The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California on September 2, 1979 · 217
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The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California · 217

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San Francisco, California
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Sunday, September 2, 1979
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217
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DRAMA 7 mean I really know seedy show business very well' Dancin'Bob Fosse Still Flirts With Death II V Marian Zuilian New York OB FOSSE fired up another Camel, one of 60 to 80 he would consume before the day was over. "If you're gonna smoke," he said, "smoke." At the age of 52, four and a half years after a severe heart attack followed by open-heart surgery. Fosse says he feels fine and admits with a wry twinkle that he is as self-destructive as ever. "But I'm sure I'm gonna live to be 90," he told a reporter. "God's gonna punish me. Life is too long! Get me out!" Why? He doesn't know. Certainly it has nothing to do w ith career problems. For his work as director andor choreographer Fosse has won a Hollywood Oscar, an armload of television Emmies, and no less than eight copies of Broadway's top award, the Antoinette Perry. He got his latest Tony last year for "Dancin'," the exuberant musical that will open Tuesday at the Orpheum in San Francisco. "Dancin'," which replaces "Evita" in San Francisco's Civic Light Opera series, is in some ways the most personal show in a long succession of Fosse hits stretching back to "The Pajama Game" In the early '50s. "Dancin"' is a plotless collection of sensationally staged song-and-dance numbers in every genre from ballet to rock. It is pure Fosse. Fosse is a slight, almost wispy man with thinning hair, a pepper-and salt goatee, and a sardonic chuckle. He has been in show business since he was 13 years old, when he started working as a dancer and stand-up comic in strip joints in Chicago, where his father, a one-time vaudeville performer, was a salesman. "1 used to work until 3:30 or 4 o'clock in the morning," he said. "Then I'd come home and get three hours sleep, do an hour's worth of homework, and go to school. I'd come home after school, do a little homework, and go to sleep until it was time to go to the night club. "My parents were rather proud of me. To be 13 and earning $60 a week $10 a night for six nights was rather good, you know." Soon be was on the road, traveling the burlesque circuit. "I can romanticize it, but it was an awful life," Fosse said. "I was very lonely, very scared. You know, hotel rooms in strange towns, and I was all alone, 13 or 14, too shy to talk to anyone, not really knowing what it was ail about, and among not the best people. That's not very romantic. "I think it's done me a lot of harm, being exposed to things that early that I shouldn't have been exposed to. I was named co-respondent in a divorce suit when I was 15. I won't go into all the other things. But it left some scar that I have not quite been able to figure out "The good part is that I learned a lot about show business, particularly about that background. I mean I really know seedy show business very well. That's why I could use it in 'Cabaret' a lot. (He got his Academy Award for directing the screen version of 'Cabaret.') And I used it in 'Lenny' and I used it in 'Chicago' and I've used it in 'All That Jazz.' " "All That Jazz" is the autobiographical movie that Fosse is editing for December release in New York and Los Angeles. He wrote the script (with Robert Alan Arthur) and directed the picture, which stars Roy Scheider as a self-destructive director-choreographer who has a heart attack while making a film suggestive of "Lenny" about a stand-up comic. , Fosse had his heart attack in 1975 while he w as Datebook, Sunday, Sept. 2, 1979 i f 1 V 5 ; CHOREOGRAPHER BOB FOSSE ' i . Y f At h . ; . "i " i 1 1 DANCERS Vicki Frederick and Sandahl Bergman in a number from "Dancin' " editing "Lenny" at the same time he was rehearsing "Chicago" on Broadway. "I was pushing too hard," he said. "You know, after you come close to death, you make so many resolutions. And you make that deal with God: Let me off and I promise I won't smoke and I won't drink anymore. I'll be nice to the women, I'll be kind, I'll be thoughtful, I'll be sensitive, I'll be understanding. "And then you live, and suddenly a month later you're right back in the old thing, smoking and drinking and being dishonest in relationships . . . "I believe in love," he said, "but I've never been able to sustain a long love relationship myself. She always suspects something's going on, or someone's cheating on somebody ... 1 just can't remain faithful for too long." , FOSSE has married three times, the last time in 1960 to Gwen Verdon, the star of several of his shows. They have been separated for about eight years, but both say they are still good friends. She has been traveling with the road company of "Dancin'," keeping an eye on things for Fosse. He and Verdon have "just never bothered" to get a divorce, he said. "It keeps me from getting married. I've always got an excuse." His most recent romance, a year-long affair with an actress-model, broke up not long ago. "This is the one I won't remain friendly with," he said. Besides women, his problems have included "booze and cigarets and pills. Once, long ago, I got hooked on Seconal, but I kicked that one. That's a bad one. Now I'm hooked on cigarets and, I wish I drank less than I do. "I think I could quit smoking and drinking if I really tried, but then I think every addicted person says that "I'm the kind of guy who, when I was 20, thought wouldn't it be romantic if I died in my 20s. And then I postponed it, and then at 30 I thought, well, I'll put it off till 40, give me a few more years, it's not bad here. So you sort of hang around to see what happens, and before you know it as I said, I'll probably be alive at 90. But I still flirt with death. "My doctor says I'm a bad boy and I should stop all this stuff, but I'm immature. How can you be in this business and not be immature? It's a child's game we're in. And I love it. I love it and I hate it . . . "I am cynical, but I think every optimist sooner or later gets cynical. I don't believe people tell each other the truth. There's so much corruption and lying. There's so much sort of goofing off. People don't really do their jobs. They find any way to get the most money for the least amount of work. They get fame without working for it. And in business I find most men are corrupt or can be made so, given the proper proposition ... "I don't really think, as far as money is concerned, that I've ever done a dishonest thing in my life. I think in relationships maybe I am corruptible, maybe I am dishonest." Since they're so fond of each other, is there any chance that he and Verdon might patch up their marriage someday? "I don't think we could," he said. "And why screw up a good friendship?" Looking back, he remembers working with Verdon in their early Broadway shows together as "the best time we ever had. We should have never gone out of rehearsal. We should have stayed in that studio, put a few chairs in it and a Frigidaire, and we'd be happy to this day." j . i , , PAGE 17

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