The Main Event
Opened June 22, 1979
The Main Event was conceived as a star vehicle that would reunite Streisand and her What's Up Doc? costar, Ryan O'Neal. Streisand summed it up in her DVD commentary by saying, "It was my third picture for First Artists— I had a three picture deal. It was a funny script and Ryan [O'Neal] and I wanted to work together again."
True, Streisand owed a third picture to First Artists, and in 1978 her agent, Sue Mengers, and boyfriend Jon Peters searched for a suitable project to work on.
Screenwriter Andrew Smith remembered: “I was partnered with Gail Parent at the time. [Producers Howard Rosenman and Reneee Missel] had a deal to do a movie about a woman who owned a man ... and they were thinking about a hockey player or something like that. I'd done a little boxing, so I said, well, why not a fighter?”
Parent, according to Smith, pitched the movie idea to Streisand on the Malibu beach (where they both lived) as “a love story in twelve rounds.”
Ryan O'Neal recalled, “I was offered the part years ago, when they had Goldie Hawn in mind to play the manager. But I turned it down. Then they suggested Diana Ross, but I said, ‘That’s ridiculous—who ever heard of a white fighter and a black trainer? Let Diana fight, and I’ll be the trainer!’”
Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke wrote about Sue Mengers and securing the film for Streisand (a great Hollywood story!):
“My favorite story is how Mengers plotted to get The Main Event repairing Streisand and O’Neal. The key to the entire deal was that the movie had to be a First Artists production at Warner Bros. But MGM still owned the film. The obstacle was convincing MGM studio head Dick Shepard to give up the film. Mengers knew that the producer Howard Rosenman’s one weakness was his temper. Mengers also knew Shepard was prickly. She realized Rosenman and Shepard could be an explosive combination if the pot were stirred just right. ‘Did you know that Dick Shepard called you an amateur? Or that his name is really Shepardinsky?’ Mengers confided to the son of one of the founding families of Israel. ‘So why don’t you use these facts and get this piece of material for us so we can make a movie at Warner Bros?’
“The next day, Rosenman, hot under the collar, showed up at a meeting with Shepard and demanded the material back. When Shepard balked, Rosenman began calling the studio head Mr. Shepardinsky. By that afternoon, Shepard had returned the movie. Two days later there was an announcement that Warner Bros was releasing Streisand’s next picture. Four days later, Dick Shepard was fired from MGM. ‘Sue engineered the whole thing,’ Rosenman told me. ‘She knew my weakness was my anger and she knew I would use the anger to push him to the point where he would want to be rid of me. That’s how brilliant she was.’”
The Main Event started filming in October 1978 around Los Angeles. Since the script wasn't finished as filming began, Streisand constantly worked on it with writers Gail Parent and Andrew Smith. "We used to have lunches and work on the script," Barbra confessed.
“We would literally be writing up until midnight the night before we were going to shoot the scene,” Smith stated, “and we'd show up on the set with new pages and then they'd shoot it.”
The script drew its conflict from the battle of the sexes. Gail Parent explained that "in order to have a good male-female comedy, they have to be equal."
Streisand elaborated, "What is exciting is not for one person to be stronger than the other, not for the man to be stronger than the woman, and not for the woman to be stronger than the man, but for two people to have met their match. And yet, they are equally as stubborn, as obstinate, as passionate, as crazy as the other."
Director Howard Zieff shot most of the film in Los Angeles. "I like shooting at real locations instead of studio sets," said Zieff. "Our first day's shooting took place outside the famed Main Street Gym in downtown Los Angeles," he recalled. "There's nothing like setting up the cameras at the actual site, especially when you realize that such boxers as Joe Louis worked out there."
Next stop was another female-oriented gym. Gilda's Gym was an exercise salon in Beverly Hills. "Streisand is a regular at the gym during off-screen hours," Howard Zieff shared, "and here she is, before the cameras, performing sexy 'body tucks' as Paul Sand, who plays her ex-husband, struggles to tell her that she's been swindled of all her assets."
The Knockout Driving Academy, shaped like a boxing glove, was an interesting set to build. "We were supposed to shoot the scene in Long Beach," said Zieff. "But instead we constructed the driving school on a residential Los Angeles street—in the shape of a two-story high boxing glove!"
Other locations utilized by the film crew were a hot dog stand on the corner of La Cienega and Beverly Boulevards, and the mountains near Big Bear Lake (for the wintry training scenes).
"The major fight sequences were shot at the legendary Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles," said Zieff. "It was a very real situation —with cheering and booing fight fans—perfect for the climactic encounters between Streisand and O'Neal, both inside and outside the ring."
Ryan O'Neal trained for the role of the boxer in The Main Event. "I had to box 150 rounds just to prepare for this movie."
Mario Tosi photographed The Main Event and had the job of making Streisand look her best in the film. During early tests and the first week of shooting, Tosi said Streisand “was trying to tell me where to put the lights and suggesting that we do things a certain way.” Tosi went on to tell authors Schaefer and Salvato (in their book Masters of Light: Conversations With Contemporary Cinematographers) that he was eventually able to “sneak in a few more elements of cinematography that I felt were necessary such as filters or a certain way of lighting. Gradually I was able to photograph her in different key [lighting]; she later told me she had never been photographed that way before.”
Tosi explained how Streisand originally wanted “these big, enormous, old fashioned scoop lights sitting on top of the lens. So we started with that but slowly I started bringing in my white cards and bounching the light at an angle. She got used to it and, in fact, enjoyed it.”
“With a lady expecially,” Tosi stated, “you cannot use hard lights. The quality of the bounce light enhances beauty.” Tosi also confessed that he employed diffusion nets on the camera lens when he photographed women. “I started using nets a little bit on Barbra Streisand on The Main Event.”
Ryan O'Neal told writer Guy Flatley, “Barbra was not overbearing during the shooting of the film, and she never slanted things her way. Sure, she oversees all the details of a production, but so does Stanley Kubrick. I worked harder with Barbra than with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon. She works 15 and 16 hours a day, checking to make sure we all do our jobs, but she does it in a feminine way. Yet that ruffles some men. I feel that people have been unfair to Barbra. She’s a delicately made creature, a great lady, and I would never have done The Main Event without her.”
Warner Brothers released The Main Event DVD in 2003. The featurette (Getting In Shape For the Main Event) was included on the DVD as a bonus feature. The featurette has lots of bloopers and behind-the-scenes shots, as well as a few cut scenes.
There was an early demo version of the “Main Event/Fight” song used in the original featurette. It sounds like the this version of the song was replaced with the single version that we all know and love for the DVD release.
Barbra's commentary on the DVD is scene-specific, meaning that when you select this option the DVD plays an edited version of scenes from the film with Barbra's audio commentary. It's short, but interesting. Barbra identifies her sister, Roslyn Kind, in the exercise class; she talks about getting ideas for the ending from the crew; also, a funny tidbit about a Donna Karan shirt she wore.
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