Monday, August 22, 2016


Film director Arthur Hiller died this month at age 92.  Probably his most famous movie, one that was a huge hit at the box office and with Oscar voters, was LOVE STORY.  Based on the best-selling slim novel of the same name, it was a rather slim story of two upscale college students who fall in love.  One is diagnosed with a fatal disease which, like in old movies of the 1930s, never robbed her of her looks.  LOVE STORY got 7 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.  Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw were the stars.  A good ten years before SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE movie characters gushed over and quoted Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in the lushly romantic remake, AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, a happy young husband and wife watched that old movie and quoted it while they were under the covers.  This was in a 1982 film called MAKING LOVEKate Jackson and Michael Ontkean, popular stars from the ABC network prime time line-up, starred in this brave, overlooked film directed by Arthur Hiller.
Producer Aaron Spelling gave us youth-oriented TV shows with a trio of crimefighters.  Think of THE MOD SQUAD.  Michael Ontkean was one of three rookie cops on the series THE ROOKIES.  Kate Jackson was one of CHARLIE'S ANGELS.  They graduated from the small screen to the big screen in this 20th Century Fox release.  Why do I call it "brave"?  Because it was a "coming out" story from a major Hollywood studio back in the days when actors -- especially male actors -- were warned against playing openly gay characters for fear they'd never get leading man roles again.  Hollywood was still nervous and narrow-minded like that even after Tom Hanks won his Best Actor Oscar for 1993's PHILADELPHIA.  Hanks told me that himself in a 1994 interview.  Things are different now.  Playing a gay character could put an actor in the fast lane to an Oscar nomination.  Look at Greg Kinnear, Sean Penn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Colin Firth, Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Michael Ontkean and Kate Jackson play a happy pair of young professionals in Los Angeles, married eight years without children. They buy a house and plan to start a family but their idyllic marriage changes when the husband is attracted to another man.  The husband, a doctor, is in the closet and must come to terms with the fact that he's gay.  The other man, a openly gay writer who dodges commitment, is played by Harry Hamlin before his years of TV stardom on L.A. LAW.
 This Arthur Hiller film holds a special place in my heart and I like it much more than I do LOVE STORY.  I feel that MAKING LOVE deserves a second look and some re-appreciation.  The screenplay was written by Barry Sandler, a gay man who had come out by that time.  As for Ontkean and Hamlin, you just know that other actors timidly turned that script down.  The two lead actors in MAKING LOVE deserve big applause for taking on those role and committing to their characters.  Actor Will Smith pursued a lead role in the film version of the hit Broadway drama, SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION. Smith's character was a gay male.  In the 1993 film, as in the play, there is a same-sex kiss that is very important to advancing the action.  In the movie, you can tell that Smith didn't really kiss the other actor.  Instead, there is an almost laughable kissing sound effect that, when I saw the film in New York City, caused audience members to groan in discontent. The former sitcom star should've fully committed to the character.  Smith wanted to play the role but got nervous about the kiss because -- as reported in Premiere Magazine -- actor Denzel Washington allegedly had cautioned Smith about playing gay roles.  If Mr. Washington had given Mr. Smith that warning, would Mr. Washington reject lead roles in good biopic scripts offered to him if the scripts were about James Baldwin, Langston Hughes or Bayard Rustin -- famous black men who contributed to American history in the arts and civil rights and were gay?

Back to 1982's MAKING LOVE.  We see the two lead actors remove their shirts, embrace, kiss and fall onto a bed.  Let's just say it was a good dinner date.  There was a press junket for this movie held in L.A.  I attended it when I was new to TV.  We entertainment reporters in the screening room didn't expect to see that degree of same-sex physical intimacy in a major studio Hollywood film.

MAKING LOVE is compact, unpretentious and economical.  It's a low-budget film.  I don't mean that it looks cheap.  It doesn't.  But, especially if you lived in the L.A. area, you can tell that Hiller's film shoot utilized residential, business and other locations in proximity to the Fox Hollywood lot.  He gave the film a touch that one might associate with Spanish TV.  It opens with each main character -- Zack, Claire and Bart -- in close-up talking directly to the camera, talking honestly about their relationships and innermost feelings.  Zack is a dedicated doctor.  One of his patients is a middle-aged woman who's had a biopsy for breast cancer.  She's afraid that, should she need a mastectomy, her husband will no longer find her sexually appealing.  We see Zack's inner character in the way he treats his patient.  Not only does he listen and comfort as best he can, he makes a house call to check on her.  Yes, doctors used to make house calls.  Claire is a network TV producer.  When we see her in action in a meeting, we wish today's networks were run by women like Claire.  She's constantly pushing for programming that will entertain and also have substance, have quality.  Zack and Claire frequently spend time with an elderly neighbor.  She's played by British acting great Wendy Hiller (Pygmalion, I Know Where I'm Going, Separate Tables).  The time Zach and Claire spend with her let's us know more about their character.  They are not "yuppies" who regard the ill and elderly as inconvenient.  We like this married couple -- two sweethearts who like old movies and music by Gilbert & Sullivan.  Zack is sent to Bart when his regular doctor is unavailable.  That's how they meet.
We like Bart too.  He's not without vanity and he positions himself as being a "love 'em and leave 'em" kind of guy, but Hamlin lets us in to see Bart's insecurities. There are times when he's home alone also watching classic movies like RAINTREE COUNTY.  Director Hiller keeps a working class tone in this look at the three middle class people. He gives us scenes that are significant and subtle.  They don't call attention to themselves.

