The experience of making The Goodbye Girl
was so easy and pleasant that it left everyone breathing a huge sigh of relief after the nightmare that Bogart Slept Here
had become. "The making of the film gave rise to very few problems thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Richard and Marsha," said Neil Simon in his 1999 memoir The Play Goes On
, "and best of all, I got to see Marsha every day on the set."
Simon likened the experience to collaborating on a play. "During the shooting, if I felt a line or even a word was needed," said Simon, "I'd just call it out. When Elliot (Richard) confronts Paula (Marsha) about keeping herself and her daughter out of his way in his newly acquired apartment which he has agreed to share with his two new tenants, he warns her that he likes to walk around the house at night without pajamas, which he doesn't own in the first place. I called out to Richard, 'buffo!' Richard, without blinking an eye, said the speech again and threw in 'buffo' at the end of the sentence, putting, as we say, a button on it. Marsha and Richard were a perfect match and you could practically see the sparks between them lighting up the screen."
Marsha Mason concurred. "Richard was fast and funny," she recalled in her 2000 autobiography Journey
. "I was thoughtful and more serious. Richard was wild and free. I was a responsible wife and mother and an actress. I wanted so much to be like him. He was so sure of himself, so sure of his place and space, and he moves forward accordingly. He's bright, bright, bright, incredibly well read, and comfortable with his intelligence."
The only thing that annoyed Mason about Dreyfuss was that he always "reeked of fish." According to Mason, Dreyfuss had decided early on during the shooting that he needed to lose weight. His food of choice to accomplish this task? Sushi. "Day in and day out the man ate nothing but sushi," said Mason. "He had sushi brought to his trailer; he had sushi brought to the set. He had sushi sent to his home. The man lived and breathed--and reeked--sushi. I think he even slept with it."
"Acting with [Richard] was so easy--at least, once he stopped eating raw fish--there was so much to react to," said Mason. "We were in synch without even trying." An example of this, she described, was the famous scene in the bathroom where Elliot confronts Paula about their obvious attraction to each other. Director Herbert Ross wanted to shoot the whole thing in one take, utilizing their sparkling old-fashioned chemistry. "We rehearsed with the camera operator working out some tiny moves, necessary because the bathroom was small," said Mason. "And then we shot it. We did it fast and wild and funny without a lot of rehearsal because Richard and I connected so well...it's still one of my all-time favorites."
Mason also recalled the joy of working with Quinn Cummings, the remarkably talented young actress who played her daughter Lucy. "One of my favorite actresses to work with was nine years old going on twenty-seven," said Mason. "She made 'precocious' a wonderful word. Quinn Cummings was a little girl with a very big intelligence. She knew her lines, was as quick and almost as smart as Richard, could land a joke with the best of them, and she was a professional."
There was a scene between Cummings and Mason in which Cummings was supposed to say her line and move to a chair and sit down. "I noticed that she did it exactly the same way every time," said Mason. "Acting that way shows good discipline, but the freshness can go away pretty quickly." Mason decided she wanted to try something different just to see how it might change the scene. "Quinn and I started the scene again and when it came time for her to move to the chair," said Mason, "I sat in it instead. Naturally, she was thrown by this and looked to Herb. He carefully and quietly explained to Quinn that in life we never know what another person is going to do and we don't always know how we are going to respond to someone or something. She listened intently, nodded her head, and said, 'I got it.' She was extraordinary in her ability to go with it. At nine!"
Even though everything was working this time around, no one expected anything special at the box office from The Goodbye Girl
. "It had only one real star, Richard Dreyfuss; one rising star, Marsha Mason; and one cute ten-year-old, Quinn Cummings," said Neil Simon, "with a slight love story directed extremely well by Herbert Ross and a rather nice script by me, if I have to say so myself...it probably wouldn't have been made were it not for Ray Stark's faith in it." Warner Bros. owned the underlying rights to The Goodbye Girl
since it had begun at the studio first as Bogart Slept Here
, and the studio had the choice to stay on board or drop out of the project and let MGM take the reins. "Since the head of Warner Brothers at the time had little faith in my script," said Simon, "he wanted MGM to buy him out. Others at Warners figured, however, in for a penny, in for a pound, and so decided to split the costs and profits (if any) with MGM, then run by Daniel Melnick."
It was a smart move on both the studios' parts, as The Goodbye Girl
turned out to be one of the biggest surprise box office hits of the year. It opened sluggishly at first, but thanks to some strong reviews and positive word of mouth, business for the film exploded during the 1977 Christmas holiday season. "Sometimes you just need to allow a little time for the word of mouth to spread before a movie catches on," said Neil Simon. "...At the beginning of the second week, lines started to form at the box office...and then down the street...and then down the street and around the block."
The Goodbye Girl
was a film that was and is dear to the hearts of those who worked on it. When Richard Dreyfuss was asked in a 2000 interview what made the film so special, he replied, "Goodbye Girl
was a wonderful script. Wonderful. And as actors we never got tired of it. Never...It was funny and loving. And the actors and actresses in the show--especially Marsha and Quinn--were perfect. Like God had said these are the actors to work with. I once said that I'd like to play Elliot until I retired and got a Swiss watch because he was great. I wanted to be
him, and I wanted to acquire his personality for my own."
For Marsha Mason and Neil Simon, the film's success was a personal victory that helped solidify their relationship both personally and professionally. What had begun as an idea the two had talked about over dinner in an obscure restaurant in Florence, Italy had turned into a triumph for both of them. "We even thought about going back to Florence," joked Simon, "finding the restaurant again, ordering the same dishes, just to see if it produced another film."
by Andrea Passafiume