The Providence Sunday Journal, December 7, 1969
The setting was familiar — the backroom of a well-known, but not particularly fashionable restaurant. On this day it seemed like a sardine can.
Guests were seated at six tables, each table lined with about twice as many chairs as it could comfortably accommodate.
There were peanuts and hors d’oeuvre aplenty. Waiters were ever ready to fetch anything from a Diet Pepsi to a Rusty Nail.
This was a press reception for some of the people involved with Paramount Pictures’ “Love Story,” which is being filmed in Boston. Guests of honor were Ryan O’Neal, Ali MacGraw and Ray Milland (the stars), Arthur Hiller (the director), Erich Segal (the writer), and Howard Minsky (the producer).
At one time such parties were overrun by overdressed ladies in crazy hats and affected, middle-aged men in double-breasted suits who smoked cigarette from holders, squeezing them between their thumbs and forefingers that way Conrad Veidt did in “Nazi Agent.”
These were the ladies and gentlemen of the press, and they took themselves very seriously. They showed no such respect for movies and moviemakers, however, and often asked actors such mind-boggling questions as “Do you sleep in the nude?” “What are your measurements?” and “What is your real name?”
Those were the old days.
Now movies belong to the young, and invitations to press parties are sent to writers who reach the young. These include columnists for underground newspapers, enterprising local magazines, and college publications.
The new female reporter substitutes a headband for a crazy hat, and the shapeless plaid dresses of yesteryear have given way to anything from micro-minis to pants suits to outfits that look like Halloween costumes.
The men are bearded, shaggy, casually dressed, and more interested in meeting the director than in chatting with the actors.
MOVIES AREN'T gristmills for trivia anymore. They’re heavy, heady stuff, and names such as Godard, Antonioni and Truffaut are tossed around more than Taylor, McQueen and Wayne.
There are fewer questions asked, and those that are sound more like pronouncements. One of the young magazine writers from Boston hit Hiller with this one:
“I enjoyed “Popi” (Hiller’s most recent film), but the enjoyment was purely emotional. I mean, it just wasn’t the kind of film that required stylish directing.”
I wasn’t sure whether he was complimenting Hiller’s work or condemning him for taking on a movie that directed itself. But Hiller played it straight:
“I do each picture the way I think can best get across the story. There are many films that don’t require stylish directing Besides, I wouldn’t classify myself as a stylish director.”
Hiller, a Canadian native, started his directing career in American television. His films include “Tobruk,” “The Tiger Makes Out,” “The Americanization of Emily,” “Popi,” and “The Out of Towners.”
He classified his current project — “Love Story” — as timeless.
“It’s the kind of film Bette Davis made 30 years ago,” he said in an apologetic way Then, striking a more positive pose, he added, “I think today’s audience is ready for this type of film. They really haven’t seen anything like it.”
RULES AT PARTIES like this insist that the guests of honor move from table to table, and that they spend very little time at each one. Hiller left; Minsky arrived.
He didn’t wait for a question. He recited his biography, how he worked many years at 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Cinerama before becoming head of the film department with the William Morris Agency’s New York office.
“Then Erich Segal sent me the script to ‘Love Story.’ I read it straight through one evening, and when I finished, I cried. I told Segal I wasn’t going to sell it to anyone. I was going to do it myself. So I quit my job and became a producer.
"If I had to sum up ‘Love Story’ in one word, that word would be ‘square.’ It’s the kind of movie Bette Davis made 30 years ago.”
Minsky assured us he and Hiller hadn’t collaborated on an interview script. Each felt the same way abut the movie: It IS the kind of film Bette Davis made 30 years ago. With George Brent.
I asked Minsky if he felt he was taking a chance on producing an old-fashioned love story in these days of stylish directing, nudity and obsession with sex.
“No, I feel very strongly about ‘Love Story.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been so sure of anything in my life,”
What about the title? Isn’t Love Story’ a bit much? Or not enough?
