Shampoo

I. Roots

A number of factors, and people, contributed to the writing of Shampoo:

[…] in the late 1960s, I found myself in London. It was as far back as then that I began a first draft of my idea for Shampoo. But there was always so much to do in England in the late 60s that I never got much work done. It’s probably because I like the country so much; nothing about it ever makes me feel angry or unhappy or passionate. So I didn’t get very far with Shampoo until some years later when I came back to America and collaborated for the second time with Warren Beatty. (1)

Robert Towne recalls some influences:

I was going with a beautiful girl, a dancer – in fact, Fred Astaire’s last dancing partner. She was also an actress, but mainly a dancer. Anyway, she had been married, which I didn’t find out right away. I was twenty-three, and it was very unusual at the time for your girlfriend to have been divorced. She told me his name. Gene Shacove. I asked what he did. She said he was a hairdresser. It shocked the shit out of me, that such a beautiful girl would marry a hairdresser. Or that a hairdresser would marry a girl. Both were shocking. I asked what happened. She said, “Well, we’d been married about six weeks. He woke up one morning and said, ‘I don’t feel like being married anymore.’ I said, ‘What?!’ then asked what happened to him. She said he had a real successful shop. I asked if she ever saw him. ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Every week. He does my hair.’ They were still very good friends.

Towne continues,

I went down there to pick her up one day. I walked in, and there he was with his hair dryer, going like a bee from one flower to the next. The most beautiful girls, one right after another. I could not believe my eyes. The only rooster in the hen house. It was a revelation to me. Then I found other guys, like Dusty Fleming, who did the same. A whole subculture of wildly heterosexual guys with a great sense of design, who worked on human heads instead of pieces of paper. I was fascinated by it, thought it was a terrific subject. (2)

Enter Warren Beatty

Towne was in London in Beatty’s company following their collaboration on Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) and they talked about doing an original project together. Towne had already written an episode of the television show Breaking Point, about a womaniser: it was called “So Many Pretty Girls, So Little Time”.

Towne says that Beatty

wanted to do a movie about a compulsive Don Juan. He believed he’d had What’s New Pussycat stolen [the title was the phrase Beatty used when calling his friends, including Charlie Feldman, the producer of that film] […] He asked how I would do it. I said that I’d do it somewhat like The Country Wife […] Warren said he thought that that was interesting, and asked how it would be done. “Would you use an actor who everybody thought was gay?” I told him I’d use a hairdresser. He looked at me. It took him about thirty seconds. He said, “You’re right.”

The working title was “Hair”. (3)

The Restoration Comedy: The Country Wife

Robert Towne

Robert Towne is well-versed in Greek plays and must have been conscious of the satyr play when creating Shampoo. The Bedford Introduction to Drama characterises it thus:

a comic play performed after the tragic trilogy in Greek tragedy competitions. The satyr play provided comic relief and was usually a farcical, boisterous treatment of mythological material. (4)

Of course this would have been an influence on the Restoration Comedy, to which Shampoo owes much of its origins. It is defined as follows:

a type of comedy of manners that developed in England in the late seventeenth century. Often features repartee in the service of complex romantic plots. (5)

The Country Wife was written by the noted playwright William Wycherley and first performed by the King’s Company, at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane in January 1675. With its origins in sexually explicit Greek theatre and taking its more immediate inspiration from the scabrous social comedies of Moliére, the play was an immediate hit, performed 153 times between its début in 1700 and 1753, according to Peter Holland. (6) This time is characterised as “a gay, exciting period in stark contrast to the gray Puritan era” (7). During the period new indoor theatres modelled on those in France were built and a new generation of actors and actresses (women took part in plays for the first time in England) came forth to participate in the dramatic revival. Attention was paid to the classical unities, as described by Aristotle, of time, action and place. Moliére’s plays, social satires of continuing relevance, were being performed at this time.

The drama of this period focuses on an analysis of social manners, and much of it is satire, that is, drama that offers mild criticism of society and holds society up to comic ridicule. But underlying that ridicule is the relatively noble motive of reforming society. (8)

William Congreve’s The Way of the World is one example of the Restoration Comedy, while Wycherley’s The Country Wife is another.

The play seems to have disappeared from the repertoire until a revival in the 1920s and then again performances were recorded in 1936 at the Old Vic, at the Theatre Royal, in a major production directed by Tony Richardson – who was surely inspired by this to take a look again at Tom Jones, A Foundling, which he had read as a youngster and would make into a huge success onscreen in 1962 – and again at the Royal Court (directed by George Devine, Richardson’s mentor), and at Chichester Festival Theatre in 1969, where it was performed by Maggie Smith. It was this staging that Beatty and Towne saw when they were thinking of writing Shampoo. (It was also performed at the National Theatre with Albert Finney as Horner in 1977. (9))

Character names in the play are typically emblematic and witty, while Wycherley’s London is full of debauchery, populated seemingly exclusively by whores, flirts, seducers and cuckolds. The story concerns a man, Horner, who convinces his friends that he has been rendered a eunuch by his doctor (Doctor Quack), so that they will trust him with their wives. Foolishly, as it transpires. A variety of couplings and misunderstandings ensues against a comical depiction of contemporary London society, told over five acts with a brief prologue and epilogue.

The Writing

Beatty hired Towne to write a draft for a fee of $25,000 while they were making Bonnie and Clyde. Towne experienced writer’s block in 1968 and 1969, and it led to difficulties with Beatty.

Robert Evans, producer of Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974), says: “Towne could talk to you about a screenplay he was going to write and tell you every page of it and it never came out on paper. Never.” (10) By 31 December 1969, Towne still had not produced a draft. Beatty said about Towne,

Robert had written a script that was very good in atmosphere, and in dialogue, but very weak in story, and each day the story would go in whatever direction the wind was blowing. He just never wound up with anything.

Beatty went ahead and made McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) with director Robert Altman and co-star Julie Christie. Allegedly, he and Towne didn’t speak for months. When shooting was wrapped, Beatty wrote his own draft of the script while holidaying on Sam Spiegel’s boat, but Towne had turned in a draft the previous January, which Beatty thought lacked a proper structure. So, there were two versions of the script and Beatty agreed to work with Towne.

According to Robert Evans, “Towne treated Jack as an equal, but looked up to Warren as a messiah.”

Beatty had demonstrated a great deal of courage when he produced Bonnie and Clyde and he asked Towne for a co-writing credit on Shampoo – and got it. Towne took time over the writing and the film was going to be made at Paramount, with Robert Evans hiring Hal Ashby to direct. Ashby, Evans and Towne holed up for a week in December 1973 (at the time of the release of Ashby’s The Last Detail) and worked on a draft. It is said that Towne felt his control of the script had been diluted.

Shampoo

Point of View (Not All Hairdressers Are Gay)

Once you’ve got your fingers in a woman’s hair you’re halfway there.

– Robert Towne

Towne says that his script for the film was largely influenced by Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu (1939). (11) According to the sleeve notes for the Cinema Club video version of the film, the story was indeed based on hairdresser Gene Shacove, who served as a technical consultant on the film. It also

played on men’s views of hairdressers as effete, consequently allowing them access to their most private chambers.

“What other guy gets regularly into the bedrooms and bathrooms of another guy’s wife?” said Shacove. “You’re working in close contact with a woman. All that touching and you make them beautiful, so they admire you. It’s women who seduce their hairdressers, not the other way around.”

Constructing Shampoo

The people populating Shampoo are as follows:

Characters

George Roundy: The naïf hero

Jill: George’s fiancée

Jackie: Lester’s mistress, George’s ex

Felicia Karpf: George’s lover, married to

Lester Karpf: Businessman, Jackie’s lover

Lorna Karpf: Felicia and Lester’s daughter

Norman: George’s boss at the salon

Johnny Pope: Director, dating Jill

While there is no obviously direct correlation between the cast of characters in The Country Wife and that of Shampoo, the inspiration for Roundy is quite clear in that of Horner, and Mr and Mrs Pinchwife are probably a mirror image of Lester and Felicia Karpf.

