Friday, November 10, 2017


In 1970--decades before the topic of surrogacy became a standby staple of Lifetime TV thrillers, mediocre comedy fodder (Paternity, Baby Mama), or a nightmare vision of a dystopian future (The Handmaid’s Tale)--it was considered a subject so unique and unusual that critics and audiences alike were at a bit of a loss as to how to respond to a movie proposing surrogacy as a legitimate alternative for a couple wanting a child but unable to conceive.  
Barbara Hershey as Patricia "Tish" Gray
Sam Groom as Jay Wilcox
Collin Wilcox as Suzanne Wilcox
Scott Glenn as Tad Jacks
The Baby Maker, the debut film of Oscar-nominated screenwriter James Bridges (The Paper Chase, The China Syndrome) tells the story of a Los Angles hippie (Barbara Hershey, the then go-to flower child of the movies) who, for a substantial amount of money and because she just loves being pregnant (“Proof of the reality of my own existence”), agrees to bear a child for a square-but-nice, well-to-do Brentwood couple (Sam Groom & Collin Wilcox). Combining as it does—with varying degrees of success—elements of the well-intentioned Generation Gap TV movie (Maybe I’ll Come Home in The Spring); the quickie cash-in counterculture youth flick (1969s natural childbirth gimmick comedy Generation); the racy and “with it” social exposé (The Christine Jorgensen Story); and the indie character drama (Five Easy Pieces), The Baby Maker proved a hard picture to categorize and an even tougher film to market.
"The kind of film that makes talk!" 
This ungrammatical tagline underscores the overall
please-don't-let-me-be-misunderstood tone of this newspaper ad (click to enlarge)

Young audiences deemed The Baby Maker "too straight" and mainstream, just another example of a major studio depicting hippie counterculture inauthentically on the screen (a valid criticism considering The Baby Maker has a scene depicting Hershey's tree-hugger character literally hugging a tree). Meanwhile, mainstream critics labeled the film “bizarre”(The Miami News) and tripped over their words as they tried to frame the movie's then-daring themes in ways that didn't suggest simple exploitation and sensationalism. On that score, The Baby Maker's marketing campaign didn't help matters much.
Audiences titillated by the film’s teasingly salacious ad copy: “She’ll live with a couple. Share the husband. They get a baby that’s at least half theirs. She gets the joy of making it” (Time capsule note: the term "making it" was also '60s slang for having sex, so the ad engages in a bit of double entendre) were inevitably disappointed. 
Imagine expecting a movie about a hippy-dippy tie-dye three-way and instead find yourself watching a thoughtful, often clinical, nearly two-hour character drama contemplating the permanence of decisions in the era of "If it feels good, do it." 
Lili Valenty as Mrs. Culnick, the sweet little old lady go-between who
 facilitates the pairing of the childless couple with a willing surrogate

It also didn't help marketing matters much that America's love affair with the hippie was on the wane. A few months prior to the release of The Baby Maker, John G. Avildsen released a low-budget social melodrama titled Joe that climaxed in a vigilante massacre at a hippie commune by a pair of ultra-conservative working-class reactionaries. The film struck an odd, cathartic chord with a public still reeling from the hippie violence detailed in the ongoing Manson trials, and became a controversial sleeper hit. In this social climate, The Baby Maker’s positive depiction of hippie culture and the idealism of youth started to look a tad dated and cliché.

All of which contributed to The Baby Maker enjoying only the briefest of theatrical runs before promptly disappearing from both movie screens and people's memories. This in spite of it having received a good share of favorable notices for its performances. Barbara Hershey attracted a lot of Best Actress Oscar nomination buzz in the trade papers, the film ultimately garnering an Academy Award nod for its original song score by composer Fred Karlin. (Karlin did win the Oscar that year, but in another category for a different film: Best Song “For All We Know” from Lovers and Other Strangers.)
"I was just looking at your records. You have an awful lot of Frank Sinatra."
The surrogate mother meets (and sizes up) the father

Although I recall when The Baby Maker was originally released, I don’t recall it ever appearing on television or even coming out on video. My reaction to the newspaper ads at the time was likely in line with how they appeared to most people: the film looked like cheap exploitation Drive-In fare. Not that that had ever proved a deterrent to my interest in a movie before. It's just that with both Myra Breckinridge and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls hitting the screens at the same time that year, my reasoning was that if I was going to see vulgar trash, it might as well be big-budget vulgar trash from a major studio.

The opportunity to see The Baby Maker came in 1975 when I was still in high school and working as an usher in San Francisco's Alhambra Theater. The Baby Maker played as the bottom half on a double bill with The Happy Hooker, of all things (although, as the guy who also set up the outdoor advertising, I have to say this was one of our more eye-catching marquees). By this time Barbara Hershey had officially changed her name to Barbara Seagull (an ill-advised phase which lasted about two years), and hippies in movies were starting to look as quaint as beatniks. Nevertheless, for the week of the film's run, I saw it about three times. And absolutely loved it. 
Tad and Tish
One of the things I like about how the character of Tish is conceived is that she never thinks twice about treating her body as her own property to do with as she wishes. Although she is in an open relationship with her boyfriend Tad (for all of six months), when she decides to be a surrogate she doesn't seek his permission or approval. The scene where she finally tells him is touching and beautifully played. It feels light years away from how I imagine the scene would be written today. 

