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In the late 1980s, Barbra Streisand was looking for a new project. She had directed the successful Yentl (1983) and was hoping to direct once again. After reading Pat Conroy's best-selling novel The Prince of Tides on the recommendation of her boyfriend at the time, actor Don Johnson, she immediately felt she had to make the movie. Streisand inquired about the film rights and learned that they were held by her friend and former co-star, Robert Redford, who was preparing to both produce and star. Ironically, Redford was considering asking Streisand to costar with him, but he was having trouble getting a satisfactory script together. When Streisand seemed more enthusiastic about the project than he was, Redford relinquished the film rights to her. Despite her previous success as a director, Barbra Streisand found that she would have to star in The Prince of Tides in order to get it made and to be allowed to direct.
Redford may have turned the film rights over to Streisand, but he forgot to tell Pat Conroy. "I started receiving messages to call Barbra Streisand, I thought it was a joke," Conroy later said. When Streisand finally confronted the author, asking why he hadn't returned her calls, Conroy was embarrassed. "I felt like the rudest person in the world." Conroy and Streisand worked together on a script for two weeks and although he had heard that Streisand could be difficult, Conroy was pleasantly surprised. "[W]hat I did not know about her was that she has an incredible sense of fun. Like everyone else, I had read stuff about her. I thought, 'Holy God, I am going to be working with the Bride of Frankenstein.' I thought she would yell at me, hurt my feelings, slap me around. I was completely stunned to find out that she was a delight."
Conroy's novel follows the story of high school teacher and coach Tom Wingo, who travels to Manhattan to help his twin sister, Savannah, who has attempted suicide. While participating in therapy, Wingo begins to heal himself of past trauma with the help of Dr. Susan Lowenstein, played by Streisand, who had found therapy helpful in her own life. "The themes that the film deals with are very important to me. Forgiveness, that's a big one. To come to terms with your past, to accept what was and be able to change by acknowledging the problem, not living in denial."
In crafting the script with screenwriter Becky Johnston, who moved into Streisand's house for three weeks, Barbra Streisand consulted with doctors and therapists for approximately six months to help create a sense of authenticity. "I was intrigued by the concept of the wounded healer I play in the film. I have encountered so many in the medical profession and other fields who spend their days helping other people but are unable to cope with their own problems," Streisand later said.
MGM-UA, who had originally signed on for The Prince of Tides, was in the midst of financial upheaval and was forced to drop the project. Streisand approached Warner Bros. but was turned down. Columbia Pictures (headed by Streisand's former boyfriend Jon Peters) agreed to take it on, provided that Streisand take a $500,000 cut in a budget of $6,500,000 with the actress producing, directing and starring in the film. For her leading man, Streisand picked Nick Nolte over other actors whose names were being bandied about in the newspapers, like Kevin Costner, Warren Beatty and Dennis Quaid. Her original choice had been to cast Jeff and Lloyd Bridges as father and son, but Lloyd Bridges refused the role. Nolte received a copy of the novel from Burt Harris, producer of Q & A (1990), during production. "Barbra probably had been in communication with Burt to find out if I would be interested. So that's how it evolved." For the supporting cast, Streisand hired Kate Nelligan to play Tom's mother. Nelligan, who was only forty, would need to age from young to old. Melinda Dillon played Savannah and Blythe Danner was Wingo's wife, Sallie. Danner was a Conroy family friend and had appeared in another film based on a Conroy novel, The Great Santini (1979), playing a character based on his mother. Chris O'Donnell, who would soon become a star in Scent of a Woman (1992), won the role of Streisand's teenage son, Bernard, but Pat Conroy didn't think he was right. Looking through photos of other young actors, he picked one out, telling Streisand that she should hire him, instead. The actor was Streisand's own son, Jason Gould.
With a budget that began at $10,000,000 but eventually reached $27,000,000, the film's exteriors and most of the interiors were predominantly shot on location in Beaufort, South Carolina. Many of the locals appeared in the film as extras and in bit parts. Production had to be halted briefly when Streisand's eighty-two-year-old mother was hospitalized with heart surgery, which made the director rethink her priorities. "The movie became much easier. It lost its importance. It took its proper place - it's much more secondary to life. That's what The Prince of Tides is about in a way - learning to appreciate your mother."
The Prince of Tides wrapped production in New York in September 1990 and Streisand was given a year for postproduction. During that time, she replaced veteran composer John Barry (who found Streisand "bossy") with James Newton Howard, who had worked as a keyboardist on several of her albums. Howard was used to Streisand's blunt perfectionism, "She's incredibly demanding, but I can truthfully say that working with her has elevated my own work."
The previews for The Prince of Tides were excellent and Columbia wanted to change the release date to make it the studio's big holiday film for 1991, which both pleased and worried Streisand, who was glad for the studio's support but wanted to get the film released. When The Prince of Tides opened on Christmas Day, 1991, it was an immediate hit with critics, like The New York Times' Janet Maslin, who praised Streisand and screenwriter Johnston. The screenplay, wrote Maslin, "consistently extricates the book's best lines of dialogue and leaves the rest behind. The book may have the feel of an overwrought, melodramatic movie, but the film itself does not." David Denby, writing for New York Magazine began his review bluntly. "A pox on anyone who does not feel tenderly toward Barbra Streisand's The Prince of Tides".
The great reviews and the large media blitz, which included several television interviews with Streisand, paid off handsomely. The Prince of Tides earned nearly $32,000,000 in only 12 days. Shortly after, the film received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Nolte), Supporting Actress (Nelligan), Art Direction, Cinematography, Screenplay Adaptation and Musical Score. Despite the film's Best Picture nomination, Streisand was not nominated for Best Director, which led to accusations of sexism within the Academy, although she later became the third woman nominated for Best Director by the Director's Guild. Surprisingly, when the Oscars® were handed out, The Prince of Tides didn't win a single award.
Producer: Barbra Streisand, Andrew Karsch
Director: Barbra Streisand
Screenplay: Pat Conroy (novel and screenplay); Becky Johnston (screenplay)
Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt
Art Direction: W. Steven Graham
Music: James Newton Howard
Film Editing: Don Zimmerman
Cast: Nick Nolte (Tom Wingo), Barbra Streisand (Susan Lowenstein), Blythe Danner (Sally Wingo), Kate Nelligan (Lila Wingo Newbury), Jeroen Krabbe (Herbert Woodruff), Melinda Dillon (Savannah Wingo), George Carlin (Eddie Detreville), Jason Gould (Bernard Woodruff), Brad Sullivan (Henry Wingo), Maggie Collier (Lucy Wingo).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Denby, David. "Movies" New York Magazine December 16, 1991.
Maslin, Janet. "Prince of Tides Sidesteps Book's Pitfalls." The New York Times 25 Dec 91
Nickens, Christopher and Swenson, Karen. The Films of Barbra Streisand
Waldeman, Allison J. The Barbra Streisand Scrapbook