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|Also Known As:||Robert Louis Fosse, Robert Fosse||Died:||September 23, 1987|
|Born:||June 23, 1927||Cause of Death:||heart attack|
|Birth Place:||Chicago, Illinois, USA||Profession:||director, choreographer, actor, screenwriter, vaudevillian, dancer, librettist|
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competition included Francis Ford Coppola for "The Godfather." In doing so, he had earned three of the biggest awards in show business in a single year.For his next screen effort, Fosse eschewed the musical altogether to focus on the short but celebrated life of controversial comedian, Lenny Bruce. Dustin Hoffman portrayed Bruce in "Lenny" (1974), a decidedly dark and meditative piece about Bruceâ¿¿s extraordinary incendiary talents and his ultimate downfall after becoming a target for censors. Fosse, who had faced similar challenges with his eroticized choreography, shot the film in black and white and with a riveting verite style, which earned him an Oscar nod for Best Director. However, the achievements were overshadowed by a heart attack he suffered while editing the picture. At the time, Fosse was also preparing his next Broadway show, "Chicago," based on the scandalous real-life case of two murderesses in the 1920s, and the stresses of both productions took their toll. Those close to Fosse, however, knew that additional strains had been placed on Fosseâ¿¿s health: he consumed drugs, alcohol, women and cigarettes at an alarming rate, which, when combined with his established health issues and...
competition included Francis Ford Coppola for "The Godfather." In doing so, he had earned three of the biggest awards in show business in a single year.
For his next screen effort, Fosse eschewed the musical altogether to focus on the short but celebrated life of controversial comedian, Lenny Bruce. Dustin Hoffman portrayed Bruce in "Lenny" (1974), a decidedly dark and meditative piece about Bruceâ¿¿s extraordinary incendiary talents and his ultimate downfall after becoming a target for censors. Fosse, who had faced similar challenges with his eroticized choreography, shot the film in black and white and with a riveting verite style, which earned him an Oscar nod for Best Director. However, the achievements were overshadowed by a heart attack he suffered while editing the picture. At the time, Fosse was also preparing his next Broadway show, "Chicago," based on the scandalous real-life case of two murderesses in the 1920s, and the stresses of both productions took their toll. Those close to Fosse, however, knew that additional strains had been placed on Fosseâ¿¿s health: he consumed drugs, alcohol, women and cigarettes at an alarming rate, which, when combined with his established health issues and relentless work ethic, contributed to his collapse. In 1974, Fosse underwent open-heart surgery.
Despite his setbacks, Fosse was able to continue as both writer and director-choreographer of "Chicago." Drawing from his own background as a Windy City native and a veteran of its seamy entertainment underbelly, Fosse again found common ground in its heroes, Jazz-era libertines Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who flew in the face of societal norms by embracing the vices of the period and making a scene from the murders of their respective lovers. Gwen Verdon, who had divorced Fosse in 1971 after numerous infidelities, played Roxie Hart, and would look past their troubled history to remain a faithful companion and collaborator to Fosse until the end of his life. However, the production received mixed reviews during its run, and was routed in nearly every Tony race by "A Chorus Line." It would eventually assume its place among the great musicals of the 20th century in a 1996 revival choreographed in Fosseâ¿¿s style by dancer Ann Reinking, who replaced Verdon during the original Broadway run, and one of Fosseâ¿¿s romantic companions following his divorce. This version eventually became the longest-running musical revival in history, and the sixth longest-running Broadway show ever.
In 1979, Fosse returned to filmmaking with "All That Jazz," an autobiographical fantasy about a driven, pill-popping theater director (Roy Scheider) who realized that the only way to save his current project, a gargantuan musical gone far over budget, was to die. The film, which drew directly from Fosseâ¿¿s own life â¿¿ from his collapse while working on "Lenny" to his relationships with figures based on Verdon, Reinking (who played a version of herself) and his daughter, Nicole â¿¿ took a surreal approach to the telling, with an Angel of Death (Jessica Lange) serving as Scheiderâ¿¿s confessor/lover and a major song-and-dance number to signal Scheiderâ¿¿s death. Critics were largely wowed by the film, which received the Palme dâ¿¿Or at Cannes and four Oscars, including original score, as well as nominations for Fosse as Best Director. It would be his last major work for the screen.
