Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘Terms of Endearment’ Director Looks Back on ‘Stormy’ Backstage Drama Ahead of 40th Anniversary

‘Terms of Endearment’ Director Looks Back on ‘Stormy’ Backstage Drama Ahead of 40th Anniversary

Terms of Endearment director James L. Brooks is paying tribute to the film (which turns 40 this month) by sharing memories from the set. Adapted from Larry McMurtry’s 1975 novel, the film features Shirley MacLaine as Aurora Greenway, a wealthy widow from Texas. The story revolves around Aurora’s complex relationship with her rebellious daughter, Emma, portrayed by Debra Winger.

In the film, which features notable actors such as Jeff Daniels, Danny DeVito, John Lithgow, and Jack Nicholson, the female characters exhibit immense strength. They not only face difficult battles but also experience profound love.

The on-screen tension between the mother and daughter was reflected off-screen as well. According to Brooks, MacLaine and Winger did not get along. “I don’t know whether feud is the word. It was very alive. It was stormy,” Brooks recently told People.

However, he admits the tension may have added to the alchemy of Terms of Endearment‘s success. “That many actors hitting it out of the ballpark was extraordinary,” Brooks told the outlet.

The film was nominated for 11 Oscars and won five, including Best Picture. Brooks picked up trophies for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Meanwhile, MacLaine won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor went to Nicholson.

‘Terms of Endearment’ Could Have Had a Much Different Cast

Despite MacLaine turning in an iconic performance as Aurora, she wasn’t a shoo-in for the part. Brooks talked to other notable actresses. This included Louise Fletcher, who won an Oscar for her role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Anne Bancroft from The Graduate.

“The truth is that I spent maybe two months talking to great American actresses past 50, and it was fantastic. I’ll just never have a time like that again,” the director admitted. However, he sensed the magic as soon as he met with MacLaine. “Then, when I was with Shirley, it became clear that she was the one,” recalls Brooks.

“I remember that I went to see her at her apartment, and at a certain point, we just fell silent,” Brooks remembered. “I just had tremendous regard for her, and we were standing, and suddenly it was odd. She said, ‘This could be important,’ and it was like a moment.”

Winger and MacLaine Weren’t Exactly Fast Friends

Winger and MacLaine’s relationship didn’t blossom quickly when they first crossed paths on the set of Terms of Endearment. The pair were only separated in age by around twenty years. However, their styles and temperaments were vastly different. Winger, a bold and outspoken newcomer to Hollywood, contrasted sharply with Maclaine, an established show business royalty known for her restrained demeanor. “I didn’t know who she was,” Maclaine quipped about Winger to People back in 1984.

“To see how my character would feel I was wearing all my leftover movie-star fur coats,” MacLaine explained at the time. “There was Debra dressed in combat boots and a miniskirt… I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’”

However, Brooks says the performers clashing didn’t disrupt the movie’s production. He even believes the fireworks helped their performances. “You don’t want to change that,” Brooks explained looking back. “Something in that atmosphere. I was [the] recipient of a lot of great performances. You don’t want to change any element of that.”

Both MacLaine and Winger received nominations for Best Actress at the subsequent year’s Oscars. MacLaine emerged victorious and left a lasting impression with her memorable acceptance speech. From the stage, she confidently declared at the last moment, “I deserve this.”