 When we see handsome, popular Bart enter a gay bar one night, it's all very ordinary local bar stuff -- only the bar happens to be packed with all guys. Bart and a buddy briefly talk about work.  Bart sees somebody cute.  Bart chats with another buddy. And the bar scene looks refreshingly ordinary -- like local gay bars I went to in Milwaukee.  The gay bar crowd wasn't a freak show like in the 1962 political drama, ADVICE & CONSENT.  It wasn't sleazy and carnal like in 1980's CRUISING.  We saw average everyday guys who happened to be gay out to grab a beer, see some buddies, shoot some pool and maybe get lucky.  This was a breath of fresh air when you consider that most images of gay men on film in the 1960s and 1970s fell mainly into the categories of social deviants or victims.

Throughout the film, Arthur Hiller never lets forget that Claire and Zack are two people who truly and deeply love each other -- and will continue to love each other come what may in the marriage. As Claire says in a tense, frustrating moment, "...we've always been there for each" and "...we'll get through it."  That gives this story a wistfulness and tenderness we didn't often see in "coming out" movie released years later.  A lovely theme song sung by Roberta Flack adds to the tenderness.

Zack is honest with Claire and he's honest with Bart.  Zack realizes what revealing his sexuality to Claire may do to their relationship but he loves her too much to lie.  He does not want "one night stands and phony names" in hook-ups with other men. But Bart frustrates Zack and the poor, closeted man does have a one-night stand for the release of it. Claire finds a name and number in Zack's belongings and goes to meet the man.  This is another significant scene.  We don't see an angry, wronged wife charging in to pathetically confront a man who made it with her man.  Claire is heartbroken but she's compassionate. She wants to get a sense of what Zack was feeling.

She meets Ted. Honest, brawny, butch, working class Ted.  Just a regular guy -- who happened to be gay.  Ted was a new gay male image in a major Hollywood studio movie.  He's a big lug.  This supporting role was very well-played by Chicago actor Asher Brauner.  He's a combo platter of frankness, vulgarity and warmth.  Ted and Claire sit on his sleeper sofa and he realizes this sad, polite young woman is the wife a recent one-night stand he had.  He tries to offer some sympathy.  On the end table next to Ted is a small jar of Vaseline that, on the big screen, looked the size of a cereal box.

I remember the 20th Century Fox press junket for this film.  Usually a studio has one movie for a junket weekend.  For that particular weekend, Fox showed two movies and provided folks from both movies for interviews.  The other film was the caveman drama, QUEST FOR FIRE.  Pre-historic man plus a feature with gay guys dating in West Hollywood.  At first, I felt that 20th should've combined both scripts and called the movie QUEST FOR FIRE ISLAND.  But...I was so glad to have been invited to that junket.  I loved meeting MAKING LOVE screenwriter Barry Sandler.  I told him how much I could relate to the film and he sent me a very nice thank-you note later.  Kate Jackson, who was very hot from her CHARLIE'S ANGELS fame at the time, was a good interview.  She was quite relaxed and forthcoming.  Michael Ontkean wasn't available.  Harry Hamlin was.  He seemed a tad anxious -- like he wanted to go up to every reporter and say, "Hi, nice to meet you.  I'm not really gay.  Hi, nice to meet you.  I'm not really gay."

Hamlin became a TV star but he didn't get any more leading man movie opportunities after MAKING LOVE. That's a shame.  That's why actors like Tom Hanks, Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal, Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon who could play gay characters later and go on to other leading man roles were very lucky in a Hollywood that had finally grown up in that regard.  (Downey in WONDER BOYS, Gyllenhaal in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Kinnear in AS GOOD AS IT GETS and Damon in BEHIND THE CANDELABRA).

MAKING LOVE.  Two men shirtless and kissing.  What was bold and controversial for a 1982 Hollywood movie could now be shown on network TV in prime time and not cause a ripple. Still, Arthur Hiller gave us much-needed new images of gay men within the poignant story of two married people who love each other very much.  And always will.

Before she joined CHARLIE'S ANGELS, Kate Jackson and Michael Ontkean were cast members in THE ROOKIES.  In MAKING LOVE, they connect. They have chemistry. They work well together and they do manage to tug at your heartstrings.

 I won't tell you how it ends but I will write that it was a relief to see a movie drama about gay male love in which one of the main male characters does not die at the end of the story.  I watched MAKING LOVE just a couple of nights ago.  It brought back nice memories and touched me even more now with the passage of time.  There's a sweetness in its simplicity.  Thank you, Arthur Hiller.

Some of Hiller's other films are THE HOSPITAL and  THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (both with screenplays by Paddy Chayesky), THE OUT OF TOWNERS starring Jack Lemmon, SILVER STREAK starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor and OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE with Bette Midler and Shelley Long.  He directed Oscar winner Maximilian Schell to his second Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH.


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  2. Are things that different now, really? You point out that, today, actors who play gay characters are more likely to get Academy Award nominations than be blacklisted. But what about all the GAY actors out there? For every token Nathan Lane or Jim Parsons you throw at me, I could give you a HUNDRED out of work gay actors waiting tables in Hollywood.

    When you consider how few straight men there are in theater classes in high school and college, and the FLOOD of gay actors who move to Hollywood every year trying to find work, it's appalling that straight actors like Sean Penn and Benedict Cumberbatch are almost always hired to play gay characters.

    If you still had White actors in blackface being hired to play Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks, would you call that progress?


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