Opened November 1987
Nuts screenwriter Tom Topor (who also wrote the Broadway play) explained the genesis of the movie project: “I finished the screenplay in 1981, and [Universal Pictures producer] Stevie Phillips liked it and sent it to Mark Rydell [director of On Golden Pond]. I got a call: ‘A few little changes he wants.’
“I did draft after draft after draft,” Topor said. “I don’t know, it was endless. The final one was turned in to Ned Tanen [then head of Universal]. Next thing I know, I was off the picture … Mark [Rydell’s] emphasis was far more on incest. My emphasis was far more on power. Well, I was off the case. Rydell then hired five or six screenwriters, including himself. In the meantime, each successive screenplay got worse. One day a studio executive called to tell me: ‘I have a version of Nuts with more names on it than the New York Telephone Book.’
“In 1984 or ‘85, the property goes over to Warner Brothers as a film for Streisand. This is where things get a little murky,” said Topor. “These are huge egos, Mary Rydell and Barbra Streisand. Whatever the details, Mark is gone. Some time later I read in the columns that Marty Ritt is directing it. Then there’s a long conference calls between Ritt, Streisand, and me, and I learn the movie is going to be quite a lot like my second script— the structure is mine.”
Streisand explained her version of the genesis of Nuts in her DVD commentary. “I read the play a long time ago, and loved the play,” she said. “But then I heard it was being made into a movie starring Debra Winger, and it was a Warner Brothers movie. And somehow, the man I was living with at the time [Richard Baskin], was playing tennis with Terry Semel [President] of Warner Brothers. Richard mentioned that I always loved that play and wanted to play [Claudia]. So somehow I got offered the role because of Debra Winger falling out.” [Note: Winger left the project in 1985].”
Streisand worked in depth with the Nuts screenwriters. “Alvin Sargent was being considered [as a screenwriter] and then Darryl Ponicsan,” she explained. “I suggested that they work together on the script because they both have very different qualities. Alvin is very gentle and can explore his feminine side even though he’s very masculine. And Darryl is a tougher guy, a tough-talking, tough guy. A wonderful guy. He wrote the movie Cinderella Liberty. They were both great guys. I had a vision of it in my head to use these flashbacks, to try to explain some of her life to the audience.” Streisand enjoyed the writing process. “I had the most creative time I’ve ever had working with writers [on Nuts],” Barbra stated. “We delivered the script in seven days because we had great food. We sat around my dining room table for one week and delivered the script to Warner Brothers, so I was very pleased with that process.”
Richard Dreyfuss was the frontrunner for the role of Aaron Levinsky. However, in 1986 Dreyfuss opted out of Nuts to make Tin Men. Then Nuts director Martin Ritt confirmed to columnist Marilyn Beck that Dustin Hoffman was under negotiation for the role. “He’s absolutely interested,” Ritt said. “Warner’s is very interested in him.” Streisand and Dustin Hoffman were spotted in New York at Wilkinson’s, eating dinner, and discussing his role in Nuts. Ultimately, Hoffman as costar was never worked out. Martin Ritt and Streisand decided to delay production of Nuts until October 6, 1986 to allow Dreyfuss to complete filming Tin Men. “Richard Dreyfuss is a wonderful actor and he’s a very smart, disciplined person—and yet open to the moment,” Barbra said. “So I thought he was great as the attorney.” A stellar supporting cast was lined up for the other characters in Nuts.
(Right: Nuts storyboard drawings of Streisand.)
Eli Wallach, cast as the psychiatrist, had known Streisand the longest. “I’ve known Barbra since she was a young girl of 17, singing in some little club for $45 a week … She’s a talented actress, and when she decides to do something she’ll go through anything to do it.”
Wallach felt strongly that his character, psychiatrist Herbert A. Morrison, was not a one-dimensional villain. “No, I don’t see him as a jerk. The more she [Claudia] upbraids and reviles me, the more I’m convinced my diagnosis is correct. There are many, many layers to this question.”
Streisand modeled Eli Wallach’s psychiatrist character on her best friend’s husband, Dr. Harvey Corman. If Wallach’s mannerisms in the scene were too busy, Streisand would remind director Martin Ritt to whisper “Harvey Corman” in Eli Wallach’s ear. This gave Wallach the proper detachment that psychiatrists like Corman possessed.
Karl Malden portrayed Claudia’s stepfather and he enjoyed working on Nuts with Streisand. “She’s a fascinating, energetic woman, aside from one of the best singers we’ve got in the country,” Malden said. “She’s got an awful lot of vitality.”
