“The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic”
Exclusive Interview with author Tom Santopietro
I am happy to say that a new book about the film, The Way We Were was released in January — AND I am even happier to say that author Tom Santopietro has honored CMH with an exclusive interview about it!
Hard to believe, but the film was released 50 years ago, in Oct 1973. Wow. So, what better way to celebrate, than with The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic, a book that tells the story behind the film — the challenges, disputes and creative passions of those involved — complete with location anecdotes 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 The Way We Were as the subject of a possible book when I happened to hear two women quoting the entire last scene of the film by heart, re-enacting Barbra Streisand’s Katie Morosky murmuring “Hubbell, your girl is lovely” to the aging but still golden Robert Redford. This behavior wasn’t just liking the film- this was quasi-obsession. When I then happened to catch a re-run of “Sex and the City” where the four best friends decide that the entire world is divided into “Katie girls” and others, followed by Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw re-enacting The Way We Were’s finale in front of the Plaza Hotel, I was intrigued. Hooked. Why does this decidedly flawed film carry such romantic heft? After all, if the best movies form parts of our world views and shape our dreams, what did this hyper fandom for a fifty year old film say about the way we are today?
My first book, The Importance of Being Barbra, was published seventeen years ago and I thought it would be interesting to look at Barbra again, through the lens of what is arguably her most popular film. As I started to research the history of the film, my “possibly writing” became a definite “yes”; accelerating the decision was realizing that by writing about The Way We Were I was actually, if unconsciously completing my trilogy of books centering on films that people don’t just like, but actually obsess over: The Godfather Effect– drama, The Sound of Music Story–https://amzn.to/3IYPJRC musical, and now The Way We Were- romance.
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 age 97. James Woods – it was his first movie and he told me great stories about his interactions with both Barbra and Redford. He liked both of them a great deal.
The most fascinating interview was my written exchange with Barbra. I thought a long time 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 – a paragraph long answer to every question. The film is very important to her, she possessed total recall of the events, and it gave me a real sense of who she is – every word matters to her. No wonder she has been one of Sondheim’s foremost interpreters – she’s the embodiment of his dictum: “God is in the details.”
CMH: What most surprised you in your research?
Tom Santopietro: I spent several days at the Library of Congress reading through screenwriter Arthur Laurents’s papers, including a scorching eight page memo to producer Ray Stark that he wrote after seeing a rough cut – a memo in which he enumerated the film’s perceived flaws, flaws which he felt – and I’m translating politely here – were so egregious that they made him feel sick. Eleven different screenwriters had a hand in the script – no wonder Laurents was perpetually angry. His own life had inspired several key incidents in the screenplay and his life was now being re-written by eleven other people.
I was also intrigued by the fact that in the early going this now iconic film’s success was far from assured; as one studio executive only half kiddingly said to director Sydney Pollack: “Barbra Streisand doesn’t sing and she plays a communist — are you trying to kill me?!” The fact that no one expected a romantic classic made its now half century of success all the more intriguing. The film had received decidedly mixed reviews upon its initial release, although the stars were highly praised, and Streisand received an Academy Award nomination. (She lost to Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class, and when was the last time anyone decided that they just had to watch A Touch of Class again…)
CMH: Why does the film have such a romantic pull that we’re still talking about it 50 years later?
Tom Santopietro: I think that there are four reasons for the film’s extraordinary 50 year hold on audiences around the world:
- Star chemistry in spades. Redford and Streisand at their early 70s peak, looking great and throwing off sparks together, proving that opposites really do attract. Everything about them reads as a contrast – looks, acting styles, manner of speech – and it all blends beautifully.
- Ill fated love affairs are universal. Like Katie and Hubbell, everyone in the viewing audience has loved the wrong person at one time. Or at several times. Everyone has loved passionately if not wisely. As film historian Jeanine Basinger put it: “Yes- everyone really has loved the wrong person at one point or another. Except for maybe 10 people- and who wants to know them…”
- The uber romantic score by the then unknown Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the title song on spec, in hopes of scoring the entire movie. His reward? Two Oscars.
- That killer ending in front of the Plaza Hotel. For the three people over 50 in the United States who haven’t seen the film, I won’t describe it- except to say that even critics who didn’t like the film fell for the ending – it’s an all time keeper.
- It seems like critics had a hard time acknowledging the appeal of The Way We Were and other films like it. Why is that?
I think the best answer to that came from Robert Redford himself: “Critics had trouble with The Way We Were because they won’t own up to their own emotions. They figure that it’s got 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 like each other. 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, the clamor for a sequel grew in volume. Talks were held. Screenplays were written. So what happened?
Well, to find that out you have to read the book. Besides, 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 The Sound of Music Story, The Godfather Effect: Changing Hollywood, America, and Me, Sinatra in Hollywood, Considering Doris Day (New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s Choice) and The Importance of Being Barbra. A frequent media commentator and interviewer, he lectures on classic films, and over the past thirty years has managed more than two dozen Broadway shows.
–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub
I agree, I know a person in her early 50’s who never saw it. I think we are going to have her watch it. I love how Sex and the City references The Way We Were.
I heard Redford want Barbra to act not sing. Song is at the end. He wanted this movie to be good .
Yes- the characters on Sex and the City were obsessed with The Way We Were!
I have always loved this movie. Robert Redford was my favorite actor. I’m anxious to read the book.
I hope you’ll have a good time reading the book!
Thanks for this interesting post and interview. I love books about the making of a film. I’ll have to have a pairing of the book and the film soon!
Hope you’ll have a chance to read the book in conjunction with the movie- a number of readers have emailed me to say they’ve done just that– whatever the movie in question, it makes for an interesting combination.
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I’m reading the book on the film.. Long story short. It’s a great insight into all that went on and how everybody kept their sanity with all that. I don’t know. I love the movie I’ve seen it at least 2530 times. Probably know the lines by heart for most of the film what I want to say is according to Barbara. There was a script written or at least a screen play Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Could play the son of Hubble and the daughter of Katie and Hubble? If there’s a screen play written, they Have such a close resemblance to both and who wouldn’t go see a sequel!