One of the landmark comedies of the 1960s and perhaps the best screen rendition of the work of Philip Roth was the adaptation of the author’s 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 Laemmle Anniversary Classics host Stephan Farber for a reunion screening, along with the film’s director, Larry Peerce, on Aug 2.
Phillip Roth (1933 – 2018) was a master chronicler of the Jewish-American experience, and this film version dealt forthrightly and sardonically with his 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.
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 climaxes with a scene of a garish and gargantuan wedding reception, which satirized Jewish conspicuous consumption with gusto. In this wedding sequence, director Peerce’s father—the noted tenor, Jan Peerce—makes a sly cameo appearance.
The film catapulted its two leading actors to the top Hollywood ranks. 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.
text: courtesy laemmle anniversary classics
GOODBYE COLUMBUS, Ali MacGraw, Richard Benjamin, Larry Peerce in-person | Laemmle Theatres, Anniversary Classics Series | Ahrya Fine Arts | Fri Aug 2