How Making Love Changed Us

Screenwriter Barry Sandler discusses the 1982 gay-themed drama, actors who refused to star in it, and its lasting legacy.



Screenwriter Barry Sandler was ready for a challenge. By 1980, Sandler had racked up an impressive résumé of glossy mainstream credits that included the romantic biopic Gable and Lombard, the Raquel Welch roller derby vehicle Kansas City Bomber, and the all-star whodunnit Evil Under the Sun. The time had come for him to write something more personal. With the encouragement of his then-boyfriend, writer A. Scott Berg, Sandler penned the screenplay for Making Love, about a married doctor (Michael Ontkean) who comes out to his wife (Kate Jackson) after an affair with a gay writer (Harry Hamlin). As the hugely anticipated release of the semi-autobiographical film, regarded by many as the first studio movie to treat gay people respectfully, approached, Sandler knew he’d need to be open about his being gay. In an interview with The Advocate at the time, he spoke about how liberated he felt. “Once you acknowledge to the world, once there are no more secrets, you’re no longer concerned about going to a party with another guy. I don’t give a shit anymore. This is who I am.” Sandler, who now teaches screenwriting at the University of Central Florida, would go on to write numerous other films, including the electrifying Ken Russell-Kathleen Turner collaboration Crimes of Passion, which he is planning to mount for the stage. The GLAAD Award-winning writer speaks with The Advocate about the 1982 film, reveals which actors refused to star in it, and shares what he sees as its legacy.

The Advocate: What inspired you to write Making Love?
Barry Sandler: I was involved in a relationship with Scott Berg, and it was around the late ’70s-early ’80s, and I was sort of reassessing where I wanted to go as a screenwriter. I had done a number of films that were more glossy and Hollywood. These were films that really didn’t challenge me in terms of who I was and where I wanted to go, you know, probing complex themes that I was looking to do. Scott was really instrumental in getting me to dig deeper and he really thought it would be a good, not really a challenge, but to do the first gay-themed film to come out of Hollywood that shows a positive portrayal of gay people. It had never been done before, and … have you ever seen The Celluloid Closet?

Many times.
I’m in that film, so we talk about it. Whenever a film depicted gay people, they were either the butt of jokes or comic figures to laugh at or suicidal or desperate or pathetic. Growing up and being inundated with those kind of gay images, it forced a lot of people into the closet or else they grew up with a feelings of fear or shame or guilt or unwillingness to admit to who or what you are. With Scott pushing me and my own conscious need as a writer to probe deeper and also, you know, the idea of writing a movie that would hopefully, if not reverse the trend, certainly be a breakthrough in terms of depicting gay people as real human beings who go through, you know, who are recognizable and identifiable, and who have the same kinds of needs and problems as anyone else, and most importantly can accept our identity and live a happy, successful, gratifying life, accepting who you are, being honest with who you are, and I thought that was a very, very important movie in 1982 to make.

Tags: film