Butterflies Are Free
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The 1972 film Butterflies Are Free blends comedy and drama with a sensitive touch to tell the story of Don (Edward Albert), an intelligent young blind man struggling to establish his independence in the world. Don takes an apartment by himself in San Francisco against the wishes of his overbearing mother (Eileen Heckart). With the help of his free-spirited next door neighbor Jill (Goldie Hawn), Don works to break free of his mother and prove that he can make it on his own.
Butterflies Are Free began as a hit Broadway play in 1969 written by Leonard Gershe and directed by Milton Katselas. It starred Keir Dullea as Don, Blythe Danner as Jill and Eileen Heckart as Don's mother. Leonard Gershe had been inspired to write the play after he heard the story of Harold Krents, a Harvard educated lawyer who happened to be blind. The production ran for 1128 performances and was nominated for three Tony awards, one of which Blythe Danner won for Best Featured Actress in a Play.
For the film version of Butterflies Are Free, Columbia Pictures kept several of the people involved with the original play including director Milton Katselas, actress Eileen Heckart, and writer Leonard Gershe, who adapted his work for the big screen. In one of his first screen roles, Edward Albert (son of actor Eddie Albert) was chosen to play Don, and Goldie Hawn came on board to play Jill.
Butterflies Are Free was an important film for 27-year-old Goldie Hawn. She had previously made her mark as a giggly bikini-clad regular on the popular TV show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, and had already won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 1969 comedy Cactus Flower. Her follow-up film $ (1971) with Warren Beatty, however, proved to be a disappointment. The role of Jill in Butterflies Are Free was more complex than her other work, and Hawn relished the chance to prove that she had range and depth as an actress.
Making Butterflies Are Free was a positive experience for Goldie Hawn. "Jill is turning out to be the most wonderfully written character and the most beautifully written relationship I've had in a film to this point," she said at the time. "I'm looking forward to going to work each day." She found a friend in director Milton Katselas who helped her overcome some bad habits she had developed in front of the camera from her days at Laugh-In such as giggling and rolling her eyes. "I found (the habits) surfacing quite a bit," said Hawn, "and I didn't like it because I realized that when I would roll my eyes and do those other Laugh-In kinds of things, I was feeling really insecure, didn't know what I was doing or saying, and was not putting any real thought into my work." Every time that Hawn subconsciously resorted to easy Laugh-In mannerisms, Katselas put a stop to it immediately by yelling, "Cut" and having her do the scene over. His attention to these details in Hawn's performance challenged her, and she credited him with helping her become a better actress.
The film version of Butterflies Are Free opened in the summer of 1972 and was a commercial and box office success. "Miss Hawn, funny and touching, is a delight throughout," said Variety, "and Miss Heckart finally gets another film role that enables her to display the versatility that has been evident for a long time in her stage roles." Time magazine said, "Goldie Hawn, as the girl next door, has come a long way from her giddy role in Laugh-In; she is often genuinely touching."
The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actress, which Eileen Heckart won for her nuanced performance of a mother who must learn to let her son go.
Producer: M.J. Frankovich
Director: Milton Katselas
Screenplay: Leonard Gershe (play and screenplay)
Cinematography: Charles B. Lang
Art Direction: Clayton Shair
Music: Bob Alcivar
Film Editing: David Blewitt
Cast: Goldie Hawn (Jill Tanner), Edward Albert (Don Baker), Eileen Heckart (Mrs. Baker), Michael Glaser (Ralph), Michael Warren (Roy).
by Andrea Passafiume