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,
Movie of Damn Yankees: "Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)"
Could she be cuter and funnier?
(additional sources: Vanity Fair, Town & Country, Wikipedia)