Herbert Ross


Director
Herbert Ross

About

Also Known As
Herbert David Ross
Birth Place
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Born
May 13, 1927
Died
October 09, 2001

Biography

Choreographer-director-producer Herbert Ross was best known for elevating the role of dance in film and for his ability to elicit exceptional performances out of such leading ladies as Barbara Streisand, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft and Julia Roberts. Receiving his start as a Broadway performer and choreographer with the American Ballet Theater, Ross later staged dozens of musical seq...

Family & Companions

Nora Kaye
Wife
Ballerina, producer. Born in NYC in 1920; married on August 21, 1959 until her death on February 28, 1987 of cancer in Santa Monica, California; produced several of Ross' films including "The Turning Point"; had previously been married twice including a brief first marriage to author James T Farrell.
Lee Radziwill
Wife
Ambassador. Born on March 3, 1933; sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; was previously married and divorced twice; married in September 1988; appointed US ambassador to Hungary; Ross reportedly filed for divorce in January 2000.

Notes

Ross received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Cancer Society in 1993.

Ross has directed 12 actors to Oscar nominations with three, George Burns, Maggie Smith and Richard Dreyfuss winning the award.

Biography

Choreographer-director-producer Herbert Ross was best known for elevating the role of dance in film and for his ability to elicit exceptional performances out of such leading ladies as Barbara Streisand, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft and Julia Roberts. Receiving his start as a Broadway performer and choreographer with the American Ballet Theater, Ross later staged dozens of musical sequences for such films as "Carmen Jones" (1954). Although he was one of Broadway's top choreographers - notably crafting Streisand's show-stopping number in 1963's "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" - Ross yearned to direct films, a goal he achieved with "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969). He began to hit his stride as a director alongside rising megastars like Streisand in "The Owl and the Pussycat" (1970) and Woody Allen in "Play it Again, Sam" (1972). Shortly thereafter, he began his prolific working relationship with playwright Neil Simon on "The Sunshine Boys" (1975). At the height of his career, Ross utilized his knowledge of ballet for "The Turning Point" (1977) and reteamed with Simon on "The Goodbye Girl" (1977) to win both critical acclaim and box office gold. Less successful were risky endeavors like the Depression-era Steve Martin musical-fantasy "Pennies from Heaven" (1981). Ross still had a few more cards up his sleeve, though, as the hits "Footloose" (1984) and "Steel Magnolias" (1989) triumphantly capped off a remarkable career. Whether crafting a spectacular dance number or directing a heartfelt romance, Ross' sole ambition to entertain an audience was unwavering.

Born Herbert David Ross on May 13, 1927 in Brooklyn, NY, he was the son of Louis Chester Ross, a postal clerk, and Martha Ross. Ross lost his mother when he was just nine years old, a tragedy that prompted his newly-widowed father to relocate to Florida shortly afterward. Even as a young boy, Ross found solace and freedom in performing for the public. During summer break from his Miami high school, he told his father that he would be staying with friends in New York City, only to surreptitiously travel with a theater company and tour the South. Upon his return home, the emboldened teen informed his father that he was dropping out of school to pursue a theater career. A heated argument ensued, followed by the younger Ross' departure. Tragically, his father died of a heart attack later that night. Returning to New York, Ross supported himself with a series of odd jobs and modeling work until a friend invited him to attend a performance by the renowned Ballet Russe. Transfixed by what he saw on stage that night, he immediately set his sights on becoming a dancer.

In the mid-1940s, Ross began his career as a dancer in several Broadway musicals, including "Something for the Boys" and "Laffing Room Only." After creating his own ballet production, "Caprichos" - inspired by the paintings of Goya - in 1950, Ross began his professional career as a choreographer with the American Ballet Theatre. The following year, he choreographed his first Broadway show with the production of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and continued to create memorable ballets, among them an all-male version of Jean Genet's "The Maids." In 1954, the in-demand Ross choreographed the musical sequences for the Broadway production of "House of Flowers" after providing similar duties on his first film, Oscar Hammerstein's African-American rendition of Bizet's classic opera, "Carmen Jones" (1954), starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge.

Ross made his first tentative steps toward directing for the screen with the made-for-TV movie, "Wonderful Town" (CBS, 1958), starring Rosalind Russell in a role she had originated on Broadway. The following year, Ross married prima ballerina Nora Kaye, who had coincidentally turned down the lead role in his "Caprichos" ballet several years earlier. Among other notable endeavors of the period, he staged the musical numbers for the Broadway smash hit "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" in 1963, the production often credited with making a star of a young Barbara Streisand. In the years to come, Ross and Streisand would work together several more times. Back in film, he provided choreography for such movies as U.K. director Peter Yates' musical-romance "Summer Holiday" (1963), prior to a dismal attempt at directing his first Broadway production, "Kelly," which closed after a single performance in 1965.

