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 LOVE. Kate Jackson and Michael Ontkean, popular stars from the ABC network prime time line-up, starred in this brave, overlooked film directed by Arthur Hiller.
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.
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.