Making Love

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Making Love
Theatrical release poster
Directed byArthur Hiller
Written byA. Scott Berg (story)
Barry Sandler
Produced byAllen R. Adler
Daniel Melnick
CinematographyDavid M. Walsh
Edited byWilliam H. Reynolds
Music byLeonard Rosenman
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • February 12, 1982 (1982-02-12)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million[1]
Box office$11,897,978 (North America)

Making Love is a 1982 American drama film directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Kate Jackson, Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean. The film tells the story of a married man coming to terms with his homosexuality and the love triangle that develops between him, his wife and another man.


Zack Elliot is a successful young oncologist in the Los Angeles area married to Claire, an equally successful television network executive during the early 1980s. They first met when they were both in college, have been married for eight years, and are generally happy in their relationship, sharing a love for Gilbert and Sullivan and the poetry of Rupert Brooke, to whom they were introduced by their elderly former neighbor, Winnie Bates. Intending to start a family, the couple buy a big house.

Unknown to Claire, Zack has been struggling with feelings of attraction to other men. He picks up men in his car and starts frequenting gay bars in West Hollywood on his lunch hour, although he does not follow through sexually. This changes when he meets Bart McGuire, a gay novelist who comes to see him for a medical check-up. Bart leads a fairly hedonistic single lifestyle, picking up multiple sexual partners, frequenting gay bars and clubs, occasionally taking recreational drugs. Zack and Bart are mutually but unspokenly attracted to each other and go out for lunch.

A few days later, Zack asks him on a dinner date. He lies to Claire, saying he has to work late. At Bart's house, it becomes clear Zack is not yet able to identify as gay, instead labeling himself "curious." Zack and Bart go to bed, which is the first time Zack has had sex with another man. Zack wants to stay the night, but Bart, following his usual pattern, brushes him off. Angered, Zack leaves, but later challenges Bart's fear of intimacy, which stems from his own troubled childhood with his domineering and emotionally abusive father growing up. Bart makes plans for them to get together during the weekend.

Claire, concerned about the growing distance in her marriage, goes to her boss seeking a year-long leave of absence. Instead, he promotes her and sends her to New York City on a weekend business trip. Zack takes advantage of the opportunity to spend more time with Bart, but they end up arguing. Zack calls the outline for Bart's new novel less than honest, and Bart confronts Zack about his own lack of honesty about his sexuality. That night in bed, Zack tells Bart that he loves him. The next morning, fearful of his own growing feelings for Zack, Bart pushes him away again.

Eventually, Bart realizes that he does have feelings for Zack but that he is not ready for the level of commitment that Zack needs. He is last seen in the film out in the bars, cruising.

When Claire returns home from her trip, Zack tells her of his feelings for other men. Although she said she could handle anything he could tell her, she reacts very badly and Zack leaves the house. A few days later, an emotional Claire trashes some of Zack's clothes and finds a matchbook with a man's name and number written in it. She locates someone Zack had picked up, and they talk. She learns that he lives a relatively normal and happy life. Claire attempts to get Zack to remain in the marriage, even claiming that she would be okay with him having affairs with other men, but Zack advises her that she must let go and that he can no longer continue to live a lie and needs to be true to himself once and for all. Zack then tells Claire that he has a job prospect in New York City, working with cancer patients. In the end, the two agree to a divorce.

The film ends a few years in the future, with the death of Winnie Bates, Zack and Claire's former neighbor. Zack is living in New York and in a committed relationship with another man, an investment banker, named Ken. He returns to Los Angeles for Winnie's funeral. Claire has since gotten remarried to an architect, and has a young son named Rupert. It is loosely implied that she is now a stay at home mom. After the funeral, Zack and Claire discuss their lives and express their own happiness and their gratitude that the other is happy.

Throughout the film, Bart and Claire deliver several mini-monologues, speaking directly to the camera about aspects of their lives and their feelings about the scenes that had just played out on-screen.