Columbia Pictures in the 1970s

Columbia Pictures was one of the most financially secure studios by the time Shampoo came into production, primarily due to the efforts of Al Hirschfeld and David Begelman (whose financial dexterity extended to defrauding the actor Cliff Robertson in a case which, in true Hollywood fashion, rebounded more on the victim than the perpetrator.) Hollywood was continuing to experience the boom and bust cycle of the 1960s but the innovative scheme of tax shelters operated by Columbia turned the company’s fortunes around in the space of five years, following threats of bank foreclosures in the early part of the decade. The company obtained money from individuals and banks to support its production financing arm and “to offset the gamble involved in film investment while keeping Columbia’s hunger distribution circuit fed with movies. The plan probably saved the company from going under” (12). The system was eventually stopped by federal government in 1976 but not before the industry was healthy again. Richard Bright and Lester Persky, producers from outside the studio,

assembled the most ambitious tax shelters. Their 1975 packages for Columbia and United Artists included The Man Who Would Be King [John Huston], The Front [Martin Ritt], Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger [Sam Wanamaker], Harry and Walter Go to New York [Mark Rydell], Gator [Burt Reynolds], The Missouri Breaks [Arthur Penn] and From Noon till Three [Frank D. Gilroy] (13).

They also provided the financing for Shampoo.

James Monaco makes the claim for the film that it is “Robert Towne and Warren Beatty’s existential statement about the New Hollywood” (14). However, in an economic analysis of the industry, Douglas Gomery states “that in terms of economic structure and power, little changed in the American film industry during the Seventies, despite all the pundit’s claims” (15). The seven companies that had always dominated the business continued to do so, and maintained their power he says

through revenues rather than by making all the films. During the Seventies the majors earned 90% of the revenues with only about one-third of the Motion Picture Association of America rated films. The other two-thirds had to settle for 10% of the revenues. (16)

The international distribution network continued to underpin the powerful structures that ran the American film business. The majors were still making A and B films, and often screened double features. This was the era just before mass-releasing, which dominates the American industry today, and a film could still do well on word of mouth alone.

While Shampoo was apparently a hard sell, Persky-Bright took it on.

‘It was very hard-hitting’, said Lester ‘the Investor’ Persky of the project, ‘and the studios didn’t think a film called Shampoo about a hairdresser who was pretending to be gay, and was making out like a bandit with all the wives and girlfriends of his friends, was a sympathetic character, or believable. They thought it was awful.’ (17)

Columbia reneged on their deal and then Beatty tried to outsmart them and in doing so “nearly outsmarted himself” only earning half of what had originally been proposed in the deal in a rolling gross offer. (18) (Nonetheless, Beatty reputedly made a lot of money on the deal.) David Begelman then ended up making Lester Persky a very wealthy man by inadvertently allowing him to retain the majority of the film’s profits.

(Re)Constructing Shampoo

Hal Ashby

Peter Biskind’s excoriating account of the 1970s Hollywood scene, Easy Rider, Raging Bulls: How the Sex ‘N’ Drugs ‘N’ Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, proves a virtual elegy to the legacy of Hal Ashby and a sad tribute to a man steeped in energy, tenacity and talent, but seemingly fatefully undone in terms of directorial recognition by virtue of his high esteem for the craft of screenwriting and his tolerance for the ability of his chosen casts to interpret material to the best of their ability. (On a more personal level, it is said that his drug problems may have caused his unexpectedly early professional demise.) The auteur-driven industry ironically failed to truly grasp his importance as a director of some of the most powerfully drawn social comment films of the decade, not to mention some of the most popular. Shampoo was the second collaboration with Robert Towne, following The Last Detail, and it emerged after a period in which Ashby had been considering directing One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest (Milos Forman, 1975).

Ashby agreed to direct Shampoo despite knowing that Beatty wouldn’t allow him much control of the project. Ashby’s previous films had not been hits and he respected Beatty. Beatty was responsible for hiring Shampoo‘s key cast: Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant and Jack Warden – who would feature in virtually all of Beatty’s projects, right up to Bulworth (Beatty, 1998). In the meantime, Detail was released in time for Oscar nominations in December 1973 and proved very popular. It was at this time that Ashby, Towne and Beatty set about rewriting Shampoo in Beatty’s suite at the Beverly Wilshire. The film went into production in January 1974.

II. A Complex Text

The Spaces Between Characters

In the case of working with Warren on Shampoo, obviously there’s an effect there. I definitely take him into account when I am writing scenes for him, because I feel that I know what he does well. I feel that Warren always has to be tougher than he thinks. He presents a peculiar problem as an actor because he is a man who is deeply embarrassed by acting. Unlike Jack [Nicholson], Warren is a very talented man, but he’s so embarrassed by his acting that you have to constantly force him, one way or another, to use himself, whereas Jack doesn’t have that reluctance… Warren has the instincts of a character actor. (19)

Indeed the differences in acting style between Nicholson and Beatty – the polar extremities of Towne’s writing and filmmaking life – were to be seen in all their glory in The Fortune released seven months before Shampoo and directed by Mike Nichols from a script by Adrien Joyce (aka Carol Eastman), who had written Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) for Nicholson. Beatty’s reticent, hesitant performance was found wanting when cast next to Nicholson, the self-styled blue collar intellectual. However, Beatty’s many interests over the decades have undoubtedly centred on his fascination for power and his particular amusement at the way in which the Hollywood/Beverly Hills élite operates (see Bulworth, which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in, in 1998) and it is to his credit as David Thomson points out, that Shampoo‘s

great insight is to see how far the Beverly Hills hairdresser is a servant who may have more power, knowledge and intimacy than lovers or tycoons. For he conjures appearance: when George softens and enhances Jackie for the party, when he lifts her out of weary, common attractiveness into beauty, it is the greatest gift that movies or LA know. It is the generosity that could seduce anyone there – the accurate understanding of how they might be beautiful […] This is not just cosmetics; it is only grace that makes people feel better about themselves. (20)

The film moves quickly, as though time were running out, from its opening moments on black with The Beach Boy’s song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” ironically underscoring George and Felicia making love:

Wouldn’t it be niiiice? […] We could be married,
then we could be happy, wouldn’t it be niiice?

The characters are drawn in equal measure subtly and periodically, with George announcing grandiloquently to Felicia, “I’m a star”, but the editing echoes his nervous narcissism, with his worst moment, outside the Bank of America, allowed to exist simply, a long-shot at the back door with George trashing his non-existent financial statement. (How could anyone possibly expect him to fill in a bank form with the information “I do Barbara Rush”?)

Diane Jacobs claims that “Ashby’s editing is flawless” with its fast movement and ensemble shots. As she points out,

only a few scenes – one between Beatty and Christie in a bathroom is memorable – are attenuated. Like the characters whose lives it glimpses, the film moves at a frenzied pace and is careful not to reveal too much of itself for fear we’ll notice the scores on the underbelly and stop laughing. (21)

The film is shot cleanly and crisply, drenched in Southern Californian sunshine and reeking of wealth. The effect is maximised by setting the film over a twenty-four period in the fashion of operatic and Aristotelian principles.

Shampoo and Critical Method

Diane Jacobs comments that the screenplay for Shampoo “is superb. The plot involves a series of unlikely liaisons precipitated by sex and business interests, and a description of the tangled relationships makes Shampoo sound like a cross between a Sheridan comedy and a game of Clue.” (22) David Thomson calls it “a lucid moral disaster, with resemblances to comedy of confusion” (23).

While Towne claims not to be aware of screenplay structure, the key points of the screenplay are the emotional turning points that have to do with George’s relationships with Jill and Jackie. Any screenplay’s structure is gauged according to the shifting perception of the protagonist, therefore we can ‘read’ the text of Shampoo according to George’s growing realisation of his own (increasingly grim) situation.

The Protagonist

I’ve been cutting too much hair lately. I’m losing all my concepts.