Before making his directing debut with The Baby Maker, James Bridges was a successful screenwriter who got his start working in television (Bridges wrote one of my all-time favorite episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: “The Unlocked Window”) and had a background of acting and directing for the theater. Dissatisfied with the quality of the films made from his scripts (The Appaloosa, Colossus: The Forbin Project), Bridges decided that he’d try his hand at directing direct his next screenplay  -“I can fuck ‘em up as good as they can!” The Baby Maker's lead character is based on a woman he and life-partner/business partner Jack Larson knew from a Venice Beach bar called The Carousel. A bohemian, free-spirit type who enjoyed the feeling of being pregnant and made extra money by serving as a surrogate mother for childless couples. 
It's Complicated
The Baby Maker is a twist on the classic triangle, the third party in this instance being recruited in a most impersonal way to participate in a most personal form of interrelation. In those pre-in vitro days, the fact that the surrogate is to be impregnated “the old-fashioned way” may have served as the film's principle gimmick and marketing hook, but The Baby Maker distinguishes itself in the manner in which its sensational premise actually serves as a springboard for a thoughtful examination of culture conflict. The film's humor and heart arise out of the clash of generations, personalities, backgrounds, and the unanticipated emotions arising out of what ostensibly is--in form and function--a business arrangement.

In all, Bridges set a heady task for himself in his first outing as director. And while he’s not always successful in balancing the film's varying shifts in tone or in sustaining the narrative thrust of the story over the length of the film’s running time (sometimes it feels up in the air as to which character's story the film is trying to tell); it does feel as though he's telling a story he believes in. 
 Collin Wilcox made her memorable film debut as Mayella in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Critics were divided over The Baby Maker’s overall merits, but the quality of Barbara Hershey’s performance was undisputed. And without a doubt, her performance is the single most distinguished takeaway from the entire film. Barbara Hershey’s real-life hippie-dippy reputation may have blighted her early career (and indeed may have cost her a much-deserved Oscar nod for her role here), but it’s precisely her naturalness in the role that grounds the film. Though her character may have been written as an archetype, it's Hershey who comes across as the real thing. Hers is the film's defining voice and ultimately its saving grace.
Hershey, who just the year before gave a truly chilling performance as a sociopath in Frank Perry's shattering Last Summer (1969) gives another incredible performance in this, her 5th film. Always an underrated actress, she is The Baby Maker's Most Valuable Player. In scene after scene, whether it be some bit of dialogue that would sound hokey or laughable coming from someone else, or a moment when the film feels to be veering into soapy waters, Hershey’s unselfconscious and nuanced performance moors potential contrivance to truth.
Making his film debut, actor Scott Glenn is very good as Tish's sweet but immature boyfriend. 
In 1980 Glenn would go on to have a featured role in James Bridges' Urban Cowboy

As the middle-class couple, Collin Wilcox and stolidly handsome Sam Groom supply more traditional performances which, by comparison, feel more generic, but both are quite good. (Groom's sizable head and chiseled features made him a natural for the closeup-heavy medium of television, where he found success in the '70s as the star of the syndicated program Police Surgeon). Wilcox is a standout as Suzanne, playing the character as a pragmatic but somewhat neurotic woman. The Baby Maker actually excels in making women the dominant players in the film by placing their unique bonds and relationships front and center, and having their actions move the narrative forward. A young Jeannie Berlin is wonderful as Tish’s outspoken, activist best friend.
Tish uses some of her money to help support her single mom (Phyllis Coates) and her grandmother (Madge Kennedy) who both live in a Venice trailer park. In a sea of post-Easy Rider male-centric buddy films, The Baby Maker is unique for its dominant female perspective. 

I’m a big believer in the tenet that the engagement of different voices can’t help but result in different stories. The subject matter of The Baby Maker couldn’t be more heterosexual, but as a story written and produced by two gay men, I feel it qualifies as a keen example of Queer Cinema.
For all its progressive ideas, the youth movement and hippie counterculture (at least as it has been depicted in films) has always been woefully male-centric, conventional, and in most cases downright misogynist in its attitudes towards women. For example: The Strawberry Statement, a 1970 film about campus protests, couldn't conceive of anything more important for its female activists to do beyond making Xerox copies of protest pamphlets and doing the marketing. To the best of my recollection, The Baby Maker is one of the few hippie-themed films to present the a woman's point of view as the dominant perspective. A genuine woman's perspective, not a fetishized, free-love, heterosexual male gaze fantasy of the sort depicted in films like ChastityCandy, or There's a Girl in My Soup.
The Baby Maker producer Jack Larson (l.) & director James Bridges met when both appeared as actors in the film Johnny Trouble (1957). Openly gay, they remained lovers/partners till Bridges' death in 1993. Larson passed away in 2015
For its time, The Baby Maker’s feminist perspective, non-sexualized heroine, and unorthodox domestic relationships were a subtle challenge to the heteronormative status quo; something I wholly attribute to the gay sensibilities of its creators. Like the works of playwrights Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, I think what’s brilliant about Bridges’ screenplay is that it looks at heterosexuality through the projected outsider insights of Queer perception.
In a reversal of a common youth film trope, the male bodies are the
ones exposed and made the object of the female gaze in The Baby Maker

