Rich and Famous (1981 film)

Rich and Famous is a 1981 American film directed by George Cukor, the final film of his long career. The screenplay by Gerald Ayres is based on the 1941 play Old Acquaintance by John Van Druten, which was filmed with Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins in 1943 under its original title.

Rich and Famous
Original poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Produced byWilliam Allyn
Jacqueline Bisset
Written byGerald Ayres
Based onOld Acquaintance
1940 play
by John Van Druten
StarringJacqueline Bisset
Candice Bergen
David Selby
Hart Bochner
Music byGeorges Delerue
CinematographyDonald Peterman
Edited byJohn F. Burnett
Distributed byUnited Artists (United States/Canada)
Cinema International Corporation (International)
Release date
  • September 23, 1981 (1981-09-23)
Running time
117 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$11.5 million[1]
Box office$5.1 million[1]


Two women find their friendship is tested when one rises from obscurity to success while the other stagnates in a stalled career. Liz Hamilton, a young woman with literary ambitions, and Merry Noel Blake, an all-American blonde beauty from Atlanta, are close friends who met while they were freshmen at Smith College in the 1950s.

Soon after graduation, Liz writes a critically acclaimed book and drifts into unfulfilling relationships and one-night stands, including an empty encounter in an airplane lavatory, a fling with a teenaged hustler and an affair with Chris Adams, a young reporter for Rolling Stone. Meanwhile, Merry fulfills her aspiration to a life of domesticity caring for a husband and child by marrying Doug Blake and moving to a beach house in Malibu.

Although Merry is happy, she can't help but envy Liz for her glamorous career as an author. Merry decides to write a book of her own and, with Liz's assistance, A House by the Sea, a trashy roman à clef about the Malibu colony, finds a publisher and becomes a huge best-seller. Before long Merry is a darling of the media and her fame and fortune surpass those of Liz (who is experiencing a severe case of writer's block), leading to jealousy between the old friends and problems in Merry's marriage.

The film takes place over the course of 22 years, first depicting Merry's and Doug's elopement in 1959, and then picking up during three segments, taking place in 1969, 1975 and 1981, showing changes in the characters' relationships (and society) over the course of two decades.



Robert Mulligan originally was slated to direct, but when members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild went on strike four days after filming began, the production shut down. Mulligan was forced to withdraw when previous commitments conflicted with the new schedule.[2] The film proved to be the last directed by George Cukor. It also marked the screen debuts of an 8-year-old Nicole Eggert and also Meg Ryan, who played Merry's daughter in the 1969 and 1981 segments, respectively.

New York City locations seen in the film include the Algonquin Hotel and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Additional locations include Madison, New Jersey (standing in for Northampton, Massachusetts), Los Angeles, and Malibu. Interiors were filmed at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City. Sets were later rented for use in the Biltmore Hotel scenes in the 1984 blockbuster Ghostbusters.

Nina Foch, Dick Cavett, Ray Bradbury, Merv Griffin, Marsha Hunt, Christopher Isherwood, Gavin Lambert, Roger Vadim, and Paul Morrissey make appearances in the film.

The soundtrack includes "Take Me for a Buggy Ride" performed by Bessie Smith and "On the Sunny Side of the Street" sung by Willie Nelson.

Critical reception

Critics were mixed about the film. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote "The movie can't make up its mind whether it's about a tumultuously difficult but rewarding friendship or whether it's a sendup of the contemporary literary scene. It fails as both...The culprit is Gerald Ayres...[who] has spread his talents very thin...Though he has written two big roles, he doesn't seem capable of writing either a romantic drama, like The Turning Point, or an informed satire...Mr. Ayres can occasionally write good wisecracks...But he has no particular insight into the publishing scene. Nor does he ever convince us of the enduring strength of the friendship that lasts through thick and, more often, thin. Though Misses Bisset and Bergen are appealing actresses, Rich and Famous doesn't hold together."[3]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed "This film is a real curiosity. It's a good-bad movie, like The Other Side of Midnight or The Greek Tycoon. It contains scenes that make you want to squirm because of their awkwardness and awfulness, and yet you don't want to look away and you're not bored. The movie has the courage to go to extremes, and some of those extremes may not be art but are certainly unforgettable...It's a slick, trashy, entertaining melodrama, with too many dumb scenes to qualify as successful."[4]

Variety wrote "While not without its problems, Rich and Famous is an absorbing drama of some notable qualities, the greatest of which is a gutsy, fascinating and largely magnificent performance by Jacqueline Bisset...For a bright, sophisticated piece such as this, particularly one under the guidance of the irrepressibly elegant George Cukor, the somewhat harsh, murky visual style is surprising."[5]

TV Guide rated the film one out of four stars and commented, "This could have been – and is – a very funny film; unfortunately, most of the laughs are unintentional...Although his version of Van Druten's play Old Acquaintance is sexier than the original 1943 screen also fails to satisfy on many levels...This glossy soap opera suffers from Cukor's failure to control his actors. Moreover, the costumes are atrocious. The film simply lacks the sophisticated style that made Cukor famous."[6]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker stated "Rich and Famous isn't camp, exactly: It's more like a homosexual fantasy. Jacqueline Bisset's affairs, with their masochistic overtones, are creepy, because they don't seem like what a woman would get into. And Candice Bergen is used almost as if she were a big, goosey, female impersonator."[7]

Time Out London wrote "Considering neither Bisset nor Bergen had ever shown the slightest acting ability before in movies, their performances in the Bette Davis/Miriam Hopkins roles in this loose reworking of Old Acquaintance are very capable...Of course much of the credit must go to Cukor, the veteran 'woman's director'; but the film disappoints in its unconfident handling of the secondary characters."[8]

Awards and nominations

Gerald Ayres won the Writers Guild Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium.


  1. ((cite news|title=MGM-UA AND THE BIG DEBT |last1=Boyer|first1= Peter J|last2=Pollock|first2= Dale|newspaper= Los Angeles Times |date=28 Mar 1982|page= l1}}
  2. "''Rich and Famous'' at". Retrieved 2010-10-15.
  3. Canby, Vincent (1981-10-09). "''New York Times'' review". Retrieved 2010-10-15.
  4. "''Chicago Sun-Times'' review". Retrieved 2010-10-15.
  5. "''Variety'' review". 1980-12-31. Retrieved 2010-10-15.
  6. "''TV Guide'' review". Retrieved 2010-10-15.
  7. Rutledge, Leigh W. (1989). The Gay Fireside Companion. Alyson Publications, Inc. p. 174.
  8. "''Time Out London'' review". Retrieved 2010-10-15.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.