– George Roundy

Given that George is the protagonist, he is the one person about whom the story’s events are centred and the person who is chiefly affected by anything that happens. Pauline Kael says of him,

George, the sexual courier, servicing a garden apartment as ardently as a terraced estate, is a true democrat […] the only one of the characters who isn’t completely selfish; he’s the only one who doesn’t function successfully in the society. The others know how to use people, but George, the compleat lover, does everything for fun. Making love to a beautiful woman is an aesthetic thing with him, and making her look beautiful is an act of love for him. He’s almost a sexual saint. […] Towne’s heroes […] are hip to conventional society, and they assume that they reject its dreams. But in some corner of their heads they think that maybe the old romantic dream can be made to work.

In making the choice about who the protagonist might be, the writer is choosing something that will determine the entire nature of their story. The protagonist can be viewed in two ways: in close-up, and in relation to the social world about them. Not only that, but the protagonist must grow over the course of the story, if only in knowledge about their own particular situation. In John Howard Lawson’s Theory and Technique of Playwritings and Screenwriting, the aspiring screenwriter is advised to ask of their prospective protagonist the following questions:

1. What does the protagonist want?

2. Why does he want it?

3. What does the protagonist need emotionally or psychologically?

Lawson advises that the protagonist must be active in order to drive the plot; that he must be committed to something and forced to take action because of that commitment. (24)

What must then be addressed is what is at stake for the character and how much he might lose over the course of the story: the more he has to lose, the more conflict there is – and conflict is the stuff of drama. Kristin Thompson comments that

protagonists in classical Hollywood films seldom change quickly, and when they do change, they usually acquire desirable traits which they retain to the end … plots in which central characters gradually reform or mature are common in American films. (25)

A protagonist (or hero, if indeed the protagonist is heroic) is the driving force of any story. In the Aristotelian formulation, “we are what we do”. In other words, behaviour is character, character is behaviour. In the Stanislavskian method, the energy of a character is often a product of tension, between what a character wants and what they feel they should do. As promulgated by Lee Strasberg, Method Acting, as it came to be known via the Group Theater and the work of Elia Kazan, came to be the most formidable influence on American screen (and stage) acting style for many years (and it has never really left the consciousness). Acting is no longer acting, it is behaviour, linked to an inner life.

While this may have led to unseemly actorly excesses (one is reminded of Sir Laurence Olivier’s alleged remark to a self-absorbed Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man (John Schlesinger, 1976): “Why don’t you try acting, dear boy?”), it coincided with a huge social change owed in equal parts to Freudian analysis and the uncertainties of the post-World War II era.

In the Time magazine review of Shampoo, Jay Cocks states, “As played, deftly, by Beatty, George is an affable con man who goes no deeper than his own hypocrisy.” (26)

Shampoo

It is certainly noticeable that George achieves greater moments of depth when he confronts his own emptiness, and comes to terms with the consequences of leading a pleasurable life as a stud/satyr, but is that not an element of character structuring?

According to contemporary screenwriting manuals, based on years of observing Hollywood screenplay structures, if one were to graph a character, it would have a rising arc of self-awareness, with a catharsis that betrays the protagonist’s ultimate need, which has been masked by their desire all along. However, when a protagonist is heedless and amoral, like George, it can cause a problem with critical (or even audience) reception. (This did not seem to affect Richardson’s Tom Jones (1963), however, possibly due to its period setting and its emphatic delight in sheer bawdiness.)

Diane Jacobs comments,

fortunately, Towne and Ashby stop here, short of pathos or (more likely) bathos. There’s a wonderful line in [Paul] Mazursky’s Next Stop, Greenwich Village [1976] where the actors tells the poet, “I’ll tell you something: underneath that pose, there’s just more pose.” This is not quite true with George. Beneath the pose, there’s trouble, but we sense that the trouble is not particularly interesting; his behavior is the stuff of comedy, of social satire – not of tragedy. And thus, we leave him and his society probed a bit, but essentially unchanged and surviving. (27)

While gently laughing at its characters, however, Shampoo does not condemn them. As Thomson says,

it is always on the edge of melancholy, as if it knew the horror of aging and decay. Its ambiguity grows out of the very level way in which so many characters are seen. No one is rejected, or seen as without faults. (28)

George is a man of principles, however: when Lester Karpf accuses him of being “anti-Establishment”, he is horrified: “I’m not anti-Establishment!’ And when Jackie confronts him about his involvement with Felicia Karpf, he says, “I don’t fuck anybody for money, I do it for fun.”

When he asks Jackie why she left him, why she didn’t settle down with him, she replies,

JACKIE
You’re always so happy. About everything!

Thus, Jay Cocks concludes in Time: “Shampoo wants it both ways: wants a few laughs off George and wants, too, to bare his sensitive, desperate soul. It turns out he is a figure looking for pity, and it hardly seems worth it.” (29)

Structuring Elements

A screenplay’s structure is integrated fully with its controlling idea, or theme, which Linda Cowgill defines as follows:

Theme defines what a film experience is about; it determines the choice of incidents and events which make up the plot […] At the end, when they are added up in the mind of the viewer, each scene and sequence should contribute to the ultimate discovery of what the film is about.

Theme also

gives direction to the plot, defines the key issues for the characters and ultimately determines the depth of meaning for a work. It is the integrative force behind a great film and is essential for understanding what makes a film great. (30)

So what is the underlying, unifying idea behind Shampoo? The following scene appears to encapsulate the film’s message:

INT. BISTRO

SID ROTH has been eyeing Jackie.

SID ROTH
Aren’t you hungry, Miss Shawn?

Jackie looks at Roth. Roth shoots his cuffs and smiles.

JACKIE
Not for rubber chicken, no.

Sid Roth smiles. Jackie smiles back.

SID ROTH
(intime)
Well maybe I can get you something.

JACKIE
That’s very sweet of you, Mr Roth.

SID ROTH
Sid.

JACKIE
Sid. You must be a very important executive.

SID ROTH
(almost a whisper)
Well, whatever I am, I think I can get you whatever you’d like.

JACKIE
You do?

SID ROTH
Yes.

JACKIE
(same tone as Sid’s)
– – well, more than anything else – –
– – I’d like to suck his cock.

She points to George. George chokes on the last of a piece of chicken. Sid Roth is stunned. He doesn’t know what to do. George is coughing badly. Jackie slaps his back.

[pp. 94-95]

On page 97:

… she slips right under the table. It’s a surprisingly fluid move.

FELICIA
almost simultaneously rises, knocking her chair back.

LESTER
sees both moves …

GEORGE
His chin to the tablecloth is fishing under it for Jackie …

Jackie surfaces through the tablecloth.

JACKIE
(to Lester)
– you phony asshole.

LESTER
(as if he didn’t hear it)
Oh, dear that’s too bad.

(with quiet desperation, to George)
– get her out of here, get her out of here.

Robert Towne reportedly said of that scene, “That’s $40 million! Right there!”

Warren Beatty is quoted as saying,

The subject of Shampoo is hypocrisy, the commingling of sexual hypocrisy and political hypocrisy. The reason Julie’s line made for such an explosive moment was because it shredded that hypocrisy. (31)

Reportedly, when David Begelman saw this scene he was appalled, and asked Beatty to remove it: Beatty refused, saying it was the film’s best line.

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The Turning Point

A turning point, or plot point, can be defined as:

an incident, or event, that ‘hooks’ into the action and spins it around in another direction. It moves the story forward. The plot points at the end of Acts I and II hold the paradigm in place. They are the anchors of your story line. (32)

Syd Field’s book Screenplay was the first to properly identify the importance of Chinatown as a great screenplay and he is keen to stress the legacy of three-act structure in comprehending the way screen stories are written. Field says that the first plot or turning point occurs usually around page 25-27 of a screenplay, while the second takes place somewhere between pages 85 and 90. While some commentators (and screenwriters) would take issue with the prescribed notion, there is no doubt that it is based on observation, but has had the perhaps unfortunate effect of becoming a standardised method or formula for aspiring screenwriters (and studio executives).

The first turning point in Shampoo could be said to be when George is turned down for a loan at the Bank of America:

INT. BANK OF AMERICA – DAY

GEORGE
How do you expect to lend me money if you don’t know the first thing about my business?