Being that I was just a child when my family lived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the late ‘60s, I tend not to be a very good judge of what passes for the authentic or inauthentic representation of hippie culture in movies. Largely shielded from the sex and drugs side of it all, my kid's-eye-view memory of the era consists largely of its pop-cultural trappings. My nostalgia buttons can be pushed by the most superficial signposts of the era, so even though The Baby Maker takes place in Los Angeles, one of its major perks for me is how often it triggers moments of "I remember that!" memory-jogging that take me back to my San Francisco roots.
Fringed suede/leather jackets were all the rage, and everyone seemed to know how to tie-dye but me.  My elder sister (who really caught the hippie bug) was a whiz, but I tended to use so much bleach that my garments actually disintegrated. Hitchhikers were visible all over San Francisco, but my family was so large (me & 4 sisters) that picking up thumb-trippers was never a practical option even if my parents were open to it. Which they weren't. This suited me just fine, for The Doors' Riders on the Storm  was being played on the radio at the time and I'd had the holy hell scared out of me by the lyric "There's a killer on the road..."

War Is Not Healthy For Children & Other Living Things
I remember the many protests and picket-sign slogans of the day, the above being so ubiquitous as to have been used as the poster graphic for the 1971 film Bless the Beasts and the Children. In this scene, Jeannie Berlin (daughter of writer/director Elaine May) leads a protest against a store selling toy guns.

Pop-Top Fashion
From roughly 1965 to 1975, beverage cans came with disposable pop-tops. Hippies, being ecology-minded and all, took to using these aluminum tabs to create fashion and "art." Everything from hats, dresses, and vests were made out of these things. I hope she'll forgive me for ratting on her, but my older sister (Yes, Ms. Tie-dye) made herself a pop-top headband just like this. 

Home Decor
The days of gigantic stereos, door-size coffee tables, and sofas that seat 20

Candles, Candles, Everywhere
Candle stores and vendors were like the Starbucks of the Sixties; you couldn't take two steps on Telegraph Avenue without bumping into one. I had a beloved star-shaped rainbow candle in my room (back when they were, y'know, just rainbows and not my way of coming out to my parents) and, of course, my sister made her own 

The Single Wing Turquoise Bird
How's that for a '60s name? Psychedelic light shows and avant-garde multimedia theater was all the rage. Not only did every youth-culture movie feature at least one sequence of freak-out visuals, but the phenomenon went mainstream with 2001: A Space Odyssey. In The Baby Maker, Tish and friends attend a light show performance by The Single Wing Turquoise Bird, a real-life performance troupe that is still in existence.

Although it’s one of my favorites, I don't mean to paint The Baby Maker as some kind of undiscovered classic. It’s shot in the flat, undistinguished style of a TV movie, the hippie trappings and dialogue can be a bit distancing, and modern audiences may find the tempo a tad sluggish. But it's notable now for its "my body, my choice" attitude about a woman's personal freedom and pregnancy.
A consistent theme in many of my favorite films is the human need for contact, so I'm a sucker for movies about people who misguidedly assume that independence means the absence of emotional attachments. Lastly, anybody who knows me knows how much I love a good cry at the movies, and the ending of The Baby Maker never fails to get the ol' waterworks going.

The Superman Connection
The Baby Maker producer Jack Larson was best known as cub reporter Jimmy Olson on the TV series The Adventures of Superman from 1952 to 1958. That show's original Lois Lane (1st season only) was actress Phyllis Coates. Larson and Coates remained friends over the years, leading to her being cast in The Baby Maker in the role of Barbara Hersey's mother.
Phyllis Coates, Jack Larson, and Ann Doran in The Adventures of Superman
Phyllis Coates as Patricia's mother

Brenda Sykes (Cleopatra Jones) appears in an unbilled bit part as a woman
with whom Tad shares a joint and a flirtation
In 1985 I got a job as a dance/exercise extra in the virtually unwatchable James Bridges film Perfect, starring John Travolta & Jamie Lee Curtis. Although the aerobics class scenes were shot on location at the Sports Connection gym in West Hollywood, this particular scene was shot months later on a set designed to look exactly like the gym. These reshoots were necessitated by the feeling from the higher-ups that the previously shot aerobic class scenes weren't "sexy enough,"
Aside from having to do something like six hours of pelvic tucks, what's most memorable about this particular sequence is that, after filming had begun, shooting halted in order for the costume people to figure out a way to sew up the legs to Travolta's shorts in order to give him a more pronounced package. When Travolta returned a half-hour later with a more camera-ready crotch, it also appeared that a bit of filler had been added. Jack Larson served as producer on this film as well and was often present on what proved to be a very gay (and happy) set.

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2017


  1. OMG, Ken, there you are, dancer-cising with Travolta himself!! Woohoo, Perfect really will be worth watching again, can't wait!!

    Seriously, though, I had no idea that Bridges was openly gay...recently rewatched Urban Cowboy with Glenn and Travolta, and I always loved the original Paper Chase films ...he was a great storyteller...and NO CLUE that his partner was Jimmy Olsen from Superman!

