Director/choreographer/dancer /actor/writer Bob Fosse has always nurtured and been surrounded by charmed lives. He brought out Judy Holliday’s talent for dancing in Bells Are Ringing; cast the then unknowns Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl and Jill Clayburgh in Pippin; directed Liza Minnelli in her Oscar-winning performance in Cabaret; and showcased Jessica Lange in All That Jazz.
Perhaps with this glittering gallery of leading ladies in mind, a mischievously odd group of ingenues planned for an audition at Fosse’s Long Island country home. They had been inspired after Fosse jokingly told them that his home’s newly built dance studio would be used to hold classes for male writers over 50.
The group, consisting of Fosse’s friends, writers E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime) and Peter Maas (Serpico) and the portly superagent Sam Cohn, made their move at a party following the completion of the studio. Artfully tailored in pink tutus, the hopeful trio tiptoed into the studio while Fosse was dressing for the evening. Bach playing on the stereo alerted Fosse that something was, well, afoot. When he entered the studio, the aging corps de ballet was gamely working on its pliés, arabesques and glissades like wayward George Plimptons. After Cohn finished with a Degas bow, Fosse rounded up flowers and tossed bouquets at the triumphant “students.”
“Can you imagine Sam,” Fosse says now, laughing as he shapes a globular stomach in the air, “in a tutu?”
He reveals this glimpse into his incandescent circle of modern muses as we talk in the living room of his Manhattan apartment. Yet although Fosse appears to fit in naturally at the radiant center, in reality he is strangely ill at ease with himself and the circle. These darker feelings, though, have their outlets. With volcanic force, they have erupted as never before in his latest movie, an intense film that casts a foreboding, malevolent pall over all the shining, charmed lives.
In Star 80, Fosse shotgun-blasts away the American Dream — Hollywood style. It is the unflinchingly true story of the murder three years ago of 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten by her estranged husband, Paul Snider, who then turned his 12-gauge Mossberg on himself. Death, though, was only the final tragedy. There were little murders all along the way.
Dorothy Stratten was the 18-year-old Vancouver Dairy Queen golden maiden who became the focus of three men’s fantasies. First, there was Snider, a lightweight promoter and sometime pimp who swept Stratten out from behind the counter in true Schwab’s Drugstore fashion, hustled her a centerfold and married her, thereby hooking himself onto her success. He was followed by the squire of the bunny hutch, Hugh Hefner, who saw Stratten as a vehicle for satisfying his frustrated ambitions of being a star-maker. And finally, there was director Peter Bogdanovich, who with his cookie-cutter taste in starlets, first cast Stratten in a movie, then became her lover. The telling of this story helped earn Teresa Carpenter of the Village Voice a Pulitzer prize. When Fosse read it, he quickly cut through the tangle of relationships, eliminating all but one point of view. Hefner (played in the movie by Cliff Robertson) was out because he was an easy mark; Bogdanovich (portrayed under another name by Roger Rees), a cliché; and Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), too innocent. Only Snider, brilliantly acted by Eric Roberts, got to him.
“I somehow identified with him,” says Fosse, careful to pick the right words, “because he was trying to get in. It’s not that I’ve been excluded that much, but I know that sense of them all knowing something I don’t know. And that makes me very angry. I’d like to be offered all of Hollywood’s perks, just so I could refuse them. To this day, I get nervous when I have to see the big shots at the studios. Even though they’re pretty schmucky guys, it’s like being called to the principal’s office.”
If the Rodeo Drive set, fronted by their secretaries in triplicate, frightens Fosse, it is not surprising that Fosse inserted a scene in the film showing Snider becoming angry at himself for screwing up the first time he meets Hefner. Yet the similarity points out the difference between Snider and Fosse. Snider had every reason to feel insecure with someone so powerful; Fosse does not.
“I know it’s strange,” he concedes. “I can run a whole movie, make decisions that have to do with millions of dollars, and yet I feel very childish and immature inside. I know they need talented people. And as long as I can produce, they’ll be after me.”
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