PETTIS
I don’t.

This has the effect of making him turn to Lester Karpf for financing, and he meets Jackie again. This sets Act Two in motion.

According to Linda Cowgill, the midpoint sequence is a major structuring element in any screenplay. It is the ‘heart’ of a film, representing in any well-constructed film its emotions and concerns in microcosm. Cowgill defines it thus:

A midpoint links the action of the plot in the first half of Act Two (and the first Half of the film) to the second half of Act Two (and the last half of the film). It is an incident or episode in the plot which culminates a line of action on one hand and, on the other hand, pushes the plot forward toward the second act climax. An effective midpoint is one that is active and dramatic, either solving a problem or crisis, or creating more of them. The midpoint often takes us to a surprise, reversal, discovery or new complication, at the same time strengthening the relationship between the first half of the second act and the last half. It does not have to come exactly at the halfway mark in a film, but it generally occurs somewhere in the middle. (33)

What could be determined therefore as the midpoint sequence in Shampoo takes place approximately between 51 and 53 minutes in terms of running time, and on pages 80/81 of the script.

[Please note that the copy of the script being used for this analysis bears several substantially different scenes than those in the film as released and was the one used by casting agent Jane Feinberg. Therefore, I am merely repeating the dialogue in this scene, as spoken in the film, without adding any physical descriptions or commentary.]

In this scene, the following exchange takes place between Jill and George:

JILL
Well are they going to give you the loan?… I don’t know why I bothered to ask. The only way you’re ever going to get money out of a bank is to rob one!

GEORGE
What are you so mad about?

JILL
Oh, just fix my hair. You break your neck to go up to Jackie’s, when do I get my hair done?

GEORGE
She asked me to do her hair.

JILL
Does that mean you have to do whatever anybody asks? Why am I always at the end of the line when you’re passing out favors?

GEORGE
You want me to do your hair, I’ll do your hair.

JILL
And stop kissing everybody’s ass that comes into that shop. That’s not going to put you in business, that’s gonna make you a kiss ass.

GEORGE
I’m trying to get things moving.

JILL
Oh grow up! You never stop moving. You never go anywhere! Grow up! Grow up!

GEORGE
Honey … I just can’t take it any more. I want to get up early and run my own business. I want to take you out to a movie on the weekend. I’m trying, honey, I just can’t get out of my own way.

(This is not in the original version of the screenplay but is based in part on the dialogue on pages 80-81 of that version.)

Thematically, this is the stage where George is beginning to alter what he desires with a dawning realisation of what he might actually need in order to have a really fulfilling life. It is also the point that Jill beings to realise that she would be better off without him. Thus the midpoint serves in microcosm to deal with the film’s principal concerns.

Kristin Thompson state that that portion of a film lying between set-up and climax

often follows a trajectory that depends on more than simply throwing obstacles in the protagonist’s path – that trajectory includes modifications of existing goals or even the formation of entirely new goals. (34)

Shampoo is structured around two important social gatherings, in a pair of scene-sequences that operate to bring many of the film’s concerns to the fore. One is the bistro party for the election returns, the other is the counter-culture party at Sammy’s, where further truths are unveiled.

Cowgill describes scene sequences as a group of scenes

structured in cause and effect relationships, showing the protagonist of the sequence trying to accomplish something. They are also structured around the confrontation of an obstacle, complication or problem. Characters have to deal with this problem and produce a plan of action to do it. (35)

Syd Field describes a sequence as, “a series of scenes tied together, or connected, by one single idea.” (36) They can be variable in their length, structure and focus and can either encompass events leading to a problem or can begin with the problem and then build towards some kind of solution. Both of these techniques are evident in the major scene-sequences in Shampoo.

The second turning point in the film takes place again in a scene between George and Jill after she has caught him in flagrante delicto with Jackie at Sammy’s party and confronts him back at her apartment. He finally lets loose with a valedictory speech that explains his philosophy:

GEORGE
Let’s face it, I fucked ’em all. I mean, that’s what I do. That’s why I went to beauty school. I mean, they’re always there – and I don’t know what I’m apologising for, so sometimes I fuck ’em. I go into that shop and they’re so great looking, you know … and I’m doin’ their hair and they feel great and they smell great … you know, and I could be just on the street or stop at a stop light or go into an elevator or there’s a beautiful girl … I don’t know … I mean, that’s it – it makes my day – makes me feel like I’m gonna live forever. As far as I’m concerned with what I’d like to have done at this point in my life? I know I should’ve accomplished more but I got no regrets – Jesus – aahhh… maybe that means I don’t love them. Maybe that means I don’t love you. I don’t know. Nobody’s gonna tell me I don’t like ’em very much.

(as transcribed from the film)

This takes place approximately 86 minutes into the film and, as originally written in the script, on page 130.

Towne says of the on-set problems with the scene:

There were three of us behind the camera. If one of us wasn’t satisfied with a take, it was done over. In the celebrated scene between Warren and Goldie where she asks, ‘Were there other women?’ and he replies, ‘Well, there were a few times at the shop – Let’s face it, I fucked them all …’ Originally, he said, ‘Grow up, everybody fucks everybody.’ Warrren was towering over Goldie, so it seemed like he fucked everybody and was lecturing her about it. I called for a reshoot. Hal thought it was okay, and Warren, being the prudent producer, was reluctant, but I insisted, and then he got mad at me for not having realised that it was fucked up before we shot it. I went for a walk with my dog Hira and realised that Warren had to be sitting down and Goldie towering over him, and that his this speech had to be personal. It had to be torn out of him, so I did a rewrite. (37)

David Thomson remarks that, while the scene is riveting,

in truth, it says what we have already gathered about George, and it takes away from Shampoo being about a group of liars, connivers and appealing fakes. It takes away from the place, the light and the froth of the title to have one character on the analyst’s table, and so available for pity. There seems to me in the speech and its uncanny playing to be the instinct that the fault is not the speaker’s, but a condition that has made him the victim. He is drawing the dilemma into himself, making it private, after we have seen his shortcomings clearly in a social sense. But if he can inhale it – there, behind the nose – it becomes his burden, not his failure. (38)

In other words, it’s a cheap ploy to gain our sympathy.

George seems almost surprised when Jill tells him to leave but he drives home where Lester is waiting for him with two hoods. Lester might be willing to finance George’s shop, despite all that has happened. George then goes to the salon where he discovers that Norman’s son (a soldier, on his way back to active duty) has been killed in a car crash. (This was originally going to be Mary’s son, who was serving in Vietnam.) George then realises what he must do – and beg Jackie to marry him. She leaves for Acapulco, with Lester. (39)

The last page of the original screenplay bears the legend:

TO BE WRITTEN:
A page and a half epilogue between Mrs. Jackie Karpf and George in his quite Successful shop in 1974.

It never made it to the film.

Symbols

The obvious symbolic motif in the film is the hair and hair styling: these moments in the salon and in Jackie’s house provide intimacy and an opportunity to create subtext. (Pauline Kael says that when George asks Jackie if she wants him to do her hair, it’s his love lyric.) When Lester is confronted with his infidelity at the bistro, all he can think of saying to his wife and his mistress is that their hairstyles are “fabulous”. At the film’s climax, George’s hair is a mess, Jackie’s is great. Even Lester looks like he might have had the layering George recommended in desperation at the bistro.

Shampoo

George rides a BSA motorbike, which immediately marks him out in a city that is famed for its freeways – and it is in stark contrast to the Rolls Royce preferred by Lester Karpf, and the signal red Porsche driven by director Johnny Pope, his rivals in love. George’s dumb luck is brought home to him with the news that Norman’s soldier son is killed in a car crash, caused by another driver.

When we first meet George, he is having sex with Felicia and eats a red apple – a symbol straight out of fairytales (again, an ironic verbal reference) like Snow White. When George meets Felicia’s precocious daughter Lorna, she offers him a baked apple: a clear invitation to sin. When Jill is considering her future with George, she pauses at a fruit and vegetable stall outside the grocery store. She takes up a green apple – and leaves it aside. This is also an ironic play on the 1960s idea of “fruit”, with its homosexual connotations, which George uses to his advantage in “gaying up” in front of his lover’s wives (a spin on Horner’s role of pretend-eunuch in Wycherley’s play.)

