“The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic”
Exclusive interview with author Tom Santopietro
I’m happy to say that a new book about the film, As we were was released in January – AND I’m even happier to say that author Tom Santopietro honored CMH with an exclusive interview about it!
Hard to believe, but the film was released 50 years ago, in October 1973. Wow. So what better way to celebrate than with The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classica book that tells the story behind the film – the challenges, disputes and creative passions of those involved – complete with anecdotes of locations and first-hand accounts.
A big thank you to Tom Santopietro for taking the time to do this interview!
CMH: Why did you decide to write a book about The Way We Were?
Tom Santopietro:I started thinking about it As we were as a subject for a possible book, as I overheard two women memorizing the entire final scene of the film, mimicking Barbra Streisand’s Katie Morosky whispering “Hubbell, your girl is lovely” to the aging but still golden Robert Redford. This behavior wasn’t just liking the film—it was kind of an obsession. Then I happened to watch a rerun of “Sex and the City” where the four best friends decide the whole world will be divided into “Katie Girls” and others, followed by Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw re-enactment As we were‘s finale in front of the Plaza Hotel, I was fascinated. Addicted. Why does this decidedly flawed film carry such romantic weight? Because if the best movies are part of our worldview and shape our dreams, what does this hyper-fandom for a fifty-year-old movie say about the way we are today?
my first book The importance of being Barbra, was released seventeen years ago and I thought it would be interesting to revisit Barbra through the lens of what is arguably her most popular film. As I began researching the film’s story, my “possibly writing” became a definite “yes”; The decision to accelerate was to recognize this by writing about it As we were I was actually when I unconsciously completed my trilogy of books that focused on movies that people not only like, but actually obsess over: The Godfather Effect– Theatre, The Sound of Music story–https://amzn.to/3IYPJRC Musical, and now As we weromance again.
CMH: Did you interview Barbra Streisand? Any others?
Tom Santopietro: I had a number of great interviews for the book – Lois Chiles, lyricist Alan Bergman – still going strong at 97. James Woods – it was his first film and he gave me great stories about his interactions with Barbra and Redford. He liked both very much.
The most fascinating interview was my written exchange with Barbra. I thought long and hard about what questions to ask – I didn’t want this to be “Did you like Robert Redford?”… I submitted them in writing and weeks later I received a lengthy email response to each question – one paragraph-long answer each question. The film is very important to her, she had a complete memory of the events and it gave me a real sense of who she is – every word counts for her. No wonder she was one of Sondheim’s foremost interpreters—she embodies his dictum, “God is in the details.”
CMH: What surprised you the most during your research?
Tom Santopietro: I spent several days at the Library of Congress perusing screenwriter Arthur Laurent’s papers, including a searing eight-page memo to producer Ray Stark that he wrote after seeing a rough cut — a memo describing the perceived flaws of the film, flaws he felt – and I’m translating politely here – were so outrageous that it made him nauseous. Eleven different screenwriters were involved in the script – no wonder Laurents was constantly furious. His own life had inspired several key events in the script and his life has now been rewritten by eleven other people.
I was also intrigued by the fact that the success of this now legendary film was anything but certain from the start; as one studio executive half-jokingly said to director Sydney Pollack, “Barbra Streisand doesn’t sing and she’s playing a communist – are you trying to kill me?!” The fact that no one expected a romantic classic has now made its half a century enduring success all the more fascinating. The film received decidedly mixed reviews when it was first released, although the stars received critical acclaim and Streisand received an Oscar nomination. (She lost to Glenda Jackson for A touch of classand when was the last time someone decided they just had to watch A touch of class once again…)
CMH: Why does the film have such a romantic appeal that we’re still talking about it 50 years later?
Tom Santopietro: I think there are four reasons for the film’s extraordinary 50-year appeal to audiences around the world:
- Star chemistry in spades. Redford and Streisand at their peak in the early ’70s, they look great and sparkle together, proving that opposites really do attract. Everything about them reads as a contrast – looks, acting style, type of language – and it all comes together beautifully.
- Unhappy love affairs are universal. Like Katie and Hubbell, everyone in the viewing audience has loved the wrong person at one point or another. Or multiple times. Everyone has loved passionately, if not wisely. As film historian Jeanine Basinger put it, “Yes, everyone really has loved the wrong person at some point. Except maybe 10 people – and who wants to know them…”
- The eminently romantic score by the then unknown Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the title track to order in hopes of setting the entire film to music. His reward? Two Oscars.
- This killer ended up outside the Plaza Hotel. For the three people over 50 in the United States who haven’t seen the film, I won’t describe it – other than to say that even critics who didn’t like the film fell for the ending – it’s an absolute stunner.
- It seems like critics have had a hard time acknowledging the appeal of The Way We Were and other similar films. Why this?
I think the best answer to that came from Robert Redford himself: “Critics had trouble with it As we were because they are unable to cope with their own feelings. They think it has to be off-center or bold before they can accept it… Intellectually you know Katie and Hubbell shouldn’t be together, but on a gut level you want them to make it because you like them and because they are each other like . That’s a fair emotion.”
CMH: Why wasn’t there a sequel?
As audiences clamored to know if Katie and Hubbell would ever get back together, calls for a sequel grew louder. Talks were held. Screenplays were written. So what happened?
Well, to find out, you have to read the book. Also, I have my own idea for a sequel!
Thanks again to Tom Santopietro for this fascinating book and interview.
About Tom Santopietro: Tom Santopietro is the author of eight books: The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic, Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters, Barbara Cook: Then and Now, the bestselling book The Sound of Music Story, The Godfather Effect : Hollywood, Changing America and Me, Sinatra in Hollywood, considering Doris Day (New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s Choice) and The Importance of Being Barbra. He is a frequent media commentator and interviewer, lectures on classic films, and has directed more than two dozen Broadway shows over the past thirty years.
–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub