One is a Lonely Number
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In 1972, the divorce rate was climbing, the women's liberation movement had seeped into the consciousness of most of the country, and women were examining their lives and their choices. It would seem to have been the ideal time for a serious, heartfelt film about a young woman rebuilding her life after a divorce. One Is a Lonely Number (1972) was just such a film, yet it failed to find an audience, due to bad luck, bad marketing, and, as it turned out, bad timing.
Trish Van Devere plays Aimee Brower, who thinks she's happily married until her husband walks out on her. Aimee has never been on her own, and the film traces her somewhat bumpy path to independence and self-confidence. Along the way, she is befriended by a tough, man-hating divorcee (played by a cast-against-type Janet Leigh), and a kindly widower (Melvyn Douglas). She also embarks on her first post-marital affair with a man who is not what he seems (Monte Markham).
The 27-year-old Van Devere was, in fact, newly married to actor George C. Scott, whom she had met when she appeared with him in The Last Run (1971). Van Devere had begun her career in New York, working in alternative theater, joining the Actors Studio, and becoming involved in activist causes like the civil rights and women's movements. She supported her alternative lifestyle by acting in soap operas, until she auditioned for and won an important role in the film Where's Poppa? (1970). One Is a Lonely Number was expected to be the role that made her a star.
It was also supposed to be the next hit for director Mel Stuart, fresh off his triumph with Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and two previous successful comedies. One Is a Lonely Number received excellent reviews for both director and star. "This picture should propel Miss Van Devere toward stardom," Variety predicted. And "for those who may have missed something in Stuart's earlier comedies, this film will be a turning point." But perhaps because of the downbeat nature of the story, the film did not do well at the box office. MGM tried changing the title to Two is a Happy Number. It didn't help. Instead of waiting for the good reviews and the word of mouth to build an audience, the studio yanked the film, and it disappeared. However, Van Devere received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
Trish Van Devere's film career never fulfilled its early promise. During the 1970's, she placed her husband's career before her own, and appeared mostly in films with him. Her later film output has been sparse and undistinguished, though she has continued to do good work in theater. Mel Stuart's film directing career also experienced a lull in the mid-seventies and he began to focus more on television projects.
In 1975, Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), the story of a single mother rebuilding her life, won an Oscar® for Ellen Burstyn. A few years later, Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman (1978), also a feminist tale of a woman rebounding from divorce, was a major hit. Yet both of those excellent films had happily-ever-after endings, and were less realistic and straightforward than One Is a Lonely Number. From the perspective of thirty-plus years later, the latter looks more and more like a film ahead of its time.
Director: Mel Stuart
Producer: Stan Margulies
Screenplay: David Seltzer, based on the short story, "The Good Humor Man," by Rebecca Morris
Cinematography: Michel Hugo
Editor: David Saxon
Art Direction: Walter M. Simonds
Music: Michel Legrand
Principal Cast: Trish Van Devere (Aimee Brower), Monte Markham (Howard Carpenter), Janet Leigh (Gert Meredith), Melvyn Douglas (Joseph Provo), Jane Elliot (Madge Frazier), Jonathan Lippe (Sherman Cooke), Paul Jenkins (James Brower), Scott Beach (Frawley King).
by Margarita Landazuri