Fifty years ago this month, one of Hollywood’s most beloved tearjerkers opened.
And as Robert Hofler details in his exhaustively researched behind-the-scenes telling, that “The Way We Were” — with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in career-defining roles – became a hit is fairly miraculous.
Hofler’s “The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen” (Kensington Books, on sale Jan. 24) charts how screenwriter Arthur Laurents (“West Side Story”) wrote Katie Morosky, the Jewish New York collegiate lefty, a card-carrying Communist, especially for Streisand.
Katie’s love affair with privileged WASP Hubbell Gardiner was initially rejected – again and again – by Redford who didn’t want to be the “Ken doll” opposite Streisand.
The lead roles were inspired by Laurent’s own life: His enduring partnership with a handsome WASP.
There are several reasons “TWWW” has lasted, Hofler says. “The movie’s place in the careers of Streisand and Redford is interesting. Redford didn’t want to make the movie, but what other role is he more identified with? Bob Woodward? Paul Newman’s costar?
“For Streisand, she really embodies the Jew who falls in love with a Gentile. Usually, we see that from the male side — Woody Allen or Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller or Jerry Seinfeld falling in love with the shiksa.
“Something else that distinguishes ‘TWWW’ from other movies of the last 50 years: It has become a classic because women and gay men love it. Straight men, not so much.
“At the time of the film’s release, the Jewish/Gentile relationship and all the attractions and conflicts that brings to the couple Katie and Hubbell was very core to its appeal.
“Now, the film has a more universal appeal. In almost all relationships, there is one person who gives more, cares more, who keeps the relationship going. And the other partner is in love but he or she is kind of along for the ride, carried along by the other person’s love and drive.
“That’s why the ending of the film is so powerful. Hubbell has basically forgotten about Katie, but she continues to carry a torch. Which is why he can’t bear to meet her husband and their daughter, Rachel. He has moved on.
“In a day or two he will have forgotten about their reunion in front of the Plaza Hotel. But Katie will always remember. It’s an unequal relationship, even though they were (or still are) in love with each other. A lot of moviegoers have experienced that inequality in their own life.”