The turning point came when a sudden twist of fate led to Ross making his debut as a feature film director with "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969), a musical remake of the 1939 classic. The warm reception to that film set his career as a movie director in motion, and soon producer Ray Stark - with whom he would work closely many more times - tapped Ross to direct the comedy, "The Owl and the Pussycat" (1970), starring Streisand in her first non-singing role. He hit his stride in the '70s with the delirious Woody Allen vehicle "Play It Again, Sam" (1972) - a Bogart homage based on Allen's play of the same title. Ross then deftly executed the wit contained in the Anthony Perkins-Stephen Sondheim script for the mystery, "The Last of Sheila" (1973). The cleverly-plotted whodunit - boasting a cast that included James Coburn, James Mason, Raquel Welch and Dyan Cannon - also marked Ross' debut as a feature film producer, a role he maintained for nearly all of the subsequent pictures he would helm.

Ross went on to direct Streisand once more in "Funny Lady" (1975), in which she reprised the role of comedian Fanny Brice, whom she had portrayed in 1968's "Funny Girl" as well as the earlier Broadway sensation of the same name. He later began what would be a string of five film (and two stage) collaborations with writer Neil Simon, with the screen adaptation of Simon's play "The Sunshine Boys" (1975), starring George Burns and Walter Matthau as a pair of bickering, retired vaudevillians. Ross garnered some of the best critical notices of his career for the Sherlock Holmes pastiche "The Seven Per-Cent Solution" (1976), in which the great detective (Nicol Williamson) matches wits with Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) as he attempts to cure Holmes of his addiction to cocaine.

Ross reached his creative high watermark the following year with a pair of films that would elevate him to elite director status in a one-two punch of critical and commercial success. Acting as co-producer, along with wife Nora Kaye and screenwriter Arthur Laurents, Ross returned to his roots in ballet with "The Turning Point" (1977), the story of two old friends and competitors in the world of dance (Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft) who battle and bond over the affections of MacLaine's daughter. That same year he directed another Neil Simon offering, the box office hit "The Goodbye Girl" (1977). A romantic comedy about an unlucky-in-love single mother (Marsha Mason) and a neurotic struggling actor (Richard Dreyfuss), it charmed audiences as its titular theme song spent weeks on the radio charts. Combined, the two films earned a total of 16 nominations at that year's Academy Awards ceremony, including one for Ross as Best Director for "Turning Point," which, shockingly, failed to win any of the 11 awards it had been nominated for. Dreyfuss, however, wound up taking home the Best Actor Oscar for his role, while three of the five Best Actress nominees (MacLaine, Bancroft and Mason) were from Ross' two films.

Although Ross' output over the years that followed would not maintain that same level of brilliance and profitability, there were a few notable exceptions yet to come. Another Ross-Simon collaboration, "California Suite" (1978), was a star-studded, lightweight romantic comedy featuring such big names as Jane Fonda, Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, Bill Cosby and Maggie Smith. Two years later, he and Kaye, acting as producer, parlayed his earlier successes into the ambitious biopic "Nijinsky" (1980), the story of the legendary Russian dancer (George De La Peña) and his gradual descent into madness. Ross took an even bigger gamble with "Pennies from Heaven" (1981), a lavish musical fantasy starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters as star-crossed lovers desperate for love and happiness in Depression-era Chicago. Despite being well-received by the majority of critics, the unconventional narrative combined with Martin's against-type casting left audiences puzzled and the film at the bottom of the box office.

Following two more efforts with Simon - the unremarkable "I Ought to Be in Pictures" (1982) and "Max Dugan Returns" (1983) - Ross bounced back with yet another dance-themed project, "Footloose" (1984). Set in a small town where dancing is forbidden, the film made lead actor Kevin Bacon a star overnight, boasted a chart-topping soundtrack, and gave Ross his biggest commercial success in years. He returned a few years later with the popular Michael J. Fox comedy "The Secret of My Succe$s" (1987), a hit that only barely offset the vitriol directed at "Dancers" (1987). Another drama set in the world of ballet, "Dancers" starred Mikhail Baryshnikov and was dubbed one of the worst movies of the year by critic Roger Ebert. Far more devastating than any negative review, however, was the death of Ross' beloved wife, business partner and creative muse, Nora Kaye, who succumbed to cancer that year.

