FOSSE

SA M WA S S O N

F A u t h o r o f FIF TH AV EN UE , 5 A .M.

FOSSE
SAM WAssON

An E amon D ol an B o ok Houghton Miffl in H arc ourt
B o ston  N ew York 2 013

Copyright © 2013 by Sam Wasson All rights reserved For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003. www.hmhbooks.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Wasson, Sam. Fosse / Sam Wasson. pages  cm “An Eamon Dolan Book.” ISBN 978-0-547-55329-0 (hardback) 1. Fosse, Bob, 1927–1987. 2. Choreographers — United States — Biography. I. Title. GV1785.F67W37 2013 792.8´2092 — dc23 [B] 2013026082 Book design by Chrissy Kurpeski Typeset in Minion and Knockout Printed in the United States of America DOC  10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

“I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” by John H. Mercer and Harry Warren © 1951, 1952 Warner Chappell Music, Inc. 2013: Used by Permission of the Johnny Mercer Foundation, Inc.

CONTENTS

The End . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Sixty Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Forty-Five Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Forty-One Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 Thirty-Seven Years .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Thirty-Five Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Thirty-Three Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90 Thirty-Two Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116 Twenty-Eight Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137 Twenty-Seven Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162 Twenty-Four Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193 Twenty Years .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223 Sixteen Years .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252 Fifteen Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 286 Fourteen Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 346 Thirteen Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 395

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Contents 

Twelve Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 407 Eleven Years .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 432 Nine Years .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 458 Eight Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 485 Seven Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 497 Six Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 513 Five Years .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 521 Four Years .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 532 Three Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 540 Two Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 547 One Year . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 563 One Hour and Fifty-Three Minutes .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 586 Acknowledgments .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 593 Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 600 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 696

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The very next day, with no time to rationalize his partial triumph, he flew to the Beverly Hills Hotel, his home base for the week ahead. It was Oscar time and he was in Los Angeles ​ — ​ two distinct reasons to move uncomfortably from party to party. But he had backup: Paddy, Herb, and Herb’s girlfriend, Marlo Thomas. They’d all flown out, checked in to the Beverly Hills Hotel in rooms a few doors down from Fosse’s, and stood by, champagne on ice, ready to convince their friend of his victory if he won or rage with him if he lost (and they knew he was going to lose ​ — ​ to Coppola). The list of night-before-

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Oscar parties was as long and dull as a tax return and offered multiple opportunities for awkward run-ins between Fosse and the executive element he despised, but producer Edgar Scherick’s cocktail gathering at the Hotel Bel-Air, thick with the New York vibe of Elaine May and the cast of The Heartbreak Kid, was the kind of evening Fosse and the Carnegie bunch (and, as it turned out, Groucho Marx) could get behind. Janice Lynde was Fosse’s date. Weeks earlier, she had accompanied him to the Directors Guild Awards (Fosse was nominated for best director of a feature film, but Coppola won, as expected). The night of the Oscars, she met Fosse for a pre-awards party at Emanuel Wolf ’s pink and green suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel. All of the Cabaret people were there: Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, David Bretherton, Geoffrey Unsworth, and forty others. Lynde said, “He was really, really nervous then, shifty and scared.” Shoring himself up with booze and tranquilizers, Fosse got sweaty cold as Wolf took the floor for one last go-get-’em-don’t-worry-have-fun speech. Both The Godfather and Cabaret were tied at ten nominations each, but their little film had started with so much less: in Munich, with a tiny budget, a dilapidated genre (the movie musical), and a director on artistic parole. And yet here they were, about to go to the Academy Awards; that in itself, Wolf reminded them, was a victory. In the limo to the ceremony, Fosse repeated a discouraging statistic about how reliably the Directors Guild Awards predicted the Oscar winners. It was always best to expect the worst. They pulled up to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion ​ — ​ sitting in downtown LA, like a beached whale doing a Lincoln Center impression ​ — ​ and out stepped Janice in a Greek goddess dress, cut flowingly to the navel, followed by Bob Fosse in a three-piece tuxedo, his tight vest cinching him smaller than ever. Paddy had already delivered his wisdom, and Sam Cohn, having seen many more clients lose than win, had already telegrammed a

