Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Fosse

by Sam Wasson

The authoritative and endlessly revealing biography of renowned dancer, choreographer, screenwriter, and director Bob Fosse, written by a bestselling pop culture historian.

Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547553290
ISBN-10: 0547553293
Pages: 736
Publication Date: 11/05/2013
Carton Quantity: 12

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More than a quarter-century after his death, Bob Fosse’s fingerprints on popular culture remain indelible. The only person ever to win Oscar, Emmy, and Tony awards in the same year, Fosse revolutionized nearly every facet of American entertainment, forever marking Broadway and Hollywood with his iconic style — hat tilted, fingers splayed — that would influence generations of performing artists. Yet in spite of Fosse’s innumerable achievements, no accomplishment ever seemed to satisfy him, and offstage his life was shadowed in turmoil and anxiety.Now, bestselling author Sam Wasson unveils the man behind the swaggering sex appeal, tracing Fosse’s untold reinventions of himself over a career that would spawn The Pajama Game, Cabaret, Pippin, All That Jazz, and Chicago, one of the longest-running Broadway musicals ever. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished material and hundreds of sources — friends, enemies, lovers, and collaborators, many of whom have never spoken publicly about Fosse before — Wasson illuminates not only Fosse’s prodigious professional life, but also his close and conflicted relationships with everyone from Liza Minnelli to Ann Reinking to Jessica Lange and Dustin Hoffman. Wasson also uncovers the deep wounds that propelled Fosse’s insatiable appetites — for spotlights, women, and life itself. In this sweeping, richly detailed account, Wasson’s stylish, effervescent prose proves the ideal vehicle for revealing Bob Fosse as he truly was — after hours, close up, and in vibrant color.

Sam Wasson

SAM WASSON is the author of the New York Times bestseller Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M .: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman and two works of film criticism. He is a visiting professor of film at Wesleyan University. Read More


Other Books By The Author


The End

Gwen Verdon, legally Mrs. Bob Fosse, was smiling big. She had perched herself in the foyer beside a tray of champagne flutes so that, with the help of a few servers, she could pass them out between air-kisses and the occasional embrace. Verdon held herself with a poise befitting her legacy as the one-time greatest musical-comedy star in the world, and though her glory days were far behind her, one could immediately recognize the naughty, adorable, masterfully flirtatious song-and-dance girl Broadway had fallen in love with. Fosse’s best friend, Paddy Chayefsky, had called her the Empress.

   Around eight o’clock, the flurry of famous and obscure, some of them in black tie, others dressed merely for a great time, hugged and kissed their way off the pavement and into Tavern on the Green. They passed Verdon as they headed down the mirrored hall to the Tavern’s Crystal Ballroom, a fairy-tale vision of molded ceilings and twinkling chandeliers where light was low and sweet and a dark halo of cigarette smoke hovered over the ten-piece band. They played before a wide-open dance floor and dozens of tables apoof with bouquets. Each place was set with a miniature black derby, a tiny magic wand, and a little toy box that, when opened, erupted with cheers and applause.

   For Fosse’s haute clique of friends, lovers, and those in between, the night of October 30, 1987, was the best worst night in show-business history. In work or in love, they had all fought Fosse (in many cases, they had fought one another for Fosse), and they had always come back. No matter the pain he caused, they understood that on the other side of hurt, grace awaited them. His gift—their talent—awaited them. But now that Fosse was dead—this time permanently—many wondered how his wife, daughter, and armies of girlfriends, separated by their own claims on his love, would learn to hold his legacy.

   The site of sundry Fosse movie premieres and opening-night bashes, Tavern on the Green had hosted the oddest pairings of writers, dancers, and production people, old and young, sober and drunk, but tonight, the dance floor seemed to scare them away.

   People talked in separate clusters. Liza Minnelli cut a line through the procession, squeezed Verdon’s hand, and made her way toward Elia Kazan. Then came Roy Scheider. Without stopping, he nodded at Verdon and eased past Jessica Lange, who was wallflowering by Fosse’s psychiatrist, Dr. Clifford Sager, and Alan Heim, editor of Fosse’s autobiographical tour de force All That Jazz. “Alan,” producer Stuart Ostrow said, “you know, Bob always said you edited his life.” There was Cy Coleman; Sanford Meisner; Buddy Hackett; Dianne Wiest; Herb Schlein, the Carnegie Deli maître d’ who kept linen napkins set aside for Bobby and Paddy, his favorite customers for twenty years. Where was Fosse’s ally and competitor Jerome Robbins? (He was free that night, though he’d RSVP’d no.) Peering into the crowd, Verdon spotted what remained of Fosse’s tightest circle of friends—Herb Gardner, E. L. Doctorow, Neil Simon, Steve Tesich, Peter Maas, Pete Hamill—all writers, whom Fosse idolized for mastering the page, the one act he couldn’t. They were slumped over like tired dancers and seemed lost without Paddy, Lancelot of Fosse’s Round Table. “If there is an afterlife,” Gardner said, “Paddy Chayefsky is at this moment saying, ‘Hey, Fosse, what took you so long?’”

