Warning: Some details of this article may spoil the biographical series, Fosse/Verdon.
Many television viewers' first introduction to a legendary performer and dancer, known to Broadway fans everywhere, will be through the FX limited series, Fosse/Verdon. However, the real Gwen Verdon was lauded as one of the best dancers to ever grace a Broadway stage and was once even considered a household name.
Verdon's Early Life, Before Broadway
Verdon was as close to being born into performing as you could get. Her mother was also a dancer and member of an influential modern dance group, Denishawn. As soon as Verdon could walk, she was encouraged to dance. By the age of six, she was performing as ''the fastest little tapper in the world," but she wouldn't make her Broadway debut until she was 25. At 17, she eloped with a journalist from The Hollywood Reporter, James Henaghan. They were married for five years before separating.
Verdon's Broadway Debut & Big Break
It wasn't until 1950 that she made her Broadway debut in Alive and Kicking. During that production, Verdon met and began working with famed choreographer Jack Cole who is revered as "the Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance." Her dancing wasn't the only talent contributing to her meteoric rise to fame. She garnered a reputation for bringing depth as an actress to all of the roles that she played. Verdon's big break was in 1953 when she stole the show in Can-Can. She went on to win a Tony Award for her performance. Over the next six years, she would go on to win three more.
The trailer for the documentary Merely Marvelous, all about Verdon, shows off a few of her best moves:
When Verdon Met Fosse
In 1955, Verdon began working with Fosse. Together, they collaborated on shows and films like Damn Yankees, Chicago, and Redhead. It was her undeniable talent that would help Fosse shape and influence the style of his unique choreography. This uniqueness would become his calling card.
First, she was Fosse's muse, then she became his wife. Verdon and Fosse were married in 1960. They had a daughter, Nicole Fosse in 1963. Though they separated in 1971, they remained close creative collaborators until his death in 1987. In a 1971 interview, Fosse said, "The happiest times I ever had with Gwen were when we were working together."
Gwen Verdon In Movies, TV, And Beyond
Later in her career, Verdon focused her creative energy on acting and preserving Fosse's legacy. She acted in multiple films including Cocoon and Alice. She also had a recurring role on '80s staple Magnum P.I., appeared on '90s hit Walker: Texas Ranger a few times, dropped in for an episode of Fame and M*A*S*H, and made several appearances on ABC's All My Children.
But that's not all: Acting as a supervisor and artistic advisor, she oversaw multiple homages to Fosse such as his autobiographical film All That Jazz and the musical, Fosse.
Verdon passed away in 2000. To honor her legacy, all of the marquee lights on Broadway were dimmed at 8:00 p.m. that night, per her New York Times obituary.
Her life was marked by innovation, creativity, and magnetic performance after magnetic performance. And now, a new generation of Broadway fans and newcomers alike will be introduced to brilliance that is Gwen Verdon.