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All Fosse’s Jazz

by Linnea Crowther

In 1979 two stars of the entertainment world came together — along with a cast of, well, if not thousands, certainly hundreds — to create a spectacle like no other: “All That Jazz,” the semi-autobiographical imagining of the life of Broadway legend Bob Fosse (1927–1987).

The film starred Roy Scheider of Jaws fame and was written and directed by — who else? — Bob Fosse. In the character Joe Gideon, portrayed by Scheider, Fosse created a thinly-veiled version of himself: an overworked, oversexed, overindulging dancer, choreographer and writer. The movie was surreal, often difficult to watch, but no less wonderful for the painful moments. And Scheider, playing against type, was glittery and jittery, earning every bit of his Oscar nomination.

Fosse was nominated for an Oscar too — two, actually, for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. He had previously won an Academy Award in 1973 for directing the film version of Cabaret, and the same year also won a Best Director Tony (for Pippin) and Emmy (for Liza with a Z), making him the first person to win all three major awards in the same year. On Broadway, Fosse was a key creative force behind smashes like ChicagoDamn Yankees and Sweet Charity, all of which starred his then-wife Gwen Verdon. It can’t be easy to direct the magical-realist version of your own life story, and perhaps the criticisms of the movie as egomaniacal aren’t too far off. But there’s no denying Fosse’s skill as a director, and, of course, choreographer.


Scheider was one of many who admired Fosse’s perfectionism.

It was his command of tiny details that makes Fosse’s choreography so instantly recognizable — and so frequently copied (remember the jazz hands “spirit fingers” choreographer in the cheerleading pic Bring It On?), if not always with the same stunning results that Fosse got.

In All That Jazz, Fosse imagined Gideon dying young of a heart attack. As it turned out, the film wasn’t far off from what would be Fosse’s reality. Fosse was only 60 when he suffered a heart attack and died Sept. 23, 1987, 25 years ago today. From beginning to end, Fosse’s life and the version he created in All That Jazz were pretty incredible.

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