Gwen and Bobby’s first meeting is dissected on Fosse/Verdon Season 1 Episode 2, and every scene plays like the seductive striptease Bobby imagined for Whatever Lola Wants from Damn Yankees.
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The way the musical numbers get tossed in around vignettes from their first collaboration and the beginning of their romance is reminiscent of their greatest works on stage.
The editing for Fosse/Verdon is just spectacular.
The way scenes from different eras intercut to glean even more meaning out of each gives depth to the relationship between Gwen and Bobby and shows how beneficial hindsight can be when you’re lucky enough to have it.
The juxtaposition of the end of Gwen and Bobby’s marriage against their burgeoning relationship and how Bobby’s marriage to Joan McCracken ultimately ended in much the same way things went south with Gwen is haunting.
Delineating time periods against the backdrop of who was more successful at any given moment in their relationship gives a lot of weight to the synchronicity of their personal lives and professional careers.
The couple met after Gwen had won one Tony award. Bobby was still crawling up the ladder and choreographing shows without having a lot of other input.
Still, Bobby was playing games well before they met. By requesting to meet at the studio, it gave Gwen the impression the upstart wanted her to audition for him. It was both insulting and titillating.
Their push-me pull-me style of working together was a turn on for both of them, and it marked the end of Bobby’s marriage to Joan. It was his second, and Joan didn’t have a problem confronting Gwen about how what comes around goes around.
Gwen remembering all of it as she and Bobby hashed out their latest issue on a beach in Majorca was beautifully played.
Gwen received the warning notice from Joan about how Joan and Bobby met, fell in love, was used by Bobby to prop his career, and then moved on to Gwen just a little too late.
She had already fallen hard for Bobby.
The conversations between the lovers from the beginning to the end also share a lot of similarities. Bobby needed Gwen as much as he ever did. Professionally, she propelled him to heights he could have never dreamed without her.
But emotionally, the narcissistic side of Bobby craved total acceptance and love of a different kind by the time the two had years of collaboration behind them.
Bobby: I couldn’t think without you, you understand? I wanna come home. I’m outta business without you. I wanna…
Gwen: You skipped a section, Bob. There’s the part where you swear it didn’t mean anything. You were lonely, drinking too much, working too hard.
Bobby: I’m in love with her.
Gwen: Oh, no you’re not.
Gwen: With the translator? With the German girl?
Bobby: That doesn’t change the way I feel about you, and I don’t see why it should.
But when you look at the origins of their love, Bobby was always trying to talk Gwen into something with which she was a little more uncomfortable than she needed to be.
Bobby: What do you want from me? I’m, I’m… The only thing I wanna do, the ONLY thing I want to do is be with you. Do you hear what I’m saying?
Gwen: [crying uncontrollably] I’m sorry. But I can’t take away-
Gwen: — a dying woman’s husband.
Bobby: [whispering] I love you. I wanna buy you the moon and the stars, you understand? You’re everything. I’m in love with you. You know I love you. You’re everything I want.
Gwen: [whispering] I’m sorry.
Bobby: [whispering] Hey, hey. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. [Gwen wipes it away and leaves] I can fix it. I can fix it.
By the time they were in Majorca, Gwen realized Bobby considered every part of his life entertainment, and the way she directed him in the parts he was leaving on the cutting room floor was painful.
But that pain was also the basis of everything they did together. They pushed each other so far that only greatness could come out the other end.
Her face was priceless when she was watching Fosse grab the pain in “Who’s Got the Pain” and wrangle it so the audience would never fully understand what they were a party to.
Gwen: But they want fun.
Bobby: It is fun. Listen.
It’s a song about pain. Bobby, listen to the lyrics.
They’re not gonna hear that. They’re not gonna hear anything. They’ll be too busy lookin’ at you, and you’ll be smiling so wide, you’ll be dancing so magnificently. They’ll think it’s a musical, but you’ll know, and I’ll know. That’s what we do, isn’t it? We take what hurts and we turn it into a big gag, and we’re singin’ and we’re dancin’ and the audience, they’re yukkin’ it up. They’re laughin’ so hard they don’t realize that what they’re laughin’ at is a person in agony. A person who’s peeled off his own skin. I can make this work.
It was the ease with which Gwen adopted Bobby’s dancing style and took direction that turned him on to her, and it was his confidence and defiance against her Tony-winning ways that attracted her to him.
But it seemed like their union and collaboration worked more beneficially for Bobby than it did for Gwen.
He won Tony Award for Best Choreography for The Pajama Game in 1955, Damn Yankees in 1956, Redhead in 1959, Little Me in 1963, Sweet Charity in 1966, Pippin in 1973 (for which he also won Best Direction of a Musical, Dancin’ in 1978, and Big Deal in 1986.
He received another 11 Tony nominations for Choreography, Direction, Best Book of a Musical, and Performance through 1986.
Bobby Fosse also went on to win an Academy Award for Best Director for Cabaret in 1973. He was nominated for and Best Director for Lenny in 1975 and Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for All That Jazz in 1980.
Bobby was also a triple Emmy winner for Liza with a Z in 1973.
After her Featured Actress Tony Award for Can-Can in 1954, Gwen then won Best Lead Actress in a Musical for Damn Yankees in 1956, New Girl in Town in 1958, and Redhead in 1959. She was nominated for multiple other Best Actress in a Musical roles and got a Grammy in 1959 for Redhead.
Gwen also received multiple Guest Actress nomination for her work in primetime television on Magnum, P.I., Dream On, and Homicide: Life on the Street well into the 1990s.
Gwen collaborated on many of Bobby’s projects over the years without earning praise, while his star continued to rise and he continued to find warm mattresses elsewhere.
Just as with Joan before her, when Gwen’s outer sheen started to wear, Fosse looked to other shiny things to prop him up.
And what’s the point of all this exposition, you ask?
The point is that despite the historical record, Fosse/Verdon is going to show you why the awards and kudos should have been shared between the two instead of relegating Gwen to a background player.
Bobby relied on her technical expertise well beyond their marriage, and her signature style can be found all over Bob Fosse award-winning productions.
For all the reasons you tuned into this FX series to see the man who invented the moonwalk and jazz hands, keep your eye trained on the woman behind the man because, without her, none of it would have been possible.
Catch up on this exciting collaboration between FX, Sam Rockwell, and Michelle Williams when you watch Fosse/Verdon online!!