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Gwen Verdon

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Gwen Verdon
Gwen Verdon B&W
Gwen Verdon appeared as USO performer "Brandy Doyle" in the Season 9 "M*A*S*H" episode "That's Show Biz".
Personal Information
Gender: Female
Birthname Gwyneth Evelyn Verdon
Born: (1925-01-13)January 13, 1925
Birthplace Culver City, California, U.S.
Died: October 18, 2000(2000-10-18) (aged 75)
Deathplace Woodstock, Vermont, U.S.
Occupation/
Career:
Actress/Entertainer
Years active: 1936-2000 (her death)
Character information
Appeared on/in: M*A*S*H
Episodes appeared in: "That's Show Biz" in Season 10
Character played: Brandy Doyle


Gwen Verdon (born January 13, 1925-died October 18, 2000) appeared as Brandy Doyle in the Season 10 episode of M*A*S*H titled "That's Show Biz". Gwen worked on such notable Broadway stage and screen work quickly followed with highlights in "New Girl In Town", "Redhead", "Sweet Charity", and "Chicago". She and her daughter, Nicole Fosse, created the current stage musical "Fosse". Upon her death, Broadway dimmed all of its marquee lights in tribute.

BiographyEdit

Early lifeEdit

Born Gwyneth Evelyn Verdon in Culver City, California. Her parents were English emigrants, Joseph William. a studio electrician, and Gertrude Verdon, a vaudevillian and dancer. She had one brother, William Vernon. Joseph was an electrician at MGM and Gertrude was a former dancer and vaudeville veteran. When she was a child, Gwen was afflicted with rickets, a disease that left her legs so badly misshapen that she was called "Gimpy" by other children and had to wear orthopedic boots and stiff braces. Gertrude placed her daughter in dance classes at the age of 3 in hopes of strengthening her legs and improving her carriage. By the age of 6, Gwen was studying many dance forms (ballroom, Balinese, tap, jazz, juggling, flamenco).

She attended Hamilton High School in LA, where she was cast in a revival of "Show Boat". However, she shocked her parents and instructors by abandoning her budding career to elope with tabloid reporter James Henaghan. The marriage last 5 years and left Gwen 22-years-old, divorced and with a son, Jim Henaghan (aka Jimmy). She trusted Jimmy to the care of her parents and went to work as temperamental Jack Cole's assistant choreographer, where she helped him with shows like "Magdalena" and "Alive and Kicking".

Early careerEdit

Although she landed a few small film roles as a "specialty dancer", Gwen was more often delegated to instruct actresses such as Jane Russell, Lana Turner, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Cole cast Gwen in his show "Alive and Kicking", but the show was a bitter disappointment to both Cole and Gwen and closed quickly. Ms. Verdon returned to Hollywood to raise her son and teach dance. However, 1953 brought 28-year-old Gwen a big break in the Cole Porter musical "Can Can", which was choreographed by Michael Kidd. Her role as "Claudine" in "Can Can" brought Gwen a Tony. At the conclusion of the "Garden of Eden" number, the house went wild. Verdon left the stage, went to her dressing room and changed into her bathrobe. The audience would not stop applauding until she took another bow... which she did--dressed in her bathrobe.

Her next role was as "Lola", the sexy, volatile seductress and assistant to the Devil in "Damn Yankees", a role choreographed by Bob Fosse (she also played the part in the film version). Gwen won her second Tony for this role. Fosse chose Verdon over Marilyn Monroe. Fosse and Verdon collaborated on "New Girl In Town" and "Redhead", bringing her her third and fourth Tony's. Fosse and Gwen were married in 1960. With flaming red hair and a quaver in her voice, Verdon was a critically acclaimed performer on Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s. Gwen took a six-year hiatus to have daughter Nicole Fosse. In 1966, she returned to the stage to portray the role of "Charity Hope Valentine" in "Sweet Charity", with a Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields score, book by Neil Simon and choreography by none other than Fosse, himself. It ran over 600 performances. This musical was turned into a movie in 1969 with Shirley MacLaine in the lead; Gwen would coach MacLaine throughout the making of the film.

Films/TVEdit

Gwen Verdon Cocoon II

Gwen as Gwen McCarthy in the 1988 sequel to the blocukbuster 1985 film "Cocoon", the equall successful "Cocoon II: THe Return".

After originating the role of Roxie opposite Chita Rivera in Chicago, Verdon would focus on film acting in the 1980's, playing character roles in movies such as The Cotton Club (1984), Cocoon (1985) and Cocoon: The Return (1988). She continued to teach dance and musical theater and to act. She received three Emmy Award nominations for TV show appearances on Magnum, P.I. (1988), Dream On (1993) and Homicide: Life on the Street (1993). Verdon appeared as Alice's mother in the Woody Allen movie Alice (1990) and as Ruth in Marvin's Room (1996), co-starring Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, and Hume Cronyn. In 1999, Verdon served as artistic consultant on a plotless Broadway musical designed to showcase examples of classic Fosse choreography. Called simply Fosse, the revue was conceived and directed by Richard Maltby Jr and Ann Reinking and choreographed by Reinking and Chet Walker. Verdon's daughter Nicole received a "special thanks" credit. The show received a Tony for best musical.

Personal life/family and deathEdit

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). Gwen, who was also a cat fancier, had up to six cats at one time, with names such as "Feets Fosse", "Junie Moon", and "Tidbits Tumbler Fosse".[1]

Gwen and Fosse legally separated in 1971 due to Fosse's extramarital affairs, but never actually divorced. They remained close friends and worked together on "Chicago", where Gwen played "Roxie Hart", the musical "Dancin'" and Fosse's autobiographical film, All That Jazz (1979). She held him in her arms as he suffered a fatal heart attack on the sidewalk outside the Washington, D.C theatre where Sweet Charity [2] was being revived.

In recent years, Gwen and daughter Nicole collaborated to create the Broadway show "Fosse", about Bob. Along with her two children, Verdon had four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Gwen continued to instruct dance and musical theatre up until 1999. Best known for her verve, sass and vivacity, Gwen was not only perhaps the best dancer this world has ever seen, but she could act and sing, a triple-threat. Her voice had a rough-hewn, grainy quality and yet... it was still very feminine and beautiful. Unfortunately, while at the home of her daughter, Gwen passed away on October 18, 2000 in Woodstock, Vermont due to natural causes. The same day, the lights on Broadway were dimmed in honor of the passing of one of its brightest stars.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Cat People, Bill Hayward, introduction by Rogers E. M. Whitaker. New York: Dolphin/Doubleday, 1978 (p. 70)
  2. Berkvist, Robert."Gwen Verdon, Redhead Who High-Kicked Her Way to Stardom, Dies at 75,"The New York Times, originally published October 19, 2000, accessed June 4, 2009

External linksEdit

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