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Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore carried a special significance for its lead. Recently divorced and feeling the 1970s women’s movement, Ellen Burstyn was ready for a change. “I was discovering for myself what it was like to not be an auxiliary person.”
Warner Brothers was anxious to work with Burstyn again, who had received an Oscar nomination for her performance in the hit The Exorcist. However, the scripts that the studio suggested featured secondary roles for the female character.
That’s when Burstyn’s agent found the script for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Burstyn said, “The idea that a woman could be a person in her own right… this idea that we were primary in our own lives to ourselves was astonishing. And I felt that it was the right story to explore a woman’s point of view.”
1. Burstyn found an “unknown” director.
After finding the script, they needed a director. Burstyn reached out to Francis Ford Coppola who suggested she watch Mean Streets. Impressed, she knew Martin Scorsese, an unknown director at the time could tackle it. She said, “Marty has enormous creative energy. It made me feel creative too.”
2. The joke came from real life.
Alfred Lutter made his film debut in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore as Tommy, a sweet, yet sometimes obnoxious child. Burstyn joked, “Alfred was a very secure little boy who was very much like the boy in the story – meaning, brilliant and annoying.” In one scene, Tommy tells the “Shoot the Dog” joke over and over again because his mother doesn’t get the punchline. The scenario was actually taken from real life, when Lutter continued to tell Director Martin Scorsese the joke on an hour long ride to the set.
3. They had an unexpected audience.
The production shot inside an actual ranch. However, they were unable to film all the necessary scenes, and so attempted to negotiate to use the home longer. But the home-sick owners won’t approve it. As a result, they were forced to finish several scenes in a single night. At one point, the owners arrived and sat in the room while the actors worked. When Scorsese called for a retake, the owners asked, “What was the matter with that one? That was fine!”
4. The ending was up in the air.
Burstyn and Scorsese were unable to find a satisfactory ending, feeling that Alice couldn’t choose love over her independence. That’s when Kris Kristofferson improvised his character’s lines about not caring about his ranch and being willing to drive her to Monterey. “I turned to Marty, and Marty looked at me. And we said, ‘Why didn’t we ever think of that?’” Burtsyn remembered.
5. Another actress turned down the lead.
Before Burstyn took the helm, Barbra Streisand had the opportunity to play the lead. At this point in her career, Streisand had found critical success in Funny Girl, tying for the Best Actress Academy Award with Katharine Hepburn. Barbra felt the part of Alice was too old to play and turned it down. Burstyn, of course, won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Alice.