   

   Before his cardiac bypass, Fosse had added a codicil to his will: “I give and bequest the sum of $25,000 to be distributed to the friends of mine listed ... so that when my friends receive this bequest they will go out and have dinner on me.”

   Fosse thought the worst thing in the world (after dying) would be dying and having nobody there to celebrate his life, so he divided the twenty-five grand evenly among sixty-six people—it came out to $378.79 each—and then had them donate that money back to the party budget so that they’d feel like investors and be more likely to show up. Bob Fosse—the ace dancer, Oscar and Tony and Emmy Award–winning director and choreographer who burned to ash the pink heart of Broadway, revolutionized the movie musical twice, and changed how it danced—died hoping it would be standing room only at his party, and it was. Many more than his intended sixty-six shouldered in—some thought over two hundred came that night—but after a lifetime in show business, having amassed a militia of devoted associates, he had not been sure they all really really loved him. Had he been there, Fosse would have been studying their faces from across the room, keeping track of who told the truth and who told the best lies. Who really missed him? Who pretended to? Who was acting pretentious? Who was auditioning? He would have called Hamill and asked him later that night, waking him up, probably, at two in the morning. Fosse would fondly and faithfully deride the bereaved, but underneath he’d be worrying about the house, how many came, where they laughed, and if they looked genuinely sad.

   

   “This is incredibly sad,” said Arlene Donovan on one side of the room.

   “I’m having the best time,” said Alan Ladd Jr. on another.

   

   Roy Scheider, who had played a version of Fosse in All That Jazz, scrutinized every detail of the party scene from behind his cigarette and said, “It was as if he was orchestrating it.” He laughed.

   Stanley Donen eyed Scheider. “My God,” Donen thought, “I’m watching this with Fosse’s ghost.”

   By midnight many had said their goodbyes, but you wouldn’t know it to hear the band, grooving hard on their second wind. Ties were loosened. High heels dangled from fingers. Only the inner circle remained. Here was Fosse’s daughter, Nicole. Here was Gwen Verdon, his wife. Here was Ann Reinking, Fosse’s girlfriend of many years. Along with his work, they were the living record of his fervor, adored and sinned against, difficult to negotiate, impossible to rationalize.

   In a quiet room away from the clamor, Fosse’s last girlfriend, Phoebe Ungerer, wept. Then she left.

  Suddenly Ben Vereen flew to the dance floor. He threw his hands into the air and then onto his hips and started slithering. At first he was alone, but moments later the crowd caught on. Reinking followed with Nicole and the eternal redhead, Nicole’s mother, the Empress. The bandleader upped the tempo to a funk sound with the kind of heavy percussion Fosse loved, and Fosse’s three women moved closer together. Verdon, sixty-two; Reinking, thirty-eight; and Nicole, twenty-four—wife, mistress, daughter—started swaying, their arms entwined, moving together in an unmistakably sensual, sexy way. Their eyes closed and their bodies merged with the beat, pulsing together, like a hot human heart. Others joined them. First ex-girlfriends, then writers. A circle formed, closing in around the women, then opened, then closed, ceaselessly breaking apart and coming together. Grief and laughter poured out of them in waves.

 


Chicago Tribune Best Books of 2013
Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2013
NPR’s Best Books of 2013
Los Angeles Times Best Seller
Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 Books of 2013
Newsday’s Top 10 Books of 2013
Los Angeles Public Library Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013
Kirkus Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013

"Mr. Wasson is a smart and savvy reporter, and his book abounds with colorful firsthand tales—required reading for anyone eager to understand his brand of — to use a term that appears here constantly, and can’t be outdone — razzle-dazzle."
—Janet Maslin, New York Times

"Fascinating and exhaustive biography...Mr. Wasson has taken complete control of his subject."
Wall Street Journal

''He thought he was the best, and he thought he was terrible.'' The man in question is legendary choreographer and director Bob Fosse, whose celebrated life and career get their due in Sam Wasson's spellbinding 695-page biography, Fosse. You don't need to be a Broadway expert to enjoy this portrait of a man whose rise to power was famously fueled by insecurity. It's all here: accounts of his monstrous, masterful directing style; the explosive personal battles behind his Tony-winning triumphs; his incendiary relationship with Gwen Verdon. Wasson simply doesn't miss a thing. Give the guy a (jazz) hand. A-"
Entertainment Weekly

"Impeccably researched."
Vanity Fair

"The only thing that could have been better than Sam Wasson's page-turning, comprehensively rendered biography of choreographer-director Bob Fosse would have been Fosse's own memoir...Wasson's own narrative style has a jazzy, discursive and relentless energy well aligned with its subject."
USA Today

