15 Fascinating Facts About Bob Fosse

John Downing/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
John Downing/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Whether or not you’re a musical theater aficionado, you’ve very likely seen evidence of Bob Fosse’s revolutionary influence on dance. From Bring It On’s “spirit fingers” scene to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video, Fosse-inspired choreography continues to razzle-dazzle audiences more than 30 years after his death.

Fosse's life, work, and relationship with legendary performer Gwen Verdon have recently been immortalized in FX’s Emmy-nominated television series Fosse/Verdon, but there’s always more to see behind the scenes. Read on to get to know the man who blessed us with Sweet Charity (1969), Cabaret (1972), and so many other musical must-sees.

1. Bob Fosse was named after a classic novelist.

Robert Louis Fosse’s parents named him after their favorite writer, Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson. Whether or not they hoped Bob would follow in Stevenson’s footsteps is a mystery, but Fosse certainly created plenty of footsteps of his own.

2. Bob Fosse's parents dabbled in show business.

Fosse’s father Cyril and uncle Richard performed in a vaudeville act, where Cyril played the spoons, Richard played the piano, and they both sang. It fell apart after Richard was diagnosed with cancer, and Cyril became a Hershey chocolate salesman. Fosse’s mother Sadie’s career was less involved but equally interesting: She performed as a spear-wielding extra in the opera.

3. Bob Fosse was briefly in the Navy.

Fosse was still in boot camp when World War II ended, so he spent the next year performing all over the South Pacific in the Navy’s entertainment troupe. After he was discharged, Fosse moved to New York City to pursue a career in theater, and the GI Bill made it possible for him to take a year’s worth of free courses at the American Theatre Wing. "The G.I. bill paid for all of it, acting, diction, singing, ballet, modern dance, choreography," Fosse told The New York Times in 1973.

4. Bob Fosse's second wife encouraged him to become a choreographer.

Joan McCracken in 1947's Good News
Joan McCracken in 1947’s Good News.
MGM Studios

Fosse credits his second wife, dancer Joan McCracken, with steering him toward choreography. “She kept saying, ‘You’re too good for nightclubs,’” Fosse said. “She was the one who changed [my life] and gave it direction.”

5. Bob Fosse (sort of) lied his way into a choreography career.

Fosse had choreographed only one 45-second dance number in the 1953 film version of Kiss Me Kate when New York City Ballet choreographer Jerome Robbins recommended him to director George Abbott to choreograph the 1954 musical The Pajama Game.

“I lied about having done a lot of choreography,” Fosse told Rolling Stone. “In fact, I lied myself into the job. But that’s what I thought you did in show business. I thought that’s how you showed you had confidence.”

6. Bob Fosse had serious audition anxiety.

The “Fake it ‘til you make it” strategy didn’t stop at job interviews, and Fosse had to dance through nausea-inducing anxiety at many an audition before he broke into the choreography business. “If I had to audition on Wednesday, I’d start throwing up on Saturday night,” he told The New York Times.

7. Bob Fosse brought jazz hands into the limelight.

Though "jazz hands" or "spirit fingers" likely date back much further than Fosse, they have been strongly associated with him since he directed and choreographed the 1972 musical Pippin. The opening number is rife with hand motions, some of them very jazzy. Pippin was also the first Broadway musical with its own television commercial, which helped increase mainstream visibility for Fosse’s very precise, expressive choreographic style—jazz hands included.

8. Bob Fosse is the only person to win Emmy, Tony, and Academy Awards for direction in the same year.

In 1973, Fosse brought home the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for Pippin, the Academy Award for Best Director for Cabaret (beating out Francis Ford Coppola, who was nominated for The Godfather), and the Emmy for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy, Variety or Music for Liza With a Z. With those three awards, Fosse clinched the elusive directorial triple crown, but they weren’t the only awards he won that year: he also took home Emmys in Best Choreography and overall Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy for Liza With a Z, plus the Best Choreography Tony for Pippin. (Unfortunately, Fosse was a Grammy shy of an EGOT.)

9. Bob Fosse was terrified of failure.

In an interview with newscaster David Sheehan (who also filmed Fosse’s stage production of Pippin—the first Broadway musical ever performed on camera), Fosse opened up about his fear that he wouldn’t be able to properly execute his ideas. Even after remarkable successes like Cabaret and Sweet Charity, Fosse worried that he didn’t possess the talent or intelligence to pull off new projects. “Every time I start on something new, it’s like day one,” he said. “How do I do this?”

10. Bob Fosse was inspired by Federico Fellini.

Italian film director Federico Fellini’s 1957 drama Nights of Cabiria served as the basis for Fosse’s 1966 musical Sweet Charity, starring then-wife Gwen Verdon. (In 1969, Fosse would adapt the musical into his feature directorial debut, replacing Verdon with Shirley MacLaine.)

Fosse looked to Fellini for inspiration again for his semi-autobiographical 1979 film All That Jazz, which follows the flashy career of a director-choreographer played by Roy Scheider. Fellini’s 1963 film 8 ½, on the other (jazz) hand, chronicles the career of a fictional Italian film director.

For his part, Fosse was happy to admit the similarities. “When I steal, I steal from the best,” he told Rolling Stone.

11. Bob Fosse was a perfectionist.

The precision and attention to detail with which Fosse approached dance and choreography also characterized his directorial style. His last film was 1983’s Star 80, a dark drama about the murder of Playboy model Dorothy Stratten at the hands of her husband, Paul Snider. On set, Fosse insisted that they use Snider’s exact brown carpet for the crime scene, even though the blood wouldn’t show up well on screen. Fosse also instructed his crew to ensure that every book in every bookcase on their Playboy Mansion set matched Hugh Hefner’s personality—regardless of whether or not the books would even make it into the shot.

12. Bob Fosse turned down an offer to direct Michael Jackson's “Thriller” music video.

In June 1983, Michael Jackson invited Fosse to lunch, gushed about how much Fosse’s choreography had inspired him, and asked him to direct the music video for “Thriller.” Fosse declined.

13. Bob Fosse predicted that he’d die young.

Heart attacks had wiped out plenty of Fosse’s kin, and he suffered his first (of several) in the fall of 1974 while he was simultaneously editing Lenny and rehearsing Chicago for Broadway. In 1983, Fosse told Rolling Stone that given his family history, he figured he only had time for two or three more projects. In hindsight, the statement seems eerily clairvoyant. He choreographed and directed the musical Big Deal in 1986, and staged a Sweet Charity revival in 1987. En route to the opening of Sweet Charity, Fosse suffered another heart attack, and passed away at age 60.

14. Bob Fosse basically threw his own funeral party.

After Fosse’s first heart attack, he had added a codicil to his will mandating that $25,000 be split evenly among 66 of his friends and then donated back to a funeral party budget. That way, at least those 66 people would feel a sense of responsibility to get together and celebrate Fosse's life. It worked: the group threw a smashing event in Tavern on the Green’s Crystal Ballroom with approximately 200 of Fosse’s friends, flames, and creative collaborators in attendance.

15. Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon never formally divorced.

While Fosse’s extramarital affairs led to his 1971 split with Verdon, they never divorced; the couple was still technically married when Fosse died 16 years later. Though not always credited, Verdon continued to work with Fosse on many productions, including Cabaret, Chicago, and All That Jazz. She was even with him when he died.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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