American dancer, singer and actress Gwen Verdon (1925-2000) won four Tony awards for her work on Broadway and also appeared in films and on television. Stricken with rickets as a child, Verdon overcame severe leg deformity through ballet training, making her film debut at 11 as a solo ballerina in the musical The King Steps Out (1936). Her theater credits include Can-Can (1953-1955), Damn Yankees (1955-1956), Redhead (1959-1960), New Girl in Town (1957-1958), Sweet Charity (1966-1967) and Chicago (1975-1977). When not dancing on stage or screen, she coached other actors, such as Jane Russell, Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Shirley MacLaine. This first full-length biography of Verdon covers her life and career, her individual performances and her collaborations with choreographers Jack Cole and Bob Fosse, her husband.
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I first became aware of Gwen Verdon in the film version of Damn Yankees so it was fascinating for me to discover that her association with Bob Fosse had been preceded by an earlier phase of her calling. This made writing the book a journey of discovery. Verdon had a remarkable career and her life can be seen as having five separate acts, since her work in showbusiness was interrupted by two temporary retirements. It can be divided into two periods when she worked with two choreographers who changed its direction. They were Fosse and Jack Cole, and Verdon acted as dance assistant and muse to their choreographic ambitions. Fosse in particular was responsible for giving Verdon two of her five acts, by creating the stage show Sweet Charity for her and bringing her out of her second retirement. But for someone to have had five acts in their life, they need to be special, and Verdon certainly was that. She was an extraordinary dancer, and though her singing voice was ordinary, her dramatic abilities made up for them.Verdon's gift as an actor would later be employed in dramatic roles that defined the last act of her life. In his review of her Broadway show Redhead, Brooks Atkinson wrote that she did everything that anyone one could expect of a musical performer, and more."She can portray character like a fully licensed dramatic actress. She can sing in a russet-colored voice that is mighty pleasant to hear ... and she can dance with so much grace and gaiety that her other accomplishments seem to be frosting on the cake".About the Author:
Playwright Peter Shelley is the author of several books on film history. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
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