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Making Love: Groundbreaking Gay Romantic Movie Screening

7 minutes read

‘Making Love’: Groundbreaking romantic gay drama returns to the big screen

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

As part of its Anniversary Classics series, Laemmle Theaters will be presenting Arthur Hiller’s groundbreaking 1982 romantic drama Making Love, the first U.S. movie distributed by a major studio that focused on a romantic gay relationship. Michael Ontkean, Harry Hamlin, and Kate Jackson star.

The 35th Anniversary Screening of Making Love will be held on Saturday, June 24 – it’s Gay Pride month, after all – at 7:30 p.m. at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills.

The movie will be followed by a Q&A session with Harry Hamlin, screenwriter Barry Sandler, and author A. Scott Berg, who wrote the “story” on which the film is based.

‘Making Love’ & What lies beneath

In this 20th Century Fox release – Sherry Lansing was the studio head at the time – Michael Ontkean plays a doctor married to a television executive (Kate Jackson) with whom he shares a comfortable upper-middle-class life in Los Angeles.

Things are so cozy that the seemingly happy couple, who are planning on having a child, spend time together repeating bits of Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant’s dialogue from Leo McCarey’s An Affair to Remember.

But underneath the doctor’s bourgeois existence lies something dark and disturbing: he appreciates the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, the poetry of Rupert Brooke, and hot-looking men. Enter openly gay writer and unabashedly sexually active club-hopper Harry Hamlin and there goes the doctor’s conformist straight life.

Yet an idyllic happy ending proves elusive. And that’s one of the best things about Making Love, which otherwise comes across as well-made, well-intentioned TV movie.

Time capsule & what progress?

A must-see well-made, well-intentioned TV movie, that is, considering its time-capsule depiction of urban, white middle-class gay life in the U.S. ca. 1980, right at the time the AIDS epidemic began wreaking havoc in gay communities throughout the country – a human/social calamity that goes unmentioned in the film, whose sensibility, in all fairness, is closer to the late 1970s, pre-AIDS era.

Also, bear in mind that California’s anti-sodomy (i.e., for all purposes, anti-gay) law was repealed only in 1976 – a mere six years before Making Love came out (no pun intended). If they so wished, cops could – and often did – harass, entrap, and arrest (usually) gay men. In more than a dozen U.S. states, such anti-sodomy laws would remain in place all the way to 2003, when they were forcibly repealed by a Supreme Court decision – though in some of these states (and several others) they can still be found in the books.

Upon its release, Making Love was mostly dismissed by critics – the time-capsule curiosity boost would kick in only a few decades later – some of whom found its drama much too bland and its romance much too timid. Ultimately, the Fox release proved to be a box office disappointment as well, which meant no more big-studio gay-themed romances – or, almost invariably, no gay-themed stories or gay lead characters, period – until … who knows when.

Bear in mind that Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was an independent production and, in case lesbian romance is included in the mix, so was Todd Haynes’ Carol.

Curiously, 1982 – two years after the release of the reviled William Friedkin-Al Pacino collaboration Cruising – turned out to be quite the year for gay-themed films. Making Love was a part of a, at least on paper, sympathetic cinematic package that also featured:

  • Robert Towne’s Personal Best, a well-acted box office flop featuring Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly as two track-and-field athletes who (temporarily) develop a physical/emotional bond.
  • James Burrows’ Partners, a weak straight cop/gay cop comedy, with Ryan O’Neal as the former and John Hurt as the latter.
  • Blake Edwards’ successful and generally well-received period comedy musical Victor Victoria, starring Julie Andrews as a (formerly) destitute female singer passing for a male singer passing for a female singer at a Parisian night club. Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Robert Preston (the flamboyantly effeminate type) and Alex Karras (the beat ’em-up masculine type) were its two key gay characters.

‘Making Love’ cast

Besides Michael Ontkean, Harry Hamlin, and Kate Jackson, the prestigious Making Love cast includes:

  • Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Wendy Hiller (Separate Tables, 1958).
  • Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Nancy Olson (Sunset Blvd., 1950).
  • Best Dramatic Actor Tony winner Arthur Hill (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1963).

