If famed choreographer Bob Fosse had an “it” girl before Gwen Verdon, it was actress Carol Haney.
After leaving an uncredited dance assistant job with Gene Kelly, Haney landed at MGM as a specialty dancer and partner to Fosse, who was playing Hortensio in the film Kiss Me Kate. The pair’s dance to “From This Moment On,” featuring struck poses and snapping fingers, landed Fosse his first Broadway choreography job — The Pajama Game.
Fosse brought Haney along for the ride, where she was given a bit part in the musical.
But she impressed director George Abbott, who combined her role with another, creating the character Gladys Hotchkiss. In the show, Haney performed two numbers, one being the iconic “Steam Heat,” showcasing Fosse’s signature choreography. Haney won The Tony® in 1955 for Best Featured Actress and her path to stardom on stage and screen seemed sealed, especially when Academy Award®-winning producer Hal B. Wallis (Casablanca, Sergeant York, Kings Row) was coming to the theater to see her specifically.
Unfortunately, the usually indestructible Haney tore a ligament in her ankle and was unable to perform, so Wallis instead saw The Pajama Game featuring the Haney’s understudy – Shirley MacLaine. He loved MacLaine’s performance and signed her to a five-year film contract with her first movie being The Trouble With Harry, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Haney went on to have a short-lived, but not skyrocketing career as a dancer and choreographer, appearing as Scheherazade in Kelly’s film Invitation to the Dance and reprising her role in the movie version of The Pajama Game, where she fell ill with diabetes during filming.
She later choregraphed Broadway’s Flower Drum Song, Bravo Giovanni and She Loves Me. Her final Broadway show as choreographer was Funny Girl, starring Barbra Streisand, but Haney died of respiratory failure complicated by alcoholism six weeks into the run. She was 39 years old.