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The secret story behind a classic: the romance between a playwright and an actor that inspired 'The Way We Were'


Critic Robert Hofler reveals, on the film's 50th anniversary, how author Arthur Laurent was inspired by his relationships with two performers to create one of cinema's most famous romantic films

There is a scene from the final stretch of The

Way We Were

(Sydney Pollack, 1943), when the character played by Barbra Streisand understands that she is going to separate permanently from the love of her life, Hubbell (Robert Redford), in which she says: “ Wouldn't it be great if we were old and all this would have happened?

Life would be easy and hassle-free, just as we were when we were young.”

To which he replies: "We always had problems."

And she: "But it was wonderful, right?"

"Yes," he concludes.

"It was wonderful".

It is a dialogue that represents well the spirit of this film, a melodrama that goes all out in many ways.

It is an object that is not averse to


and the most primal nostalgia and with which, despite that (or perhaps thanks to that), it is difficult not to fall in love as Katie (Streisand) and Hubbell (Redford) are in the fiction. ), two people who end up separating for the same reasons that brought them together: their radically opposite characters and interests.

In real life it was something else.

A book written by critic Robert Hofler to coincide with the film's 50th anniversary, The Way They Were: How Epic Battles



Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen

bruised brought a classic love story to the screen

) tells the ins and outs of its production, focusing above all on the figure of its screenwriter, Arthur Laurents (New York, 1917-2005), under the hypothesis that the classic love story between a man and a woman was the idealized reflection of the author's much more heterodox sentimental relationships with two men, the actors Farley Granger and Tom Hatcher.

Director Sydney Pollack talks with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford on the set of 'The Way We Were'.Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)

Coming from a middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, Arthur Laurents was an accomplished playwright, screenwriter, and stage director when he undertook the writing project The

Way We Were


He was the author of the book from which the stage musical

West Side Story

and its film adaptation were based, and had directed other Broadway musicals such as

I Can Get It for You Wholesale

, which in 1961 marked the discovery of Barbra Streisand.

He also wrote the story on which David Lean

's Summer Follies

(1955) was based (about the love affair between an older American and a young Italian man in Venice), and the scripts for other prestigious films such as


(Anatole Litvak, 1956) or

Good morning, sadness

(Otto Preminger, 1958).

But his best work in this field had been the libretto for

The Rope

(1948), Alfred Hitchcock's criminal thriller where he was hired not only to Americanize the British theatrical original, but also to add a homosexual subtext to the story.

Later, the


Hitchcock would find it very satisfying that Laurents was in real life the lover of one of the leading actors, Farley Granger, who played a murderer who the most astute viewers had to understand was gay, without this being explicitly said. at no time (Cary Grant and Montgomery Clift had turned down the part intimidated by such subtexts).

John Dall and Farley Granger on the set of 'The Rope'. Archive Photos (Getty Images)

Farley Granger, a mediocre performer but with a privileged physique (Maruja Torres memorably wrote that "to call him an actor is bordering on the realm of fantasy"), was described by Laurents himself in his memoirs as "simple."

He had been born in an Anglo-Saxon and well-to-do environment (his father had a car dealership, although he lost his fortune with the crack of 1929), very different from Laurents' origins.

The relationship between the two began during the preparation of

The Rope

and ended approximately a year later, when Granger reportedly had a sexual encounter with Leonard Bernstein, composer of

West Side Story

and a friend of the couple.

Obviously the


It was not made public at the time, such as Granger's own bisexuality, which he nevertheless gave an account of in his memoirs, published in 2007. However, some traits of his character would be transferred to the protagonist of The

Way We Were

, according to argues Hofler in his book.

But, to an even greater extent, the pattern on which Laurents would have been based to model the character of Robert Redford was Tom Hatcher, an aspiring actor whom he met in 1955 in a Beverly Hills menswear store where he was manager ( Laurents did not go there to buy ties, but was well informed by his friend, the writer Gore Vidal) and who became his partner for half a century, until Hatcher's death in 2006. Again, Hatcher's main attributes were the Anglo-Saxon origin, the external beauty (more than harmonious features, blue eyes, blonde hair and muscular body) and the little intellectual ambition, which contrasted with those of Laurents, a Jew, with a discreet physique and supposedly more brainy.

Despite the support of his sentimental partner, who introduced him to the cast of one of his plays,

Before it existed as a movie script, The

Way We Were

was a novel written by Laurents.

It unfolded the on-again, off-again romance between Katie Morosky, a working-class Jewish woman with a strong political conscience, and Hubbell Gardiner, a superficial, well-to-do, and ambitious Anglo-Saxon who sacrificed his literary talents to become a screenwriter, in America. from the thirties to the fifties.

It was a very appropriate story at that time, for bringing together the ingredients that had given rise to some of the greatest successes in recent cinema.

Starting with

Love Story

(based on the novel by Erich Segal), the highest-grossing film of 1970, a tragic romance starring two similar characters.

The revivals

of the decades from the 1920s to the 1940s

were also in fashion at that time , with blockbusters such as





The Godfather

or the nostalgic

Summer of '42


One of the commercial successes of 1973 would be

The Coup

, set in 1936 and with Robert Redford (in an unbeatable tandem with Paul Newman) at the head of the bill.