“Some people place importance on titles; I don’t. I remember when we used to have title meetings, and how everyone knocked such titles as ‘The Snake Pit,’ ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ and ‘Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.’ I think ‘Love Story’ is a fine title, but the movie will make it on the strength of the script. Like I’ve said, it is an old story, but told in contemporary terms and with contemporary language. I’m sure today’s kids will be able to identify with it.”
BOTH HILLER and Minsky are sober and conservative-looking, not at al the types you’d imagine lurking in the Hollywood jungle.
Writer Segal was more like it. Definitely mod, Segal bounced from table to table, promoting his story, his stars, and his bubbly personality. If he ever becomes an industry giant, and if someone decided to do ‘The Erich Segal Story,’ Joel Grey will play the title role.
But on this day he was only comic relief, making up wild stories about the other interviewees. Obviously, he was the most excited about the project.
LEAST EXCITED was Ray Milland, who has gone through this routine more times than he cares to remember.
Age has changed Milland’s image, at least, to me. Born Reginald Truscott-Jones 62 years ago, Milland always struck me as a cold, humorless fellow who didn’t like to get his hands dirty.
Today’s Milland, bald and heftier than yesterday’s, is like a jolly Mr Clean. He was willing to play the interview game, but admitted that he’d rather not.
“Whooooooooossshh!” he sighed when he sat at our table. “Nobody’s going to ask me anything, are they?”
He didn’t wait for a reply. “Good,” he continued. “Let’s just drink and relax.”
After a moment, Milland resumed talking, not about movies, but about the Apollo 12 astronauts. To him, space exploration is clearly more important and exciting than making a movie.
“And to think this is only the beginning! You know, space ha been my hobby almost all my life. I have lectures on space more than 30 years ago . . . ”
RYAN O'NEAL'S big break was the prime time TV soap opera “Peyton Place.” He was fortunate in getting a role on the show, and just as fortunate in leaving it.
He is one of the stars of “The Games,” a film about marathon running that will be released next year. (Segal wrote that movie, too, because Segal is a running nut ho has run the Boston Marathon the last 12 years.)
O’Neal is excited about the new project, but his manner in talking about it is very cool. He’ll play a well-to-do college student in “Love Story,” and his only regret is he won’t be able to participate in the hockey games that will provide some of the movie’s action and comedy.
O’Neal’s character is a college hockey player, but the actor had never skated before getting the part. and when he tried, he discovered he had problems with his feet that kept him from skating well enough for the movie’s purposes. His stand-in will be a former Olympic hockey player who only vaguely resembles the actor.
Like the other interviews, the one with O’Neal was too short and too divided to reveal much about him. He made a grand exit, and introduced his co-star, Miss MacGraw,, as “someone really special.”
ALI MacGRAW is the former Wellesley student and fashion model who became a movie star without really trying in “Goodbye, Columbus.”
She recently married Robert Evans, senior vice president in charge of world production for Paramount Pictures, and appears to have it made. But she did have one problem, and it was this problem that took up most of the interview because, it turned out, one of the interviewers at our very own table was in a position to help her.
“I need tickets to the Rolling Stones concert,” she pleaded. “I’m dying to see them.”
The man said he could get her a pair.
“But I have to know when they’ll be on stage,” she said, complicating the crisis. “We’ll be working the night they’re here, but I may be able to break away to hear the Stones if I know for sure when they’ll be on.”
Miss MacGraw briefly touched on other subjects — Wellesley,, Harvard and other Eastern and West Coast colleges that we 10 years ahead of the times 10 years ago.
“I mean in the respect that students dressed and looked the way they wanted. I’m talking only about the appearance of things. I’m a visually-oriented person.”
And the people t the table agreed that today’s group of young people is truly with it.
Our visit with Miss MacGraw over, the game of musical tables ended. Though slightly changed to accommodate our youth, the press reception seemed very much an anachronism.
It felt good to get outside.