Ross enjoyed yet another triumph with "Steel Magnolias" (1989), a heartfelt ensemble drama starring Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts. The film, credited with jump-starting Roberts' fledgling career, further cemented Ross' reputation as a director keenly attuned to female performers. His later directorial efforts included the largely overlooked films "My Blue Heaven" (1990), "True Colors" (1991) and "Undercover Blues" (1993). Ross displayed his facility with strong leading ladies one last time with his final feature, "Boys on the Side" (1995), a road trip melodrama starring Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker and Drew Barrymore. Though he had begun production on a made-for-television remake of "The Magnificent Ambersons" (A&E, 2002), Ross' increasingly poor health forced him to drop out of the project soon after it had begun production. In early 2001, the ailing filmmaker divorced his second wife, socialite Lee Radziwill, the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, who he had married in 1988. Ross died of heart failure on Oct. 9, 2001 in New York and, as per his wishes, was interred next to Kaye. He was 74 years old.

By Bryce Coleman

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Boys on the Side (1995)
Director
Undercover Blues (1993)
Director
True Colors (1991)
Director
My Blue Heaven (1990)
Director
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Director
The Secret Of My Success (1987)
Director
Dancers (1987)
Director
Protocol (1984)
Director
Footloose (1984)
Director
Max Dugan Returns (1983)
Director
I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982)
Director
Pennies From Heaven (1981)
Director
Nijinsky (1980)
Director
California Suite (1978)
Director
The Goodbye Girl (1977)
Director
The Turning Point (1977)
Director
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)
Director
Funny Lady (1975)
Director
The Sunshine Boys (1975)
Director
The Last Of Sheila (1973)
Director
Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Director
T. R. Baskin (1971)
Director
The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)
Director
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
Director
Funny Girl (1968)
Music numbers Director

Producer (Feature Film)

Boys on the Side (1995)
Producer
Undercover Blues (1993)
Executive Producer
True Colors (1991)
Producer
Soapdish (1991)
Executive Producer
My Blue Heaven (1990)
Producer
The Secret Of My Success (1987)
Producer
Max Dugan Returns (1983)
Producer
I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982)
Producer
Pennies From Heaven (1981)
Producer
The Turning Point (1977)
Producer
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)
Producer
The Last Of Sheila (1973)
Producer

Dance (Feature Film)

Doctor Dolittle (1967)
Dance and Music numbers staged by
Inside Daisy Clover (1965)
Choreography
Summer Holiday (1963)
Music numbers staged by
Wonderful To Be Young! (1962)
Choreography
Carmen Jones (1955)
Dance Director

Production Companies (Feature Film)

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)
Company

Director (Special)

Follies in Concert (1986)
Director

Cast (Special)

Neil Simon: Not Just For Laughs (1989)

Writer (Special)

Steel Magnolias (1990)
Story By
Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever (1982)
From Film ("The Goodbye Girl")

Special Thanks (Special)

Steel Magnolias (1990)
Story By
Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever (1982)
From Film ("The Goodbye Girl")

Cast (Short)

The Amazing Miss Cummings An Actress at Work and Play (1975)
Himself

Life Events

1942

Stage debut as Third Witch in touring company of "Macbeth"

1950

Began choreography career with American Ballet Theatre

1951

First Broadway show as choreographer, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"

1954

Began directing musical numbers for Broadway shows (i.e., "House of Flowers")

1954

First film as choreographer, "Carmen Jones"

1955

Began writing and directing nightclub and cabaret acts, first for Eddie Albert and Margo and later Constance Bennett, Imogene Coca and Leslie Uggams, among others

1959

Resident choreographer with American Ballet Theatre

1960

Directed and choreographed the City Center revival of "Finian's Rainbow"

1962

Directed Barbara Streisand's show-stopping number as Miss Marmelstein in the Broadway musical "I Can Get It for You Wholesale"

1963

Choreographed the stage musical "Tovarich", starring Vivian Leigh

1964

First collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, staged the cult musical "Anyone Can Whistle"; book by Arthur Laurents

1965

Staged the musical numbers for "Do I Hear a Waltz?", based on Laurents' "The Time of the Cuckoo"; music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Sondheim

1966

Last Broadway show as choreographer, "The Apple Tree"

1968

Reunited with Streisand as choreographer and director of musical numbers for the film "Funny Girl"

1969

First film as director, the musical remake of "Goodbye Mr. Chips", starring Peter O'Toole

1970

Directed Streisand in her first non-musical role, "The Owl and the Pussycat"; first time as producer

1973

Helmed "The Last of Sheila", a mystery co-written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim

1975

First film adapted from a Neil Simon play, "The Sunshine Boys"

1975

Directed Streisand again in the film sequel "Funny Lady"

1976

Produced and directed the Sherlock Holmes pastiche "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution"

1977

Helmed Simon's "Chapter Two" on Broadway

1977

Had box-office hit with Simon's "The Goodbye Girl"

1977

Produced and directed "The Turning Point", starring Anne Bancroft, Shirley MacLaine and Mikhail Baryshnikov; film received 11 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director

1979

Directed Neil Simon's play "I Ought to Be in Pictures"

1981

Won critical acclaim but little box-office for the screen adaptation of "Pennies From Heaven"

1982

Helmed film version of "I Ought to Be in Pictures"

1983

Fifth and last (to date) film collaboration with Simon, "Max Dugan Returns"

1985

Staged a concert revival of the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical "Follies" at Lincoln Center; production taped for broadcast on PBS in 1986

1987

Last film with Nora Kaye as producer, "Dancers"

1989

Scored a hit with film adaptation of Robert Harling's play "Steel Magnolias", featuring Sally Field, Dolly Parton and Shirley MacLaine

1991

Executive producer for "Soapdish", starring Sally Field

1993

Directed a Los Angeles production of "La Boheme" and a Dallas production of it the following year

1995

Produced and directed "Boys on the Side", eliciting three strong, appealing performances from Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker and Drew Barrymore

Videos

Movie Clip

Steel Magnolias (1989) - Serve Him On Toast Amid bedlam preparing the house for the small-town Louisiana wedding reception for Shelby (Julia Roberts, not seen here), the first scene for Shirley MacLaine as nutty neighbor Ouizer, enraged with father-of-the-bride Tom Skerritt, who’s frightened her dog by using gunshots to scare away birds, early in Steel Magnolias, 1989, from Robert Harling’s play.
Steel Magnolias (1989) - Dearly Beloved About 30 minutes in, the Louisiana wedding of Julia Roberts as Shelby (the credited singer is Gale. J. Odom), Sally Field her mom, Shirley MacLaine as cranky Ouizer, Dolly Parton as stylist Truvy, Olympia Dukakis the widow Belcher, Tom Skerritt the father, his hearing compromised by earlier efforts to scare off birds, and Dylan McDermott the groom, in Steel Magnolias, 1989.
Steel Magnolias (1989) - My Colors Are Blush And Bashful The first ensemble scene in the Louisiana hair salon (where Robert Harling’s whole original play took place), on the day of the wedding of Julia Roberts (as Shelby), Sally Field her mother, Dolly Parton the proprietor Truvy, Daryl Hannah the new gal Annelle, Olympia Dukakis the widow Belcher, Herbert Ross directing, in Steel Magnolias, 1989.
Owl And The Pussycat, The (1970) - Sit On Your Tire Director Herbert Ross, from Bill Manhoff’s play and Buck Henry’s screenplay, introduces his two leads, first Barbara Streisand as Manhattan streetwalker Doris, sheltering under the New York Post, and George Segal as bookworm Felix, toting Henry James, in The Owl And The Pussycat, 1970, Jacques Sanduescu their super.
Owl And The Pussycat, The (1970) - What's Your Last Name? Still on their epic first night together, both thrown out of the same building, now in his friend’s apartment, after their improbable tryst, bookworm Felix (George Segal) and hooker Doris (Barbra Streisand) find a whole new range of topics to argue, in The Owl And The Pussycat, 1970, from the Bill Manhoff play.
Owl And The Pussycat, The (1970) - You Rat Fink Fruitcake! First meeting between the principals, neighbors in the same apartment, after aspiring novelist Felix (George Segal) has called the management to alert them that Doris (Barbra Streisand) appears to be transacting prostitution, seen through his window, early in director Herbert Ross’ The Owl And The Pussycat, 1970.
Pennies From Heaven (1981) - Chicago, 1934 Opening from director Herbert Ross and writer Dennis Potter (from his BBC TV series), Steve Martin as sheet-music salesman Arthur, Jessica Harper his wife Joan, with the first mimicked song, “I’ll Never Have To Dream Again,” recorded by Elsie Carlisle, in the retro-musical hybrid Pennies From Heaven, 1981.
Pennies From Heaven (1981) - Did You Ever See A Dream, Walking? Working his east-central Illinois sheet-music sales territory, Arthur (Steve Martin) haggles with shopkeeper Barrett (Raleigh Bond) then sees Eileen (Bernadette Peters) for the first time, miming the Bing Crosby recording of the song by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon, in Pennies From Heaven, 1981.
Pennies From Heaven (1981) - It's The Girl With fellow traveling salesmen Al (Robert Fitch, with glasses) and Ed (Tommy Rall, mustache), Arthur (Steve Martin) concedes it’s a girl he’s on about, song by Abel Baer and Dave Oppenheim, recorded by the Boswell Sisters and the Dorsey Brothers orchestra, in Pennies From Heaven, 1981.
Pennies From Heaven (1981) - Let's Misbehave Fired, pregnant and hungry schoolteacher Eileen (Bernadette Peters) wanders into a bar and meets pimp Tom (Christopher Walken) for his show-stopping strip-tease number, mimicking the Cole Porter song recorded by Irving Aaronson and His Commanders, in Pennies From Heaven, 1981.
California Suite (1978) - God Will Punish Us Droll Britishers Sidney (Michael Caine) and Oscar-nominated actress wife Diana (Maggie Smith), in town for the ceremonies, taking a call from her producer, in Neil Simon's California Suite, 1978.
California Suite (1978) - Offer Me A Monarchy Long-divorced Hannah (Jane Fonda) from New York visiting her successful screenwriter ex Bill (Alan Alda), arguing over their teenage daughter, in Neil Simon's California Suite, 1978.