"Thorough and lively biography."
New Yorker, Briefly Noted

"Amazingly well-written."
New York Journal of Books

"Unlike countless biographies of artists and performers, "Fosse" does not rely on dime-store psychoanalysis in explicating its subject and his flaws...Wasson, so skilled at providing a macro overview -- he seamlessly outlines the history of both the American stage and the American movie musical to better foreground Fosse's transformations of each -- has also written a book filled with dazzling aperçus."
Newsday

"Wasson's biography is richly researched and passionate, and while Fosse's film pursuits are only a part of the story, his life had a cinematic sweep."
The Philadelphia Inquirer

"The reason I picked up Fosse, though, has as much to do with its author as with its subject. . . . Wasson is a canny chronicler of old Hollywood and its outsize personalities. (The cast of characters is enough to recommend the book: Audrey Hepburn, Truman Capote, Henry Mancini, Edith Head.) More than that, he understands that style matters, and, like his subjects, he has a flair for it."
New Yorker

"Definitive."
Hollywood Reporter

"Scintillating . . . There's an enormous amount of scholarship here, yet the story never drags, so adroitly does [Wasson] blend his material into a fluent narrative around evocative scenes where character emerges novelistically."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Here's something you can't say about many celebrity biographies: at nearly 750 pages, it feels like it ends too soon . . . A pure joy to read, cover to cover."
Booklist

"Lushly researched . . . [Wasson] has amassed a mountain of data about Fosse but has sculpted it into something moving and memorable. . . . Graceful prose creates a richly detailed and poignant portrait." —Kirkus (starred review)

"Deep inside this comprehensive study, Sam Wasson uses a phrase to describe the movie Cabaret: 'the bejeweling of horror.' Bob Fosse's whole life was something like that, a man who created magnificent, bejeweled art at personal cost. It's an American story, powerfully told."
— Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost

"I tore through this masterful biography, loving it from beginning to end. Wasson writes with a verve ideally tuned to his subject, sparkling with wit and fresh insight. . . . This is a life lived large — and dangerously — amid cultural currents that propelled and inspired Fosse as a dancer, choreographer, and director. In Fosse, Sam Wasson energetically and authoritatively brings it all into sharp focus, with uncanny depth and perception."
— Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen


"Hard work is evident in the intricate depiction of a complicated, brilliant man...A thoroughly researched and fascinating look at Fosse, viewed through the relationships and work that defined him. Highly recommended for theater or movie aficionados, aspiring performers, and fans of engrossing biography."
—Library Journal, STARRED review

"Sam Wasson’s Fosse is terrific in both senses of the word. It’s magnificent and frightening in equal measure, a biography so detailed and exacting that it makes you feel so
close to Bob Fosse at all the major and many of the minor events of his life that you can practically smell the cigarette stink, but at the same time so horrifying in its depiction of the man that it induces a kind of vicarious panic, an echo of the intense fear and despair Fosse suffered every day of his adult life. Fosse is one of the best, most entertaining biographies I have ever read. Bob Fosse was unique in being a dancer-turnedchoreographer-turned-director of both stage and screen. Only Busby Berkeley compares, but Berkeley was never a dancer. And Fosse’s range as a film director was wider by far than Berkeley’s; moreover, Berkeley directed a stage musical only once—albeit the smash 1971 revival of No, No Nanette—whereas Fosse directed a total of eight Broadway musicals, three of which are legendary: Chicago, Sweet Charity, and Pippin. And Fosse remains the only person to have won the Triple Crown of entertainment awards: a Best Director Oscar (for Cabaret), a Best Director
Tony (for Pippin), and a Best Director Emmy (for Liza with a Z), all in the same year (1973). He started out in Chicago as part of a song-and-dance duo with his friend Charlie Grass. They called themselves the Riff Brothers, a corny play on the brothers Ritz. But as Wasson points out, corny could be a compliment—as long as there was enough ‘‘razzle-dazzle’’ to give the corn a shine. The Riff Brothers played strip clubs, the threadbare remnants of the once halfway respectable burlesque
circuit. Vaudeville was on its way out, but even in the seediest and saddest venues Fosse picked up on vaudeville’s underlying appeal. It wasn’t just show business; it was showbiz, a distinction Fosse would embrace throughout his career. Fosse was a juiced-up teenage boy when he was hoofing his way through the strip joints, and many of his friends later came to believe that not only Fosse’s promiscuity and serial adultery but his harsh psychological gestalt was born of a humiliating sexual trauma inflicted on him by a stripper, an experience so painful that Fosse himself never discussed it. Whatever caused it, Fosse carried self-contempt around with him like an insecurity blanket for the rest of his life. Fosse landed in New York after the war, and in just a few years found seemingly unlikely patrons in the form of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, who put the young dancer in their act at the Pierre Hotel and got him a spot on the Colgate Comedy Hour. In a flash he was in Hollywood under contract at MGM. One day Stanley Done...

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