The disastrous production of Shakespeare's "Richard III," in which Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss) portrays the title character as gay, was based on an actual production that Marsha Mason attended and told her husband, Neil Simon, about. Like the production in the film, it took place at Joseph Papp's Public Theatre in New York in 1974, and starred Michael Moriarty.
Originally entitled "Bogart Slept Here" with Robert De Niro as the leading man and Mike Nichols as director. The story was supposedly based on Dustin Hoffman's life as a struggling actor, reportedly, it was the story of what happened to Hoffman after he became a star. Hoffman wanted the lead role in the film but was turned down. Artistic differences ultimately forced De Niro and Nichols out, two weeks into the shoot, after several table readings. Other actors who were also candidates for the role were Jack Nicholson, James Caan and Tony Lo Bianco. Dreyfuss was brought in to test opposite Marsha Mason. At the end of the read-through, writer Neil Simon ruled, "It doesn't work, but they do." From this, the two leads for the picture were finalized.
The only ever Neil Simon written film nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. With five nominations, it is also the most ever Oscar nominated Simon film. In its year at the Oscars, it was up against another New York writer's film, Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977), which took home most of the awards this film was nominated for, The Goodbye Girl (1977) just winning the one Oscar for Best Actor - Richard Dreyfuss.
Richard Dreyfuss won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his role as Elliot Garfield. At 30, he was the youngest actor to win this Oscar. This record was broken by Adrien Brody when he won the Best Actor Oscar in 2003 for his lead role in The Pianist (2002) at age 29.
During the film, Paula (Marsha Mason) says to Elliott (Richard Dreyfuss), "If you're ever up for an Academy Award..." Both actors were Oscar nominated for Best Actress and Best Actor respectively, with Dreyfuss actually winning and taking home gold.
The movie was remade for television around twenty-seven years after this film was first made and released. Jeff Daniels played the Richard Dreyfuss role whilst Patricia Heaton took the Marsha Mason part. The "updated" remake involved little rewriting of the this film. The TV remake screenplay is literally word-for-word and scene-for-scene from this movie's original script with the exception of a few curse words removed to make it more appropriate for television. A line that referred to Richard Dreyfuss's height was removed as it wouldn't make sense when said by Daniels.
When Warner Bros. overlooked Neil Simon's rewritten script after the disastrous early shoot, (under the working title "Bogart Slept Here") the studio was still rather uneasy about making the film, but agreed to go forward after making a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to split the costs. The film was one of the earliest co-produced by two Hollywood studios, which was unusual then, but commonplace now.
The musical version of this movie, also entitled "The Goodbye Girl," opened at the Marquis Theater on March 4th 1993 and ran for 188 performances until August 15th that same year. It was nominated for five Tony Awards in 1993 including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, and Best Choreography. Bernadette Peters took the Marsha Mason part and Martin Short was in the Richard Dreyfuss role. Both leads received Tony Award nominations for their performances. Neil Simon adapted his own screenplay for the book of this successful Broadway musical. The musical's setting is described in its introduction as "In and around Paula's apartment, New York City."
This film was a joint production between Warner Bros. and MGM. In 1986, MGM's share in the film was acquired with the rest of MGM's pre-1986 releases by Turner Entertainment, which was in turn owned by Turner Broadcasting System. In 1996, TBS was purchased by Time Warner, which has owned Warner Bros. since 1990. As a result, Warner Bros. is the sole distributor for the film today, and unusual for a film in WB's library, the copyright is held both by WB and Turner.
Was nominated for Best Picture against Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), making the line "your window will face Warner Brothers. You can watch them blow up the world from your bed" somewhat serendipitous. Additionally, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) also features the female lead uttering a line of dialogue similar to Paula's question, "Aren't you a little short to play Stanley?"
Neil Simon likened the experience to collaborating on a play. "During the shooting, if I felt a line or even a word was needed," said Simon, "I'd just call it out. When Elliot confronts Paula about keeping herself and her daughter out of his way in his newly acquired apartment which he has agreed to share with his two new tenants, he warns her that he likes to walk around the house at night without pajamas, which he doesn't own in the first place. I called out to Richard, 'buffo!' Richard, without blinking an eye, said the speech again and threw in 'buffo' at the end of the sentence, putting, as we say, a button on it. Marsha and Richard were a perfect match and you could practically see the sparks between them lighting up the screen."
The only thing that annoyed Marsha Mason about Richard Dreyfuss was that he always "reeked of fish." According to Mason, Dreyfuss had decided early on during the shooting that he needed to lose weight. His food of choice to accomplish this task? Sushi. "Day in and day out the man ate nothing but sushi," said Mason. "He had sushi brought to his trailer; he had sushi brought to the set. He had sushi sent to his home. The man lived and breathed--and reeked--sushi. I think he even slept with it."
Marsha Mason recalled working with Richard Dreyfuss - "Richard was fast and funny. I was thoughtful and more serious. Richard was wild and free. I was a responsible wife and mother and an actress. I wanted so much to be like him. He was so sure of himself, so sure of his place and space, and he moves forward accordingly. He's bright, bright, bright, incredibly well read, and comfortable with his intelligence."
Marsha Mason also recalled working with 'Quinn Cummings' (qv - "One of my favorite actresses to work with was nine years old going on twenty-seven. She made 'precocious' a wonderful word. Quinn Cummings was a little girl with a very big intelligence. She knew her lines, was as quick and almost as smart as Richard, could land a joke with the best of them, and she was a professional."
When Richard Dreyfuss was asked in a 2000 interview what made the film so special, he replied, "Goodbye Girl was a wonderful script. Wonderful. And as actors we never got tired of it. Never...It was funny and loving. And the actors and actresses in the show--especially Marsha and Quinn--were perfect. Like God had said these are the actors to work with. I once said that I'd like to play Elliot until I retired and got a Swiss watch because he was great. I wanted to be him, and I wanted to acquire his personality for my own."
According to Neil Simon, no one expected anything special at the box office from the film. "It had only one real star, Richard Dreyfuss; one rising star, Marsha Mason; and one cute ten-year-old, Quinn Cummings, with a slight love story directed extremely well by Herbert Ross and a rather nice script by me, if I have to say so myself...it probably wouldn't have been made were it not for Ray Stark's faith in it."
Marsha Mason recalled a scene between her and Quinn Cummings in which Cummings was supposed to say her line and move to a chair and sit down. "I noticed that she did it exactly the same way every time. Acting that way shows good discipline, but the freshness can go away pretty quickly." Mason decided she wanted to try something different just to see how it might change the scene. "Quinn and I started the scene again and when it came time for her to move to the chair," said Mason, "I sat in it instead. Naturally, she was thrown by this and looked to Herb. He carefully and quietly explained to Quinn that in life we never know what another person is going to do and we don't always know how we are going to respond to someone or something. She listened intently, nodded her head, and said, 'I got it.' She was extraordinary in her ability to go with it. At nine!"