Gwen Verdon

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Gwenyth Evelyn “Gwen” Verdon (January 13, 1925 – October 18, 2000) was one of Broadway's biggest stars during its "golden" era and beyond. She was an actress and dancer who won four Tony awards for her musical comedy performances. With flaming red hair and an endearing quaver in her voice, Verdon was a critically acclaimed dancer on Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s. She is also strongly identified with her second husband, director–choreographer Bob Fosse, remembered as the dancer–collaborator–muse for whom he choreographed much of his work and as the guardian of his legacy after his death.

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Early life and career

Verdon was born in Culver City, California, the second child of Gertrude Lilian (née Standring; October 24, 1896 – October 16, 1956) and Joseph William Verdon (December 31, 1896 – June 23, 1978), who were British immigrants to the United States by way of Canada.[1] Her brother was William Farrell Verdon (August 1, 1923 – June 10, 1991). The Verdon family could be described as "showpeople." Her father was an electrician at MGM Studios, and her mother was a former vaudevillian of the Denishawn dance troupe, as well as a dance teacher.[2]

As a toddler, Gwen had rickets, which left her legs so badly misshapen she was called "Gimpy" by other children and spent her early years in orthopedic boots and rigid leg braces. Her mother put the three-year-old in dance classes. Further ballet training strengthened her legs and improved her carriage.

By the time she was six, the redhead was dancing on stage. She went on to study multiple dance forms, ranging from tap, jazz, ballroom and flamenco to Balinese. She even added juggling to her repertoire. At age 11, she appeared as a solo ballerina in the musical romance film The King Steps Out (1936), directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Grace Moore and Franchot Tone. She attended Hamilton High School in Los Angeles and studied under famed balletomane Ernest Belcher. While in high school, she was cast in a revival of Show Boat.

Verdon shocked her parents and instructors when she abandoned her budding career aged 17 to elope with reporter James Henaghan in 1942. In 1945, she appeared as a dancer in the movie musical The Blonde From Brooklyn. After her divorce, she entrusted her son Jimmy to the care of her parents.

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