It’s not to be confused with the George Cukor‘s ill-fated Let’s Make Love (1960) with Marilyn Monroe, Yves Montand and Frankie Vaughn. That’s a very different love-triangle.
The first wide-release studio film with a homosexual relationship at its center (and for decades, the last). Making Love (1982) follows Zack, a handsome empathetic doctor (who makes house calls!), played by Michael Ontkean, who is exploring his homosexuality with Harry Hamlin‘s Bart, a hedonistic pill-popping, pot-smoking writer. Zack is married to Kate Jackson, who had recently been a Charlie’s Angel. The film works as a melodrama, a weeper, a social issue film, an event movie, and even as proxy porn, or at least it did in 1982.
It’s not a perfect film, but it took a great big risk, and it’s a rare snapshot of Los Angeles’ gay life in the moment just before the plague. It is also, unavoidably, camp. Yet, it also is a reminder of the pre-AIDS gay life in the sexual liberation era, and how difficult it was, before the plague, for people to come to terms with their own gayness.
It is directed by Arthur Hiller who made a series of 1970s Hollywood romantic blockbusters such as Love Story (1970) and Silver Streak (1976). He was noted for his collaborations with screenwriters Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon: The Out-of-Towners (1970), Plaza Suite (1971), The Hospital (1971); plus, serious fare like The Man In The Glass Booth (1975).
Making Love is a love story built on a taboo social subject. The sympathetic made-for-television movie That Certain Summer (1972) with Martin Sheen and Hal Holbrook playing lovers had earlier tackled the same topic quite daringly. It was a pretty big deal, yet there had been no Hollywood feature film up to that point to address the ”issue” of homosexuality so directly. Making Love presents a much more honest portrayal of sexuality of gay guys of the era than Philadelphia (1993), where Tom Hanks contracts HIV/AIDS from a single blow job in the balcony of a seedy porn theatre.
Making Love‘s opening credits show stills of its three stars. Ontkean, Jackson and Hamlin were actors known for their work in television and after the film was released, they returned to television. In fact, Ontkean and Jackson worked together on television before, starring on The Rookies (1972-76) a decade earlier.
Ontkean and Hamlin were both heartthrobs at the time with real potential for becoming full-on movie stars. Ontkean had made quite the impression with his infamous super sexy ice-skating jockstrap striptease in George Roy Hill‘s Slapshot (1977), a hockey-themed flick with Paul Newman. Hamlin had appeared nearly-naked in the hit sword-and-sandal epic Clash Of The Titans (1981) with Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier.
Hamlin later claimed that his appearance in Making Love probably killed his film career, and indeed, both actors ended up mostly doing television after the film was released: Ontkean as the endearing and enduring Sheriff Harry S. Truman in David Lynch‘s Twin Peaks (1990-91). Hiller had wanted Tom Berenger, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, or William Hurt to play Zack before casting Ontkean.
Hamlin went on to work as a regular on the series L.A. Law, (1986-1994) receiving two Golden Globe nominations, and Mad Men (2007-2015), receiving an Emmy Award nomination.
Jackson moved on to television also, with Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1983–87) and Baby Boom (1989-90).
Barry Sandler wrote the autobiographical screenplay with his then boyfriend A. Scott Berg. Sandler already had an impressive résumé including the romantic biopic Gable and Lombard (1976); the Raquel Welch roller derby movie Kansas City Bomber (1972); and The Mirror Crack’d (1980), based on Agatha Christie‘s Miss Marple novel, starring Angela Lansbury, Kim Novak, Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, and Rock Hudson.
As the hugely anticipated release of the semi-autobiographical Making Love, which was being touted as the first studio film to treat gay people respectfully, approached, Sandler knew he’d need to be open about being gay. In an interview with The Advocate, 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 now teaches screenwriting at the University of Central Florida. Berg went on to write acclaimed biographies; his bio of aviator Charles Lindbergh, published in 1998, becoming a New York Times bestseller, and won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize. Hamlin still works as an actor, but Ontkean and Jackson have both retired. Hiller served as President of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) from 1989 to 1993. His final credits rolled in 2016, taken by natural causes.
The film’s theme song, Making Love, was performed by Roberta Flack and was written by Burt Bacharach, Bruce Roberts, and Carole Bayer Sager. It was Flack’s last Top 40 hit. When asked if she was nervous about recording the song knowing the film’s subject matter, Flack responded:
Afraid of singing a song about love? Never. I was so glad when that song charted. People who did not know that the song was about love between two men loved that song. I would talk about it in my shows, and about how love is love. Between a man and a woman, between two men, between two women. Love is universal, like music.
Making Love presents a much more honest portrayal of the sexually-charged era of gaydom than Philadelphia (1993), which expected us to believe that Tom Hanks contracted AIDS from a one wayward blow job in the balcony of a dirty porn theatre. Making Love was the first of several Hollywood films to be released in 1982 dealing with gay characters in a more tolerant and sympathetic light, including Personal Best, Victor Victoria, and Partners.