Jill’s apartment is characterised by Towne as “good-little-girl tidy” (p. 125) in contrast to the mess at Jackie’s, who nonetheless has George’s heart. Lester says of George’s own apartment, on page 132 of the script:

LESTER
(continuing)
You live like a pig.

And on page 137:

LESTER
Jesus, what a way to live. You don’t have a clean glass in the house …

Of course, this thread of cleanliness as symbol, which of course is packed into a film about hair (and washing, combing through and styling), is completed at the film’s climax when Jackie is finishing packing for Acapulco at her place. George finds her and the cleaners arrive shortly thereafter: the underlying idea, that it’s finally time to clean up her act (and clean out the clutter from the closets) couldn’t be more clear. The leitmotif for the film could well be South Pacific‘s “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of my Hair”, but the film is bookended by The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, which emphasises the yearning beneath George’s braggadocio.

A number of late-1960s hits had been named in the original script, but the film’s final music was scored by Paul Simon with just a few excerpts of pop songs underlining the various scenes’ lessons: The Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” forms the backdrop to Sammy’s party, a piece of music that diametrically opposes The Beach Boys’ innocent desires, coming as it does from the mature side of The Beatles’ body of work and subsequent to their mind-altering meetings with Ravi Shankar, the Maharishi and LSD.

A Cultural Myth

Shampoo is more than just a film of seductions and betrayals, as David Thomson calls it. The idea of capturing a specific time, and place, was something that had caught Towne’s imagination in Chinatown and was now about the different atmosphere characterising the city with which he was so familiar.

Pauline Kael says of the film in her review,

the picture is a sex roundelay set in a period as clearly defined as the Jazz Age. (It’s gone, all right, and we know that best when we catch echoes from it.) Maybe we’ve all been caught in a time warp, because [T]he Beatles’ sixties of miniskirts and strobe lights, when people had not yet come down from their euphoria about the harmlessness of drugs, is already a period with its own bubbly potency. The time of Shampoo is so close to us that at moments we forget its pastness, and then we’re stung by the consciousness of how much has changed. Shampoo is set in the past for containment, for a formalized situation, just as Ingmar Bergman set his boudoir farce, Smiles of a Summer Night [1955], in the operetta past of the Merry Widow period. What the turn-of-the-century metaphor did for Bergman the 1968 election, as the sum of an era, does for Shampoo.

Thomas Schatz has written of cinema’s role in perpetuating myth as follows:

The relationship between a culture’s cinema and its mythology has long been of interest to film critics and historians, particularly those genre critics who have noted the ‘repetition compulsion’ and populist ideology of both folk tales and genre films […] Consider the basic similarities between those two activities: how the society at large participates in isolating and refining certain stories, the fact that those stories are essentially problem-solving strategies whose conflicts cannot be fully resolved […] the tendency for heroic types to mediate the opposing values inherent within the problem, and the attempt to resolve the problem in a fashion that reinforces the existing social and conceptual order […] a myth is both true and false, both a clarification and a distortion of real-world experience and the human condition. It is, finally, a formalized means to negotiate the present via concepts and images which are the residue of human history. (40)

Shampoo

Jay Cocks writes in Time that “the overpriced lassitude of Southern California living is well caught” (41). One of the film’s key selling points is that it captures the lives of the fabled ‘Beautiful People’. Thomson says it is “it is bathed in the painless light of southern California and the downy glow of bodies better cared for than any in human history” (42). Robert Bookbinder says that it

dealt openly and candidly with the sex lives of the rich and beautiful, a subject that has fascinated millions of readers over the years but one that, until Shampoo, had never been brought to the screen with any success. For the most part, the many film versions of the Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins best-sellers were rather poorly made despite their big budgets, often containing laughable performances and bad scripts which gave them little appeal to audiences. Shampoo, however, contained all the erotic flavor of films such as The Love Machine [Jack Haley, Jr., 1971] and [Jacqueline Susann’s] Once is Not Enough [Guy Green, 1975], but it was also an excellent movie, blessed with a literate script, fine performances and superb direction. (43)

As Diane Jacobs puts it, “where The Last Detail is about people society calls losers, Shampoo is about people society calls winners.” She continues,

everyone in the film – from the ‘scoring’ executive to the ‘scoring’ hairdresser – aspires to success in bed and in the bank. We are given only the most fleeting glimpse of something beyond the struggle to get rich and conquer when George learns that Norman’s son has died – and he’s momentarily troubled. (44)

In fact, this is the third part of Turning Point 2, triggering George’s final desperate attempt to win back Jackie. The conclusion of the film however is true to the intention of The Country Wife, where Horner acknowledges his shortcomings:

HORNER
Vain fops but court and dress and keep a puther
To pass for women’s men with one another,
But he who aims by women to be priz’d,
First by the men, you see, must be despis’d. (45)

And the play’s final words of warning are spoken by Mrs Knep:

But, gallants, have a care, faith, what you do.
The world, which to no man his due will give,
You by experience know you can deceive
And men may still believe you vigorous,
But then we women – there’s no cozening us. (46)

James Monaco comments on the film’s “existential statement about the New Hollywood”, that “myth begins to overtake reality. The characters work, their significance politically and culturally doesn’t: it’s too little, too late.” (47)

Part of the (negative) mythology surrounding Shampoo has, of course, to do with the fabled sex life of its star and producer, Warren Beatty, who had recently ended his off-screen relationship involved with Julie Christie, and had made an earlier film with co-star Goldie Hawn, $(Dollars) (Richard Brooks, 1972), as well as having allegedly bedded legions of other women, many of them his co-stars in previous film outings. (On the other hand, his legendary reputation as Lothario makes the jokes about gay hairdressers all the more amusing and nourishes the text in ways that the casting of no other actor could perhaps achieve.)

Shampoo was cast to perfection, adding Lee Grant as the other woman with whom George is sleeping regularly, and all three actresses are at the height of their powers both in terms of the roles they play and the way they are presented. Beatty himself has said of the film,

One could attack Shampoo for instance, propagandistically. My God, you certainly could – the feminist movement could attack it, the serious forward-seeking optimist in American politics could attack it, capitalists, communists, everybody could attack it – because it doesn’t seem to put any of its characters in a very admirable, positive light. But I think what has happened is that American filmmakers of the mid-1970s have drawn negative conclusions from their basic perceptions, and that’s what the films are about. (48)

Charles Champlin, writing in The Los Angeles Times, says:

Shampoo will be worth studying a century from now to know what a part of our times was like. Its language wipes out whatever reticences were left in the screen’s playback of life as spoken. Its images manage fairly ingeniously to keep a few letters east of X and yet the combination of word and half-seen deed makes Shampoo seem more explicit than Last Tango in Paris and Warren Beatty out-reveals by a few square inches of sacroiliac. (49)

Pauline Kael, a tastemaker critic eventually taken up by Hollywood and installed with her own production deal at Paramount, said of the film that it was “the most virtuoso example of sophisticated kaleidoscopic farce that American moviegoers have ever come up with” (50). (She also compared the film with Bergman, Max Ophüls and Jean Renoir.)