    Miss Hershey (Seagull!!) is marvelous in every role, and I look forward to seeing her in The Baby Maker--which I had never even heard of till reading your article. My favorite of all her performances is as Mia's adulterous sister in Hannah! (And she is still working today, just saw her on an episode of the disappointing Damien Omen TV reboot...)

    But now I am so distracted by Perfect I can't think of anything else...:-)

    1. Hi Chris
      Oh, my've actually seen "Perfect" once and are going to subject yourself to it again? Even though it has lots of happy memories for me, I can't bear it.
      The whole shoot reminded me of what it must have been like behind the scenes of "Can't Stop the Music."
      Marvelous that this post held so many heretofore unkown bits of info for you. I think Bridges' homosexuality (and his very famous boyfriend) stayed so much an open-yet-unknown fact of life because, in spite of his successes, he only directed 8 films and his name just doesn't come up that often in film circles.
      I am a huge fan of Miss Hershey, too (oddly enough, I've never seen "Beaches" the one Barbara Hershey film even non-fans have seen). I like her a great deal in "Hannah and Her Sisters" too, theough it probably rates behind "Last Summer" and this one for me. She's just so consistantly good. Her kid goes to my dance studio (martial arts area) but I have yet to meet her. Just as well, I'd make a fool of myself.
      Thanks so much for checking out my post, Chris! And my apologies in advance for what you're in for with "Perfect"!

  2. Hello Ken !

    Very interesting ! I had no idea Barbara Hershey had a hippie past or public image. Hence the weird feeling now from having seen her in a very few movies where she was the "evil" character : The Entity, Black Swan, Hannah and her sisters, Lantana... Always thought she was a very talented actress.
    And young Scott Glenn : Oh my god !
    My curiosity is definitely piqued. :)

  3. Hi Ivar
    Indeed, Barbara Hershey was quite noted for her hippie lifestyle back in the day, and, much like Mia Farrow and her counterculture leanings, conservative Hollywood kind of gave her the cold shoulder when it came to industry recognition.
    I first saw her on this short-lived western TV show called THE MUNROES in which she stood out. Even if you catch her in old episodes of GIDGET you see there is something special about her.
    Very interesting in your noting how she came to be associated with so many projects as an evil character; back when this film came out, it was one of her rare "sympathetic" roles. She was often cast as tough, self-reliant young women.
    And Scott Glenn is SO young in this. Apparently he had worked in some play for Jack Larson. I'm not sure I've seen him in many roles, but clearly he was always very fit!
    Thank you for commenting and reading this, Ivar! Perhaps your piqued curiosity will lead you to checking this out one day.

  4. Hi Ken!

    Thanks so much for covering this. It took me about forty years to finally see this even though I had the movie tie-in paperback and soundtrack when I was young. It was so absorbing and moving in such a quiet and unexpected way.

    As for Collin Wilcox, have you ever seen The Name of the Game is Kill? (1968). It worth seeing if you're in any way a fan of 60s psycho thrillers even though canny viewers may catch on early to the twist ending. I'd recommend it...especially for T.C. Jones as Collin's mother.

    Thanks Ken!

    1. Scott Glen had a part in HBO's The Leftovers. He was given a star turn in one of the episodes of the last season and was interviewed in Vulture about it. Still working! And I remember Sam Groom from the soap Another World. I have not seen the Babymaker but enjoyed reading about it and your reflections on Barbara. You're right, she has that indescribable something and "the look".

    2. Hi Max
      Wow! The paperback AND the soundtrack album! I'm impressed! I remember coming across the soundtrack album back when it came out (I saw it in the record section of the San Francisco Woolworth's on Powell St) and after having seen the film, always regretting not buying it. Happily (thanks, ebay!) I finally got my hands on the LP. The book I never came across. Since it was from an original screenplay, it would have been amusing to read how certain scenes were descibed (like the blue paint scene) or what emotions were ascribed to certain actions.
      I have never heard of the film you reference, but I love a good thriller, so i will keep my eyes peeled for it in the future. And T.C. Jones as Collin's mother?! Small world: Jones was featured in that James Bridges-penned episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Good to hear from you, Max. Thanks for commenting!

    3. Hello Loulou
      I didn't know Glenn was in that HBO program! So impressive, all these actors with these long careers. They don't get a lot of spotlight attention, but they have longer shelf-lifes than many more well-known stars.
      Also, I didn't know Sam Groom had moved onto soaps, but everythign about him radiates "TV" to me, so I'm sure he was ideal in his element.
      Barbara Hershey has weathered a lot and had a well-deserved long career. Seeing how good she is here makes what has followed in her life a fulfillment of all that potential.
      Glad you read the post, and I thank you for commenting!

    4. And thanks for the shout out for "Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring". Man did that movie hit me when I was a kid, we (3 sisters, Mom) all watched it together as family. I can still picture Sally furiously vacuuming that living room floor. It's right up there with her Steel Magnolias cemetery scene. I was too young to be a hippie but lived in a college town so there was a little of that element around. It certainly held a fascination, mainly I guess for long haired men.

