Chicago Tribune Best Books of 2013
Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2013
NPR’s Best Books of 2013
Los Angeles Times Best Seller
Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 Books of 2013
Newsday’s Top 10 Books of 2013
Los Angeles Public Library Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013
Kirkus Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013
"Mr. Wasson is a smart and savvy reporter, and his book abounds with colorful firsthand tales—required reading
for anyone eager to understand his brand of — to use a term that appears here constantly, and can’t be outdone — razzle-dazzle."
—Janet Maslin, New York Times "Fascinating
and exhaustive biography...Mr. Wasson has taken complete control of his subject."
—Wall Street Journal
'He thought he was the best, and he thought he was terrible.' The man in question is legendary choreographer and director Bob Fosse, whose celebrated life and career get their due in Sam Wasson's spellbinding 695-page biography, Fosse. You don't need to be a Broadway expert to enjoy this portrait of a man whose rise to power was famously fueled by insecurity. It's all here: accounts of his monstrous, masterful directing style; the explosive personal battles behind his Tony-winning triumphs; his incendiary relationship with Gwen Verdon. Wasson simply doesn't miss a thing. Give the guy a (jazz) hand. A-"
"The only thing that could have been better than Sam Wasson's page-turning, comprehensively rendered biography of choreographer-director Bob Fosse would have been Fosse's own memoir...Wasson's own narrative style has a jazzy, discursive and relentless energy well aligned with its subject."
"Thorough and lively biography."
, Briefly Noted "Amazingly well-written."
—New York Journal of Books
"Unlike countless biographies of artists and performers, "Fosse" does not rely on dime-store psychoanalysis in explicating its subject and his flaws...Wasson, so skilled at providing a macro overview -- he seamlessly outlines the history of both the American stage and the American movie musical to better foreground Fosse's transformations of each -- has also written a book filled with dazzling
"Wasson's biography is richly researched and passionate,
and while Fosse's film pursuits are only a part of the story, his life had a cinematic sweep."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"The reason I picked up Fosse, though, has as much to do with its author as with its subject. . . . Wasson is a canny chronicler of old Hollywood and its outsize personalities. (The cast of characters is enough to recommend the book: Audrey Hepburn, Truman Capote, Henry Mancini, Edith Head.) More than that, he understands that style matters, and, like his subjects, he has a flair for it."
. . . There's an enormous amount of scholarship here, yet the story never drags, so adroitly does [Wasson] blend his material into a fluent narrative around evocative scenes where character emerges novelistically."
(starred review) "Here's something you can't say about many celebrity biographies: at nearly 750 pages, it feels like it ends too soon . . . A pure joy
to read, cover to cover."
"Lushly researched . . . [Wasson] has amassed a mountain of data about Fosse but has sculpted it into something moving and memorable
. . . . Graceful prose creates a richly detailed and poignant portrait." —Kirkus
(starred review) "Deep inside this comprehensive study, Sam Wasson uses a phrase to describe the movie Cabaret
: 'the bejeweling of horror.' Bob Fosse's whole life was something like that, a man who created magnificent, bejeweled art at personal cost. It's an American story, powerfully told."
— Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost
"I tore through this masterful biography, loving it from beginning to end. Wasson writes with a verve ideally tuned to his subject, sparkling with wit and fresh insight. . . . This is a life lived large — and dangerously — amid cultural currents that propelled and inspired Fosse as a dancer, choreographer, and director. In Fosse
, Sam Wasson energetically and authoritatively brings it all into sharp focus, with uncanny depth and perception."
— Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen
"Hard work is evident in the intricate depiction of a complicated, brilliant man...A thoroughly researched and fascinating look at Fosse, viewed through the relationships and work that defined him. Highly recommended for theater or movie aficionados, aspiring performers, and fans of engrossing biography."