Trailer

Protocol (1984) -- (Original Trailer) Original trailer for the Goldie Hawn Washington D.C.-based contemporary rom-com Protocol, 1984, co-starring Chris Sarandon, directed by Herbert Ross.
Last of Sheila, The - (Original Trailer) The Last of Sheila (1973), an all-star whodunit written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins.
Sunshine Boys, The - (Original Trailer) A feuding comedy team reunites for a television comeback in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys (1975) with an Academy Award®-winning performance by George Burns.
Doctor Dolittle (1967) - (Original Trailer) Rex Harrison is the doctor who can talk to the animals in the original musical Doctor Dolittle (1967).
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) - (Original Trailer) A conservative boys' schoolteacher (Peter O'Toole) falls in love with an actress (Petulia Clark) in a musical remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969).
Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The - (Original Trailer) Sherlock Holmes encounters Sigmund Freud and the two become involved in a case in the imaginative pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976).
Inside Daisy Clover - (Original Trailer) A girl on the road to stardom fights the dehumanizing effects of Hollywood life in Inside Daisy Clover (1965) starring Natalie Wood, Robert Redford and Christopher Plummer.
Goodbye Girl, The - (Original Trailer) Richard Dreyfuss won a Best Actor Oscar playing an aspiring actor who sublets an apartment from dancer Marsha Mason in Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl (1977).
Pennies From Heaven (1981) - (Original Trailer) A sheet music salesman finds love in depression-era Chicago in Pennies From Heaven (1981), starring Steve Martin.
Play It Again, Sam - (Original Trailer) Woody Allen gets romantic advice from the ghost of Humphrey Bogart in Play It Again, Sam (1972), co-starring Diane Keaton.
Owl and the Pussycat, The - (Original Trailer) A prostitute (Barbra Streisand) moves in with the bookworm who got her evicted from her apartment in The Owl and the Pussycat (1970).
Steel Magnolias - (Original Trailer) Small-town Southern women help each other through the trials of life in Steel Magnolias (1989) starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts.

Family

Louis Chester Ross
Father
Martha Ross
Mother
Anthony Stanislas Radziwell
Step-Son
TV producer. Born in August 1959; died of cancer on August 11, 1999 at age 40; worked at ABC News where he won two News Emmy Awards.
Anna Christina Radziwell
Step-Daughter

Companions

Nora Kaye
Wife
Ballerina, producer. Born in NYC in 1920; married on August 21, 1959 until her death on February 28, 1987 of cancer in Santa Monica, California; produced several of Ross' films including "The Turning Point"; had previously been married twice including a brief first marriage to author James T Farrell.
Lee Radziwill
Wife
Ambassador. Born on March 3, 1933; sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; was previously married and divorced twice; married in September 1988; appointed US ambassador to Hungary; Ross reportedly filed for divorce in January 2000.

Bibliography

Notes

Ross received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Cancer Society in 1993.

Ross has directed 12 actors to Oscar nominations with three, George Burns, Maggie Smith and Richard Dreyfuss winning the award.

"I think what I first related to in 'Boys' is the idea that there is no more conventional family as we knew it as children. I was struck by this band of desperately alone people who form a mutual support system. I made a conscious attempt to keep it as multi-ethnic as the society we live in." --Herbert Ross to Newsday, January 31, 1995.