    5. Loulou
      hey, glad you remember that TV movie too. And fondly! Not exactly sure why, but MAYBE I"LL COME HOME IN THE SPRING was a very memorable film for me too. That vacuuming scene stuck with me, and for some reason the whole feel of it (I had an older sister who struck out on her own) just hit home.

  5. What a fun review! A flick worth seeking out. I love Collin Wilcox (there's so many great performances in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, it took years of rewatching it before I realized what an amazing job she did on the witness stand as Mayella). I was recently watching the season one DVD set of DR KILDARE (as everyone should) and she had a terrific role in the episode "Solomon's Choice" as a pregnant woman who didn't want to keep her baby (with another favorite Barbara Baxley as a nurse who has had several miscarriages and wants the baby--but I digress). (One more digression: this episode--from 1962--also had a lot of pregnant women walking around the hospital chain-smoking cigarettes.) Collin was a fascinating actress. The supporting cast of THE BABY MAKER is really impressive. And thanks for the ass shot of Scott Glenn!

    I think you need to devote an entire post to your six hours of pelvic thrusts with John Travolta on the set of PERFECT. This was around the time that (suposedly) Travolta was having an affair with porn daddy Paul Barresi (who is also in PERFECT). Did you see any thrusting off-camera? Thanks for another entertaining entry! Kevin

    1. Hi Kevin
      Those old TV episodics are a wealth of wonderful performances and a bonanza of early career "star-sightings." My older sister (not the hippie one I embarrass in this post) had a huge crush on Dr. Kildare, so in the days of single TV housholds, I saw a great many of those episodes, but not since original run.
      The episode you describe sounds amusing, what with all the chain-smoking moms. In THE BABY MAKER, they demand that Hershey's character give up pot while prgnant, but they are always offering her a drink!

      Collin Wilcox is a very good here, so as a fan, Ihope you get to check it out. And glad you appreciated the Scott Glenn Butt shot! I debated with myself over whether to go for the modest shot featured, or a more explicit rear-view, or even his brief full frontal. i still wonder if I made the right call by going "discreet."
      And yes, I saw Mr. Baressi a lot during the making of PERFECT and wish i could say I picked up on something between him and Travolta, but back then I only knew him from his porn stuff. The whole PERFECT shoot has a REALLY gay vibe, with all these Chippendale fellows in the cast...I remember when we shot the closing gym shots with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner. He had not then come out of the closet, but me and some of the gay extras I befriended all had our gaydar beeping when he, Larson, Bridges, and Travolta were around. Like I said, the shoot felt like what the YMCA scene in CANT STOP THE MUSIC mus have been like.

      Very pleased you enjoyed this piece on the film,a nd thanks for giving Collin Wilcox fans a tip regarding where they can find her on DVD. I enjoyed reading your comments and thank you for contrubuting to making this section such a fun read for everbody!
      Come back again!

    2. I'm curious, when you where on set was there a "wow this is really going to suck" feeling? I guess no one sets out to make a bad movie.

    3. I wasn't privy for the dramatic scenes, but in retrospect, I'd say the overall feel of the shoot fell under "hubris." People overriding feel was that what SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was to disco, PERFECT was going to be for the aerobics craze (which was ridiculously popular at the time).
      So many of the people involved in the hit URBAN COWBOY was reassembled, Travolta had not yet become a punchline, and they friggin' Gordon Willis of THE GODFATHER and MANHATTAN for cinematography.
      With so many successful people attached to the project there was really an air of delusion. It seemed like everyone was too sure of themselves and that we were making the perfect film at the perfect time, beating everybody to what was surely going to be a Flashdance -like wave of aerobics films.

      For example: Bridges told us that he wanted that ridiculous scene of dueling aerobic class pelvis thrusts to be the aerobics version to that oft-imitated sexy eating scene in TOM JONES.
      So, you're right, no one sets out to make a bad movie, but when we were all called back in several months later for re-shoots, by then there seemed to be something in the air that all was not well.

  6. Argyle here. I think I managed to see this somehow, maybe on TV? I definitely remember when it came out; just the title was an attention grabber. I guess I was 12. At least where I was (suburban South Carolina) babies were things older married people had although you did occasionally read or hear about “unwanted pregnancy” which seems like a sort of passive, disconnected phrase. I do remember seeing commercials on TV for the a network showing of the movie “Joy in the Morning” (1965, Yvette Mimieux, Richard Chamberlain, overwrought) that seemed to be about the perils of sex. Also “Mr and Mrs Bo Jo Jones” (1971, also overwrought) that I think was actually about an “unwanted” pregnancy. I guess my point is that for me, at that time, there was a very strong message of sex leads to pregnancy which leads to problems which leads to doom. I had two sisters, 2 and 4 years older, and I think I “osmosed” from them the same lessons and sense of danger. Fun! And it took! I can remember (maybe not shock) but a small detonation still in 1986 when Madonna told her dad not to preach because she was “keeping (her) baby.” I guess what I’m trying to communicate is that in 1970 when you hear about a movie called “The Baby Maker” and understand that it’s about a single girl, in California, who uses her biology to produce a baby for a couple that she just sort of knows, it crosses all kinds of boundaries and generally suggests that maybe there are other ways to think about things, to put it mildly. I’m pretty sure I didn’t reflexively judge or scorn the character in “The Baby Maker”, but I’m pretty sure I did have to stop and recalibrate a few things. At the time, the fact that it involved Barbara Hershey would have also given me pause. For me and my sisters there was a kind of triumvirate of Barbara Hershey, Season Hubley, and Kay Lenz who all seemed to play enviable (looks, hair, clothes, status) but flawed (self-centered, self-righteous) young women whose curiousity/willfullness caused them to stray into perilous territory (men, drugs, social situations) that eventually had major impact on their lives. (As I think through this it occurs to me that Barbara Hershey usually ended up with the best outcome of the three; maybe her innate character?) I feel like this all sounds really harsh and horrible. It was slightly horrible. I think we were scared of life. And those young women enacted the perils so we judged them as silly but were secretly fascinated.

