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The romantic comedy Same Time, Next Year (1978) stars Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda as two lovers who meet in 1951 at a quaint coastal inn in Northern California. The catch? They are both happily married to other people. Since they don't want to stop seeing each other, they agree to meet once every year at the same inn for a romantic weekend together. Both touching and funny, Same Time, Next Year portrays the joys and sorrows shared by two very different people who evolve over the course of 25 years.
The journey of Same Time, Next Year to the big screen began in the early 1970s when TV writer Bernard Slade (The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family) and his wife Jill stayed at a charming seaside inn called Heritage House while taking a driving tour of coastal California. Their beautiful room decorated with antiques, a grand piano, and an open fireplace with a view of the ocean reminded Slade of an intimate stage setting that would be perfect for a romantic comedy. Inspired, Slade set out to write his first ever stage play.
Writing Same Time, Next Year came so naturally for Slade that the words practically flew out of his head and onto the page. Dealing with actors Ellen Burstyn and Charles Grodin when it was ready to open on Broadway, however, proved a challenge for him. In his autobiography Shared Laughter Bernard Slade recalls butting heads often with Ellen Burstyn. According to him, she attacked every line of the play, argued every point, and if that wasn't enough, she had an overzealous ex-husband stalking her and threatening to disrupt the show. "Ellen may have a sense of humor," says Slade, "but you'd need Sherlock Holmes to find it." Nevertheless, Slade admired Burstyn's talent as an actress and knew she was right for the part of warm, level headed Doris opposite Charles Grodin's quirky, neurotic George.
The play opened on Broadway in March 1975 and was an immediate hit. "Do not put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Get tickets for Same Time, Next Year," said New York Times critic Clive Barnes. "It is the funniest comedy about love and adultery to come Broadway's way in years." Boosted by such critical acclaim, the play ran for nearly 1500 performances and Ellen Burstyn went on to win a Tony award for her role.
When Hollywood scooped up the rights to Same Time, Next Year for a million dollars, Bernard Slade adapted his work into the screenplay and Robert Mulligan (Summer of '42[1971), To Kill a Mockingbird) was tapped to direct. To Slade's annoyance, Mulligan chose not to see the stage play (which was still running) so that his vision for the film would not be influenced by it.
Many names were tossed around as potential casting choices for the film. Bernard Slade pushed hard for original Broadway stars Ellen Burstyn and Charles Grodin, feeling that the studio would benefit from all the work they had already done on their characters. Al Pacino was seriously considered to play George, but it became too problematic when his extensive romantic entanglements forced him to reject dozens of potential leading ladies. The studio wouldn't even consider using Charles Grodin, even though he had been a smash in the play, because at the time he wasn't considered a name actor in the movie business. The studio even resisted using Ellen Burstyn at first due to her age, despite the fact that she had won a Tony for that role as well as an Oscar® for her work in the film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore(1974). Eventually she won the part, and Alan Alda, who had also been a contender to play George on Broadway, was chosen as her film co-star.
To shoot Same Time, Next Year, the cast and crew went on location to Heritage House, the inn near Mendocino, California that had originally inspired Bernard Slade to write the play. Since director Robert Mulligan couldn't find the exact type of room he was looking for on the property, he had a new cabin built right by the water that better suited the production's needs. After filming, Heritage House split the large cabin into two suites, one called "Same Time" and the other "Next Year." The cabin still stands today and the units continue to be rented out for romantic weekends by fans of the movie.
The transition from stage to screen was a success for Same Time, Next Year. Mulligan's sensitive direction maintains the play's intimate two-character structure along with its romantic charm. The cinematography, original song (The Last Time I Felt Like This), Ellen Burstyn and Bernard Slade's screenplay all received Oscar® nominations.
Producer: Morton Gottlieb, Walter Mirisch
Director: Robert Mulligan
Screenplay: Bernard Slade
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Film Editing: Sheldon Kahn
Art Direction: Henry Bumstead
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Ellen Burstyn (Doris), Alan Alda (George), Ivan Bonar (Chalmers), Bernie Kuby (Waiter), Cosmo Sardo (Second Waiter), David Northcutt (Pilot #1), William Cantrell (Pilot #2).
BW & C-119m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume