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Herbert Ross
Herbert David Ross

(1927-05-13)May 13, 1927
New York City, U.S.
Died October 9, 2001(2001-10-09) (aged 74)
New York City, U.S.
Resting place Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Years active 1942–1995
Nora Kaye
(m. 1959; died 1987)

(m. 1988; div. 2001)

Herbert David Ross (May 13, 1927 – October 9, 2001) was an American actor, choreographer, director and producer who worked predominantly in theater and film. He was nominated for two Academy Awards and a Tony Award.

He is known for directing musical and comedies such as Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), Play It Again, Sam (1972), The Sunshine Boys, Funny Lady (both 1975), The Goodbye Girl (1977), California Suite (1978), and Pennies From Heaven (1981). His later films include Footloose (1984), and Steel Magnolias (1989). For the drama The Turning Point (1977) he received two Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and received the Golden Globe Award for Best Director.

He is also known for his work on Broadway as a choreographer for productions for Barbra Streisand, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, and Arthur Laurents. His credits include A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in 1951, Finian's Rainbow in 1960, I Can Get It for You Wholesale in 1962, and Do I Hear a Waltz? in 1965. He received a Tony Award for Best Choreography for Anyone Can Whistle in 1964.

Early life

Ross was born on May 13, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Louis Chester Ross, a postal clerk, and his wife Martha (née Grundfast). His parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants. When Ross was nine, his mother died and his father moved the family to Miami and opened a luncheonette.

After dropping out of high school, Ross went to New York to pursue an acting career but became smitten with and studied dance.




In 1942, Ross' stage debut came as "Third Witch" in a touring company of Macbeth. The next year brought his first Broadway performance credits with Something for the Boys, as a dancer. Ross was a dancer in Follow the Girls (1943–44), Laffing Room Only (1944–45), Beggar's Holiday (1946–47), and Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'!.


By 1950, he was a choreographer with the American Ballet Theatre and choreographed his first Broadway production, the Arthur Schwartz-Dorothy Fields musical adaptation of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951). For TV he choreographed All Star Revue, The Milton Berle Show, and The Steve Allen Plymouth Show. Ross's first film assignment came as an uncredited choreographer on Carmen Jones (1954).

Back on Broadway he choreographed House of Flowers (1954) for Peter Brook, and The Body Beautiful (1958). He choreographed some TV specials: The Jerry Lewis Show (1957), Wonderful Town (1958), Meet Me in St Louis (1959) and A Christmas Festival (1959). On Broadway Ross directed and choreographed a revival of Finian's Rainbow (1960). In 1965, Ross choreographed the original production of On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever and, without credit, took over the helm from the director of record, Robert Lewis, when the musical ran into trouble in Boston during its pre-Broadway tryout tour.

Ross went to England where he choreographed the feature film The Young Ones (1961), starring Cliff Richard. He returned to Broadway to be musical director on The Gay Life (1961–62) and I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1962), the latter directed by Arthur Laurents and starring Barbra Streisand. He did The Bacchantes (1961) for TV. Ross then choreographed a second Cliff Richard musical in England, Summer Holiday (1963). On Broadway he choreographed Tovarich (1963) with Vivien Leigh and Anyone Can Whistle (1964) with Laurents. For TV he did musical numbers for The Fantasticks (1964), The Bell Telephone Hour, Delia Scala Show (1962), Rinaldo in campo (1963), and The Nut House!! (1964) and staged numbers for the films Inside Daisy Clover (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and Doctor Dolittle (1967).

On Broadway Ross directed and choreographed Kelly (1965), and choreographed Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965) and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965-66). He did some additional staging on The Apple Tree (1966–67) directed by Mike Nichols. Ross was choreographer and director of musical numbers for Funny Girl (1968), produced by Ray Stark.


His film directorial debut came with the musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), made by MGM-British, with Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark. It was produced by Arthur P. Jacobs who had made Doctor Dolittle two years prior, and just like that film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips was a box-office disappointment. However, Ross' second feature as director, The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), was a big hit. The film was produced by Ray Stark and starred Streisand.