    I don’t think I can un-paint myself out of this corner, so I’ll just close with some random, somewhat related thoughts. 1. I have gotten to where I truly appreciate and admire Barbara Hershey. For me, she was one of the best things in “Black Swan” and although I can’t make myself watch it, I always have a suspicion that she must be incredible in “Hoosiers.” I actually sat on the floor of a movie theater lobby cross-legged with David Carradine when he was doing promotion for “Bound for Glory” which I think was around the time he was with Ms. Hershey. 2. Some “hippies” could be self-righteous sometimes: my slightly older cousins certainly could be, but on the other hand, they could play the guitar and introduced me to Joni Mitchell. And I have come to understand, I think, that not behaving the way society expects sometimes is an absolute necessity. 3. My significant other’s cousin was played by Kay Lenz in a TV movie and she could easily join that triumvirate, so maybe there is something to the casting and the archetype. Thanks, Ken, for bearing with me.

    1. Hi Argyle
      You honestly shouldn't feel so apologetic about your really shed a fascinating and insightful light on the mindset of 1971 contributing to the uneven reception to THE BABY MAKER.
      There was indeed this pervasive, knee-jerk, anti-feminist mentality that cloaked all childbirth outside of wedlock in terms of a "tragedy" that befell wayward girls.
      THE BABY MAKER was the antithesis of the films you named (do you remember a Marlo Thomas film titled JENNY, all about an unwed mother?) all of them kind of "Reefer Madness"-like responses to The Pill and women having sexual and reproductive freedom.
      So your points--as presented through the prism of personal experience and memory--are well made.

      I think the unorthodox focus of this film is largely due to it being the product of gay men. Men threatened by women having freedom to have wanted pregnancies outside of marriage or for money if they wished, or (gasp!) the freedom to do something about an "unwanted" pregnancy if they wished.
      So, once again I think you made an excellent contribution to this comments section by shining light on what 1970 attitudes were regarding pregnancy.
      Even your comment about hippies being self-righteous is well-taken, because THE BABY MAKER features a character (Jeannie Berlin) who is very self-righteous in her beliefs and engages in an amusing debate with the "square" husband.
      Also, what terrific bits of random news! Sat cross-legged in a theater lobby with David Carradine? Kay Lenz ( a personal fave) playing your partner's cousin in a movie?! Wow!
      Good to hear from you, Argyle. You added to this post more than you know.

  7. Argyle again. Glad the first part of my comment made sense. I have not seen “Jenny” (Marlo Thomas AND Alan Alda, whoa!) But as a teen I LOVED a good social-problem picture. It seems like Linda Purl (or someone similar) was always getting “in trouble” for a movie-of-the-week. And googling around, it’s interesting that Desi Arnaz, Jr was a common thread with some of these actresses. I do think films like this are ways kids deal with real life fears and curiousities. Duhh...

    I completely agree with what you say about the gay, male perspective allowing “The Babymaker” to make some uncommon (and un-cliched) choices in terms of story and form. Thank goodness! Bridges had kind of a crazy career. I remember seeing “Mike’s Murder” on VHS ages ago and being fascinated/unclear as to what was really going on. Would love to see it again now. And that film has become a sort of latter day “Magnificent Ambersons” situation of lost footage and blocked intentions. And it has Debra Winger at her most Antonioni-esque. It is truly a loss that Mr. Bridges did not have a longer career.

    I’ll fill in the gaps of my random thoughts. David Carradine was doing publicity for “Bound for Glory” and he came to the Plaza Theater in upstate SC (the theater where I had my ur-movie experience seeing “2001" in 1968) and they invited high school newspaper people for what is probably best described as a rap session/press conference. I went with my editor Sonya. There were maybe 6 of us there total, so it was an intimate experience. I’m pretty sure he had an acoustic guitar and played something (probably Woody Guthrie) for us. I’m sure I was star-struck but, unfortunately, had never been a big “Kung Fu” fan so it was kind of lost on me. And all I knew about Woody Guthrie at that point was “This Land is Your Land” so I had a major cultural blind-spot. Oddly, I have never been able to make myself focus and watch the movie in the intervening years even though it’s Hal Ashby, Melinda Dillon, and incredible Haskell Wexler photography.

