Oscar Directors: Fosse, Bob–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage)

September 11, 2020

Bob Fosse Career Summation

Occupational Inheritance: NA

Social Class: middle; father traveling salesman

Nationality: US



Formal Education:


First Film: Sweet Charity, 1969; aged 42

First Oscar Nomination:

Other Nominations: 3 Best Director

Oscar Awards: Cabaret, 1972; age 45

Nominations Span: 1972-1980; 8 years

Genre (specialties): musicals

Collaborators: Gwen Verdon

Last Film: Star 80 (1983); aged 56


Career Output: 5 features

Career Span: 1969-1987 (film); theater

Marriage: 3 marriages; all 3 dancers-actreses


Death: 1987; aged 60

Robert Louis Fosse (June 23, 1927 – September 23, 1987) was an American dancer, musical-theatre choreographer, actor and theatre and filmmaker.

He directed and choreographed musical works on stage and screen, including the stage musicals The Pajama Game (choreography) in 1954 and Chicago in 1975 and the film Cabaret in 1972.

Fosse’s distinctive style of choreography included turned-in knees and “jazz hands.” He is the only person ever to have won Oscar, Emmy, and Tony awards in the same year (1973). He was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning Best Director for Cabaret, and won a record eight Tonys for his choreography, as well as one for direction for Pippin.

Fosse was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 23, 1927, to a Norwegian American father, Cyril Kingsley Fosse, a traveling salesman for The Hershey Company, and an Irish American mother Sarah Alice “Sadie” Fosse, née Stanton. He was the fifth of six children.

He was drawn to dance, and took lessons. When he was 13 years old, Fosse performed professionally in Chicago with Charles Grass, under the name The Riff Brothers.[6] Recruited into the United States Navy toward the end of World War II, Fosse was placed in the variety show Tough Situation, which toured military and naval bases in the Pacific.

After the war, Fosse moved to New York City with the ambition of being the new Fred Astaire. His first stage role was in Call Me Mister, where he met his first wife and dance partner, Mary Ann Niles (1923–1987). Fosse and Niles were regular performers on Your Hit Parade in its 1950–1951 season. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis saw their act in New York’s Pierre Hotel and scheduled the couple to appear on The Colgate Comedy Hour. In a 1986 interview Fosse told an interviewer, “Jerry started me doing choreography. He gave me my first job as a choreographer and I’m grateful for that.”

Fosse was signed to an MGM contract in 1953. His early screen appearances as a dancer included Give a Girl a Break, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis and Kiss Me Kate, all released in 1953. Fosse’s choreography of a short dance sequence in Kiss Me Kate and dance with Carol Haney brought him to the attention of Broadway producers.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Fosse transitioned from film to theatre. In 1948, Tony Charmoli danced in Make Mine Manhattan, but gave the part to Fosse when the show toured nationally. Charmoli also found Fosse work as a dancer on the TV shows he was working on when Fosse returned from the tour. In 1954, Fosse choreographed his first musical, The Pajama Game, followed by George Abbott’s Damn Yankees in 1955. It was while working on Damn Yankees that he first met rising star Gwen Verdon, whom he married in 1960. For her work in Damn Yankees, Verdon won her first Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1956. She had previously won a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a musical for Can-Can (1954). In 1957, Fosse choreographed New Girl in Town, also directed by Abbott, and Verdon won her second Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1958.

In 1960, Fosse directed and choreographed the musical Redhead. For his work on Redhead, Fosse won the Tony Award for Best Choreography while Verdon won her third Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Redhead won the Tony Award for best musical.

Fosse’s next feature was supposed to be the musical The Conquering Hero based on a book by Larry Gelbart, but he was replaced as director/choreographer.

In 1961, Fosse choreographed How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which became a hit. He choreographed and directed Verdon in Sweet Charity in 1966. In 1973, Fosse’s work on Pippin won him the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical. He was director and choreographer of Chicago in 1975, which also starred Verdon.

In 1986, Fosse wrote, choreographed and directed the Broadway production of Big Deal, which was nominated for five Tony awards, winning for best choreography.

In 1957, Fosse choreographed the film version of The Pajama Game starring Doris Day. The next year, Fosse appeared in and choreographed the film version of Damn Yankees, in which Verdon reprised her stage triumph as the character Lola. Fosse and Verdon were partners in the mambo number “Who’s Got the Pain”.

Fosse directed 5 features. His first, Sweet Charity (1969) starring Shirley MacLaine, is an adaptation of the Broadway musical he had directed and choreographed.

His second film, Cabaret (1972), won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director. He won that award over Francis Ford Coppola, who had been nominated for The Godfather, starring Marlon Brando. Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey both won Oscars for their roles in Cabaret.

In 1974, Fosse directed Lenny, a biographical movie about comedian Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.