Ross did T.R. Baskin (1971) then Play It Again, Sam (1972), the latter produced by Jacobs and starring Woody Allen based on his play. Ross made The Last of Sheila (1973) co-written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, and Funny Lady (1975) with Stark and Streisand. Ross directed The Sunshine Boys (1975) based on a play and script by Neil Simon, starting a long collaboration between the two men; Stark produced. Ross directed The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), and The Turning Point (1977); Ross produced the latter.

Ross had two big hits with Simon scripts produced by Stark, The Goodbye Girl (1977) and California Suite (1978). Ross returned to Broadway to direct Neil Simon's Chapter Two (1977–79). After doing the ballet film Nijinsky (1980) he directed Simon's I Ought to Be in Pictures (1980–81) on Broadway. He followed this with Pennies from Heaven (1981) and the film version of I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982). His last film with Simon was Max Dugan Returns (1983).

Later career

Ross had a huge hit with Footloose (1984). He followed this with two comedies, Protocol (1984) with Goldie Hawn and The Secret of My Success (1987) with Michael J. Fox. Less successful was Dancers (1987).

Ross had one last big hit with another play adaptation, Steel Magnolias (1989). In the 1990s, he directed My Blue Heaven (1990), True Colors (1991), Undercover Blues (1993) and Boys on the Side (1995).

Personal life

In 1959, he married Nora Kaye, a ballerina, with whom he produced four films. In 1987, his wife Nora died of cancer.

In September 1988, he married for the second time to Lee Radziwiłł, the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The marriage ended in divorce in 2001, shortly before his death.

On October 9, 2001, Ross died from heart failure in New York City. A memorial was held for him at the Majestic Theater on West 44th Street in New York where Leslie Browne, Barbara Cook, Arthur Laurents, Marsha Mason, Mike Nichols and Mary-Louise Parker spoke of Ross. He was interred with Kaye in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.



Year Title Director Producer Note
1954 Carmen Jones No No Choreographer; uncredited
1961 The Young Ones No No Choreographer
1963 Summer Holiday No No
1968 Funny Girl No No
1969 Goodbye, Mr. Chips Yes No Directorial debut
1970 The Owl and the Pussycat Yes No
1971 T.R. Baskin Yes No
1972 Play It Again, Sam Yes No
1973 The Last of Sheila Yes Yes Debut (Film producer)
1975 The Sunshine Boys Yes No
Funny Lady Yes No
1976 The Seven-Per-Cent Solution Yes Yes
1977 The Turning Point Yes Yes
The Goodbye Girl Yes No
1978 California Suite Yes No
1980 Nijinsky Yes No
1981 Pennies From Heaven Yes Yes
1982 I Ought to Be in Pictures Yes Yes
1983 Max Dugan Returns Yes Yes
1984 Footloose Yes No
Protocol Yes No
1987 The Secret of My Success Yes Yes
Dancers Yes No
1989 Steel Magnolias Yes No
1990 My Blue Heaven Yes Yes
1991 True Colors Yes Yes
Soapdish No Executive
1993 Undercover Blues Yes No
1995 Boys on the Side Yes Yes Final film


Year Title Role Notes
1954 Wonderful Town Director Television film; Debut
1964-66 The Bell Telephone Hour Producer 6 episodes


Year Title Role Notes
1942 Macbeth Actor (Third Witch) Debut (Touring)
1943 Something for the Boys Dancer Debut (Broadway)
1944 Laffing Room Only Ensemble Broadway
1946 Beggar's Holiday Bartender / Dancer Broadway
1948 "Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'!" Ensemble Broadway
1950 American Ballet Theatre Choreographer
1951 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Debut (Broadway production)
1952 Three Wishes for Jamie Broadway
1954 House of Flowers Broadway
1958 The Body Beautiful
1960 Finian's Rainbow Broadway, revival
1961 The Gay Life Musical staging Broadway
1962 I Can Get It for You Wholesale Broadway
1963 Tovarich Choreographer Broadway
1964 Anyone Can Whistle
1965 Do I Hear a Waltz?
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Kelly Director; Choreographer
The Apple Tree Addt. Musical staging
1977 Chapter Two Director Neil Simon
1980 I Ought to Be in Pictures Neil Simon

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1964 Tony Award Best Choreography Anyone Can Whistle Nominated
1977 Academy Awards Best Picture The Turning Point Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1977 Golden Globe Award Best Director Won
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing - Feature Film Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Director Won

See also

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