    Kay Lenz played my SO’s cousin Barbara in a based-on-true-life TV movie called “Escape” from about 1980. It is the story of Barbara engineering her husband Dwight’s (Timothy Bottoms) escape from a notorious Mexican prison (drug charge). I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it (not widely available!?) And cannot really attest to its dramaturgical value. It does also have Colleen Dewhurst so... It was sort of the TV counterpart to “Midnight Express.” Barbara is still a redoubtable person and I’m glad there is filmic tribute to her ingenuity and attention to detail. She and Dwight are long-divorced, but amicable. He’s a trip.

    This may sound sort of absurd but I have to say these actresses (Barbara, Kay, Season, even Linda Purl, Melinda, and Colleen) and the people they portrayed (including the real Barbara) from my perspective, struggled against and overcame fears and lots of external limitations to move the marker forward for all of us. I’m clearly conflating actor and role (maybe not steady ground) but I admire that courage. Thanks, Ken. I love the discussion here!

  8. Hi Argyle
    Thanks for filling in the gaps regarding meeting David Carradine (that sounds like the most hippie press conference ever), and the Kay Lenz connection.
    As per Bridges' film output as a director, it was both eclectic and frustratingly all over the map.
    MIKE'S MURDER is a favorite I hope to write about soon, but I had no idea of it having a troubled path to the screen. I have a new DVD of it but have yet to settle down and watch it. It has a very foreign film feel to it for me, you're on the money in what you say reminds me of Antonioni's "The Passenger."

    And as for those "problem" movies you speak of and the kinds of roles young actresses were taking, they often felt to me like the fledgling attempts by Hollywood to integrate Women's Lib and the cultural shifts of the day into creating stories about women; but true to form, it would be years before writers could grasp the idea of independent women functioning in society in ways that had nothing to do with their sex, reproductive systems, or the imposition of social mores. So many of the films from that era seem like they could only see women's emancipation in terms of sexual/reproductive emancipation. The Kay Lenz film you describe sounds like a welcome departure.
    Finally, in your bringing up Desin Arnaz Jr and his popularity in so many of those youth social problem TV movies of the time, it's odd he was involved in a real-life pregnancy confusion thing at the time with "older woman" Patty Duke and tabloids full of Lucille Ball looking gruff while declaring Desi would NOT marry Duke.
    Thanks, Argyle. Your comments always take me back!

    1. Poor Patty, may she rest in peace. Years later when she was discussing her mental illness, after a clip shown of some loopy acceptance speech she gave, with Desi in the audience I think, she commented on the fact that no one ever asked her "are you OK, do you need help?". Different times for sure. And Desi, he must been one hot guy. After Patty wasn't it Liza? And Lucy had nothing but praise for what a lovely girl eventual wife Linda Purl was.

    2. True. The times were so weird and druggy, everyone in the public eye visibly suffering from some mental illness or disease (Rita Hayworth's Alzheimers, for example) was assumed to be on drugs. But yes, Lucy was livid about Desi and Duke, all smiles for Desi and Linda.

  9. I've not seen the film, but I'm certain you are the best thing in PERFECT. Two years before you crossed paths with Mr. Travolta, I spent three nights in CBGB's as an extra in STAYIN' ALIVE. I assure you I have NO IDEA as to whether or not I ended up in the film. I never saw it. It was bad enough spending three long nights in that small dirty club with Sylvester and Frank Stallone. I sat at a small table in the audience while Cynthia Rhodes and Frank Stallone shot (and shot and shot and shot) the same brief 'musical' performance. (Hard core acting technique required to look as if I was enjoying any of that performance.)

    John Travolta was in the back, staring with his beautiful blue eyes at Cynthia Rhodes. I might be in the film, as I was seated in the middle between them. But who knows? Not me.

    Travolta was pumped up and beautiful and charismatic. Much more charismatic than in any of his movies. I could see then how his career hit so big and so fast. (Sly Stallone was in high-heeled cowboy boots and a big cowboy hat and was still only 5'9". And icky.) Travolta could have walked into anyone's office back then and dazzled them. His charisma doesn't get onto film, though. I've never seen it, anyway. (Though I admitted above that I've not seen all his films. Not even the one I might be in!)

    We're John Travolta Veterans. I love that we share that.

    1. Travolta Veterans!
      I'd forgotten about STAYING ALIVE. Wow, a film every bit as unwatchable as PERFECT- my head spins imagining having to choose between Which would be the more painful viewing experience. I suppose STAYING ALIVE wins on camp points; you can always laugh at the terrible choreography, acting, and music...PERFECT is just deadly dull.
      As with mine, I'm sure yours was a fun (in retrospect) experience to have, affording many Travolta/Stallone anecdotes. And at least you got to spend time in the iconic CBGBs, we just spent several days in the tacky West Hollywood Sports Connection. However, having to listen to Frank Stallone sing...I hope you got hazard pay.

  10. Ken, thank you again for another fantastic post. Oh, to read the comments above of those who are too young to remember the "Barbara Seagull" days! FYI the "unknown actress" in the pic with Larson and Coates is none other than Ann Doran, veteran of Frank Capra films but probably most famous as James Dean's neurotic mother in "Rebel Without a Cause." I CANNOT WAIT for your take on "Mike's Murder", a film I find unreasonably haunting (reminds me of MY early '80s days in LA, and you're right, the backstory on the movie is quite the tale). Debra Winger is a personal favorite of mine who is woefully under-represented on this, one of the best cinema blogs in existence. Watch that DVD and report back tout de suite!!!