Author of The Way We Were, to be published Harper and Row on March 22, 1972. Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)

But its transfer to the cinema was full of complications.

The leading female role was quickly assigned to Barbra Streisand, whom Laurents had made known on Broadway, and who was also an Oscar-winning star for

Funny Girl

(William Wyler, 1968), where she had surprised audiences with her naturalistic and sparkling interpretation of the Jewish comedian Fanny Brice.

The first choice to play Hubbell was Ryan O'Neal, with whom Streisand had just starred in the hit

What's Up, Doctor?

(Peter Bogdanovich, 1972), but both interpreters were ending a sentimental relationship, and the idea was soon discarded.

He was replaced by Robert Redford, who in the popular imagination represented a certain idea of ​​the patrician American


(white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant), a golden youth for whom all doors were open.

They seemed, therefore, the ideal actors for the characters devised by Laurents.

The chosen director was Sydney Pollack, who had previously directed Redford in two films,

Condemned Property

(1966) and

Jeremiah Johnson .

(1972), and would do it again later in four others.

Unhappy with Laurents' first screenplay, Pollack had it pass through several hands, including Francis Ford Coppola, Paddy Chayefsky, and Dalton Trumbo, before the original writer retook control.

After the shooting, no one seemed satisfied with the result, which had to be edited several times.

In particular, it seemed to Laurents that Barbra Streisand exaggerated her composition as a Jewish woman and used too strong an accent, and that Redford was somewhat washed out, her character having lost the forcefulness of the original: she no longer recognized her models, Granger and Hatcher.

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand during filming. Sunset Boulevard (Corbis via Getty Images)

In reality, what happened is that the personality of the two main stars had devoured the characters in the role.

Katie Morosky was Barbra Streisand and Hubbell Gardiner was Robert Redford instead of the other way around.

And this, which frightened Laurents, was precisely what the public appreciated: The

As We Were

became the fifth highest-grossing film of the year in the United States, only behind the bombings

The Exorcist, The Coup, Papillon


Harry .

the strong


The Oscars greeted her with six nominations (including best actress for Barbra Streisand, which she lost to Glenda Jackson) and two statuettes for best music and best original song.

This theme, titled after the film, written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch and sung by Streisand, was itself a gigantic commercial success that contributed to that of the film.

“An instant commercial for the movie,” Hofler calls it in his book.

The critical reception, however, was mixed.

Many reviews considered it superficial, narratively insolvent, and even poorly photographed, and also questioned the interpretations of the protagonists.

“Barbra Streisand is not really an actress, but rather an impersonator”, judged Vincent Canby in

The New York Times

, who considered the film “constructed of prefabricated parts that they then bolted together as best they could”.

Interestingly, Pauline Kael, an analyst known for her ruthless acerbity, was somewhat more benign, though she did not spare any vitriol in criticizing her for

The New Yorker magazine:

“She is a torpedoed ship full of holes, comfortably coming into port,” he wrote.

And also: "The damn thing is nice."

He ultimately described it as “memorable entertainment”, albeit “a terrible movie”.

A still from 'The Way We Were.' Sunset Boulevard (Corbis via Getty Images)

What nobody highlighted is that there were several quite original elements in it for the cinema of that time.

To begin with, the fact that in this romance the woman was the most intelligent and politically committed person (which made her unsympathetic by the prevailing patriarchal standards) and the man had a frivolous character, in addition to constituting the sexual trophy in the couple. (Redford had initially turned down the role because he found the lead to look like a "Ken doll" next to the strong Katie.)

All this reflected, of course, the sentimental relationships of Arthur Laurents, although from an idealized prism, since neither he was a communist committed to the great international causes of his time (although, according to what he assured in his memoirs,

was briefly blacklisted by the Committee on Un-American Activities) neither Farley Granger nor Tom Hatcher fit the prototype of the American aristocracy as exactly as Hubbell.

It also happened that, in his university years, Laurents had made contact with members of the League of Young Communists, whom he also used as a reference to draw his Katie.

The film begins in 1937, with a speech by Katie on campus requesting support for the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, and continues with Katie meeting Hubbell in a restaurant where she, who works there as a waitress, receives the ridicule of his friends.

"Do you think Franco is funny?" an angry Barbra Streisand challenges him.

As a curious fact, the Spanish dubbing changed the word "Franco" to "El Duce": in April 1974, when the film premiered in Spain, our national


was still alive and in office, and the slightest hint of that could be a joke to anyone.

Today, having ruled out all conjunctural factors,

As We Were

can be seen as a highly entertaining romantic film favored by the charisma of its protagonists.

Irregular and contrived, yet the pulse of truth is occasionally detected in her, as when Katie tells Hubbell: “If I push you it's because I want things to be better, for us to be better, for you to be better.

(…) You will never find someone as good for you as I am, who believes in you as much as I do or who loves you as much”.

It is not difficult to imagine a similar dialogue between the author of these sentences and the real object of his affection.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-02-06

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