Even the most casual of Broadway fans probably know all about Bob Fosse and his jazz hands. The same cannot be said of Gwen Verdon, Fosse’s partner in dance who helped him define what Broadway-style dance is. Fosse, according to Kevin Winkler, author of Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical, “has that singular style: kind of cool and yet very hot and sexy, leading with the pelvis.”
Verdon brought that style to life and now FX’s Fosse/Verdon is bringing their story – the good, the bad, and all that jazz – to the small screen with help from Michelle Williams, Sam Rockwell, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is an executive producer on the project, along with the couple’s daughter Nicole Fosse. Though Fosse and Verdon were married in 1960 and separated in 1971, the couple never divorced. And while both Fosse and Verdon have since died, their bond stayed with them until the end. To better understand the eight-part series based on Sam Wasson’s 2013 biography, Fosse, it’s worth knowing what happened after the one-time duo parted ways.
After a long career that started in 1955 when Verdon was cast as Lola in the Broadway musical Damn Yankees and went into the late 1960s when the couple worked on the film version of Sweet Charity, they eventually uncoupled. Their romance ended due to infidelity, drug abuse, and alcoholism, leading Verdon to call it quits a little over a decade after they said, “I do."
But their bond was strong, all the way up until Fosse's death. In 1971, after their separation, Fosse told the New York Times, “The happiest times I ever had with Gwen were when we were working together. They stimulated all sorts of things.'' This might be why the two continued to remain close after their split, even working together on occasion including 1972’s Cabaret in which Verdon was an assistant to Fosse. The two would also reunite for Broadway’s Chicago in 1975 with Verdon originating the role of Roxie Hart in what would be her final Broadway role. The two would later work together on Fosse’s 1979 semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz.
In 1987, when the 60-year-old Fosse died of a heart attack Verdon was right there with him when it happened; the two were on their way to a revival of Sweet Charity. After his passing, Verdon would carry on his legacy by supervising the Broadway revival of Chicago and Fosse, a career retrospective of his work. In some ways, it’s thanks to Verdon that Fosse’s work continues to live on the way it does – possibly, at her own legacy’s expense. “She outlived Fosse by a number of years and her mind and body became a repository for Fosse’s work,” Winkler wrote in Big Deal, “and she passed that on to more than a few generations of dancers, actors, and singers.”
Verdon is known for her connection to Fosse, but she continued to work long after his passing. She appeared in 1985’s Cocoon and its sequel, along with the 1996 Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep film Marvin’s Room. She also appeared on TV shows like Magnum, P.I. and Walker, Texas Ranger, which was her final role in 1999.
In 2000, Verdon passed away at the age of 75 and in her obituary, the New York Times said that while she was alive, she was the “living embodiment of [Fosse’s] work on Broadway.” Something she also believed, saying in an interview, ''I was a great dancer when he got hold of me, but he developed me, he created me.''
Now, nearly two decades later, Fosse/Verdon is finally bringing attention to the ways in which Verdon created him, too.