Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a screening of one of the landmark comedies of the 1960s and perhaps the best screen rendition of the work of Philip Roth: the adaptation of his National Book Award-winning novella, GOODBYE, COLUMBUS.
The movie launched the careers of its two stars, Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw, who will both join us for this reunion screening, along with the film’s director, Larry Peerce.
Roth was a master chronicler of the Jewish-American experience, and this film version dealt forthrightly and sardonically with the author’s favorite milieu. In focusing on a doomed love affair between a young working-class man and a spoiled Jewish-American princess, the film caught many of the tensions in affluent American society during the postwar years. Its sexual candor also reflected changing mores of the late 60s.
Arnold Schulman was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay, and he also won the Writers Guild award for best adapted screenplay of the year. Stanley Jaffe (Kramer vs. Kramer, Fatal Attraction) produced the picture. The Association provided the musical score.
Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, who meets Brenda Patimkin when his cousin invites him to swim at her ritzy country club. Neil is immediately attracted to Brenda, and she finds him intriguing, especially as a way of goading her snobbish, nouveau riche parents, expertly played by Jack Klugman and Nan Martin. When Brenda invites Neil as a house guest, they begin an affair right in the family mansion.
The film includes a number of sharply defined characters, especially Brenda’s affable but dim jock brother, played by Michael Meyers, whom Peerce discovered at a wedding. It turned out to be the only screen performance by Meyers, who went on to have a successful career as a doctor and later wrote a book about his journey from Hollywood to hospitals.
The film climaxes with a scene of Meyers’ garish and gargantuan wedding reception, which was somewhat controversial because of the gusto with which it satirized Jewish conspicuous consumption. In this wedding sequence, director Peerce’s father—the noted tenor, Jan Peerce—makes a sly cameo appearance.
The film scored at the box office and received enthusiastic reviews. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby declared, “Goodbye, Columbus is so rich with understanding… that it is a thing of real and unusual pleasure.” Variety called the film “a joy in striking a boisterous mood” and added that Benjamin and MacGraw “offer fresh portrayals seasoned with rich humor.”
Indeed the film catapulted both actors to the top ranks in Hollywood. MacGraw earned an Oscar nomination the following year for the smash hit Love Story, and she starred in Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway with her husband-to-be, Steve McQueen. She also starred in Sidney Lumet’s satire, Just Tell Me What You Want, and in the enormously successful TV miniseries, The Winds of War. Benjamin played in such films as Diary of a Mad Housewife, Westworld, The Last of Sheila, The Sunshine Boys, as well as the adaptation of Roth’s most controversial novel, Portnoy’s Complaint. Later Benjamin became an acclaimed director of such films as My Favorite Year, Racing with the Moon, and Mermaids.
Peerce made his feature directorial debut with the groundbreaking 1964 film about an interracial romance, One Potato Two Potato, and followed up with a gritty urban thriller, The Incident. His other films include The Sporting Club, A Separate Peace, The Bell Jar, and the uplifting female sports movie, The Other Side of the Mountain.
Our 50th anniversary presentation of GOODBYE, COLUMBUS (1969) followed by a Q&A with stars Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw and director Larry Peerce screens Friday, August 2nd at 7:30 PM at the Ahrya Fine Arts in Beverly Hills. Click here for tickets.