In December 1999 Premiere magazine chose to remember “The Movies that Changed America” in a colour piece that “spotlights the films that have helped shape our national identity”. The testimonial it chose to run with Shampoo comes from actress-comedienne Sandra Bernhard and she eulogises the film as follows:

In 1975 I was working as a manicurist in Beverly Hills and doing stand-up at night. Shampoo was released that year and was based on some of the real people – beauty-industry legends – that frequented the Cia Salon on North Cañon Drive. To those of us in the know, their true identities were quite obvious. The end of the hippie era had arrived, and everyone was kicking it into high gear – behind the wheel of a Mercedes, in front of a mirror … or above it. Beverly Hills was swinging – and so was I – so the movie sort of hit home. People could still afford to let it all hang out. Although we didn’t know it yet, the film captured some of the last vestiges of that particularly crazy and carefree era. Men were checking out women, women were checking out men, and, basically everybody was screwing everybody. And who better to symbolize that aesthetic, and our own feelings at the time, than Warren Beatty’s alter ego, George – the beautiful boy who knew how to blow hair … and get blown. He seduced us all. In spite of what was to follow – the downfall of sexual spontaneity – Shampoo acted as a kind of aphrodisiac, and it holds us in that fleeting moment we still long for so many years later. A bittersweet memoir. (51)

Bernhard’s blunt testimony sums up what many of that generation would come to feel about the last days of the 1960s, dragged into the ’70s: it was a transition that occurred later than anticipated, mainly due to lingering anxieties over Watergate and Vietnam (which finally ended in 1975, the year of the film’s release.) Shampoo, however, establishes a nostalgic note primarily because of the naïveté of George Roundy – a fatal component of his character and a key motif threading throughout Towne’s body of work: innocence destroyed by experience. This is emblemised in the final shots of the film, when George is left pathetically on the hill, watching his dream girl being driven away.

A Political Text: The Divided Self

Truth is, I’m kind of a romantic.

– Robert Towne

Social

A social reading of the film is connected with the way in which romance was perceived in films of the time. As critic David Denby wrote, romance was dead by 1973. Part of this was undoubtedly due to the changing nature of male-female relations with high rates of divorce in the U.S.

Easier birth control and a relaxing of traditional restraints separated sexuality from the marriage career track and made possible a singles life that entailed greater experimentation, frequently without romantic involvement. In addition, feminism meant that more women were striking out on their own and supporting themselves through work; they were less dependent on men for their well-being. The traditional model of romance (active male/passive female) suffered in consequence.

Ryan and Kellner comment that, “the liberal critical spirit that motivated the decline of romance is strikingly articulated in Shampoo”, which they say is

a satire of the Republican style of political sleaze as well as being a post-Watergate ‘I told you so’ that presupposes the subsequent revelations of Republican corruption as an ironic context for Agnew’s moralistic pontifications. Though critical of conservative attacks on ‘permissive attitudes’, the film nonetheless is itself critical of sexual promiscuity.

The writers continue that the film possesses “deflationary rhetoric”, and that it

offers not metaphoric idealizations. Its rhetorical mode is more metonymic. Rather than pretend to reveal a moral truth, it constructs meanings through the juxtaposition of material worldly elements […], or the satiric displacement within the narrative of the same event so that the various contexts transform its meaning […] These debunking strategies prevent idealization, and they point toward the material basis which leads a woman to choose one man over another.

The authors conclude, “In this film then, an ideal of a genuine romance serves as an implicit criterion for judging both female opportunism and male cynicism. The failure of romance is associated with the success of conservative capitalism and the undermining of human relationships by the cash nexus.

As Shampoo illustrates, the undermining of romance is linked to the shearing away of self-delusion and pretension regarding the materiality of social life. If conservative delusion and idealization are based on the suppression of materiality, liberal and radical critiques of those delusions promote a counterideological awareness of the power of materiality in determining social interaction, especially such fragile, delusion-fraught dimensions of social life as romance.

Personal

Warren Beatty’s political commitment to the Democratic Party could be traced to his upbringing in West Virginia. Both parents were liberal teachers and arts enthusiasts who encouraged the young student to participate in community activities. David Thomson recounts Beatty’s involvement with Robert Kennedy’s campaign for election in the Winter of 1967, until the candidate’s assassination, an incident that would haunt Beatty and influence his decision-making on The Parallax View (Allan J. Pakula, 1974), which original screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. claimed was “fatal” to the source novel’s intentions.

Beatty’s political involvement was also influenced by his sister, Shirley MacLaine, who campaigned with him for George McGovern in 1972. Beatty pioneered the political concert, where many mainstream rock acts helped raise money for the Democratic Party (this could be said to have its culmination on the arrival of Governor Clinton to the White House in 1994, to the strains of “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)” by Fleetwood Mac on the Presidential lawn. The Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, was named after a Joni Mitchell song.)

Writing in Premiere magazine, Peter Biskind says,

along with Robert Redford and Paul Newman, whose careers and politics bear interesting comparisons to his own, he is among the last of the old larger-than-life stars; he is a bridge to the generation of such giant talents as Elia Kazan, George Stevens, and William Wyler. He has enjoyed the success his looks and skills have conferred upon him but has had the effrontery to turn his back on his career when the spirit moved him, spending months at a time in electoral politics. Worse, he backed two losers, George McGovern and Gary Hart, liberal Democrats drowned in a sea of conservatism. (52)

At a crucial moment in the bistro scene held during the election returns, Felicia is dragging George to the Ladies’ Room and their departure from right to left across the screen reveals Pope and Jill, sitting to either side of a television set, where Spiro Agnew is declaiming:

Exactly what can a President do to affect the moral tone of a country? A President can end the permissive attitudes, non-critical of an individual who decides for himself whether to obey or not …

While Pope asks Jill why George might have gone into the Ladies’ Room with Felicia, Richard Nixon intones in the background: “In our administration the American flag will not be a doormat for anybody …”

Not everyone was impressed by the apparent attempts to draw political lessons from cultural mores, or vice versa:

The reason, presumably, for setting the movie in 1968 is to groom George, the last shabby survivor of the age of grooviness, into a sardonic metaphor. There are many references to the Nixon election, and at times the movie appears to be attempting a delineation of the moral neutrality that could produce a Nixon and a Watergate. (53)

For all the film’s political advocacy, nobody in the film is seen to vote on Election Day.

III. ‘Shampoo’ and Authorship

I was never off the set of Shampoo, and Warren and Hal allowed me to participate in that process.

– Robert Towne (54)

Never underestimate the narcissism of a writer.

– Warren Beatty

Diane Jacobs makes the claim for Shampoo that it dispelled any doubts there might have been about Ashby’s versatility as a director because the film “is as different in tone and subject matter from The Last Detail as it is compatible in approach.” (55) Of course, Shampoo was really created by three distinct people and Warren Beatty was not the least of them. Of him, Towne once commented, “Warren will not knowingly go down a crooked road”, which might indicate there were some problems in assembling this elaborate ensemble farce.

Beatty has said:

Shampoo

It was Towne that offered me the screen credit. I would have been happy to go to arbitration. The story had no political context with Robert, no Nixon, no nothing. All of that is 99% me, my work. We use to meet every fucking day and I’d have to tell him the goddamn story. It’s absolutely not true that every line of dialogue is his. It’s an outrageous lie. Both party sequences were written by me, none of those were in Towne’s original draft at all. That’s half the movie. This idea of his being upset about credit is insane. Half the fuckin’ time he didn’t show up on the set, he’d be at the doctor. (56)

Towne was undoubtedly happy with the finished film and says,

Of all the movies I’ve done and have not directed, Shampoo probably came closest in tone to the way I would have done it had I directed it. (57)

What of Ashby? According to the account offered by Peter Biskind, his role was minimised:

If Shampoo had an auteur, it was probably Beatty. From the start Ashby was at a disadvantage. Beatty had filled the key production slots with his own people, and Hal had no allies, except for editor Bob Jones. “Hal hated authority, and on that picture, Warren represented authority,” says [Charles] Mulvehill. “It was his film. Hal was a control freak without any control.” Adds Jones, “It was tough for him. I’d go on the set, and Warren and Towne would be off whispering in the corner. Hal would be sitting in the other corner.” Haskell Wexler was a good friend of Hal’s. “I visited the set a number of times,” he says. “Hal was like an office boy on that, and he wasn’t used to being that way. Warren chewed Hal up and spit him out.” One day, Dick Sylbert [production designer] was standing outside the studio. “Hal walked up to me and said, ‘I can’t take it anymore. These guys won’t let me alone.’ He hated it, because we’d have meetings, and we’d go, ‘All right, Hal, this is what we’re gonna do.’ We beat the shit out of him, had him boxed in – Warren, Towne, myself, and Anthea [Sylbert, costumes]. Actor, script, set, and costumes. They’d make him reshoot, do takes he didn’t want to do, coverage he felt he didn’t need. But generally he was smart enough to just go with the flow. He was the best person they could have hired, because Ashby’s feelings about people were very good. He was a sweetheart of a man, and a wonderful director. To do that movie, you couldn’t be mean, you couldn’t do an Altman.”

