The Ending Ending
A couple months back, I wrote here about the f/X mini-series, Fosse/Verdon about the marriage between Broadway star Gwen Verdon and director Bob Fosse. The series ended a week or so ago, but something has continued to nag me about the ending -- actually, even more than the ending, really the final crawl, most of all, where text rolled up the screen to wrap up the story -- so I thought I'm jump in and address it. For those who saw the series, it might be of interest. For those who didn't...well, at least jump to the video at the end.
Overall, I liked the series quite a lot. It was don't thoughtfully, intelligently and with understated craft, and often even artistry. I also enjoyed the final episode, and a few things very well done in it,.
But (here is the long rant)…FOR THE LIFE OF ME, I can’t understand why – in the final crawl, with the text explaining Gwen Verson's final years after Fosse had died – they left it like the legendary Verdon's life was empty, an older actress out-of-work, and basically just an adjunct to Fosse’s career, mentioning only a single credit after he died -- and that as “artistic director” on a musical that was a tribute to his work, and then she moved in with her daughter and died -- when in reality she went to Hollywood, after fighting it for years, co-starred in two big hit Cocoon movies directed by Ron Howard, had a recurring guest-star role on a big hit TV series Magnum P.I. playing Tom Selleck’s mother and had about two dozen movie and TV credits. ALL of which they left out. (In fact, that sense of "emptiness" in the final crawl was even compounded by her last scene which was meeting with her agent where she's told she didn’t get a job, and then about how the struggling actor she’d been living with and left her a couple years earlier -- because of her emotional ties to Fosse -- had himself gotten work, gotten married, and even now has two kids, emphasizing what a full life he went on to, while she’s out of work and alone. And then that empty final crawl that left out the reality,)
It’s not just that it would have been the simplest thing to add one line to the final crawl – “Gwen did go to Hollywood, and starred in…” (which would have helped remind people that they did know her work and even saw her) – but I can’t understand WHY they didn’t but instead made the artistic choice to leave it like her last 15 years were empty and alone.
It was such a good production that I liked a great deal but left me with a profoundly bad taste by omitting just one sentence of text.
The only even remotely possible thing I can think of is that they had a “theme” they didn’t want to waver from, that Fosse and Verdon were so co-dependent on one another, most-specially her. Yet even that doesn’t really make sense in the end because (as valid as some of that is) too much earlier in the show contradicts that. And it’s just a guess that that’s the reason. Perhaps it was the reason, because nothing else really can explain it.
But if so, how deeply irresponsible because the series was done so thoughtfully. And Fosse and Verdon's daughter was an executive producer. As was Lin-Manuel Miranda. Either of them (especially Miranda) could have said, “Hold on there! If you want my valuable name on the credits, you must add one sentence to the crawl.” (If the daughter had that monumental an ax to grind – which I seriously doubt, since Verdon moved in with her and they lived together at the end – Miranda certainly didn’t in the slightest, and is a student of Broadway history and I'm certain knows Gwen Verdon's career well.)
But clearly, that was a theme they were going for. Because not only did they leave all her later work out of the crawl...and not only was her last scene being told she didn’t get a job, while her lover has gotten married and had kids -- but the whole final sequence right before that (her having to call Fosse to help her because the revival of Sweet Charity wasn’t working, and she didn’t know what to do, and he had to save it). And also, during those revival rehearsals, a sad dance scene he forces her to do against her good nature in front of the show's star, knowing it will embarrass the younger woman, that stops when she can't continue on the telling line, “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” And the scene right before that, when her lover says pointedly that everything you do is for Bob, "You can’t ever say No to Bob," and if you take the job for him, I’m leaving. All of it developing a false there that she was empty at the end and so dependent on Fosse.
And the thing is, it’s one thing to say that they each were do-dependent on one another and she couldn’t say no to him. Which, from what I knew beforehand, had truth to it -- though it was co-dependent. But it’s another to say (in the last 30 minutes of an eight-part series) that she was nothing without him. Because the early episodes completely contradict that. Which is why the series was so good. “She’s nothing without Bob” wasn’t the theme of the show, just the last 30 minutes. She was a major Broadway star before meeting him. And she is the person who approved him for his first choreography job – and for his first directing job. And the series regularly showed how much he depended on her, always calling her in to help him out. In fact, they even gave her a tremendous speech in the second-to-last episode where she finally has had enough and tells him off that “you owe everything to ME.” And then the filmmakers throw all that out the window the last half-hour!!
And the thing is, IF they wanted that to be the theme, however irresponsible, that she was supposedly "nothing" without him, totally dependent on him, you can still add something to the final crawl that gives that sense but is at least honest. Saying that she had some later credits doesn’t diminish that theme. It’s just a post-script. Any halfway decent writer could figure out something, even if they wanted to keep that theme, yet still honor the person they thought was important enough to make the series about!! “After Bob died, Gwen never acted on Broadway again. She had roles in some TV shows and movies, and eventually moved back to live with her daughter. She died two months later.” That keeps the false theme, but is still honest.
But we know what they should have written in the crawl. Not something that disingenuous. And not something dishonest. Rather, that she had a renaissance and had some truly wonderful credits that brought her fame with a new audience.
It was a very good series, with a totally inexplicable, irresponsible ending.
And speaking of ending's...
If you think Gwen Verdon was forgotten and without work, here is a surprise appearance by her in her last stage appearance in 1998. She did still some film and TV work after, but this is the last time she appeared on stage. It was a one-night only benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. They did a special production of Sweet Charity -- which Verdon had originally starred in 32 years earlier, in 1966 -- with about four or five different, famous actresses who'd played the role previously (like Chita Rivera, Debbie Allen and Bebe Neuwirth), each taking the part and switching throughout the night. Verdon wasn't scheduled to be in it, but staged the musical numbers. But for one scene, she surprised the audience and made an appearance -- and the ovation explodes. It's so strong, going on for 45 seconds, that one of the actors on stage, Charles Nelson Reilly, finally shouts an ad-lib over the roars to get the show moving again. So, no, as you'll see, she was most-definitely not forgotten.
Other than a four-bar reprise, she doesn't sing in the scene -- Robert Goulet as a famous movie star has the song here -- but she's wonderfully funny, hiding in a closet so that the actor's girlfriend doesn't know she's there. It's the scene that immediately follows her famous number, as noted above, "If They Could See Me Now," which she very briefly reprises.
Fun side note: the actress playing the girlfriend is...Marla Maples. Yes, that Marla Maples, at the time married to Trump.
Anyway, here is reality: Gwen Verdon in her final stage appearance (yet with even more work still ahead on film) -- working, vibrant, and overwhelmingly remembered with wild cheers.
That's an ending.
6/8/2019 01:18:32 pm
Great reading, and I agree, they probably wanted to enlighten the theme of their codependency this way, but it gives the false idea that her career was over, and it was the contrary.
6/8/2019 11:05:00 pm
Thanks for the note. And the thing is, as I wrote, even IF that was the theme they wanted, you could *still* have a final crawl that was realistic, yet fit their false theme.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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