- Gwen Verdon
name = Gwen Verdon
imagesize = 180px
birthname = Gwyneth Evelyn Verdon
birthdate = birth date|mf=yes|1925|1|13
Culver City, California
deathdate = death date and age|mf=yes|2000|10|18|1925|1|13
spouse = James Henaghan (1942-1947)
tonyawards = Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Best Leading Actress in a Musical
New Girl In Town"
Gwyneth Evelyn “Gwen” Verdon (January 13, 1925 – October 18, 2000) was an American
Early life & career
Verdon was born in
Culver City, California, the second child of Gertrude Lilian (née Standring; October 24, 1896-October 16, 1956) and Joseph William Verdon (December 31, 1896-June 23, 1978), who were British emigrants to the United States by way of Canada. [ [http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,278295,00.html Sweet Rarity | Gwen Verdon | Obituary | News | Entertainment Weekly ] ] Her brother was William Farrell Verdon (August 1, 1923-June 10, 1991). The Verdon family could be described as "showpeople." Her father was an electricianat MGM Studios, and her mother was a former vaudevillian of the Denishawn dance troupe, as well as a dance teacher. [ [http://www.filmreference.com/film/38/Gwen-Verdon.html Gwen Verdon Biography (1925-2000) ] ]
As a child, Gwen was afflicted with
rickets, leaving her legs so badly misshapen she was called "Gimpy" by other children and spent her early years in orthopedicboots and rigid leg braces. Her mother put three-year-old Gwen in dance classes; ballettraining strengthened her legs and improved her carriage.
By age six, the redheaded Gwen was performing on stage as a tap dancer. She went on to study multiple dance forms, ranging from tap, jazz, ballroom and flamenco, to Balinese and juggling.At age 11, she appeared as a solo ballerina in the musical romance film "
The King Steps Out" (1936), directed by Josef von Sternbergand starring Grace Mooreand Franchot Tone. She attended Hamilton High School in Los Angeles and also studied under the renowned ballet master, Ernest Belcher. While in high school, she was cast in a revival of " Show Boat".
Verdon shocked her parents and instructors when she abandoned her budding
careerat age 17 to elope with her first husband in 1942. In 1945, she appeared as a dancer in the movie musical "The Blonde From Brooklyn". After her divorce, she entrusted her young son, Jimmy, to the care of her parents.
Early on, Verdon found a job as assistant to choreographer Jack Cole, whose work was respected by both Broadway and major Hollywood
movie studios. During her five-year employment with Cole, she took small roles in movie musicals as a "specialty dancer". She also gave dance instruction to performers who eventually became stars, such as Jane Russell, Gene Kelly, Fernando Lamas, Lana Turner, Betty Grableand Marilyn Monroe.
Verdon started out on Broadway as a "gypsy", going from one
chorus lineto another. Her breakthrough role finally came when she was cast by choreographer Michael Kiddas the second female lead in Cole Porter's musical "Can-Can" (1953), which starred French prima donnaLilo. Out-of-town reviewers hailed Verdon's interpretation of Eve in the "Garden of Eden" ballet as a performance that upstaged the show's star, who jealously demanded Verdon's role be cut to only two featured dance numbers. With her role reduced to little more than an ensemble part, Verdon formally announced her intention to quit by the time the show premiered on Broadway. But her opening night "Garden of Eden" performance was so well-received, the audience screamed her name until the startled actress was brought out of her dressing room in her bathrobe to take a curtain call. Verdon received a pay increase and her first Tony Awardfor her triumphant performance.
With flaming red hair and an irreverent attitude, Verdon was considered the best dancer on Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s. She would forever be identified with her role as the vampish "Lola" in Bob Fosse's "Damn Yankees" (1955), which is based on the novel "
The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant". In the play, Verdon played a Devil's disciple who entices a baseball aficionado to sell his soul to play for the Washington Senators. The musical ran for 1,019 performances. She won another Tony and went to Hollywood to repeat her role in the 1958 movie version, " Damn Yankees", singing the memorable lyrics, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets."
In 1966, Verdon returned to the stage in the role of Charity in "
Sweet Charity", which like many of her earlier Broadway triumphs was choreographed by longtime husband Bob Fosse. The show became a Broadway cult classic and was followed by a movie version starring Shirley MacLaine, Ricardo Montalban, Sammy Davis Jr.and Chita Rivera. Verdon helped choreograph the numbers, which included the legendary "Big Spender", the fast-paced "Rhythm of Life" and the show-stopping "If My Friends Could See Me Now".
She and estranged husband Bob Fosse collaborated on projects like "Chicago" (1975) (in which she played murderess Roxie Hart) and the musical "
Dancin'" (1978), as well as Fosse's autobiographical movie, " All That Jazz" (1979). She developed a close working relationship with Fosse's domestic companion, actress Ann Reinking, and instructed for Reinking's musical theatre classes.
After playing Roxie Hart in "Chicago", Verdon focused on acting, playing character roles in movies such as "
The Cotton Club" (1984), "Cocoon" (1985) and "" (1988). She continued to instruct dance and musical theatre and to act, including receiving three Emmy Awardnominations for appearances on " Magnum PI" (1988), "Dream On" (1993) and "Homicide" (1993). Verdon appeared as the Alice's mother in the Woody Allenmovie "Alice" (1990) and as Ruth in " Marvin's Room" (1996), co-starring Meryl Streepand Hume Cronyn. In 1999, Verdon served as artistic consultant on the stage biography of her late husband's life in theatre, the current stage musical " Fosse", and her daughter Nicole received a "special thanks" credit. The show received a Tony for best musical.
Verdon played Alora in the movie "
Walking Across Egypt" (1999) and appeared in the movie "Bruno", released in 2000.
Verdon received a total of four Tonys, for "Can-Can" (1953), "Damn Yankees" (1955), "New Girl in Town" (1957) and "Redhead" (1959), a murder-mystery musical. She also won a
Grammy Awardfor the cast recording of "Redhead".
Personal life and death
Verdon had two husbands, tabloid reporter James Henaghan (married 1942, divorced 1947) and Bob Fosse (married 1960, his death 1987). She and Henaghan had one son,
Jim Henaghan(born 1943); she and Fosse had a daughter, Nicole Fosse(born 1963).
In 1971, Verdon filed a legal separation from Fosse (but never divorced) because of his extramarital affairs. Verdon was accompanying Fosse to the 1987 revival of "Sweet Charity" starring
Donna McKechniein Washington and held him in her arms when he suffered a fatal heart attack on the walk outside the theatre.
Verdon died quietly in her sleep in 2000 of a heart attack at the home of her daughter, Nicole, in
Woodstock, Vermont, at the age of 75. [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0893862/ Gwen Verdon at the Internet Movie Database] At 8 p.m. on the night she died, all marquee lights on Broadway were dimmed in tribute to one of its greatest and brightest stars.
The King Steps Out" (1936)
The Blonde from Brooklyn" (1945)
On the Riviera" (1951)
David and Bathsheba" (1951)
Meet Me After the Show" (1951)
The I Don't Care Girl" (1953)
The Mississippi Gambler" (1953)
The Farmer Takes a Wife" (1953)
Gentlemen Marry Brunettes" (1955) (scenes deleted)
* "Damn Yankees" (1958)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978) (Cameo)
Creepshow" (1982) (voice only)
* "Legs" (1983)
The Cotton Club" (1984)
* "" (1985)
* "Cocoon" (1985)
* "" (1988)
* [http://www.who2.com/gwenverdon.html Who2]
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Look at other dictionaries:
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