Fosseâ¿¿s final years were marked by misfires. "Star 80" (1983) was a grim biopic about Playmate Dorothy Stratten, who was murdered by her abusive husband (Eric Roberts); the subject matter turned off most audiences, resulting in a financial flop. His final original musical, "Big Deal" (1986), was based on Mario Monicelliâ¿¿s celebrated Italian caper comedy "Big Deal on Madonna Street" (1958), but failed to win over audiences, despite five Tony nominations, including two for Fosse as director and choreographer. On Sept. 23, 1987, the 60-year-old Fosse suffered a heart attack on the opening night of a revival of "Sweet Charity." He was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Verdon, who served as assistant director for the revival, was with him at the time of the fatal attack. In the years following his death, both Verdon and Reinking worked to keep Fosseâ¿¿s legacy alive. The former served as artistic consultant for 1999â¿¿s "Fosse," a three-act celebration of his greatest dances that won the Tony for Best Musical. Reinkingâ¿¿s revival of "Chicago" led to a celebrated 2002 film adaptation by director Rob Marshall, which in turn, sparked an interest in Fosseâ¿¿s life and work. In 2007, Fosse was inducted posthumously into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, and a section of Paulina Street in Chicago was named "Bob Fosse Way."ctress and choreography, as well as Best Musical of 1959. Hollywood began to take notice of Fosseâ¿¿s work, and lured him back to the studios to direct the dancing for "My Sister Eileen" (1955). He proved to be a natural at adapting his stage style for cinematic purposes, and made exceptional use of location work in the screen versions of "The Pajama Game" (1957) and "Damn Yankees" (1958). The latter also marked his sole onscreen performance with Verdon in a mambo for "Whoâ¿¿s Got the Pain." His second stint in the movies proved equally short-lived, and by 1960, he was back on Broadway, directing and choreographing such hits as "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (1961), "Little Me" (1962) and "Sweet Charity" (1966), of which the latter two earned him Tonys. "Charity" also provided him with another trademark number, the staccato, highly stylized "Hey Big Spender," which allowed him to further push the boundaries of sexuality in dance.
Fosse would later repeat his choreography for the film versions of "Business" (1967) and "Charity" (1969), but in the case of the latter, it came with a condition: that he be allowed to direct the film itself as well. Unfortunately, the results were mixed. Though he made excellent use of the CinemaScope process for numbers like "Spender," the film, which replaced Verdon in the lead with former "Pajama Game" understudy Shirley Maclaine, was a dismal failure and nearly brought Universal Pictures to its knees. Broadway welcomed Fosse back with "Pippin" (1972), a surreal fantasy that became one of his biggest successes, running for over 1,900 performances and introducing the public to the unique talents of actor-singer Ben Vereen. The showâ¿¿s runaway popularity was the spearhead of a long and prolific period for Fosse, and one that brought him his greatest triumphs. In 1972, he directed "Liza with a Z" (NBC), a concert film of actress-singer Liza Minnelli in performance at the Lyceum Theatre in New York. The show helped to mint Minnelli as a star in the making, and earned Fosse three Emmys, including Outstanding Directorial Achievement, as well as a Directors Guild of America Award. Fosse had also won the Tony for "Pippin" that same year, and would pull off an astonishing hat trick with the release of "Cabaret" in early February.
Fosse was an unlikely choice to direct the film version of John Kander and Fred Ebbsâ¿¿ 1966 musical. His struggle with the dramatic moments in "Sweet Charity" concerned the filmâ¿¿s producers, who saw that equal time and attention would need to be devoted to these scenes in addition to the musical numbers. However, Fosse was hired at the insistence of veteran Broadway producer, Cy Feuer, who had mounted some of Fosseâ¿¿s biggest hits and was producing "Cabaret." The result largely dispensed with Kander and Ebbâ¿¿s original text; focusing instead on the life of Minnelliâ¿¿s American singer, Sally Bowles, as she descended into the decadence of Nazi Germany via its nightclub scene. Buoyed by an authentically decadent atmosphere and the venomous performance of Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies, "Cabaret" was a massive hit, earning eight Oscars, including Best Director for Fosse, whose
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"There were a couple of men who were crazy about me when they saw '[King] Kong'. Fosse was one. He got in touch with me. We became friends and lovers. We had a wonderful relationship. We laughed like crazy. I loved Fosse because he was a renegade and there was such a dark side to him. He loved that whole seedy side of New York--Forty-Second Street, the strip joints, the live sex shows. We'd hang out there, go to the arcades, these weird shows. Fosse knew it like the back of his hand. We were in and out of places you wouldn't even know existed.
"There was something very seductive about someone so caught up in self-destruction. It was very much like what you saw in 'All That Jazz', with his drinking and smoking. But he was unbelievably sweet, tender, and generous. He was so kind at a time when a lot of people had dismissed me ... There was, about Fosse, something sad. Profoundly lonely. That's what I connected with more than anything." --Jessica Lange quoted in Vanity Fair, October 1991.
Fosse once claimed his distinctive look stemmed from an attempt to hide his deficiencies: "I was getting pretty bald for a hoofer and felt a hat would hide it. Canes became important to me when my hands started trembling and seemed like a good way to distract the audience." --from The Boston Globe, September 6, 1998.
As Fosse acknowledged, his turned-in, angular, low-to-the-ground style developed from what [Gwen] Hillier [former Fosse dancer and director of a 1998 revival of 'Pippin' in the Los Angeles area] calls "the quirkiness of his own body--he wasn't tall, didn't have a huge build or as much ballet training as he probably would have liked." So he began by capitalizing on his unique personality as a dancer and later demanded the same individuality from others.
"The original [national company of] 'Pippin' was one of the first shows that I danced where I wasn't just a happy villager. He explained that he wanted each of us to find out exactly who we were in the show, to make our own personal statement there." --From Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1998.
"My life is an open pamphlet." --Bob Fosse
"He was like a master chef who put his finger in the kettle and said, 'It's right.' He was hardly an intellectual. He had this long sleaze streak, and that got him into trouble. But I don't know that you could classify him as a rebel." --biographer Morton Gottfried quoted in USA Today, June 23, 1998.
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