Love Story saved Paramount from bankruptcy. Ins and out on that film are told in the following article.
Love Story was predicted to be the first bet, although not too safe, for Paramount’s new style. A script everyone considered mawkish and naïve was a film for the audience.
The author of the story was a young Yale professor who, lacking talent, was nasty, mischievous and a liar. It was surmised he was chosen because of the interest in the story shown by a young actress called Ali MacGraw, who had starred in Goodbye Columbus, coincidentally, the first and only film Jaffe had produced.
The first option as a director was Larry Peerce, who, although inexperienced, had directed MacGraw in Goodbye Columbus. Gathering the same team offered the studio some guarantee of a minor success, at least.
But Peerce had other plans: his next film should be something more serious. Jaffe and MacGraw made other suggestions. Bluhdorn was furious: not one of the many projects of his new team was working.
A witness of his last conversation with Evans said he had blurted out at the top of his voice: “Don’t you think it is already a fucking time for you to make a film?”
Quick action was needed and all risks had to be avoided. They brought Arthur Hiller, the typical Hollywood commercial director, but MacGraw threw a tantrum.
To convince her, Evans brought her to Los Angeles, received her in a limousine and was toasted with champagne in his house. Then she took her clothes off and they went to the pool. Those were two marvelous days, Ali confessed, although the official version was that she was in a Beverly Hills hotel with a bad flu.
Endings of this type would be repeated in the stage itself, with a design that strictly followed the same script.
The place that many used to call “The Hall” was originally a house with adequately moderate dimensions and a style that was difficult to categorize, but was close to French Regency. Something that would achieve a captivating, moving and entrancing elegance for visitors and guests was missing.
This final touch would cost Evans more than half a million dollars. Young girls who hoped to be actresses visited The Hall, where members of the Agnelli (5) family, a Middle East sheik, and habitually repressed people like Henry Kissinger or Ted, the junior of the Kennedy family, and celebrities who were friends of the house were exquisitely received and served.
Alain Delon, Jack Nicholson and even Helmut Newton (6) were among the most regular visitors.
Love Story was almost arranged. Only one detail was missing: the co-star. Hiller was interested in Ryan O’Neal and, with an approved budget, confirmed locations and a couple of days for rehearsal, it seemed they were ready to start shooting.
Two days before, Evans and Ali married in a hurry. After a 48 hour honeymoon, she went to the shooting and he went to Europe. The worst of the predictions was still to appear.
Evans continued striving to convince the G+W board of directors that Love Story would do the miracle and he almost convinced it.
But he was aware that he was gambling on an unfinished film and that nobody in the studio had followed him.
Days later Hiller announced that he could show a first cut. What Evans and his people saw foretold a resounding failure. The story could not be more boring, Ali MacGraw did not move, her voice quivered, her eyes fluttered.
Evans almost cried, but Hiller asked for patience and some more days of retake. We will edit it again, we will avoid her presence – he was referring to Evan’s wife --, we will include some snow scenes and, with a couple of numbers by someone who knows, we’ll see.”
With the changes, the film went up a little, but then Evans showed his best qualities: to manipulate consciences and interests with the purpose of unleashing a media feverand, first of all, to mobilize those who were regulars in The Hall.
Results did not take long. Time magazine devoted its cover to Ali MacGraw, Ed Sullivan (7) invited her to read Christmas poems and the novel spectacularly leaped to Number 1 of the bestsellers (8).
The premiere, almost a year after Hiller shot the first foot of the film, was an apotheosis. A royal gala for the Queen Mother followed in London and, in Paris, a posh screening for Madame Pompidou was held.
The maneuver turned into an event a film that those who desperately chose it because they had nothing else in hand considered insignificant, outdated drama and absurdly manipulative.
Ryan O’Neal’s friends were sure the film would be the professional suicide of the actor. The director confessed that only money had moved him to make it.
The little film nobody wanted to make would turn into the box-office hit of the moment and, at the time, Paramount’s salvation.
(5) A family with an enormous political, economic and financial influence in Italy. Its patriarchs founded and control the largest industrial and car group: FIAT S.p.a.
(6) Jewish photographer born Helmut Neustädter in Berlin. As a child, he migrated to Singapore and then to Australia, where he chose Newton as his family name. He became famous because of the delight in seduction and glamour prevailing in his style.
(7) TV anchor whose program, Toast of the Town, made him very popular from 1948 to 1972.
(8)It all began when someone in the studio had the idea of turning the second-rate script into a novel. The idea could not have been cheaper and more productive: the serious academician scruples of its author vanished for fifteen thousand dollars and, in less than a month, Love Story became a 212 pages novel. A little later four and a half million copies were published and, in barely 12 months, twenty-one hard copy editions had been made. The record of the print run and being in the bestseller list for more than a year coincided with the general contempt of the critics. The climax to its rejection came with its candidacy to the National Book Award. The entire jury threatened to resign if it was not withdrawn from the contest.
Translated by Gertrudis Ortega