The core concept for Making Love purportedly occurred to writer Scott Berg while he was touring to promote his 1978 biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius: the tour occasioned Berg's touching base with several male friends from his college days who confided that they were opting out of marriages for same-sex relationships. Berg said, "I thought this is the next big social movement of our country. What the black [rights] movement was, translated into film in the '60s, what the feminist movement was in the '70s, the gay movement will be in the '80s."[2] Berg pitched a story based on his college friends' disclosures to his friend screenwriter Barry Sandler who like Berg was openly gay. Sandler said, "I resisted [scripting Berg's story] at first" - six months passed before Sandler agreed to collaborate with Berg - "I [had] always written very glossy, Hollywood type of films"..."[Berg's story was] very delicate and potentially explosive...To do this film meant a great deal of self-exploration into portions of my psyche I hadn't been into before."[2] Despite Berg's avowed purpose in "translating" the "gay movement of the '80s" into film, the planned focus of the screenplay for Making Love was as a "husband-and-wife love story." Berg said, "It was very important to have a love story [to interest] a major studio".[2] Sherry Lansing, newly appointed president of 20th Century-Fox, greenlit the project based on an outline of Sandler's projected screenplay, of which a 125-page rough draft was completed in the autumn of 1980 when directing duties were assigned to Arthur Hiller, whose helming of the iconic 1970 film Love Story would be heavily referenced in the promotion for Making Love, the latter film being posited as the "'Love Story' of the '80s".[2]

Daniel Melnick, the co-producer of Making Love, would allege that the film's two male leads: Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin - and also female lead Kate Jackson - were the "original choices" for their roles while allowing "We did send the script to a few actors who [responded] that they were either not interested or were 'too busy'".[3] Reportedly the film-makers hoped to cast Michael Douglas as Zack to the point that after he passed on the film's original script he was sent a revision which he also passed on. Another actor courted to play Zack: Tom Berenger, purportedly passed on the part due to a scheduling conflict (Berenger did tour Japan in A Streetcar Named Desire in the spring of 1981).[2] Harrison Ford, William Hurt and Peter Strauss have also been cited as being unsuccessfully approached to play Zack. According to Arthur Hiller, most actors he approached re starring in Making Love advised him not to even consider them.[4] Kate Jackson - who had previously costarred with Ontkean in the 1972-76 ABC-TV series The Rookies - was cast by Hiller as the female lead in Making Love on the strength of her performance in the TV movie Thin Ice which was previewed for Hiller prior to its 17 February 1981 broadcast.[5]


Making Love was the first mainstream Hollywood drama to address the subjects of homosexuality, coming out and the effect that being closeted and coming out has on a marriage.[6] The film contrasts two visions of the "gay lifestyle." Zack wants to settle into a long-term monogamous relationship, while Bart is shown as promiscuous and uninterested in forming commitments.

Issues of the tension many women felt over pursuing careers are also touched on in Claire's fears that she is being forced to choose between her career and having a baby. By the film's end, she does have a child, but it is unstated whether she is still working, so that issue ultimately remains unresolved (although it is implied she now is a housewife).

Making Love was one of several mainstream Hollywood films to be released in 1982 dealing with themes of homosexuality in a more tolerant and sympathetic light. Others included Personal Best, Victor/Victoria, and Partners.

Release and public reception[edit]

Principal photography for Making Love commenced in February 1981 being completed that May auguring the film would be a high-profile summer release: however Making Love would not be released for almost a year, a key factor in this delay reportedly being the negative reaction of Marvin Davis the Denver oil tycoon who purchased 20th Century-Fox in April 1981 ("At a private screening of...'Making Love' he...bellows: 'You made a goddamn faggot movie!' and storms out").[7] Making Love would open during the "dump months" of 1982, but 20th Century-Fox hoped to boost the film to hit status, having devised a "three-pronged" advertising campaign costing $5 million - more than half the $8 million cost of making the film: besides being promoted as a "sympathetic view of...'coming out'" to draw gay audiences, Making Love was pitched to the "mainstream audience" as a "'women's film' - Hollywood marketese for 'soap opera'" - and also as a purported cinematic milestone, the latter a tactic to draw "educated young adult males".[8]

Opening 12 February 1982, Making Love was originally hailed as a hit, earning an inaugural four-day box office tally of $3 million and swiftly expanding its theatre count from 300 venues to 700.[9][10] However the strong opening of Making Love evidently exhausted any potential public interest in the film which would soon prove a costly flop:[11] with a total cost between $13-14 million - including distribution costs and the $5 million advertising campaigns - Making Love's total domestic box office tally would be reported as $6.1 million.[12] Reports of Sherry Lansing's 20 December 1982 resigning as 20th Century-Fox president noted: "The company has produced bomb after bomb under Lansing, including Author! Author!, Monsignor and Making Love" and that 20th Century-Fox would end 1982 with a loss of $16.9 million. (Lansing would subsequently work as an independent producer for Paramount Pictures.)[13] The studio wouldn't recoup their losses until the release of Return of The Jedi in the summer of 1983.