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pat on the back. Variations on the good-luck theme, most of them chips off the old bullshit Fosse had heard his whole life, passed his ears; familiar and semifamiliar faces he knew (or claimed to know) claimed to know him. Hollywood people were different. Whether it was the product of more money or more sun, their alien cheer made them, like a certain kind of musical comedy, easy to write off as phony, which of course many of them were. There, Fosse’s cynicism had its advantages. Broadway’s gripe against the film capital of the world ​ — ​ based on decades of failed migrations as far back as Dorothy Parker’s ​ — ​ made LA the voodoo doll for Fosse’s pins, and it kept him at a steely distance from the in crowd he always wanted to join. And LA was clean. He didn’t trust clean. The people of Broadway had a worn-in quality. They were troupers. They sweated and they stuck together. Their many weeks of rehearsal, their eight shows a week, the restrictive parameters of midtown, the small talent pool and reteamings of favorite collaborators, and the ancient rites of old theaters and restaurants made Broadway a place of tradition and familiarity. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion conveyed an unused quality ​ — ​ all sparkles and high ceilings. Ten minutes before showtime the bell sounded; every cigarette was extinguished, and the slow flood into the auditorium began. The stage was spare. Gaunt stairways twisted behind the podium, hiding in shadow like fire escapes with stage fright. Red, orange, and blue lights peeked out from around them, as if curious to get a look at the presenters or the black lacquered runway over the orchestra and into the center aisle. The curtain bell sounded again, and the Cabaret company found their section near the front of the stage, Liza with boyfriend Desi Arnaz Jr. and her father, Vincente Minnelli; Joel Grey with his wife; and Bob with Janice. Soon every seat was taken, none of them in the smoking section. A man on the God mic kindly asked for silence; silence was calmly granted; there was a countdown

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from five; and the house lights, instead of going down, went up for the cameras. Should Janice hold Bob’s hand? Was this a good time to say something? Janice decided to say nothing; she would simply be there with him. Now things would get bad for almost everyone. The pre-show charge that people and their dates felt in the lobby was the happiest most of them were going to feel all night. Rather than picking up momentum, the Academy Awards invariably cool down as they pro­ gress, leaving behind each winner four bodies, and then four more and four more, so by the end of the evening, the dead so outnumber the living that most people are happy to flee. That evening was no different. Except Cabaret was winning. Joel Grey heard his name and got up. One of the show’s hosts, Charlton Heston, got a flat tire and missed his entrance, so Clint Eastwood, pulled from the audience, got up. The editor David Bretherton heard his name and got up, and Geoffrey Unsworth, who took Fosse’s side in the darkness, got up. It was happening, and with each win, the next win seemed more likely; the next loss more humiliating. But they didn’t lose; they kept sweeping: best score, best art direction, and best sound, which made it difficult to completely discount the possibility that Fosse might win, although he wouldn’t. Coppola would. “He was very still,” Emanuel Wolf said. “He was somewhere else.” They had lost best adapted screenplay to Coppola, but the tally showed Cabaret was quietly, and strangely, ahead of The Godfather. As the bodies piled up and the ceremony approached its end, The Godfather had only two wins to Cabaret’s seven. George Stevens and Julie Andrews, at the podium, announced the nominees for best director. “Bob Fosse for Cabaret.” His head was down. Janice was not with him. The show’s directors

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had removed the pretty girl from the edge of the frame to make for a better, more intense close-up of Fosse. Surrounded by men, seat fillers he hadn’t met before, Fosse looked much more alone. “John Boorman,” Andrews said, “for Deliverance.” “Jan Troell for The Emigrants.” “Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather.” “Joseph Mankiewicz for Sleuth.” Then the envelope and Bob Fosse heard his name again, and he was onstage, taking a cold statue from George Stevens. “My legs were like cooked spaghetti,” he recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘What am I going to say? I should be bright, how am I going to look on TV? I wonder if Nicole is watching? Don’t make an ass of yourself. Show enough emotion. But don’t slobber.’ ” “Thank you,” he said at the podium. “Thank you very much. Thank you. I must say I feel a little like Clint Eastwood, that you’re letting me stand up here because Coppola or Mankiewicz hasn’t shown up yet.” Unsteady laughter from the house. “But being characteristically a pessimist and cynic, this and some of the other nice things that have happened to me the last couple days may turn me into some sort of hopeful optimist and ruin my whole life.” Steady laughter. “There’s so many people to thank. You’ve heard a lot of the names, but it’s important for me to say them, and I’m sure I’m gonna miss some of the ones and regret it tomorrow. Of course Liza, and Joel, Michael York, Marisa Berenson, Marty Baum, Manny Wolf, Kander and Ebb. A terrific guy by the name of Doug Green. A dear friend of mine by the name of Gwen Verdon. And I’d also like to mention Cy Feuer, the producer, with whom I had a lot of disputes. But on a night like this, you start having affection for everybody. Thank you.” Fosse was escorted backstage for the hailstorm of press and pho-

