If you’re looking for a holiday gift for someone in The Industry – and by that I mean anyone working in movies, television, theater, even in dance or the music business – the new biography Fosse by Sam Wasson has got you covered.
Bob Fosse, you may remember, is the only man to have won the show business trifecta: an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy in one year (1972). But did it make him happy? Therein lies the tale, or at least, the core of it.
Fosse is a big, fat book that may look intimidating (the text is nearly 600 pages, pre-notes and acknowledgements), but it’s such an engrossing page-turner of a read that I’m not alone in thinking that it could’ve been longer. Reviews have been raves, and the book’s already an Amazon bestseller.
Author Wasson is a friend, but with this definitive bio out now, and the NY Times bestseller Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. (about the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s) behind him, he hardly needs any smoke-blowing promotion from me. And I would’ve eaten this book up with a spoon, regardless.
What Sam has pulled off here is no small feat. Due to his prodigious research and insights, you feel that you are there, fly-on-the-wall style, for all the events that transpire in Fosse’s life, and you feel like you’re getting the real deal – that you’re in Fosse’s head or, at least, that you’re with the man as he actually was, brought to vivid life in all his neurotic glory.
In a recent NPR interview, well worth a listen, Sam relates one of the many great anecdotes that are in the book, about an encounter between Fosse and his close friend, the formidable screen and TV writer, Paddy Chayefsky (the "Gwen" Fosse refers to is his wife Gwen Verdon, and Nicole, their daughter):
Fosse [is] in the hospital having just had a heart attack, facing open-heart surgery the next morning - bypass surgery - he's sitting there with Paddy. Paddy's going over Fosse's will, which he has just rewritten. And Paddy, of course, reads every single word of every single page of the document, expecting to find himself in there. He realizes Fosse's left him out.
And Paddy looks up from the will and looks to Fosse and says: I'm not in here. I'm your best friend of 10 years; where am I? And Fosse says: Well, Paddy, I don't worry about you. You're going to be fine. I wanted to make sure Gwen was OK, and Nicole was OK... I wanted to provide for my family. I don't worry about you. You know I love you. I got to provide for these other people. And Paddy looks up and says: Fuck you, live.
So that gives you a flavor of what these guys were. And Fosse laughs so hard and… all the tubes are plugged into his nose and the heart machine starts beeping and - I mean, it was a constant party in Fosse's room.
Yes, there was a lot of laughter, but Fosse also makes it clear that a deep well of fear, anger, and pain lay behind the singular icon’s great achievements. The book chronicles how this infamously driven workaholic sought to deal with his demons, and it serves as a kind of cautionary tale for all of us creative types who seek to somehow keep our work and our personal lives in balance. In an e-mail exchange with Sam, the biographer had this to say about his subject:
It's a book about the problems of insecurity [and] the vulnerability that comes from being an artist. One of the things I love about Fosse is that he endured an amplified version of the problems we in the creative realm deal with, namely, "How do I make it better? Can I make it better? Why is it never enough? Why am I never enough? What's wrong with me?" The fear of creation. Not fear: the panic. For me it is always there. And so I'm very moved by Fosse's story... I hope people read it as being bigger than Fosse.
It felt that way to me, and I think anyone who delves into this addictively readable book will come away with some big-sized thoughts to ponder, as well as an interest in re-experiencing the handful of great movies that Fosse’s panic, and talent, produced.
[Sam Wasson will be signing copies of Fosse this Friday night (12/6) at the Aero Theater, as well as helming a panel in conjunction with showings of Cabaret and All That Jazz – details in this link.]