Fosse performed a song and dance in Stanley Donen’s 1974 film version of The Little Prince. According to AllMusic, “Bob Fosse stops the show with a slithery dance routine.”  In 1977, Fosse had a small role in the romantic comedy Thieves.

In 1979, Fosse co-wrote and directed a semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz (1979), starring Roy Scheider, which portrayed the life of a womanizing, drug-addicted choreographer and director in the midst of triumph and failure. Ann Reinking appears in the film as the protagonist’s lover, protégée and domestic partner.

All That Jazz won 4 Oscar Awards, earning Fosse his third Oscar nomination for Best Director. It also won the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Fest. In 1980, Fosse commissioned documentary research for a follow-up feature exploring the motivations of people who become performers.

Fosse’s final film, Star 80 (1983), was a biographical movie about Dorothy Stratten, a Playboy Playmate who was murdered. The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning article. The film was screened out of competition at the 34th Berlin International Film Festival.

Following Star 80, Fosse began work on a film about gossip columnist Walter Winchell that would have starred Robert De Niro as Winchell. The Winchell script was written by Michael Herr. Fosse died before starting the Winchell project.

Notable distinctions of Fosse’s style included the use of turned-in knees, the “Fosse Amoeba”, sideways shuffling, rolled shoulders and jazz hands.[24] With Astaire as an influence, Fosse used props such as bowler hats, canes and chairs. His trademark use of hats was influenced by his own self-consciousness, according to Martin Gottfried in his biography of Fosse, “His baldness was the reason that he wore hats, and was doubtless why he put hats on his dancers.”[15] Fosse used gloves in his performances because he did not like his hands. Some of his most popular numbers include “Steam Heat” (The Pajama Game) and “Big Spender” (Sweet Charity). The “Rich Man’s Frug” scene in Sweet Charity is another example of his signature style.

For Damn Yankees, Fosse was inspired by the “father of theatrical jazz dance”, Jack Cole.[15] In 1957, Verdon and Fosse studied with Sanford Meisner to develop a better acting technique. According to Michael Joosten, Fosse once said: “The time to sing is when your emotional level is too high to just speak anymore, and the time to dance is when your emotions are just too strong to only sing about how you ‘feel.'”[25] In Redhead, Fosse used one of the first ballet sequences in a show that contained five different styles of dance: Fosse’s jazz, a cancan, a gypsy dance, a march and an old-fashioned English music hall number. During Pippin, Fosse made the first television commercial for a Broadway show.[10]

Fosse married dance partner Mary Ann Niles (1923–1987) on May 3, 1947, in Detroit. In 1952, a year after he divorced Niles, he married dancer Joan McCracken in New York City; this marriage lasted until 1959, when it also ended in divorce.

His third wife was dancer and actress Gwen Verdon, whom he met choreographing the Damn Yankees, in which she starred.  In 1963, they had a daughter, Nicole Fosse, who later became a dancer and actress. Fosse’s extramarital affairs put a strain on the marriage and by 1971 they were separated, although they remained legally married until his death in 1987. Verdon never remarried.

Fosse met dancer Ann Reinking during the run of Pippin in 1972. According to Reinking, their romantic relationship ended “toward the end of the run of Dancin'” (1978).

During rehearsals for The Conquering Hero in 1961 Fosse was revealed to have epilepsy when he suffered a seizure onstage.

Fosse died of a heart attack on September 23, 1987, at George Washington University Hospital while the revival of Sweet Charity was opening at the nearby National Theatre. He had collapsed in Verdon’s arms near the Willard Hotel.

As he requested, Verdon and Nicole Fosse scattered his ashes in the Atlantic Ocean off Quogue, Long Island, where Fosse had been living with his girlfriend of four years.


1953 The Affairs of Dobie Gillis Actor – Charlie Trask
1953 Kiss Me Kate Actor – Hortensio
1953 Give a Girl a Break Actor – Bob Dowdy
1955 My Sister Eileen Actor – Frank, Choreographer
1957 The Pajama Game Choreographer
1958 Damn Yankees Actor – Mambo Dancer (uncredited), Choreographer
1969 Sweet Charity Director, Choreographer
1972 Cabaret Director, Choreographer
1974 The Little Prince Actor – The Snake, Choreographer
1974 Lenny Director, Actor – The Interviewer (voice, uncredited)
1977 Thieves Actor – Mr. Day
1979 All That Jazz Screenwriter, Director, Choreographer
1983 Star 80 Screenwriter, Director

