All About The Paper Chase

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Almost two years after The Last Picture Show, Timothy Bottoms found himself stifled yet again, but this time, by a matter-of-fact professor, played by John Houseman. The film was not only a success but it also spawned a short-lived television series that followed other students in the rigorous routine of law school.

1. Houseman was a surprise.

The studio wanted a big name and suggested Melvyn Douglas, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, and James Mason. Paul Scofield was considered, but he wasn’t able to do the role due to theater commitments. While visiting Juilliard looking for actors for the student parts, the producers met with professor John Houseman and realized he fit the bill. Houseman wasn’t an actor, however, and wanted to test first. He eventually went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

2. Bottoms was the first cast.

Before The Paper Chase, Timothy Bottoms career got a jump start in high school when producer Robert Thompson saw him perform as Romeo. Years later, when The Paper Chase was being developed, Thompson and the producers tailored the project for him. Bottoms never went to college so he was allowed to sit in on Harvard classes to feel what the experience would be like.

3. Harvard was hesitant to allow filming.

After Love Story filmed at the school, the administration declined other requests to film on campus. Interestingly, the novel on which the movie is based was actually written by a Harvard student (John Jay Osborn Jr.) and approved by the school. Paper Chase producers were able to convince the school’s president to allow them three days for exteriors, and they found a similar-looking school in Toronto for additional scenes.

4. Bottoms auditioned for Houseman.

During his high school senior year, Bottoms actually auditioned for Houseman to get into Juilliard. However, he wasn’t accepted. So when The Paper Chase came around, Bottoms saw it as his chance to prove himself. Ironically, Houseman didn’t remember him. Timothy said, “Years later I told John about the Julliard audition, and we had a good laugh. He said, ‘Your destiny obviously laid elsewhere, my boy.’”

5. Bottoms and Houseman got along.

While the film depicts the (one-sided) tension between the two, in real life the actors respected each other – which helped immensely as the film hinged on their relationship. Bottoms chose not to meet Houseman until the first classroom scene so the emotional build-up would be natural. Viewers will notice that as the film progresses the close-ups of Houseman diminish as the close-ups of Bottoms increase – mimicking the narrative arc.