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Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason Warmly Remember Their Classic 1977 Romantic Comedy ‘The Goodbye Girl’

When Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl was released in 1977, it managed two distinct accomplishments: it was the first romantic comedy to ever gross over $100 million at the box office, and its leading man, Richard Dreyfuss, became — at that time — the youngest actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. Beyond that, it touched both the heart and the funny bone of the audience, and, now, Richard and costar Marsha Mason are remembering the 43-year-old film.

“How The Goodbye Girl came to be is such a convoluted story,” Marsha details at the Stars in the House: The Goodbye Girl Reunion Supporting the Actors Fund event. “Neil wrote a script that was not called The Goodbye Girl and we did a reading of it. It was called Bogart Slept Here and Richard and myself, [producer] Ray Stark and Neil sat down one day in an office and read the script. After it was over, Neil said, ‘Ah, I know what’s wrong. Give me three or four weeks and I can fix it.’ And Bogart Slept Here is where The Goodbye Girl ends. He realized nobody was really interested in a story about somebody being successful, so he took the characters back to when they were struggling.”

For Richard, things unfolded differently with him ultimately replacing Robert De Niro in the film. “In my version,” he says, “I get a phone call one day and hear a friend of mine say, ‘Did you hear Bobby De Niro was fired today?’ And I said, ‘No one is going to fire Bobby De Niro,’ but they said he got fired. An hour later someone called and said, ‘[Director] Mike Nichols is leaving the project’ and I said, ‘Why are you telling me this?’’ and within an hour I was told I was replacing Bobby De Niro. They told me how much money I was making. They told me it was with Marsha and Neil was writing. I called Ray Stark and said, ‘Do you want to talk to me for any reason?’ and he said, ‘No.’”

Warner Bros

They hung up, and not long after Richard was at Warner Bros having a meal in the dining room there, and Ray Stark came over to him to say he wanted him in the movie. Then he brought Neil and Marsha over and Richard was in the middle of saying no to all of them. “Finally,” he laughs, “a voice got heard in my brain that said, ‘Shut up, you idiot!’ So we arranged to have a reading at Ray’s house. The minute it ended, I went, ‘I know what’s wrong with this. It doesn’t matter what terrible things you’re talking about, if a guy has lost his children, if his wife has died of cancer, it doesn’t matter if he’s a movie star. Nobody cares. He’s a movie star and they are not going to empathize. That’s when Neil said, ‘I know how to fix this,’ and three weeks later there was a script. We read it at Ray’s house and it was exactly the script that we shot.”

For more on The Goodbye Girl, the reunion of its cast and the lost sequel, please scroll down.