GWEN VERDON... as Eve in CAN CAN was so irresistible, said one critic,
that she justified the Fall of Man. All of Broadway felt the same
way. A few years later and her second Life magazine cover, a witty
and particularly perceptive writer assessed her Lola in DAMN YANKEES thusly,
"She could excite any normal man and still not offend his maiden aunt -
just about the neatest trick in show business." Gwen is unique.
Besides the usual requisites, a highly trained and disciplined body, a
lovely face and a warm, crackling voice, she could, whether by instinct
or intelligence, mix vulgarity with humor and a beguiling innocence. She
She was born and bred in Culver City about three blocks from MGM where her father was a studio electrician and her mother was a dancer. Certain infantile frailties were corrected by her mother who decided that dance was the best therapy. At the age of four, Gwen and mother danced in a Los Angeles Hotel; at six she was billed as "the fastest tapper in the world"; her teen years found her dancing in clubs like the Mocambo and Slapsy-Maxies and several Civic Light Opera productions which played a week in L.A. and then a week in San Francisco. There was a discreet conspiracy about her age and mother or grandmother was always in attendance.
At sixteen Gwen eloped with an aspiring screenwriter named James Henaghan. Three years later, after giving birth to a son, Jimmy, they amicably divorced. Gwen went back to dancing and her first major job was with the famous Jack Cole. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship whether performing or assisting on many films, several Broadway shows and nightclubs.
Only Gwen knows how gratifying it may have been to teach Marilyn Monroe to walk less sexy and Jane Russell to walk more so. At about this time choreographer Michael Kidd noticed her and took her to New York to play Claudine in CAN CAN.
Gwen's first Tony award was for CAN CAN. her second Tony was for DAMN YANKEES, with choreography by Bob Fosse (who she later married and that union brought forth a daughter, Nicole). Fosse was to choreograph her next show, NEW GIRL IN TOWN (Verdon's third Tony) and direct and choreograph RED HEAD (1959 - 4th Tony Award), SWEET CHARITY (1966 Best Actress Tony Nomination) and CHICAGO (1975, Best Actress Tony Nomination). At about this time Bwen was heard to mutter, "I have no desire to go down in the Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest dancing star... I have to move over for another gypsy".