Friday, October 02, 2015

Lavin and De Niro Together! Again?

credit © 2014 Francois Duhamel / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. 

One of the advantages of Nancy Meyers' "The Intern" is the opportunity it affords us to see Linda Lavin, an infrequent visitor to the big screen, in a movie - and, more to the point, in a Robert De Niro movie, no less.

There's an interesting little story here...

Back in 1975, when she and her first husband Ron Leibman were the toasts of Broadway (Sylvia Miles referred to them as "the young Lunt-Fontannes"), Lavin was signed by Mike Nichols and Warner Bros. to make her film debut in an original Neil Simon screenplay, "Bogart Slept Here," co-starring with De Niro, Marsha Mason and Tony Lo Bianco.

This was a big break for a young actress known almost exclusively for her work on stage.  But Lavin's debut was interrupted when Nichols and De Niro battled, with Nichols firing the actor within the first week of production and Warners canceling the film altogether.  It's an episode telllingly detailed by the film critic Shawn Levy in his 2014 book, "De Niro: A Life" (Crown Archetype).
In an interview with Bob Lardine of Chicago Tribune dated July15th, 1979, Lavin offered a remembrance of the incident: "Mike Nichols was the director and the cast was terrific - Robert DeNiro, Marsha Mason and Tony Lo Bianco.  I rehearsed the first week, playing Lo Bianco's wife, and then all sorts of behind-the-scenes difficulties occured.  The entire project was shelved during the second week. Naturally, I was heartbroken. It would have been terrific breaking into film with that kind of first-rate talent. The movie was later rewritten and called 'The Goodbye Girl.'"  (Yes, "The Goodbye Girl," of course. It was released in 1977, with Mason still in the cast and Richard Dreyfuss in the role originally intended for De Niro.)

But Warners believed in Lavin, promptly casting her in the title role in "Alice," its 1976 sitcom adaptation of the 1974 Martin Scorsese film, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore." The show was a hit, and a personal success for Lavin, running on CBS from August 31, 1976 to March 19, 1985.

It not only made Linda Lavin a household name but gave her a catchy, signature song to sing every week - "There's a New Girl in Town," written by David Shire and The Bergmans (Alan and Marilyn). And Lavin's eventual official film debut?  Well, that wouldn't come until about 10 years later, in 1984, with a bit  in "The Muppets Take Manhattan."

So, it's something of a kick to finally see her play a scene on screen with De Niro exactly 40 years after they were first cast together in a movie. And making it all perfect, it's a Warner Bros. movie.

In-between, Lavin has appeared in a handful of other movies, an eclectic mix that includes "I Want to Go Home" (1989), an Alain Resnais film, written by Jules Feiffer and staring Gérard Depardieu, and David Wain's Jennifer Aniston-Paul Rudd romp, "Wunderlust" (2012).

More recently, Lavin has been touring in a cabaret act that started with her 2012 album, ”Possibilities,” (Ghostlight Records), the title referring to one of the songs on the album -  her showstopping number, "You've Got Possibilites," from the 1966 Hal Prince musical, "It's a Bird...It's a Plan...It's.Superman." (The liner notes includes a cheer from Prince.)

By the way, the ”Superman” musical has a fascinating pedigree.  It was written by Robert Benton and David Newman, a year before they penned "Bonnie and Clyde" for Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn, and the terrific songs were by Charles Strauss and Lee Adams of "Bye Bye Birdie."

Oh, yeah, and it was a great show (recently given a limited revival), unfairly forgotten.

When Lavin played the Rrazz Room in Bucks County, Pa. in 2014 with Billy Stritch accompanying her on the piano, her act was titled "Possibilities," but when she and Stritch play the Rrazz Room of Philadelphia's Prince Theater (Saturday, October 17th at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, October 18th at 3:00 p.m.), her set will be called..."Starting Over."  Just like "The Intern."

Note in Passing: The cuts on Lavin's album are "It Might As Well Be," "Hey, Look Me Over," " There's A Small Hotel," " In Love Again," "Corcovado (Quiet Night Of Quiet Stars)," "'Deed I Do," "It Amazes Me," " You've Got Possibilities," "Rhode Island Is Famous For You," "The Song Remembers When," "Walk Between Raindrops" and "Two For The Road."


Ellen P said...

A fascinating story as usual, joe

Marvin said...

Joe, I had no idea that Linda Lavin and Ron Leibman were at one time thought of as the "new" Lunt-Fontaine. How long were Ron and Linda married? (Frankly, I thought that they were STILL married.) Marvin

joe baltake said...

Marvin- Sylvia Miles, like Linda Lavin and Ron Liebman, was a Broadway staple back in the day. So I assume she knew them well and liked them. But she also had a devilish wit. So one can only guess what she meant by that comment which, I believe, she made to a magazine called After Dark. But Lavin and Liebman were a highly visible young couple on the Broadway scene, always working - so the Lunt-Fontanne comparison makes sense - although I'm not sure if they ever worked together on stage. Linda has been married to artist-musician Steve Bakunas since 2005. She divorced Liebman in 1981 after 12 years of marriage and was also married to actor Kip Niven (from 1982 to 1991).

Charlotte said...

I've seen Lavin in a number of shows in New York and remember how particularly good she was in Simon's "The Last of the Red-Hot Lovers" and a revival of "Gypsy." (She was made to sing those songs.) But, yes, she was best in "Superman." It was quite a delight to discover her in that.

joe baltake said...

Charlottte- I'm seriously dating myself here, but "Gypsy" was the first Broadway show that I saw when I was a kid. Consequently, it remains special to me and I've tried to see as many productions of it that I could. Lavin, who replaced Tyne Daley in one of the revivals, was one of the best Madam Roses. (BTW, the character is never called Momma Rose in the show, something Arthur Laurents continually reminded people.) I love the 1962 film version best of all, with Rosalind Russell bringing a singular reading to the role - she perfectly caught Rose's patrician pretensions. But among the stage Roses, Lavin was one of the best. And you're right - her voice was made for those songs.

wwolfe said...

My wife and I just saw "The Intern" two days ago. Among the many things we enjoyed about it was the great moment Lavin had during the scene in which Robert DeNiro and Rene Russo attend a funeral together. Notwithstanding the relatively small size of her role, Lavin delivered in that scene.

Laurence said...

Linda Lavin and Ron Leibman worked together at least once onstage, in John Guare's "Cop-Out" on Broadway in 1968.

joe baltake said...

Laurence! Thanks. I vaguely remember "Cop-Out," although I never saw it. If I recall, didn't the two play multiple roles?

Laurence said...

Right--According to the Playbill web site, "Cop-Out depicts the relationship between several policemen and their wives, with one man and one woman playing all the parts." There was also a companion one-act, "Home Fires."

joe baltake said...

Note: There is no 3 p.m. Sunday show of Lavin's cabaret act at the Prince Theater's Rrazz room in Philadelphia.