Before ‘Redhead’: ‘Gentlemen Chase Redheads’

Dance · Theater
gwen verdon, richard kiley, stars of ‘redhead

She starred, in a peak moment of her Broadway fame, in the Tony Award-winning musical, Redhead, which opened at the 46th Street Theater on February 5, 1959. Her director/choreographer was Mr. Fosse.

courtesy of verdon-fosse legacy

The show, a murder mystery in the vein of KNIVES OUT but set in a London wax museum of the 1880s (thus costuming the pert Gwen Verdon in decolletage Victorian gowns), was a triumph for the Verdon-Fosse Broadway tsunami. Both Gwen and Bob won Tony Awards for this show, respectively for Best Actress in a Musical and Best Choreography. And the show garnered top prize as Best Musical of 1959.

But “Redhead” was not the first rodeo for Gwen’s flaming carrot-top of curls. In 1955, it was announced that paired with her fellow stellar Jack Cole dancer Carol Haney, Gwen was slated to star in a Round Three of “Gentlemen” franchise. Following Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955): a new property was in development to be called Gentlemen Chase Redheads. Verdon had assisted Cole on both “Blondes” and “Brunettes,” and just prior to filming the latter, had made her big splash on Broadway in “Can Can.” She had a lot going on!

Developing the new movie was a writing/producing team, Mary Loos (daughter of Anita) and her husband Richard Sale, fresh off filming Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a big bomb that included this good taste-challenged dance number by Jack Cole. Verdon was in Paris for the shoot, assisting Cole … and she’s surely among the dancing chimps in this number. Try to find her!

According to film critic and Museum of Modern Art film curator, Dave Kehr, “Mary Loos and Richard Sale wrote some beautiful screenplays for Allan Dwan at Republic in the 40s.” Apparently Sale fell flat as a director, and Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955) was among his flattest.

Nonetheless in 1955, the couple was hard at work on a new starring property for Gwen Verdon. It would open on Broadway then segue to film, according to the New York Times, Feb 23, 1955:

courtesy usc cinematic film library, with thanks to ned comstock

Why can’t we have those kinds of film franchises now? It’s not too late to complete the trilogy, Hollywood!

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