Year Title Role Venue Ref.
1947 Call Me Mister Performer – Chorus National Tour
1948 Make Mine Manhattan Performer National Tour
1950 Dance Me a Song Performer – Dancer Royale Theatre, Broadway [34]
1951 Billion Dollar Baby Actor – Champ Watson Alvin Theatre, Broadway [35]
1952 Pal Joey Actor – Joey Evans (understudy) Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway
1954 The Pajama Game Choreographer
1955 Damn Yankees Choreographer Adelphi Theatre, Broadway
1956 Bells Are Ringing Co-choreographer Alvin Theatre, Broadway
1958 New Girl in Town Choreographer 46th Street Theatre, Broadway
1959 Redhead Director, Choreographer
1961 The Conquering Hero Choreographer (uncredited) ANTA Theatre, Broadway
1961 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying Choreographer 46th Street

Theatre, Broadway
1962 Little Me Co-director, Co-choreographer Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, Broadway
1963 Pal Joey Joey Evans New York City Center, Broadway
1965 Pleasures and Palaces Director, Choreographer Fisher Theatre, Detroit [36]
1966 Sweet Charity Director, Choreographer Palace Theatre, Broadway
1972 Pippin Book (uncredited), Director, Choreographer Minskoff Theatre, Broadway
1972 Liza Director, Choreographer Winter Garden Theatre, Broadway [37]
1975 Chicago Book; Director, Choreographer 46th Street Theatre, Broadway
1978 Dancin’ Director, Choreographer Ambassador Theatre, Broadway
1986 Big Deal Director, Choreographer Broadway Theatre, Broadway

At the 1973 Oscar Awards, Fosse won the Academy Award for Best Director for Cabaret. That same year he won Tony Awards for directing and choreographing Pippin and Primetime Emmy Awards for producing, choreographing and directing Liza Minnelli’s television special Liza with a Z. Fosse was the only person to win all three major industry awards in the same year.

Academy Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Best Director Cabaret Won
1975 Best Director Lenny Nominated
1980 Best Director All That Jazz Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Tony Awards

Year Category Work Result
1955 Best Choreography The Pajama Game Won
1956 Best Choreography Damn Yankees Won
1957 Best Choreography Bells are Ringing Nominated
1958 Best Choreography New Girl in Town Nominated
1959 Best Choreography Redhead Won
1963 Best Direction of a Musical Little Me Nominated
Best Choreography Won
1964 Best Actor in a Musical Pal Joey Nominated
1966 Best Direction of a Musical Sweet Charity Nominated
Best Choreography Won
1973 Best Direction of a Musical Pippin Won
Best Choreography Won
1976 Best Book of a Musical Chicago Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Nominated
Best Choreography Nominated
1978 Best Direction of a Musical Dancin’ Nominated
Best Choreography Won
1986 Best Book of a Musical Big Deal Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Nominated
Best Choreography Won
Primetime Emmy Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Liza with a Z Won
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy. Variety or Music Won
Outstanding Choreography Won
Golden Globe Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Best Director – Motion Picture Cabaret Nominated
1975 Best Director – Motion Picture Lenny Nominated
BAFTA Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Best Direction Cabaret Won
Drama Desk Awards

Year Category Work Result
1973 Outstanding Director Pippin Won
Outstanding Choreography Won
1978 Outstanding Choreography Dancin’ Won
1986 Director of a Musical Sweet Charity Nominated
1986 Director of a Musical Big Deal Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Won
Cannes Film Festival

Year Category Work Result
1975 Palme d’Or Lenny Nominated
1979 Palme d’Or All That Jazz Won
Directors Guild Awards

1973 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Cabaret Nominated
1973 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Musical/Variety Liza with a Z Won
1980 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures All That Jazz Nominated

Fosse was inducted into the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York on April 27, 2007. The Los Angeles Dance Awards, founded in 1994, were called the “Fosse Awards”, and are now called the American Choreography Awards. The Bob Fosse-Gwen Verdon Fellowship was established by their daughter, Nicole Fosse, in 2003 at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Reinking and Verdon kept Fosse’s unique choreography alive after his death. Reinking played the role of Roxie Hart in the New York revival of Chicago, which opened in 1996. She choreographed the dances in Fosse style for that revival. In 1999, Verdon served as artistic consultant on a Broadway musical designed to showcase examples of classic Fosse choreography. Called simply Fosse, the three-act musical revue was conceived and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Reinking, and choreographed by Reinking and Chet Walker. Verdon and Fosse’s daughter, Nicole, received a special thanks credit. The show won a Tony for best musical.

Fosse/Verdon is an 8-part American miniseries starring Sam Rockwell as Fosse and Michelle Williams as Verdon. The series, which tells the story of the couple’s troubled personal and professional relationship, is based on the biography Fosse by Sam Wasson. It premiered in 8 parts on April 9, 2019, on FX. At the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, Fosse/Verdon received 17 nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series and acting nominations for Rockwell, Williams, and Qualley. Williams won the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series.