"Sam Wasson’s Fosse is terrific in both senses of the word. It’s magnificent and frightening in equal measure, a biography so detailed and exacting that it makes you feel so
close to Bob Fosse at all the major and many of the minor events of his life that you can practically smell the cigarette stink, but at the same time so horrifying in its depiction of the man that it induces a kind of vicarious panic, an echo of the intense fear and despair Fosse suffered every day of his adult life. Fosse is one of the best, most entertaining biographies I have ever read. Bob Fosse was unique in being a dancer-turnedchoreographer-turned-director of both stage and screen. Only Busby Berkeley compares, but Berkeley was never a dancer. And Fosse’s range as a film director was wider by far than Berkeley’s; moreover, Berkeley directed a stage musical only once—albeit the smash 1971 revival of No, No Nanette—whereas Fosse directed a total of eight Broadway musicals, three of which are legendary: Chicago, Sweet Charity, and Pippin. And Fosse remains the only person to have won the Triple Crown of entertainment awards: a Best Director Oscar (for Cabaret), a Best Director
Tony (for Pippin), and a Best Director Emmy (for Liza with a Z), all in the same year (1973). He started out in Chicago as part of a song-and-dance duo with his friend Charlie Grass. They called themselves the Riff Brothers, a corny play on the brothers Ritz. But as Wasson points out, corny could be a compliment—as long as there was enough ‘‘razzle-dazzle’’ to give the corn a shine. The Riff Brothers played strip clubs, the threadbare remnants of the once halfway respectable burlesque
circuit. Vaudeville was on its way out, but even in the seediest and saddest venues Fosse picked up on vaudeville’s underlying appeal. It wasn’t just show business; it was showbiz, a distinction Fosse would embrace throughout his career. Fosse was a juiced-up teenage boy when he was hoofing his way through the strip joints, and many of his friends later came to believe that not only Fosse’s promiscuity and serial adultery but his harsh psychological gestalt was born of a humiliating sexual trauma inflicted on him by a stripper, an experience so painful that Fosse himself never discussed it. Whatever caused it, Fosse carried self-contempt around with him like an insecurity blanket for the rest of his life. Fosse landed in New York after the war, and in just a few years found seemingly unlikely patrons in the form of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, who put the young dancer in their act at the Pierre Hotel and got him a spot on the Colgate Comedy Hour. In a flash he was in Hollywood under contract at MGM. One day Stanley Donen introduced him to Fred Astaire. For Fosse, the moment was catastrophic. Fosse, slunk into himself and staring at the floor, noticed a loose nail, and as Wasson puts it: Astaire toe-tapped the nail as thoughtlessly as he would flick a cigarette. . . . And then, without warning, Astaire flicked his foot, and—ping!—the nail was in the air and then careening off the soundstage wall with the force
of a rifle shot. . . . Fosse was horrified. He was nothing; Astaire danced even as he stood still. (73) By this point in Fosse, Wasson has made it quite clear that Bob was one sick puppy. The danger of writing about such an emotional disaster is that readers may well tire of the incessant fucked-upedness of the person under discussion. Wasson asks his readers to make an unusually substantial commitment to learning about Fosse’s excruciating life: Fosse weighs in at two-and-a-quarter pounds of paper.
That’s 723 pages (including notes, index, and acknowledgments). The Astaire anecdote occurs on page 73. There are 516 pages of story left to go. But Wasson is much more accomplished than the average celebrity biographer. His intelligent prose flies off the page. He’s not only an impressive researcher—he interviewed more than 300 of Fosse’s friends and associates— but a wonderfully witty writer who chose every one of the book’s vast number of words with extraordinary care. And
he’s got a killer sense of humor. Some sentences of this book are so damn funny that I laughed out loud. Describing the cartoonist and playwright Herb Gardner, Wasson writes, ‘‘He’d grown up at his father’s Canal Street saloon, listening to nutjobs fight about cantaloupe and politics and rhapsodize about fat old girlfriends’’ (225). And this: ‘‘They pulled up to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion—sitting in downtown LA like a beached whale doing a Lincoln Center impression’’ (339). Here’s Wasson describing Fosse’s institutionalization at Payne Whitney in New York: ‘‘He lasted only a few days. More than his depression, Fosse hated the lithium they prescribed to combat it: the drug...