Rich and Famous: The Making of George Cukor’s Last Film—Part Nine

Series of Nine Articles       

 

Part Nine: Film’s Premieres and Why Cukor Hated Pauline Kael

 

On October 4, the day “Rich and Famous” opened, Cukor gave an interview in the LA Herald Examiner that turned out to be explosive.  The interviewer began by talking about the new technology in movies and the minimization of character, quoting Pauline Kael.  This irritated Cukor immensely.  “Oh, f–k Pauline Kael,” he exploded, “f–k her–and I don’t use that language all the time. I don’t care what the hell she has to say.  She’s a b—h.  She’s spiteful and she’s wrong.”  It was not a shrewd comment to make, particularly that the film has not opened yet.  He knew all too well that Kael could be unpredictable and vicious too. 

 

The premieres of “Rich and Famous” in LA, NY, and San Francisco launched a week of pre-releasing activities on behalf of the film.  The festivities began in LA, on Sunday, October 4, with a world premiere and black-tie dinner, hosted by Frank Rosenfelt, MGM’s Chairman of the Board and CEO David Begelman.  Following the showing at MGM’s Main theater, 400 of Hollywood’s own rich and famous (including Cary Grant and Liz Taylor) mingled at a party on Stage 28, the historical stage that once housed the sets for Cukor’s “Pat and Mike” and “Les Girls,” both made in the 1950s. 

 

On Tuesday, October 6, the New York premiere took place at the Ziegfeld theater, under the auspices of the Museum of Modern Art. After the screening, the party moved to Studio 54.  It was Cukor’s first visit to Studio 54 or, for that matter, to any disco, but he seemed oblivious to the blare of the loud music and dark space.  Cukor received a good-natured feather-dusting when he arrived, accompanied with his old friend, socialite Laura Harding.     Eventually, the party became more publicized than the film itself.  It cost a lot of money to do the disco up like Gatsby’s place, with autumn leaves underfoot and a gazebo for the special invitees. 

 

Catsro Theater and Gay Audiences

 

On October 8, Cukor flew to San Francisco, whose international Film Festival was celebrating its 25th anniversary, with a special premiere of the film, honoring Cukor’s 50th anniversary as a director.  The gala began with a cocktail party at Francis Ford Coppola’s home, followed by screening at the Castro Theater and a party at Maxwell’s Plum. 

 

The screening in the Castro area, the heart of gay life in San Francisco, was an absolutely wild event.  “When George, Candy and I went up on stage,” Bisset recalled, “we got such a great reception, it was unbelievable.”  The producers knew that “Rich and Famous” would get a special reception from gay audiences, because of its subject matter and because it was directed by Cukor, who has always had loyal gay following.

 

Cukor protected himself by not reading reviews.  Only once, in a moment of honesty, he asked Ayres: “Do you think the picture was O.K.?”  “Of course, it was,” the writer replied.  Pauline Kael condemned the film and Cukor’s lack of understanding of women.  To this day, Bergen said, “I won’t even touch Kael’s review, because the critic was so brutal to all of us.” 

 

Andrew Sarris, the influential critic for the Village Voice, thought that Kael made a viciously homophobic attack on Cukor for his not ‘understanding’ women, presumably because of his disabling deviation.  It was a strange charge, following a lifetime of being dismissed as a “women’s director.'” What worried Sarris was that “With the trend in contemporary gossip toward pinpointing everyone’s sexual predilections, the critic may find it hard to decide where the descriptive ends and the derisive begins.”

 

Distributed by United Artists, the movie went into wide release on October 9.  Despite high hopes, however, “Rich and Famous” received mixed critical response reviews and didn’t perform well at the box office.  Cukor was deeply disappointed, but still energetic and dynamic, he still hoped that his next picture would be more successful.