Nationality: American. Born: Robert Louis Fosse in Chicago, 23 June 1927. Education: Amundsen High School, Chicago, graduated 1945; studied acting at American Theatre Wing, New York, 1947.
Family: Married 1) Mary Ann Niles (divorced); 2) Joan McCracken (divorced); and 3) Gwen Verdon, 1960 (divorced). Career: Formed dance team, "The Riff brothers," with Charles Grass, 1940; master of ceremonies in a night club, 1942; enlisted in U.S. Navy, 1945, assigned to entertainment units in Pacific; chorus dancer in touring companies, 1948–50; Broadway debut in Dance Me a Song, 1950; signed to MGM, Hollywood, 1953; Broadway debut as choreographer with The Pajama Game, 1954; directed first film, Sweet Charity, 1968. Awards: Nine "Tony" Awards; Oscar for Best Director, and British Academy Award for Best Director, for Cabaret, 1972; also Emmy Award, for Liza with a "Z," 1973. Died: Of a heart attack, in Washington, D.C., 23 September 1987.
Films as Director:
Sweet Charity (+ chor)
Cabaret (+ chor)
All That Jazz (+ chor)
The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (Weis) (role); Kiss Me Kate (Sidney) (role); Give a Girl a Break (Donen) (role)
My Sister Eileen (Quine) (chor, role)
The Pajama Game (Donen and Abbott) (chor)
Damn Yankees (What Lola Wants) (Donen and Abbott) (chor, dancer in "Who's Got the Pain" number)
The Little Prince (Donen) (chor "Snake in the Grass" number, role)
Thieves (Berry) (role)
By FOSSE: articles—
"The Making of Lenny," interview with S. Hornstein, in FilmmakersNewsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), February 1975.
Interview in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1984.
On FOSSE: books—
Altman, Rick, The American Film Musical, Bloomington, Indiana, 1989.
Grubb, Kevin Boyd, Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse, New York, 1989.
Gottfried, Martin, All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse, New York, 1990.
Beddow, Margery, Bob Fosse's Broadway, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1996.
On FOSSE: articles—
Vallance, T., "Bob Fosse," in Focus on Film (London), Summer 1972.
Gardner, P., "Bob Fosse," in Action (Los Angeles), May/June 1974.
Badder, D.J., "Bob Fosse," in Film Dope (London), April 1979.
Drew, B., "Life as a Long Rehearsal," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1979.
Braun, E., "In Camera: The Perfectionist," in Films and Filming (London), January 1980.
Valot, J., P. Ross, and D. Parra, "Bob Fosse," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), March 1984.
Mizejewski, Linda, "Women, Monsters, and the Masochistic Aesthetic in Fosse's Cabaret," in Journal of Film and Video (Boston), vol. 39, no. 4, 1987.
Wood, Robin, "Cloven Hoofer: Choreography as Autobiography in All That Jazz," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Winter 1987.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 24 September 1987.
Obituary in Hollywood Reporter, 25 September 1987.
Obituary in Films and Filming (London), November 1987.
Kemp, P., "Degrees of Radiance," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), March 1988.
* * *
Rex Reed once said of Bob Fosse (in a review of his performance as The Snake in The Little Prince), "The man can do anything!" Somewhat effusive, Reed's comment nonetheless has more than a kernel of truth: Fosse won eight Tonys, one Oscar, and one Emmy over the course of his career. In fact, he garnered four of the awards (the Oscar for Cabaret, the Emmy for Liza with a Z, and two Tonys for Pippin) in one year.
Fosse started his career as a dancer and choreographer on Broadway and divided his time almost equally between directing for the stage and for films. All of Fosse's films are musicals (with the exception of Lenny) and it is within this genre that he made significant contributions. The directorial choices employed by Fosse stemmed, not surprisingly, from his style of dancing and choreography: a type of eccentric jazz that isolates and exaggerates human motion, breaking it up into small components. It has been noted that there appears to be little difference between the dance material for Fosse's stage and film choreography. But the presentation of the dance is radically different. On the stage, only the performers could create the fragmentation of Fosse's choreography. In film, the use of multiple camera set-ups and editing allowed an amplification of this fragmentation, essentially obliterating the dance material and the mise-en-scène.
This style can be seen as the complete opposite of Astaire's presentation, which strives to preserve spatial and temporal integrity. "I love the camera," Fosse once said, "I love camera movement and camera angles. As a choreographer you see everything with a frame." Camera angle and camera image become more important choreographic components than the dancing. The dance routine itself is non-essential, subordinated to a more complex system of integration and commentary, as Jerome Delameter has noted.