Maureen Stapleton, playing Claudia’s mother, had praises for Streisand as well. “I adored her, she’s a heavenly girl and I went nuts for her.”
Behind the scenes of Nuts were director Martin Ritt and cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak. “It was a very collaborative relationship, me and Marty [Ritt],” Streisand said, “because I had given him that script that we worked on with Alvin Sargent and Darryl Ponicsan and Warner Brothers really liked what I did with the writers in terms of these flashbacks. Since [Ritt] told me he respected the work I did in Yentl, it was a very close creative relationship. Sometimes if he didn’t even agree with me, he would say, ‘But you have final cut’ since I was the executive producer, so I’ll try it from that point of view. He was usually very accommodating to what I saw, what I imagined, and that was good.”
Ritt was ambivalent in the press about the final cut option, however. “The producer, you see, is always reserved final cut,” Ritt explained. “It was never used with me until I worked with Streisand. She’s a very complicated lady.”
The working relationship between Ritt and Streisand was complicated. Ritt, who passed away in 1990, told the Dallas Morning News, “Barbra was not my favorite girl. When the cast and crew arrived on the set each morning, they expected a huge fight between Barbra and myself. They were never disappointed.”
When a Dallas Morning News reporter asked Richard Dreyfuss about Ritt’s quote, Dreyfuss replied, “Well, I’ll comment on the making of Nuts, but only after everyone else involved in the movie is dead.”
Others who worked on the film had positive things to say about Streisand. Cece Hall, supervising sound editor for Nuts, said: “I found Barbra really easy to work with as the producer. She was actively involved, very hands-on, and she worked hard. She had a clear, strong vision of what she wanted so nothing was confusing. That made my job easier. Sound effects can create important, significant, and subtle nuances in a scene. In Nuts, her character was in a kind of mental ward, which offered lots of fascinating sound backgrounds. I loved working with her and with her executive producer, Teri Schwartz.”
(Photo, left: Director Ritt and Streisand confer on the streets of New York City.)
Robert “Buzz” Knudson was a sound re-recording mixer on Nuts. He also worked for Streisand on A Star is Born and The Main Event. “I will say that most directors, the Streisands, the Taylor Hackfords, the Friedkins, they’re all very bright people and they learn quickly,” Knudson said. “And you know Barbara is just—she’s a genius I think. Her mind works so well. When you do a picture with her now she’s light years ahead of you and what you’re thinking … I never will forget the very first foot of the pre-dub, there was a line that—I reached up to hit stop and she was getting ready to tell me to stop. She said, ‘You and I are going to get along good because we both think the same way.’”
Streisand assumed a new behind the scenes role for Nuts—composer. “I was able to write the score for this movie because I saw very little music in it,” Streisand stated. “I don’t know how to read or write music. I hear it in my head. I have somebody write the notes down. I sing it. That’s what I actually do. I’ll sing somebody the melody and then they write it down. Irving Berlin never wrote down music either … I actually wrote this melody on the guitar — the Nuts melody—then I have to hire an arranger to arrange it.”
On Nuts, Streisand hired Jeremy Lubbock. “I remember calling up Jeremy at two or three in the morning singing him the atonality, like Bartok, Stravinsky, of the theme I wrote to play it with cellos,” said Streisand. “Jeremy’s wonderful at changing the chords. It’s the minor side of the chord. I’m told I always gravitate toward the ninth of the chord, the eleventh of the chord. It’s not the five or the seven. I love it because when you do it correctly, it comes out right. Unlike when you cook, and you can try to follow the recipe, and it still doesn’t come out right ... But when it comes out right it’s very rewarding.”
Tom Topor, who saw his play move from Broadway to the Big Screen, commented on the final film: “I think Nuts is a good movie, a very good movie. It’s not the movie I would have made. It’s Barbra Streisand and Marty Ritt’s movie. When you consider how much they eliminated, it’s not bad at all. Except for one sentimental scene, when Dreyfuss visits her in the prison hospital, it’s an enormously brave picture for her.”
Below: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has Joe Tompkins' costume drawings for “Nuts” in its database.
Streisand's Nuts costumes were auctioned in 2004 and 2009:
Left to right: Pajamas worn in prison scenes; the dress from the bar flashback; Claudia's "mommy dress" worn in court. Below: The gold and black lamé robe that Streisand wore as Claudia in the flashback scene.
Nuts: Closing Sequence
Director Martin Ritt filmed several vignettes for Barbra Streisand's last scene in Nuts.
Above: first Streisand—as Claudia—takes a big breath of fresh air as she exits the front doors of the New York courthouse.
Below: more variations of Claudia expressing her freedom on the streets of New York, including a run-in with a clown ...
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