Biskind continues,

The situation was delicate, with Beatty trying to get the best out of Hal, but also directing through him. Anthea Sylbert puts it this way: “It was a collaborative effort, with Warren at the helm. One day, Warren said to me, ‘I want you to watch that scene there.’ So I watched it. Then he came to me and he said, ‘Well, how was it?’ ‘Just okay.’ He said, ‘Go tell Hal.’ I said, ‘I’m not telling Hal anything. You go tell Hal.’” (58)

And yet the film bears Ashby’s clever yet delicate framing, his humanistic response to problems, and his countercultural sensibility. Diane Jacobs comments, “Neither Towne nor Ashby loves these characters, but together they have the wonderful knack of making them likable in spite of themselves.” (59) David Thomson offers, “it shows how in American film the producer can be the artist” (60). Pauline Kael says of Ashby that his

control keeps Shampoo from teetering over into burlesque. His work doesn’t have the flash of an innovative, intuitive film artist, but for the script Towne has prepared, Ashby, the craftsman who serves the material, is probably the only kind of director. (61)

And yet the Sylberts (Richard and Anthea) were also positive sounding-boards for everyone concerned, according to both Robert Towne and Peter Biskind’s accounts. Towne recalled that,

On Shampoo I would find myself, as I was rewriting, showing scenes to Anthea before anybody else, to get not just what she thought about costumes but about the characters too. On a movie set, somebody’s the director, and somebody’s the set designer. But people do have ideas about other things, and sometimes they’re very valuable.

It is perhaps, then, unwise to conclude that Shampoo is a case of Towne as auteur – it is more appropriate to accord the team of filmmakers the title, as Howard and Mabley advise:

Close inspection shows the contributions of collaborating writers, the same cinematographer and compose and designer in film after film […] Where does the work of all the others end and the work of the director begin? While the director is undeniably the leader of the team once the game begins, there is no game without the writer, and the director cannot hope to accomplish much without the other team members […] the variety, depth, and vividness of any given film is stronger for the efforts of this small group, each adding his or her individual expertise to the enterprise. (62)

Exeunt: A Crowning Achievement

The film was an enormous box-office success, earning in excess of $60 million in its initial run in the United States. Towne, along with Beatty, was nominated once again for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, for the third year in succession. The script failed to win, but Lee Grant won in the Best Supporting Actress category for her performance as Felicia.

The Roman Catholic Church expressed its feelings towards the production in a rather different way, giving it a “condemned” (63). The film would prove to be one of the last true moments of personal expression in American cinema: Memorial Day weekend 1975 would see history of a different kind in the making, with the release of Jaws (Steven Spielberg).

Primary Sources

Shampoo screenplay by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty, undated draft, marked for the attention of Jane Feinberg, casting agent.

William Wycherley, The Country Wife, in Peter Holland (Ed.), The Plays of William Wycherley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