Critical reaction[edit]

Upon its release Making Love was typically dismissed by critics as a glossy soap opera which dodged its sensitive ostensibly core issue.[14]

Gay film historian Vito Russo wrote in The Celluloid Closet that straight critics found the film boring while gay critics, glad for any attention paid to the subject, praised it.[15] Making Love opened strong at the box office its first week, but poor word of mouth led to a large drop-off in box office receipts the following week.

The gay rights activist Dennis Altman argued in The Homosexualization of America (1982) that, of several films released in the United States in 1982 that dealt with homosexual themes, Making Love was the only one that "suggested a willingness to portray homosexual relations as equally valid as heterosexual ones" and that "the wariness with which the film was promoted suggests real change will be slow."[16]

Social critic Camille Paglia in 2006 cited Making Love, which she considers "intelligent", as her "favorite film to date about gay men."[17]

Home media[edit]

Making Love was released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on Region 1 DVD on February 7, 2006.

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film's theme song, "Making Love" performed by Roberta Flack, earned its composers – Burt Bacharach (lyrics), Bruce Roberts (lyrics/music), and Carole Bayer Sager (lyrics) – a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Song - Motion Picture.


  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p260
  2. ^ a b c d e Los Angeles Times 31 May 1981 "Gay Love Edges Into Mainstream" by Patricia Goldstone pp.29-30.(Calendar)
  3. ^ Baltimore Sun 4 February 1982 "'Making Love' is Making It - So Far" by Lou Cedrone p.12
  4. ^ Rutledge, p. 102
  5. ^ Los Angeles Times 10 February 1981 "'Making Love' Role Next for Ex-Angel" by Roderick Mann p.VI-6
  6. ^ Alexander Ryll. "Essential Gay Themed Films To Watch, Making Love". Gay Essential. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
  7. ^ "Life in the Foxhole: Insiders Recall 83 Years of Scandal and Stardom at 20th Century Fox". The Hollywood Reporter. 2 August 2018.
  8. ^ Los Angeles Times 17 February 1982 "Cruising For an Audience" by Patrick J. Buchanan p.32 (Calendar)
  9. ^ Pittsburgh Post Gazette 20 February 1982 "Fox Joins CBS Cable Venture" by Aljezn Harmetz p.18
  10. ^ Indianapolis Star 23 February 1982 "Gossip" by Liz Smith p. 17
  11. ^ Vancouver Province 2 May 1982 "Films That Are Gay Simply Don't Pay" by Ron Base p.8 (The Magazine)
  12. ^ Los Angeles Times 24 April 1983 "'Making Love' - A Writer Scorned?" by John M. Wilson p.25 (Calendar)
  13. ^ New York Daily News 21 December 1982 "People" ("Top Fem Quits Fox: Lansing to form own co?") by Phil Roura & Mike Poster p.C9
  14. ^ Multiple sources:
    • The New York Times 12 February 1982 "Making Love, Sudsy Romance"
    • Atlanta Constitution 12 February 1982 "Making Love Too Much a Soap Opera on Gay 'Problem'" by Eleanor Ringel p.7-B
    • Baltimore Sun 12 February 1982 "Homosexuality is Fairly Treated in the Gay Romance Making Love" by Stephen Hunter p.B6
    • Hackensack Record 12 February 1982 "New Angle on Triangle" by Jim Wright pp.B-1, B-16
    • New York Daily News 12 February 1982 "Friday Movies" by Kathleen Carroll p.5
    • Louisville Courier Journal 13 February 1982 "Making Love: a Bit Too 'Significant'" by David Goetz p.B6
    • Twin Falls Times News 19 March 1982 "Making Love: Hollywood's First Homosexual Soap Opera" by Richard Freedman p.B-4
    • Dayton Journal Herald 16 February 1982 "Making Love Seems Made For TV "by Terry Lawson p.19
    • Minneapolis Star Tribune 16 February 1982 "Making Love is '82-style Love Story" by Will Jones pp.5B, 11B
    • New York Magazine Vol 15 #12 (22 March 1982) "Whose Sex Is It Anyway?" by David Denby p.58
  15. ^ Rooney, David (1995-09-11). "The Celluloid Closet". Variety. Retrieved 2018-02-09.
  16. ^ Altman, Dennis (1983). The Homosexualization of America. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-8070-4143-2.
  17. ^ Mark Adnum (2006-11-01). "Bright Lights Film Journal :: Interview with Camille Paglia". Retrieved 2013-12-05.


  • Rutledge, Leigh (1987). The Gay Book of Lists. Boston, Alyson Publications. ISBN 1-55583-120-6.

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