Verdon's unique talents--her peerless dance...

Petite, saucy redheaded star of Broadway musicals during their golden age in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. A child tap dancer and daughter of a Hollywood studio gaffer, Verdon took a stab at a variety of careers--from dance instruction to reviewing the nightclub scene for The Hollywood Reporter where she first saw the legendary jazz choreographer Jack Cole's work in the late 1940s. She worked both as his assistant choreographer and principal dancer before making her adult film debut in a small part in the "Popo the Puppet" number with Danny Kaye in "On the Riviera", followed by a bit as a slave girl in "David and Bathsheba" (both 1951). Verdon became an overnight Broadway sensation as a show-stopping featured dancer in Cole Porter's "Can Can" (1953); it was her work with her choreographer and later her husband Bob Fosse, however, that made her a four-time Tony winning Broadway legend. Beginning with the seductive witch Lola of "Damn Yankees", the couple fashioned an onstage persona for Verdon that combined the disparate elements of an alluring vamp--whether prostitute or hardened murderer--with an inner sweetness and a heartbreaking vulnerability. Highlighting Verdon's unique talents--her peerless dance technique, sexy figure and fragile, wistful, slightly hoarse voice, Fosse and Verdon created a string of memorable tough gals in "New Girl in Town", "Redhead", "Sweet Charity" and "Chicago" before Verdon voluntarily retired from active dancing in the mid-1970s. Although legally separated from Fosse, she continued to work with him as an assistant choreographer and dance supervisor on his "Dancin'" (1978) and the 1987 revival of "Sweet Charity", during rehearsals of which he died in Washington with Verdon at his side.

With the exception of the faithful 1958 film adaptation of "Damn Yankees" (the only chance she got to recreate a stage role on film), Verdon's film career has book-ended her Broadway stardom; she returned to films in the 1980s as a warm, mature and spunky character performer in such films as "The Cotton Club" (1984), "Cocoon" (1985) and its 1988 sequel, "Nadine" (1987), Woody Allen's "Alice" (1990) and "Marvin's Room" (1996). In the latter, she was the dotty aunt of Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Broadway: The Golden Age (2004) Herself
2.
 Bruno (2000) Barbara Weetman
3.
 Best Friends For Life (1998) Edith
4.
 Marvin's Room (1996) Ruth
5.
 Cocoon: the Return (1988) Bess Mccarthy
6.
 Nadine (1987) Vera
7.
 Cocoon (1985) Bess Mccarthy
8.
 Jerk, Too, The (1984) Bag Lady
9.
 Cotton Club, The (1984) Tish Dwyer
10.
 Legs (1983) Maureen
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Began appearing with mother in a dance act at age four
:
By age six billed as "The Fastest Tapper in the World" and performed at Loew's State Theater on Broadway
1940:
Musical comedy debut as a dancer in Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company revival of "Show Boat"
1943:
Film debut in "Presenting Lily Mars"
:
Wrote nightclub reviews for the Hollywood Reporter in the mid-1940s
:
After divorce from James Henaghan became assistant to choreographer Jack Cole
1947:
Cast by Cole in first Broadway show, Comden and Green's "Bonanza Bound"; show closed in Philadelphia after one week
1948:
Assistant choreographer (with George Martin) to Jack Cole on first Broadway musical, "Magdalena"
1950:
Broadway performing debut in the revue "Alive and Kicking", dancing with Jack Cole
1951:
Appeared as a dancer in films "On the Riviera", "David and Bathsheba", "Meet Me After the Show"
:
Worked in Hollywood teaching movement to stars such as Lana Turner, Mitzi Gaynor, Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in the early 1950s
1953:
Breakthrough Broadway dance role in Michael Kidd's production of Cole Porter's "Can Can"
1958:
First co-starring film role in "Damn Yankees", recreating stage role of Lola
1972:
Non-musical Broadway debut in "Children! Children!"
1975:
Last performance in a Broadway musical, "Chicago"
1978:
Was ballet mistress on Fosse's "Dancin'"
1983:
TV-movie debut, "Legs"
1984:
Starred in TV pilot, "Community Center"
1990:
Played Mia Farrow's mother in Woody Allen's "Alcie"
1996:
Appeared in "Marvin's Room"
1998:
Oversaw the award-winning stage production "Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance"
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Notes

"The amount of physical activity in which this frail-seeming creature indulges is perfectly flabbergasting; spinning, prancing, curvetting, she is seldom out of sight and never out of breath. Yet beneath the athletic ebullience is somthing more rarified--an unfailing delicay of spirit." --Kenneth Tynan in The New Yorker.

Verdon was on the board of directors to the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
James Henaghan. Hollywood columnist, writer. Married in 1942; divorced in June 1947.
husband:
Bob Fosse. Married on April 3, 1960; separated in 1971 but remained friends and co-workers until his death from a heart attack in 1987.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Joseph William Verdon. Gaffer. Worked at MGM Studios; British.
mother:
Gertrude Verdon. Dancer, vaudevillian. British.
son:
James O'Farrell Henaghan Jr.
daughter:
Nicole Providence Fosse. Dancer, actor. Widowed when her husband was killed by a drunk driver; had three children.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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