Friday, July 5, 2019

THE VERDON IN FOSSE/VERDON

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

In 1942, teenager Gwyneth Evelyn "Gwen" Verdon was in her bedroom while her parents gave a party (this account is based on bits and pieces of the story of her life that Verdon told her daughter Nicole, that are then portrayed in the FX series Fosse/Verdon, no doubt with some embellishments). An older man named James Henaghan came into the room and forced himself on her. Later in 1942, Verdon's parents forced pregnant Gwen to marry their friend Henaghan.

Her 2000 obituary in The New York Times stated that she eloped with Henaghan at age 17 because she was in love. "During a 1983 interview for the public access show Spotlight, Verdon laughed when the interviewer noted that she had married at that time because she was in love and it was the 'proper thing to do.' Verdon said with a laugh, 'I did not think it was the proper thing and I was not in love.'" (source: Bustle)

James Henaghan, Jr., known as Jim or Jimmy, was born in March, 1943. The marriage was already a struggle. Henaghan was a drinker and a gambler who wrote for The Hollywood Reporter. When he disappeared on a drinking binge or whatever he felt like doing, Verdon wrote his column and filed it. She left her husband on New Year's Eve, 1943; they divorced in 1947.

Gwen Verdon was a young girl with a child to support. She turned to her roots in dance to do the job.

When Verdon was two years old, she had rickets, which left her with knock knees. Her mother, who was a dance teacher, took her little girl to class to make her legs stronger. By age six, she danced on stage. At age 11, she had a solo dance in a movie.

After the divorce, she asked her parents to take care of Jimmy so she could work as much as possible. Verdon assisted choreographer Jack Cole for five years, and performed specialty dances in movies. She also taught numerous starlets their steps.

Then she turned to Broadway. In 1953, her breakthrough came when she had the second-lead in Can-Can. With Verdon receiving great reviews during out-of-town performances, the star of the show, Lilo, demanded that Verdon's numbers be reduced to two. Yet Verdon's Garden of Eden performance stole the show. She won her first Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in  Musical.

In 1955, Verdon starred in Damn Yankees, choreographed by Bob Fosse. She went on to play her role in the 1958 movie. How could Fosse, with his love of turned-in toes and legs, not adore the girl whose childhood knock knees allowed her to perform his moves so perfectly?

Dance for us, please, Miss Verdon.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

Movie of Damn Yankees: "Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)" 




Could she be cuter and funnier?

(additional sources: Vanity Fair, Town & Country, Wikipedia)

24 comments:

  1. How I wish her story was fiction. Or rare.
    And love what she made of herself.
    No knock knees here, and even in my yoof I couldn;'t move with a fraction of her grace and style.

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    1. I, too, wish it were fiction or rare. I can't imagine forcing my daughter to marry someone who raped her. It's sickening. I've never been at all graceful.

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  2. She did well for herself after a rough beginning.

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    1. She certainly did. Gwen Verdon worked very hard for her success.

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  3. What an amazing woman. And kudos to her mom for thinking of the dancing lessons.

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    1. Since her mom taught dance, I imagine she would have taught Gwen to dance anyway.

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  4. Such a sad beginning, but at least her story had a happy ending. She was an amazing dancer.

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    1. She got shit on many times, but when she got shit, she made . . . I don't know what she made. Fertilizer?

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  5. Gwen Verdon had a unique style that set her apart. Her parents forcing her to marry her rapist was terrible! Good thing she was able to leave and become so accomplished. Whatever happened to her son? The mini-series didn't talk about him that much.

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    1. I don't know why he was barely included in the mini-series. He was raised by his grandparents but he said it was normal for him to spend time with Gwen and Bob in New York. He acted some when he was a young man. After that, I don't know what he did. Sources describe him as a truck operator or plumbing store owner. He's about 80. He volunteers as a cook at a shelter.

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    2. Thanks. Maybe he didn't want to be included in the series?

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    3. That's possible. Based on what I've read, he has only kind things to say about his mom and Bob.

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  6. Good that she managed to overcome that awful beginning.

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    1. She worked very hard to overcome it and she was a big success.

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  7. Show business doesn't seem like it's ever been a kind place for women, including now. How perverse for her parents to force her to marry her rapist. That's just all kinds of wrong.

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    1. Sometimes I wonder if there's such a thing as a kind place for women.

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  8. What a dame! And you know I mean that with great respect. I love reading true stories about people, not the sanitized covered up version. She overcame so much in her life, we could learn from it. xx

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  9. I don’t know enough about Gwen Verdon but I always figured she had issues regarding men because of how much crap she took from Bob Fosse. I wonder what her relationship was with her parents considering what they did. It seems she loved her son. I also think she seemed to have a good outlook on life from some of the interviews I have seen. She appeared sweet

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    1. My next post will have a photo of Gwen and Bob with Gwen's son when he was a very handsome young man.

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  10. SO talented. And this number is beyond compare!

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  11. Sadly, JJ, I've known of stories about young girls being forced to marry older men who raped or took advantage of them. Or being handed $20 or $30 and told to take care of the problem. At least Verdon's story had a positive ending. The video was a hoot. Oh to have had a long, lean body like that! LOL I hope all is well with you!

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    1. All is well, Louise. Gwen was petite and every-so-pretty.

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