Endnotes

  1. Robert Towne, “A Screenwriter on Screenwriting”, in David Pirie (Ed.), Anatomy of the Movies (London: Windward Books, 1981), p. 151.
  2. Towne in Joel Engel, Screenwriters on Screenwriting (New York: Hyperion, New York, 1995), pp. 217-8. Beatty and Feldman had been close for a number of years. In the 1950s, Feldman had bought the rights to a Czech play about a Don Juan, called Lot’s Wife, as a vehicle for Cary Grant, who turned it down. Then Feldman decided it was right for Beatty (who didn’t want Feldman’s girlfriend, Capucine, to have a role in the film.) Beatty’s catchphrase to women on the telephone was, “What’s new, pussycat?”, and Feldman took that as a title for the screenplay by I. A. L. Diamond. Neither Beatty nor Feldman was happy with Diamond’s work and gave the project to Woody Allen, who boosted his own role at Beatty’s expense. And Capucine reappeared. Beatty walked and the deal with Feldman was off, but the film was made and was a huge hit. See Peter Biskind’s article, “The Man Who Minted Style”, in Vanity Fair, April 2003, pp. 100-111, and also David Thomson, Warren Beatty and Desert Eyes: A Life and a Story (New York: Vintage Books, 1987).
  3. Towne in Engel, p. 218. David Thomson muses on the title: “I’m not sure that Shampoo isn’t better than ‘Hairdresser screws around’ because it is shorter and because it conjures up the froth of ejaculation – a sort of sperm rinse.” “Screenwriters and Screenwriting”, in Pirie (Ed.), p. 145.
  4. The Bedford Introduction to Drama, second edition (Boston: Bedford Books, 1993), p. 1394. Pauline Kael’s review of the film alludes to the theatrical dimension of the film: “The balletic, patterned confusion of Shampoo is theatrical, and Los Angeles – more particularly, Beverly Hills, the swankest part of it, a city within a city – is, indisputably, a stylized theatrical setting. But a bedroom-chase construction isn’t stagey in Beverly Hills: Shampoo has a mathematically structured plot in an open society. Los Angeles itself, the sprawl-city, opens the movie up, and the L.A. sense of freedom makes its own comment on the scrambling characters. Besides, when you play musical chairs in the bedrooms of Beverly Hills, the distances you have to cover impose their own comic frenzy. As in a Feydeau play or some of the René Clair and Lubitsch films, the more complicated the interaction is, the more we look forward to the climactic muddle and the final sorting out of couples. The whirring pleasures of carnal farce require our awareness of the mechanics, and the director, Hal Ashby, has the deftness to keep us conscious of the structure and yet to give it free play. The plot isn’t arbitrary; it’s what George, who can never really get himself together, is caught in. The mixed pairs of lovers don’t get snarled at the same parties by coincidence; they go knowing who else is going to be there, wanting the danger of collisions.” Kael notes the differences between Towne’s contemporary staging and classic theatre: “The actors are much more free than in the confines of classic farce. They’re free, too, of the stilted witticisms of classic farce: Towne writes such easy, unforced dialogue that they might be talking in their own voices.” “Beverly Hills as a Big Bed”, reprinted in Reeling: Film Writings 1972-1975 (London and New York: Marion Boyars, 1992), pp. 437-8.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Peter Holland (Ed.), The Plays of William Wycherly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 229. Towne later commented on the project: “The Country Wife idea never really developed. As I wrote, I realized there were other concerns. The only echo of it is in the hairdresser’s relationship with Jack Warden and in the steamroom scene. It would have been a mistake to construct a movie just repeating that gag. But Shampoo, instead, is sort of Our Town. It’s Grovers Corner 1968, only it’s Beverly Hills. I’m genuinely fond of all the characters. I hope this was communicated to the audience.” Towne in “Dialogue on Film”, in American Film, 1975, p. 43.
  7. The Bedford Introduction to Drama, p. 10.
  8. The Bedford Introduction to Drama, p. 11.
  9. From Peter Holland (Ed.) p. 230.
  10. From Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (New York: Simon & Schuster, 199), p. 51. The Larner and Evans quotes are on p. 107. Towne himself says of the delays on writing the screenplay: “Warren and I had some arguments over the script. He wanted to have one strong woman’s role for Julie Christie, and I ended up writing two strong woman’s roles, or two roughly equivalent woman’s roles. His view was that neither role was strong or good. He was very angry about it, and I was very angry about his being angry about it, because I thought the script was really pretty terrific. For a period of about six months we hardly spoke, and the project was put aside for several years. Then he fitfully talked of reviving it and of adding the political element to the film. One of his major contributions, by the way, was to add the election part to the 1970 draft. He restructured some of the script and added the party sequences. Then in about eight days at the Beverly Wilshire I completely rewrote it with him and Hal Ashby. We’d argue about certain scenes, especially as time became an important factor. Warren is the kind of person who, once he makes up his mind to do something, after procrastinating seemingly forever, is hysterically committed to it. He’s like a sergeant blowing his whistle and going over the top and leading the troops into the machine guns.” Towne in “Dialogue on Film”, pp.43-4.
  11. Robert Towne, “I Wanna Make It Like Real Life”, Sight and Sound, February 1999, p. 59. David Thomson says of Shampoo, “like a Jean Renoir picture, it never loses sight of the sound reasons we all have for what we do. But the picture does finally sink George’s pity. For while it is a comedy, still its central character has no humor about what he does. He is a philanderer – yet somehow he is hiding from his own promiscuity, saying it is only liberty. He wants to think well of himself; he longs for some Roundy of his own who will make him morally lovely and unimpeachable.” Thomson, p. 352.
  12. Andrew Laskos, “The Hollywood Majors”, in David Pirie (Ed.), p. 13.
  13. Ibid.
  14. James Monaco, American Film Now (New York: Plume Books, 1979), p. 276.
  15. Douglas Gomery, “The American Film Industry of the 1970s: Stasis in the ‘New Hollywood’”, in Wide Angle, 1983 Vol. 5, No. 4, p. 52.
  16. Gomery, p. 52.
  17. Quoted in Biskind, p. 190.
  18. Biskind, p. 191.
  19. Towne in Brady, p. 401.
  20. Thomson, pp. 351-2.
  21. Jacobs, p. 230.
  22. Jacobs, p. 229.
  23. Thomson, p. 352.
  24. Adapted from John Howard Lawson, Theory and Technique of Playwriting, reprint (New York: Garland, 1985), p. 168. Kael’s quote comes from her review, pp. 437-42.
  25. Kristin Thompson, Storytelling in the New Hollywood (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001), p. 50.
  26. From Lawrence Quirk, The Films of Warren Beatty (New York: Citadel Press, , 1990), p. 193.
  27. Diane Jacobs, Hollywood Renaissance (New York: Delta Books, 1980), pp.230-1.
  28. Thomson, p. 352.
  29. Quoted in Quirk, p. 193.
  30. Linda Cowgill, The Secrets of Screenplay Structure (Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Books, 1999), p. 151; 64.
  31. Biskind, p. 302.
  32. Syd Field, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (New York: DTP, 1984), p. 115.
  33. Cowgill, p. 29.
  34. Kristin Thompson, p. 52.
  35. Cowgill, p. 174.
  36. Field, p. 96.
  37. Towne in Biskind, p. 194.
  38. Thomson, p. 355.
  39. David Thomson, in his typically fantastical way, ventures another ending: “Shampoo might end more challengingly if it had a vision other than the producer’s, or one that could be colder in looking at him. It might end more challengingly if the forlorn George was cheered up by the film’s most frightening character, the Carrie Fisher part, in a blunt, unadorned, unalleviated scene of sexual excess, a home movie of them getting it on, with her sucking George’s ankle and Warren’s faraway face watching, nearly deserted.” Thomson, pp.355-6.
  40. Thomas Schatz, Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking and the Studio System (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981), pp. 261-6. Thomson, p. 397. Kael’s review, “Beverly Hills as a Big Bed”, is reprinted in Reeling.
  41. As quoted in Quirk, p. 193.
  42. Thomson, p. 352.
  43. Robert Bookbinder, The Films of the Seventies (New York: Citadel Press, 1993), p. 115.
  44. Jacobs, pp. 228-9.
  45. Wycherley in Peter Holland (Ed.), p. 340.
  46. Ibid, p. 341.
  47. Monaco, p. 276.
  48. As quoted in Quirk, p. 21. Pauline Kael is particularly astute in her reading of the leading ladies’ contribution to the film’s success: “Julie Christie is one of those screen actresses whose every half-buried though smashes through; she’s so delicate an actress that when she plays a coarse girl like Jackie there’s friction in every nuance.” On Goldie Hawn: “As the hysterical young Jill, she isn’t allowed to be too hysterical; Hal Ashby doesn’t let her go all frilly and wistful, either.” And, “Lee Grant, who worked with Ashby in The Landlord, the film of his that Shampoo most resembles (though he was a beginner then, with nothing like the assurance he shows now), is such a cool-style comedienne that she’s in danger of having people say that she’s good, as usual. But she carries off the film’s most sexually brutal scene: Felicia comes home late for an assignation with George and discovers that while he was waiting for her he has been occupied with her teenage daughter (Carrie Fisher), and she still wants to go to bed with him. She wants it more than ever.” Kael, pp.438-9.
  49. As quoted in Quirk, p. 193.
  50. As quoted on the Cinema Club video sleeve notes for the film. According to Biskind, “Towne, rather than Beatty or Ashby, was the hero of her review. He has a cameo in the picture, and she flattered him by writing that he looked like Albrecht Dürer. He started dropping her name in a way that suggested to some people that he and Kael were intimates, that he had explained his views to her, that Shampoo was a version of Smiles of a Summer Night. When her review came out, it was sprinkled with references to Bergman’s film. No one could prove it of course, but people were suspicious. ‘You think Kael recognized what was behind SHAMPOO?’ continues [Buck] Henry. ‘He told her.’” Biskind, p. 303.
  51. “The Movies That Changed America”, Premiere, December 1999, p. 92.
  52. Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner write about the politics of Shampoo in Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 152-3. The quote about Beatty and his politics is to be found in Peter Biskind, “Warren and Me”, Premiere, July 1990, p. 54. The arc of Beatty’s political life is traced in Ronald Brownstein, The Power and the Glitter: The Hollywood-Washington Connection (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990) as well as David Thomson, Warren Beatty and Desert Eyes. Neither book has been updated so does not account for the brief period in 2001 when rumours circulated that he was considering running for public office. Brownstein writes, “Pinning down Beatty is like trying to corral smoke. Just finding him, physically, is a challenge: he is perpetually en route. His thoughts can be as elusive. He is easy to talk to, engaging, often charming, and he speaks with precision and intelligence on many subjects, but occasionally it seems as if he is responding to a different question that only he can hear. Critics have often cited the same quality in his work. His characters frequently display a disconnectedness, a vague restlessness, that words cannot fully express nor actions entirely erase. For all his renown as the premier Hollywood Casanova of his generation, there is some of that same solitariness in Beatty himself. He is a careful, bright, guarded man, extremely reluctant to expose himself to situations outside his control.” Brownstein, p. 230.
  53. Time magazine review quoted in Quirk, p.193.
  54. In Brady, p. 373; Kael’s review, p. 437.
  55. Jacobs, p. 228.
  56. As quoted in Biskind, p. 305.
  57. Towne in Engel, p. 219.
  58. Biskind, pp. 193-4.
  59. Jacobs, p. 230.
  60. Thomson, p. 355.
  61. Kael, p. 441.
  62. Howard and Mabley, The Tools of Screenwriting (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1995), p. 13. In the same volume, Towne is quoted as saying, “I say this as a writer: there is no more important person on a set than a director. But even then a movie is always collaborative. I believe the auteur theory is merely one way it is easier for historians to assign credit or blame to individuals. It’s a simplistic way of interpreting facts, and it often has very little to do with what actually happened.” Howard and Mabley, p. 12. Towne’s comments were recorded at the American Film Institute in “Dialogue on Film”, in American Film, 1975.
  63. “The [Roman Catholic] Conference’s film and broadcasting division gave Shampoo the ‘C’ rating – the toughest of its classifications – and asserted that Shampoo‘s people, including Beatty, Goldie Hawn, his erstwhile love Julie Christie and others, were ‘beautiful to watch, even though they go through some of the ugliest situations and raunchiest dialogue seen outside hard-core theatre.’” Quirk, p. 55. The author muses whether this might have any future ramifications for Beatty’s political ambitions within the Democratic Party, in whose ranks Catholics feature largely.

About The Author

Elaine Lennon is currently completing PhD research on the screenplays of Robert Towne at the School of Media in Dublin Institute of Technology where she lectures on film and screenwriting. She has an M.A. in Film Studies from University College Dublin and has worked in film and television production in Ireland and the United Kingdom. She has recently been Writer in Residence for her local authority in County Cavan, Ireland.