BOB FOSSE Has no use for material things
November 1979

Prowling, shoulders hunched, trying to identify a noise that bothered the sound man ("Can it be me walking? Me, the director, Featherfoot? Should I take my shoes off?").

Dream‑obsessed and toil‑eager, he'd wander back to the set in the middle of lunch hour and wonder aloud where everyone was. "I'm ready to shoot." In his uniform of black pants, black shirt‑-his clothes budget isn't going to break him‑-cigarette hanging from his mouth, riding the dolly that held the camera, he was king of a country he had created.

It is the same for him in the womblike dark of the editing room, sitting in front of a long table on which reels of film are fed through two playback machines, watching a scene over and over, pushing buttons, the film shooting backward, shrieking, hissing, then starting forward again with Ben Vereen singing "Bye Bye Life" while a trumpet wails behind him and night falls on Bob Fosse, oblivious to the passing of time.

So oblivious, in fact, that he ran way over schedule, and Columbia grew fearful. The way Fosse tells it, they said, "That's It, Fosse, we're shutting down the picture." Columbia admits they asked him to stop shooting one sequence. But within 24 hours, co‑distributor 20th Century‑Fox jumped in with several more million dollars. "Therefore I could finish," Fosse says, admitting that the money had been rolling out fast. "I'd added musical numbers, and they're tough to shoot. On numbers, I always run over. I keep getting new ideas, and that's kind of expensive."

Toward the end of July, having put together a print he was willing to show, Fosse headed for Hollywood so the 20th Century-Fox brass could look at the picture. He was nervous. "I can't walk into one of those offices without feeling twelve years old. Those guys intimidate me, they all have Gucci shoes."

In addition to worrying about tycoons, Fosse is concerned with what movie critics may eventually say. "I think this picture needs the critics. We'll have to start off well in New York and Los Angeles. But I don't know what goes and what doesn't go. If I knew, I would be making $28,000 a day."

Okay, suppose‑-heaven forbid‑-All That Jazz fails. Would he survive? He thinks about it. "By now, I've hung around so long I guess I could stand a flop and still be able to get a job. I wouldn't be able to get the job I want, but somebody would hire me." Professional recognition is obviously important to Fosse‑-"You have to have a certain amount of success and a pretty good track record for them to give you the money to do something like Dancin' "‑- but he no longer craves the public's recognition the way he did when he was hungrier. "I worked my ass off for years, and nobody knew me. Then I made an American Express commercial and everybody in the world was stopping me in the street. Of course, sometimes they got me wrong. 'We know you,' they'd say. 'You're the guy who does the Muppets, right? 'Right,' I'd say. 'That's right"

While Fosse's ego is, in all likelihood, as large‑-and as fragile as the egos of others in his business, a sense of irony keeps him from being mortally wounded by setbacks. "We were going to form a company," he says, "Sidney Lumet, Milos Forman, Woody Allen and I, so we'd have full control of our movies. We thought we could get capitalization because we were heavyweights, see?" He roars with laughter. "All of us heavyweights struck out. ABC turned us down. CBS turned us down. Gulf and Western turned us down. I think even the Arabs turned us down."

Sometimes Fosse has been tempted to turn himself down. Several years ago he confessed that he'd often been fascinated by the idea of self‑destruction‑-"by that thin line between a person's shooting himself or not shooting himself"‑-but after his daughter was born, he said, he put suicide out of his mind.

Well, what about the smoking, the drinking, the uppers, the sleeping pills, the women? Isn't all that faintly suicidal for a man whose heart has been known to give up? Sure, he says. "It's got to be some sort of death wish. The problem is you flirt so long that one day you may have to put up or shut up. I've come close to going that little step too far, just out of drunkenness, and not knowing how many sleeping pills I've swallowed. You forget, pop a couple more, and pretty soon you're in trouble."

Nonetheless, in the hospital Fosse discovered, "I wanted to live. I don't know what reasons I gave myself. Nicole, mostly. I guess you always find reasons. Even if it's just that you have to take two seconds out of a movie. You figure, I won't jump tonight. I'll jump tomorrow, after I make that little cut."

Fosse has no use for material things. "I'd rent shoes, if I could” he claims.

Flagrantly disregarding his fragile health most of the time, Fosse enjoys the relative calm of a rental on Long Island's south shore. While scanning the horizon for another project worthy of his prodigious talents, he says he expects to wake up and read in Variety that his whole career has bombed into oblivion.

Nicole Fosse is 16 years old now, and her photographs‑-from the two‑year‑old towhead in her father's arms to the present‑day beauty dressed in leotards‑-are all over Fosse's apartment. She lived with him for a while, when she was going to Manhattan's Dalton School. "Things got uptight between her and her mother. Two women in the same house. Gwen was careful with her, a little more strict than I am. I said, “I don't have time to watch you. I have to go to work, so I just have to trust you. If you're anything like your father, you're a pretty good liar, so you could fool me, but I don't want a lot of dope in the house or anything like that."

He shakes his head. "It was hard for me to lecture her about pot when I was standing there holding a glass of booze. I'm saying, 'You know it's bad for you, better not smoke that stuff.' And I've got the worst drug in the world in my hand. The worst." Last year Nicole went away, to the North Carolina School of the Arts, and fell in love for the first time.

"It's changed her," Fosse says ruefully, in the manner of all fathers who yearn to protect their little girls from the pain of the world. But she's going to be a dancer. With Verdon and Fosse for parents, the die was cast long ago. So what will Fosse do if she bumps into some director like him, who loves girls? "Oh God, I'll kill him," he says. "Maybe she'll be lucky and not meet anyone like me."

Nicole went to a screening of All That Jazz‑-Fosse showed a rough cut to a few people: Nicole, Gwen Verdon, friends Paddy Chayefsky and Herb Gardner, and his agents. Afterward, Nicole said she didn't know what she thought. "I'll have to tell you later."
"Her mother, who walked her home, said she was silent for a long time," Fosse recalls. "Finally she said, 'You know, the daughter was the only one who cared whether he lived or died."

Nicole keeps urging her father to settle down with a good woman. "She says, 'You really should marry this one. Don't let this one get away--you'll be sorry.' She loves my girlfriends. Why not? They're all about her age."

Fosse thought about marrying a pretty woman named Julie Hagerty, with whom he lived for most of last year. "I met her, and she didn't seem interested in acting at all. Hooray, I thought. She was a model. Fine. Let her go model. And suddenly she said she was appearing in a little show off‑off Broadway for a friend of hers. I went down and saw it, and she was a natural. I mean a natural comedienne. So I got my agent to come, and he grabbed her up, and pretty soon she was gone, I think she's going to be a movie star."

He stands on his terrace, which overlooks Central Park. The Goodyear blimp seems to be hanging, suspended, in the sky off to the fight, and in the park below, the rock group Blondie is beginning to make loud noises. From this vantage point, the crowds packed on the green hills look like decorated peanuts in their shells. "Ten to one Nicole's over there," Fosse says.

With All That Jazz finished, he's suffering from a kind of postpartum blues. "I guess I'm very tired. I sit in there like some brainless thing watching game shows. People win prizes and jump on each other and kiss, and it makes me sad that they're so happy. I get all weepy. I don't know what the hell's going on. It suddenly breaks my heart, like there's something I'm missing out on."

He's feeling empty. The picture's over, and Julie Hagerty's gone. "You always think, this one will be the one--the one who'll alter your life. With her, I tried harder than I used to. I miss her. I miss her a lot."

Then, reluctant to let an entertainer sound so serious, he grins. "I miss them all," he says.