Thursday, January 21, 2010

Erich Segal and The Top-Grossing Film of 1970--Wednesday Short Take #2

I was sad to hear of the passing of author Erich Segal, whose 1970 screenplay-turned-novel "Love Story" dominated  as the
top-grossing film of the year.  (Over 48 million dollars...can you stand it?) The story of a Harvard jock with all the advantages and his lower-middle-class, tough talking Italian Radcliffe girlfriend, was also the must-read book of the year.

The film collected seven Academy Award nominations including ones for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, and Segal's Screenplay.

The film made worldwide sensations of stars Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw.  Theirs was the iconic image of the year.

It's little-known that Segal was a Classics professor at Yale, spoke several languages, co-wrote the Beatles film "Yellow Submarine", roomed with Tommy Lee Jones at Harvard (a cameo role in the movie), angered William Styron, who threatened to resign from the National Book Award panel if Love Story was not withdrawn from nomination, and did Olympic-games commentary for ABC.  He lived with Parkinson's disease for 25 years, and died at home of a heart attack.

 His lasting legacy is "Love Story", a film I have not seen for a long time.  While critics panned its sentimentality, it would seem to hold up remarkably well today.  Culture and class differences, the questioning of organized religion (VERY controversial subject then), conflict between fathers and sons, forgiveness and reconciliation, and dealing with impending loss of a loved one---all are themes that the film treats rather well.  Its winter scenes make me think of it as an unusual but fitting Christmas movie.  And I still say Clint Eastwood borrowed from Francis Lai's Oscar-winning score for his piano theme for "Million Dollar Baby"

People went to the movie to cry.  Legends grew about  pounds of Kleenex collected between seats by ushers after every viewing.

It is a subtle example of how two characters---a spoiled rich kid, and a demanding unyielding father---find the seeds of reinvention as they re-discover their love for one another while dealing with tragic loss.  And the story of Oliver and Jenny is a hopeful tale of how two people from different worlds can find each other, and love each other profoundly.

Most of all,there is the oft-parodied and discussed tag line--"Love means never having to say you're sorry".  What that means to me is that forgiveness is automatic...when I love someone, they are automatically forgiven, no apology necessary.

In "What's Up Doc?", a comedy that Ryan O'Neal made soon after with Barbra Streisand, O'Neal's character proclaims that famous tag line "the stupidest thing he ever heard".  Not very gracious..... Sure, the line is full of sentiment, but it's not wholly without merit.

I wonder what other readers think of that line?

Below is a theatrical trailer for the film..toward the end it lists its Oscar nominations.

While I rarely think of Erich Segal in a league with great literature, his story was a rare one that touched the mood of the time, and stands as a valuable reflection of the dreams of moviegoers in 1970.  How times have changed.


  1. I remember the movie very well, I saw it in high school and enjoyed it a lot. I was a lot more romantically inclined in those days. I wised up later.

    I do get the point of the line, but it doesn't ring true for me. I would say rather, love means admitting when you're wrong and being man enough to ask for forgiveness.

  2. I never bought the love means never having to say you're sorry line. I've found that quite the opposite is true. You have to be able to say I'm sorry. Maybe that's why I found the spoof in What's Up Doc? to be brilliant comedy..

  3. Thanks Russ and Bill. I can see your point about the line....I took it from the point of view of the wronged, not the transgressor.
    Thanks for stopping by, I enjoy having you visit!

  4. Nice post Tom! Love Story was a good film but I thought the line in it was a bit laughable. Still it was a good date movie and never failed to get the tears rolling. Interesting facts about Segal. I never knew he co-wrote Yellow Submarine, and that is one of my favorite movies. That's cool!

  5. Tom, I heard that there will be a new DVD re-issue of Yellow Submarine soon. If i hear more, I'll let you know. Thanks for weighing in on Segal and Love Story!