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Happy Birthday, Gwen Verdon!

Gwen Verdon—born 98 years ago today! I hope you enjoy this tiny history lesson I’ve complied for the occasion! Below are excerpts from a 1993 interview between Gwen and Terry Gross.


T: “What was it like the first time you worked with [Bob] and danced his choreography? What was different about his choreography and direction from what you had experienced before?”


Gwen: “The first thing I noticed is that it was SO amusing. I know it was sensuous, but it was done with such a sense of humor and also with the innocence of a child. So you weren’t acting “sexy” it just come out that way. […] It was making fun of being sexy which comes out much MORE sexy”




T: Do you feel that you played Lola the devilish seductress as funny?


Gwen: “I played it as a child. You see little girls all dressed up in their mother’s clothes. you know, lipstick smeared all over their face. I did it like that.”


T: Would he do the moves to show you what he wanted?


Gwen: “Yes! And they were hysterical! And I went and said ‘I don’t think I can do that in high heels!’ so Bob put on high heels and DID it! He believed me, but he had to find out for himself.”




Gwen Verdon and Stephan Douglass in ‘Damn Yankees’ on Broadway, 1955. NYPL Archives.



The original poster art for the show featured Gwen in a jersey and emphasized the baseball aspect of the show. After opening, in recognition of her star-making performance, Verdon was promoted to above-the-title billing and the post art was changed to feature her confident “Lola” pose. 




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