In addition to John Dukakis, Terry Kiser, Dennis Howard, Michael Shannon (not the Boardwalk Empire & Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice actor), Gary Swanson, and Michael Dudikoff in small roles.

Arthur Hiller

Making Love director Arthur Hiller, who would become president of the Directors Guild of America from 1989 to 1993 and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1993 to 1997, is best remembered for handling the 1970 romantic blockbuster Love Story – which also lacks a happy ending and which earned him an Oscar nomination.

Hiller’s other movies include:

  • Julie Andrews’ first film, The Americanization of Emily (1964).
  • The thriller The Hospital (1971), which earned George C. Scott a Best Actor Oscar nod.
  • The political drama The Man in the Glass Booth (1975), which earned Maximilian Schell a Best Actor Oscar nod.
  • The Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor comedy hit Silver Streak (1976).
  • The Bette Midler-Shelley Long comedy hit Outrageous Fortune (1987).

The Canadian-born Arthur Hiller died at age 92 in Aug. 2016.

Harry Hamlin

Pasadena-born Harry Hamlin is best known as one of the stars of the hit TV series L.A. Law, which earned him three Golden Globe nominations (1987, 1988, 1989). Prior to that, he had also received a Globe nomination in the Best Motion Picture Acting Debut – Male category for Movie Movie (1978), veteran Stanley Donen’s homage to Warner Bros. musicals of the 1930s.

Hamlin’s other sporadic big screen credits include Blue Skies Again (1983), Save Me (1984), and Perfume (2001). But apart from Movie Movie and Making Love, his only important role in a major motion picture was that of Perseus in Desmond Davis’ Clash of the Titans (1981), a special-effects-laden fantasy also featuring Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Flora Robson, and Hamlin’s then real-life companion Ursula Andress.

More recently, Hamlin landed recurring roles in the series Veronica Mars, Shameless, Glee, Army Wives, and Mad Men, for which he received an Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series category.

Michael Ontkean & Kate Jackson

Like their Making Love co-star Harry Hamlin, neither Michael Ontkean nor Kate Jackson had major film careers. Both are better known for their television work: the former for Twin Peaks, in which he played Sheriff Harry S. Truman; the latter for Charlie’s Angels, which earned her nominations for three Golden Globes and two Emmys.

Unlike Jackson (nine features in all), Michael Ontkean has done frequent big-screen work, notably in George Roy Hill’s box office disappointment Slap Shot (1977), opposite Paul Newman, and Paul Mazursky’s Jules and Jim homage Willie & Phil (1980), co-starring Margot Kidder and Ray Sharkey.

Barry Sandler & A. Scott Berg

Besides Making Love, GLAAD Media Award and Outfest 2002 Gay Pioneer Award for Courage and Artistry recipient Barry Sandler has written about a dozen films. Credits – screenplay and/or story – include:

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer A. Scott Berg has written books on Samuel Goldwyn, Maxwell Perkins, Charles Lindbergh, and Woodrow Wilson.

For the big screen, he executive-produced Genius (2016), based on his Maxwell Perkins book, and toplining Colin Firth as Perkins, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Dominic West.

For more details about the Making Love screening, visit the Laemmle Theatres website.

Note: An earlier draft of this post had Dawn Steel as the head of 20th Century Fox. Steel was the head of Columbia Pictures from 1987–1990.

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1 comment

Bill B. -

I remember seeing this fairly poor film in NYC and being so disappointed by the weak writing and the dull performances. The description here of this being like a 1970’s TV movie is apt. However, the worst part of my viewing experience was the audience. In one of the most supposedly sophisticated cities in the country, I would not have expected the audience to burst into laughter when the Ontkean/Hamlin kiss occurred, but that’s exactly what happened. I remember it as being quite an unexpected & startling unpleasant moment. I saw this film again on TV years later (seems to have disappeared in recent times) and it is a curiosity, but it still is not good. Ontkean has some appeal, Hamlin is fairly bland, but I think Jackson was the biggest casting mistake, but I would imagine that they were not able to land an A list actress for this role. Try as she may, she simply doesn’t have the skills to pull off this somewhat complex role. This supposed break through film had no positive impact whatsoever for the gay community.


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