    Best always, Mike T.

    1. Hi Mike T
      Thanks a million for identifying the actress in the photo above. Well done! Wow, how ironic that I couldn't recognize her and it turns out she has the most accomplished and prolific film career of anyone else in the pic. I'll rectify my oversight, thanks to you.
      Love that you remember Barbara Hershey during her Seagull days. Fansites want to bury the more incendiary bits about her eccentric youth (her claiming that she and Carradine really had sex on-camera in BOXCAR BERTHA, the whole burying of her baby's afterbirth under an apricot tree in her backyard)- but whether true or not, it's part of the persona she carved for herself in her early career.
      I think it's a tribute to her talent that her career survived such silliness.
      I am a big fan of Debra Winger (she used to take my exercise classes because she didn't like "perky" teachers)- she is indeed underrepresented on these pages largely due to the fact that I had such crummy copies of her movies and would deliver lousy screencaps. Along with MIKE'S MURDER, I recently acquired pristine DVDs of BLACK WIDOW and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, so I hope I can make up for lost time soon.
      You and Argyle are both aware of all the MIKE'S MURDER backstory, of which I'm only vaguely aware of from Wikipedia. I must do some research on it. It's a favorite of mine, and, like you, I think it nicely captures 80s L.A.
      So happy you enjoyed the piece and I'm sincerely gratified by your flattering comments. Thanks, too, for helping out with your film knowledge! Cheers, pal!

  11. As a teenager, I saw "The Baby Maker" one night late on television (heavily edited I'm sure). I'm not sure why I watched it. It wasn't the kind of film I am necessarily drawn to. Maybe it was Barbara Hershey's charisma. I think I had recently seen The Natural (a film I'd be interested to see you review some day) and really enjoyed her brief spooky performance. Perhaps it was the crazy set up (sleep with my husband and have his baby!) or the hippy culture (which was like scenes from another planet to my conservative rural upbringing). I hadn't thought about the film in years until I saw it here. Thanks for yet another trip down memory/movie lane!

    1. Hi Ron
      Nice to know THE BABY MAKER actually appeared on TV. I'd be so curious to see the edited-for-TV version. It's not like there is all this rampant nudity, drug use, and swearing, but what exits happens so frequently at plot-significant moments, I'd be curious to see how much or little it changed the film.
      I've never seen THE NATURAL, and tend to forget Hershey appeared in it, but as you note, she is a charismatic actress capable of inspiring one to watch a film otherwise ignored.
      I've always thought the title THE BABY MAKER was a little too "gotcha" for the film it represents. I suspect a great many other checked it out because of the unusual premise and hippie trappings. A timepiece to be sure, but one I'm glad hasn't remained "lost" as it has vbeen for so long.
      Thank you very much for reading this post, and for adding to the conversation here in the comments!

  12. I forgot all about this movie!
    I saw it in first run as a teen (for Barbara Hershey) and then it just seemed to evaporate. I have almost no memory of it.
    I got to meet Bridges and Larson at a disastrous NYC press junket for "Perfect." I could tell they were happy that I only wanted to talk about "Mike's Murder." They seemed like a terrific couple.
    Now I want to track down 'The Baby Maker' for a reassessment.
    Thanks for reminding me of a forgotten night at the movies.

    1. Hi Joe
      Wow! Saw it first you were the one! During an era when movies were traditionally given more time to find an audience and were often seen to play for months on the bottom half of double bills and at drive-ins, THE BABY MAKER is a film that really seemed to disappear completely after its initial release. Kills me that you saw it first run as a teen!
      And to be on that PERFECT press Junket! They must have seen you as an angel to want to speak of anything but that film! BABY MAKER is now available burn-to-order, so I hope it triggers more memories when you get around to revisiting that forgotten part of your past. Thanks!

  13. I think Jack Larson was meant to be one of Montgomery Clift's main boyfriends? Could be wrong! Not familiar with Scott Glenn but that shirtless pic has made me an instant fan! He looks like an escapee from Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild.

  14. Hey Graham
    You're right! Larson & Clift were indeed an item. Larson credited Clift with getting him to give up acting (he was typed as Jimmy Olsen) and pursue a career behind the camera.
    And Scott Glenn went on to have a really long career and is still at it at 77 (you might remember him as the soft-spoken soldier who follows Barbara Jean around in "Nashville"). Always super fit, his look in this film is SO of it's time. You nailed it in citing late 60s AMG.

  15. I'm a big fan of Barbara Hershey, in fact I watch movies just because she is. His young face seems beautiful and his personality is fascinating. This movie is totally advanced for the beginning of the 70s. My favorite movie is "The Entity". Thank you for sharing and very valuable comments. Greetings from Buenos Aires, Argentina

    1. What's new? Buenos Aires! (Had to make a EVITA reference)
      Thank you for visiting this blog and commenting. Nice to hear you are a fan of Barbara Hershey, she is a favorite of mine, too.
      It's amazing she has had a career spanning now five decades. She has played a wide variety of roles and really took some daring chances when she was young.
      I have not seen THE ENTITY since it was first released, I should check it out again.
      Thank you again, berni/berni. Please stop by again!