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Bob Fosse Dances!

Air Date: February 4, 1951

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Bob Fosse and Mary Ann Niles appearing on the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1951.

Where does genius begin? Time gives us a perspective on genius that sometimes reveals the simple acts that provide genius an opportunity to flower. Bob Fosse is an acknowledged innovator, a genius recognized for his accomplishments on stage, in movies and on TV. This video clip is an extraordinary opportunity to look back at that genius before it had been fully formed, where it was still at an early, experimental stage.

Fosse had show business blood. His father was in vaudeville and Fosse first danced professionally at 13. After being discharged from the service in 1947 Fosse moved to New York City. He got his first break on Broadway in 1950 in the chorus for Dance Me a Story.

In 1951, Jerry Lewis saw the act of the young Bob Fosse and his partner, Mary Ann Niles, at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. Fosse and Niles met while working on the stage show, Call Me Mister and became regulars on the classic TV show, “Your Hit Parade.” Lewis invited the young dancers to be on the Colgate Comedy Hour and choreograph the dance numbers for that show. Fosse later said of this encounter, “Jerry started me doing choreography. He gave me my first job as a choreographer and I’m grateful for that.”

Fosse was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director 3 times and won once. He won 8 Tony Awards for Best Choreography and 1 for Best Direction in a Musical. In 1973 he won 3 Primetime Emmys for Liza with a Z. He’s won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and so many other awards they become difficult to enumerate.

Fosse’s signature dance style is most often noticed and commented on, but in the clip presented here, Fosse is carefully aware of the camera and the frame that it creates. Even at this early point in both Fosse career and the television industry, Fosse composes and controls the framing, the camera motion and dancers movements within the frame of each shot to create a surreal experience. In 1951, TV had little time to fully develop standard presentation formats for dance. However, even at this early age, Fosse shows a vision for how dance can be presented on the new medium.

You know him as the director/choreographer of Cabaret, All That Jazz, Liza with a Z, Pippin and Sweet Charity. This clip documents Fosse’s fateful dance appearance on the Colgate Comedy Hour on February 4, 1951 by invitation of Jerry Lewis.

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