The Way We Were is one of my favorite movies. What’s not to love? It’s got Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford at the top of their games. It’s got the timeless, Oscar-winning song by Marvin Hamlisch and Marilyn and Alan Bergman. It has Hamlisch’s lush, Oscar-winning score, plus 1950s-era politics; and rich, juicy dollops of romance as the two ill-fated opposites attract each other.
I still am.
Okay, so maybe that’s not quite fair. In The Way We Were: The Making of A Romantic Classic, author Tom Santopietro clearly dug in and dug up. He does tell the story about how screenwriter Arthur Laurents’s own past was the film’s foundation. He writes a lot about director Sydney Pollack, the development of the script, the shooting, the differences between Streisand’s and Redford’s acting processes and the challenges they caused. He writes (way too much) about their star power and how the film was almost derailed several times and then saved thanks to the box-office draw of the two actors. He writes (way too much) about Redford’s hesitation to play the part of Hubbell Gardiner because it was too thinly written, just a foil for Streisand’s juicier part, Katie Morosky, and about Pollack’s expert Redford wrangling just to get him to say yes. (The part was deepened.)
Still, though, the book is just…wrong. Santiopietro’s writing voice is grating, his style irritating beyond belief. It reads more like a dissertation—not a good one, mind you—instead of a careful, thoughtful look behind the scenes of a beloved film. Honestly, it’s little more than a gossip-magazine retrospective.
Over and over again, he puts attributions before the quotes. That is, instead of the quote and then “said Alan Bergman,” for example, he writes it like this: “Said Alan Bergman:” and then what Bergman said. This happens throughout, and it makes the entire book feel as if the author is talking down to us. I mean, yeah, he gets the point across, but it’s maddening. I mean, just write the damn thing like a normal person!
Far more disappointing, though, is this, included in a section in which the author discusses other Redford romance movies, specifically Out of Africa. “It is nowadays best remembered for John Williams’s sweeping score as well as for a scene of Redford washing [Meryl] Streep’s hair alongside a hippo watering hole.”
Now, according to the book jacket, Santopietro has written eight previous books about various Hollywood subjects. The bio implies that he knows his stuff.
But does he? If he knew even the most basic stuff, he would not dismiss Out of Africa, also directed by Sydney Pollack, almost out of hand. It did, after all, win the Oscar for Best Picture, as did Pollack.
Worse, though, is that John Williams didn’t write the score for Out of Africa. The composer was actually John Barry—and his work won the Oscar for Best Original Score.
To me, this calls into question how qualified the author is to write anything at all about Hollywood. The mistake isn’t some long-buried, esoteric factoid. It’s part of Hollywood’s plain-as-day recorded history. It’ll take you about 15 seconds to look up. A pity the author couldn’t spare the time. The mistake makes me wonder how much he can be trusted to get things right.
The Way We Were deserves better than this slapdash treatment. There is another book about the making of the film, The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen by Robert Hofler—but I think I’ll wait for Barbra Streisand’s long-awaited memoir, coming this fall. Unlike Santopietro, she knows her stuff. ◊