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tographs, and then he returned to his seat, woozy, for the rest of the show. Liza Minnelli heard her name, squeezed her father’s arm, and got up. Then Marlon Brando’s name was read and Sacheen Littlefeather, new to show business, got up. When the best-picture envelope was opened, Cy Feuer got up. Then he heard that The Godfather won and he sat down. As soon as he could, Fosse called home; that is, he called Nicole at Gwen’s in East Hampton. “Hi, Dad.” She was distant. “What did you think of the show?” “Nice.” He asked her about her new bicycle; she answered about her new bicycle; and she handed the phone to Gwen. “You should have been here,” Gwen said. “When you won it, she screamed so loud she said, ‘I think I broke something in my throat.’ ” Somewhere around midnight, Fosse and Janice and the Academy Award for best director returned to the quiet of the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Paddy, Herb, and Marlo were waiting up for them. They convened in Fosse’s suite and opened bottles and windows and looked over the one or two swimmers flying over the pool below. The occasional clink of crystal on crystal or sound of a pretty girl’s laugh curled its long way up through the palms to Fosse’s balcony, where he sat, smoking, laughing, unbelieving, with his friends. It was a cool evening. Nothing lasts, but Fosse knew these stubborn wisecracking maniacs belonged to him for life. “I’ll walk you one more block,” he had said to Herb and Paddy after lunch one afternoon, “and then I have to go back to work.” “Don’t you remember,” Paddy shot back. “You have no work. You’re finished in this business.” Fosse nodded slowly. “Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “I forgot.” They had loved him before he won and they would love him after he won and with a fervency no critic, not even him, could ever corrupt. The next morning, Fosse ordered room service and climbed into

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the shower. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Janice standing before the mirror, looking at herself holding the Oscar as if she’d won it. “Would you do anything to win one?” he asked. The next week was terrific. Glorying in the attention satiated Fosse. But then the accolades passed, and he came down. “I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy,” he said. “Instead of jumping down the street and being all smiles, I’d find I was badly depressed.” Once a drug, the thrill of winning was starting to feel merely good; in a way, it didn’t feel like winning anymore. Then the Emmys came around. Fosse flew back to LA and won the best director award, his third, for Liza with a Z. He was now the only person in history to win the Tony, the Oscar, and the Emmy ​ — ​ the Triple Crown ​ — ​ in a single year. Which made him the only person in history to follow that victory with the most terrible depression of his life. There was no achievement that could be better than winning everything, which he had just done. Here he was, a record-breaker, again: He was here. Where was he? He was alone. Public triumph brought Fosse a magic wand with a surprise curse ​ — ​ against him. Whenever he decided to tap it on a project or a person, to make a dream come true, there appeared from somewhere else ​ — ​ poof ​ — ​ a rejected individual furious at Fosse for not alchemizing him. There were just too many against him now, more every day. The pressure to please everyone, to share his freshly notarized genius and personally return every phone call (and happily) and weather everyone’s retaliatory anger without absorbing that blame into blame against himself led Ann Reinking to observe that success for Bob Fosse was harder than failure. “He didn’t understand why people seemed to be trying to tear him down,” she said. “It confused him. He’d ask, ‘Why am I so miserable when everything’s going right?’ ” He knew he couldn’t complain. Discussing this sort of high-level

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heartache with anyone outside of Reinking (or Paddy and Herb) would further estrange him from his friends and his “friends” and those aspirants in between, so Fosse, at the pinnacle, called off the parade. He withdrew. And withdrawing, he drew more criticism. Now, they said, he thought he was too good for them. “Bob couldn’t win that one,” Reinking said. “He lost a lot of friends.” “His pain was extreme,” Lynde said. Was this supposed to be as good as he ever felt? Was this the dream? Because if it was ​ — ​ and it was, or at least it had been ​ — ​ then his whole life was behind him. Except for decline. Decline was still ahead. “He was afraid he would not be able to figure out what to do next,” Lynde said. “Nothing would ever be as good again.” It would seem he had given all he had to give. Creating a new dance vocabulary, reinventing the television special, reinventing the movie musical, and dragging all those genres to hell, both onscreen and onstage, Fosse had raised the bar on blackness impossibly high. And now he would have to raise it higher. But how? What human truth was darker than Nazism or suicide? What was darker than pitch-black? “There’s this Looney Tunes cartoon,” Ann Reinking said, “called Show Biz Bugs, with Daffy and Bugs Bunny in competing acts. The audience loves Bugs, and Daffy keeps trying to outdo him and he can’t. Daffy figures out the only way he can upstage him is to blow himself up. When he finally does, the audience goes wild. Bugs loves it and claps for an encore. Daffy, his ghost floating up, says, ‘I know, I know. But I can only do it once.’ That’s Bob.” At the end of May, he checked in to the Payne Whitney psychiatry clinic.

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