Fosseby Sam Wasson
The authoritative and endlessly revealing biography of renowned dancer, choreographer, screenwriter, and director Bob Fosse, written by a bestselling pop culture historian.See more details below
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The authoritative and endlessly revealing biography of renowned dancer, choreographer, screenwriter, and director Bob Fosse, written by a bestselling pop culture historian.
Bob Fosse, the legendary Broadway choreographer and director of the trendsetting movie antimusicals Cabaret and All That Jazz (which chronicled his life), is the glittering, neurotic soul of showbiz in this scintillating biography. Film scholar and critic Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.) styles Fosse as a charismatic charmer, a relentless and endearing lady's man, a tyrant in the rehearsal studio, a prima donna in the director's chair, and a methamphetamine-addicted narcissist with a persistent death wish and simultaneous delusions of grandeur and worthlessness. Embedded within this exhilarating, appalling portrait is a revealing account of Fosse's dance innovations: the fluttering hands, wrist flicks, shoulder shrugs and other "isolations" of disarticulated body parts; the sleazy vaudevillian glamor inspired—and haunted—by his teenage years dancing at burlesque clubs; his vision of life as a cynical "performance of self." There's an enormous amount of scholarship here, yet the story never drags, so adroitly does he blend his material into a fluent narrative around evocative scenes where character emerges novelistically. Throughout, he spotlights vivid supporting sketches of celebrities from Fred Astaire (who "danced even when he stood still") to Liza Minnelli ("a strange, spastic show-biz animal"). Agent: David Halpern, the Robbins Office.(Nov.)
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-"
"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."
"Thorough and lively biography."
—New Yorker, Briefly Noted
—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."
"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."
"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."
"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 . . . Fosse is one of the best, most entertaining biographies I have ever read. . . . [Wasson's] intelligent prose flies off the page. He’s not only an impressive researcher—he interviewed more than 300 of Fosse’s friends and associates— but a wonderfully witty writer who chose every one of the book’s vast number of words with extraordinary care. And he’s got a killer sense of humor. Some sentences of this book are so damn funny that I laughed out loud." — Film Quarterly
Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman; A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards) takes readers on a wild ride through the life of Bob Fosse, revered for his directorial and choreographical works on Broadway, such as Sweet Charity, Pippin, and Chicago, as well as the film version of Cabaret. His distinctive jazz dance style influenced many, including Michael Jackson. Fosse began performing in burlesque clubs at 16, danced for the troops during World War II, and appeared in several MGM musicals. He transitioned from dancing to choreography, directing, screenwriting, and film editing and was the first person to win an Emmy, a Tony, and an Oscar in one year (1973). Fosse often pushed his performers to the breaking point to bring out emotion, and it usually worked. Beyond his career, he battled drug addiction and distrust and, though he loved women, struggled with infidelity, as reflected in his three marriages and countless affairs. Yet Fosse was also beloved for his talent, friendship, and charm. The author interviewed more than 300 of the artist's friends, relatives, and competitors for this book, and his hard work is evident in the intricate depiction of a complicated, brilliant man. VERDICT 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.—Katie Lawrence, Chicago
The lushly researched life of celebrated dancer, choreographer and director (stage, films, TV) Bob Fosse (1927–1987). Film critic and biographer Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, 2010, etc.) has amassed a mountain of data about Fosse but has sculpted it into something moving and memorable. With chapters whose titles remind us of his approaching death ("Fifteen Years," "Five Years," "One Hour and Fifty-Three Minutes"), the author both increases the dramatic irony of the dancer's days and reminds us continually of life's evanescence. After a swift chapter about Fosse's boyhood--for a long time, he concealed his dancing passion and skills)--Wasson guides us through his incredibly productive career (in a single year, 1973, he won a Tony, an Oscar and an Emmy), providing engaging detail about his major productions--Sweet Charity, Pippin, Cabaret, Chicago, All That Jazz and others. Wasson shows us Fosse's enormous empathy for his dancers, his ferocious work ethic, his reliance on uppers and cigarettes, and his constitutional inability to remain faithful to a single woman. His hotel room during productions was, well, a chorus line. A few resisted him (he never seemed to bear a grudge), and former wife, fellow choreographer and gifted dancer Gwen Verdon remained in his orbit to the absolute end--she was with him when he collapsed on the street. We see, too, his close friendships (Paddy Chayefsky, E.L. Doctorow), his rivalries (Michael Bennett) and his friendly rivals (Jerome Robbins). The author also reveals a deeply insecure artist who wanted to be a writer and was always certain his productions would fail--and, in the late cases of Big Deal and Star 80, he was certainly correct. Graceful prose creates a richly detailed and poignant portrait, simultaneously inspiring and depressing.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt
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.
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