You never forget your first time.
The week after Christmas, 1970. Friend Beyda and I hopped the Howard El to go watch Jennie die. This was before the multiplexing of America, a time when major blockbusters would open exclusively in one centrally located picture palace and gradually make the crawl to outlying single-screens. Television coverage showed lines snaking around the side of the Chicago Theatre. I opted to wait a week before hazarding the crowd.
Erich Segal’s smash best-seller, Love Story, was a hundred-page, large type, set-’em-up-to-watch-’em-die. Boy (Ryan O’Neal) meets girl (Ali MacGraw), boy and girl fall in love, girl contracts inoperable cancer, girl dies. The end.
To the best of my knowledge, the only movie poster graphic ever to be transformed into a postage stamp.
Segal had been a fixture on every talk show couch, and I was curious to see what all the commotion was about. The book was a present from my aunt on the occasion of my 15th birthday. It took a little over an hour to read. I closed the cover and reached for a Kleenex to blot away tears. Tears of laughter.
That’s it? Erich Segal owed the world an apology for his quickly spreading literary malignancy. I couldn’t wait to see what Hollywood was going to do with it.
Segal would script, of course. The genius of Arthur Hiller stops at his hair. Who better to direct? When the casting call went out for two physically perfect specimens with little or no acting ability, O’Neal and MacGraw rose to the occasion.
Throngs of white-gloved honeys flocked to attend this movie. The theatre was surprisingly empty when we arrived for the weekend matinee. Of all the 3500 seats to choose from, two blue-haired birds — fresh from a luncheon at Marshall Fields’ Walnut Room — pull up in the row behind us.
The Chicago Tribune, December 25, 1970
The film contained some of the novel’s profanity. Ethel and Virginia would have none of it. “What a filthy mouth on such a pretty thing,” Virginia observed. After every PG curse word, Ethel would stomp her foot and say, “Did you hear what she said?”
There had been dirty looks and “Shhhs!” that came before, but this was the first time I summoned the nerve to verbally admonish a pair of strangers for talking during a movie. What was there to lose? They were pushing 80, and I could lick the both of ’em together in a street fight.
After one “Did you hear what she said?” too many, I turned and said, “Yeah. She said ‘shit.’ Now would you kindly shut up for the rest of the movie?”
Ethel looked aghast as she let out a “Harumph!” while Virginia muttered, “Well, I never.” The two got up and repositioned themselves at the back of the house.
It worked! What a sensation, as if discovering fire or summoning the ability to fly. Therefore rejoice, ye multiplexes, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the talkers and texters! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short running time.
Don't allow others to spoil it for you. Remember, love means never having to say you’re sorry to idiots who choose to talk during movies.