Although she died at the age of 75, 4-time Tony Award winner would have been 88 today.
I wanted to remember her today with one of my favorite, albeit not one of her most famous, dances.
This clip from the Ed Sullivan Show features dances called “Cool Hand Luke” & “Tijuana Brass” choreographed for her by, of course, Bob Fosse. But it’s unusual in that it showcases her softer, more sensitive side of dance.
From the Fosse Bio by Sam Wasson, page 237:
In Oct ’68, with the bulk of editing (Sweet Charity) behind him, Fosse took a moment to repay Gwen the only way he knew how. He choreographed two pieces for her (Verdon’s) appearance on The Bob Hope Show.
“Cool Hand Luke” and “Tijuana Brass.” Each betrayed the softness he tried so hard to conceal. “Cool Hand Luke,” especially – Fosse’s most warm-hearted creation, a matador’s lullaby devoid of ironic comment.
Accompanied by Lee Roy Reams (Stage right in opening) and Buddy Vest, Gwen strutted and snapped through “Luke” with elegant machismo, receiving in wide welcoming arms Fosse’s plaintive offering to her sensuality. “Every moment of creating this dance,” Reams said, “was a pleasure and a joy.”
In the mid-80s I had a chance meeting with Verdon at a bank of elevators at what used to be the Minskoff Studios. I’d was – predictably – tongue tied. Alone in that space I stammered and saying “OMG, you’re you!” She smiled warmly, nodded and said “Yes.” I pulled out my resume (having come from an audition minutes earlier, it was the only piece of paper I had) and asked for her autograph. And of course, she signed. Charming and classy. And sooooo nice.
In my career as a dancer and choreographer, I’ve had great joy in exploring the Verdon/Fosse legacy. From CHICAGO to Sweet Charity, the depth and unique gifts she brought to her performances is almost unimaginable.
A great, great star.