Peter Bogdanovich on the Making of 'At Long Last Love' (Q&A)

Peter Bogdanovich

The legendary director reveals the death and rebirth of his 1975 musical, making movies with much younger girlfriends, going broke, and his latest film with Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach.

This story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Hollywood Reporter: On June 4, Fox released on Blu-ray your 1975 musical At Long Last Love, with Cybill Shepherd and Burt Reynolds singing Cole Porter. How did this happen?

Peter Bogdanovich: Somebody said, "I saw your movie on Netflix." I watched it and said, "Wait a minute, I cut this scene. It's not my [1975 theatrical] version." What was surprising was that it was good, very close to the original screenplay, which I wrote. We found out [the mysterious edit] was probably done by James Blakely, head of Fox editorial, who died five years ago. He watched us ruin the movie in the cutting process. He said, "I'll cut a version the way it should be." I never knew it. I called Jim Gianopulos, chairman of the Fox studio, and he said, "You're saying there's a version that exists that you had nothing to do with, and you like it? That's one for the history books." I added a minute and a half. Fox had to recut the negative and re-time the negative [for the Blu-ray].

THR: That's a big deal. They do that for Ang Lee [Ride With the Devil].

Bogdanovich: Jim Gianopulos is a very nice guy.

THR: Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd are not song-and-dance actors.

Bogdanovich: They could carry a tune and put a song over actingwise. It was shot the way they did Les Mis. I loved the spontaneity of live singing. I asked Fox to invent for me some kind of tiny speaker that would fit inside the actor's ear. They had earpieces, and there was an electronic keyboard attached to a camera car, and they sang to that. Subsequently we put the orchestra in. I was doing something they used to do in the very early days of sound, 1929, 1930.

THR: Frank Marshall, now a producer for Steven Spielberg but then your associate producer, says At Long Last Love got him arrested.

Bogdanovich: He got arrested in Pasadena, because people were picking up the signal of this tune going into the actors' ears and he was accused of operating an illegal radio station.

THR: Frank says you both thought it would be a hit when you were making it.

Bogdanovich: We were all convinced it was gonna be this out of the box hit.

THR: It got a pretty hostile reception.

Bogdanovich: The biggest problem when you're making a musical is evaluating the right balance between the song and the dialogue, and we never had the chance. On Broadway, you do 60 performances before you open -- you need the audience feedback. We had two previews, one out of focus, and it was mixed badly so you couldn't hear it. I made some cuts and didn't preview that, and it opened. It was a disaster. Roger Ebert liked it anyway, and the critic from Newsweek. But if you don't have the right construction, it's not gonna work. Now we have it, thanks to James Blakely.

THR: You had famously left Polly Platt for Shepherd on The Last Picture Show. Was that the origin of the hostility to At Long Last Love? That and your age difference?

Bogdanovich: She was 21, I was 30. We got on people's nerves. Cary Grant told me, "For Christ's sake, stop telling people you're happy. Stop saying you're in love." I said, "But everybody loves a lover." He said, "Don't you believe it. Because they're not happy. They're not in love." We were stigmatized.

THR: In 1980, you made They All Laughed, with Dorothy Stratten.

Bogdanovich: A favorite picture of mine. Tragically, she was killed. I was crazy after she was killed. I said I'd [release] it myself and lost my shirt. I lost $6 million, lost my house. We sued Hugh Hefner. He accused me of having an affair with Dorothy's sister Louise. She was 11½. It was like a shipwreck, and we both wound up hanging onto the same piece of driftwood. We were family and eventually became lovers. Fifteen years we were married.

THR: That's a bigger age gap than you and Cybill.

Bogdanovich: She was 20 when we got married.

THR: One reads that Louise talked about you being her boyfriend as young as 14.

Bogdanovich: Oh, no, no, no. That's not true. She was about 18.

THR: And that she had surgery to make her look more like her sister Dorothy.

Bogdanovich: Absolute bullshit.

THR: Are you going to do this new movie with Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson, Squirrels to the Nuts?

Bogdanovich: It's a comedy, a screwball comedy. Louise Stratten and I wrote it together. Wes and Noah are two of the producers. I call them "Son Noah and Son Wes." We're going to start shooting July 15 in New York, with Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Cybill Shepherd, Eugene Levy and Jason Schwarzman.

THR: What's the lesson of At Long Last Love?

Bogdanovich: If you hang in there, maybe something good will happen. I showed it to Cybill, and she cried. It's kind of like having a child that was mutilated and returned to you whole. It was pretty emotional for both of us.

This is an edited version of an interview conducted by THR's Kim Masters for KCRW. Listen to it here.