Fosse's notions of integration and commentary drastically altered the structure of the American musical film. Reacting against thirty-odd years of the Arthur Freed musical, Fosse broke new ground in 1972 with Cabaret. No longer were the musical numbers "integrated" into the narrative with people singing to each other. All dance performances were logically grounded, occurring where they might be expected—on a stage, for example (and never leaving that stage, as Berkeley did)—and was distinctly separated from the narrative. The "integration" took place in the sense that each performance was a comment on the narrative action. In an interview with Glenn Loney for After Dark, Fosse shed some light on his approach. "I don't think there is any such thing as a realistic musical. As soon as people start to sing to each other, you've already gone beyond realism in the usual sense. . . . I have generally tried to make the musical more believable." Fosse did not seek to make the events more realistic, just more plausible and logical. Fosse expounded on his concepts of "believability," "integrated commentary," and visual fragmentation of performance via camera angle and editing with All That Jazz, a film in which musical numbers are literal hallucinations, obviously separated from the narrative but still logically grounded within it.
Legendary director/choreographer Bob Fosse (1927-1987) is known for hits such as Sweet Charity, with its trademark jazzy number, "Hey Big Spender," and Cabaret.
Bob Fosse began his unusual career as a dancer in the late 1940s, touring with companies of Call Me Mister and Make Mine Manhattan. After playing the lead in a summer-stock production of Pal Joey, then choreographing a showcase called Talent 52, Fosse was given a screen test by M-G-M and went on to appear in the film Kiss Me Kate (1953). This appearance, in a highly original dance number, led to Fosse's first job as a choreographer, the Jerome Robbins-directed Broadway hit The Pajama Game (1954). Soon after, he met the talented dancer Gwen Verdon, and the two proceeded to collaborate on several hit shows, including Damn Yankees (1955, film 1958), New Girl in Town (1957), and Redhead (1959). (Fosse and Verdon married soon after.) He was also frequently sought out as the "doctor" on shows in trouble, especially How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Little Me (both 1962).
Choreography Showcased Unique Style
Fosse's best collaboration with Verdon, Sweet Charity (1966, film 1969), demonstrated their perfect compatibility as a creative team and also flaunted his trademark style as a choreographer. Strongly influenced by choreographer Jack Cole, Fosse staged dance numbers that were highly stylized, using staccato movements and erotic suggestion. The "Steam Heat" number from The Pajama Game and "Hey Big Spender" from Sweet Charity were trademark Fosse numbers—jazzy, machinelike motion and cocky, angular, even grotesque poses. He favored style over substance (his patented knee slides and spread-finger hands), and mini-malistic costuming (all black, accentuated by hats and gloves). A perfectionist, Fosse liked detail in his choreography and would position his dancers down to the angles of their feet or their little fingers. As his career progressed, Fosse became increasingly fascinated with expressing sexuality and decadence through dance.
Had Hit with Cabaret
Fosse's peak year was 1973. In addition to his Cabaret Oscar, he nabbed Tonys for his direction and choreography of the Broadway musical Pippin, the eerily magical and sexually decadent story of the son of King Charlemagne on a journey of self-discovery. Like Cabaret, Pippin featured exaggerated, grotesque makeup and costuming and erotic dance numbers. Fosse's experiment—to place the story and music at the service of choreography—paid off when Pippin (helped by a television advertising campaign) became Fosse's longest-running Broadway show. That same year he won an Emmy for directing and choreographing Minnelli's television special Liza with a Z, which garnered high ratings and featured groundbreaking production numbers. In 1973 Fosse seemed to be everywhere.
Heart Attack Led to Autobiographical Film
In Lenny (1974), an exploration of the life of controversial comic Lenny Bruce, Fosse experimented with a mock-documentary filmmaking style. He identified with Bruce's attempt to liberate inhibited audiences with shocking and challenging material. Fosse suffered a heart attack while editing Lenny and rehearsing the successful Broadway musical Chicago (1975), which starred Verdon as notorious murderess Roxie Hart. Chicago was a cynical, stylized homage to 1920s-era burlesque and vaudeville. In the fascinating but disturbing film All That Jazz (1979), he used the heart attack (including a filmed bypass operation) to kill off the main character, an obsessive, womanizing, workaholic director clearly based on Fosse. His other 1970s stage musical was the innovative Dancin' (1978), which featured three acts constructed purely of dance numbers, eliminating story, song, and characters.
Fosse's work in the 1980s received mixed responses. His film Star 80 (1983) explored the violent, obsessive relationship between Playboy-model-turned-actress Dorothy Stratten and Paul Snider, the husband who brutally murdered her in 1980. Audiences and critics did not respond to the tough, gruesome subject matter. Nor did they appear to enjoy the jazz ballet Big Deal (1986), Fosse's last Broadway show. A revival of Sweet Charity in 1986 was more successful, but just as the touring company was about to be launched, Fosse died of a heart attack on 23 September 1987.
Martin Gottfried, All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse (New York: Bantam Books, 1990).
Kevin Boyd Grubb, Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989). □