10 Fascinating Facts About Terms of Endearment

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

On December 9, 1983, Paramount released Terms of Endearment, an adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s 1975 novel (and his personal favorite). It follows the tumultuous relationship of Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) over a 30-year period.

James L. Brooks—who had co-created The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, and Rhoda, but never directed before—managed to take home three Oscars for the film: Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay. MacLaine and Winger, who famously feuded on set, competed for Best Actress (MacLaine nudged out her younger co-star), and Jack Nicholson, who had a supporting role as Aurora’s neighbor/lover, took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Terms of Endearment spent several weekends as the number one film at the box office and ended up grossing $108 million on a $10 million budget. The movie is also known for kick-starting Jeff Daniels's career, and for MacLaine’s powerful “give her the shot” scene. The dramedy ends on a rather devastating note, but the story lived on in The Evening Star, the 1996 sequel based on McMurtry’s 1992 novel. In honor of the film’s 35th anniversary, here are 10 endearing facts about the film.

1. James L. Brooks created Jack Nicholson’s astronaut character.

In Larry McMurtry’s book, Aurora has a suitor who was 30 years older than her, which didn’t sit right with Brooks. “[B]eing in Houston, you know, that’s astronaut central and I thought that would be great,” Brooks said of his decision to tweak McMurtry's characters. “And then I thought of some perversion of the boy next door and what that would mean and I liked that.”

2. Shirley MacLaine wanted to give Aurora a Texas accent.

James L. Brooks had been looking for a fiftyish woman to play Aurora but couldn’t find the right woman—until legendary talent agent Sue Mengers mentioned Shirley MacLaine. They met at a beach, and he hired her.

“She wanted a Texas accent and after rehearsals I thought a Texas accent was not right, that we shouldn’t do it,” Brooks told The Hollywood Reporter. "I had done my research and I had hung out in Houston, Texas and, you know, people talk with every accent you can think of and no accent at all there. And I thought it would be a mistake to make it that regional with her. So I changed the stage direction at the beginning, and I put off-off screen dialogue that said she was from Boston. And she’s such a pro and she’s so legitimate and her thinking is so good that once she had to say the word she was from Boston in off-screen dialogue she dropped the accent."

3. Debra Winger based Emma on Norman Rockwell.

“I do American characters,” Debra Winger told The Washington Post. “Norman Rockwell was the inspiration for most of Terms of Endearment. And whenever I ran into trouble with Emma, I mean the walk is all Norman Rockwell. The whole look was Norman Rockwell. Some of the dresses I had made for the film are exact replicas from the pictures of Norman Rockwell.”

In portraying Emma, Winger wanted to depict a middle-class mother in an honest way. “But the true crime, some of the worst psychic abuse, is on the middle class,” she said. “So here was this perfectly middle class girl who turned into a housewife with children, and I really felt the responsibility. It was very important to me to make a hero of this class of women."

4. Burt Reynolds was originally cast to play Garrett Breedlove.

Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment (1983)
Warner Home Video

Brooks had originally cast Burt Reynolds for the part of Garrett Breedlove, but Reynolds dropped out to star in another movie. Nicholson told Roger Ebert that after reading the script, he became “the first enthusiast” and that it made him cry. “I read dozens if not hundreds of screenplays every year, and I don’t read that many parts where I can say, like I did with Easy Rider, that, yeah, sure, I could play that guy. I know just how that guy feels.”

Though Nicholson was already a huge star, he didn’t mind the supporting role. “My whole career strategy has been to build a base so that I could take the roles I want to play,” he said. “I'd hate to think that a shorter part might not be available because I was worried about my billing."

5. Nicholson liked to improvise scenes with MacLaine without her knowing it.

When Aurora and Garrett finally go out to lunch together, afterward he takes her for a drive in his sports car, and they end up in the Gulf. Garrett kisses Aurora and then gropes her. “When he put his hand on my boob, I thought, ‘Wait a minute,’” MacLaine told USA Today. “All of that was improvised.”

In a speech for the American Film Institute, MacLaine revealed that during the scene in which Aurora goes to Garrett's front door and discusses going out to lunch, with every take Nicholson did a different improvisation. “Once he did it with a bathrobe on. Once he did it with a hooker. Once he did it with nothing on. Another time he did it as though he was drunk. That was the brilliance in working with Nicholson, because you could never tell what he was going to bring out in the other actor.” The bathrobe made it into the final cut.

6. MacLaine said Winger did weird things to her on set.

In her book My Lucky Stars, MacLaine wrote about how Winger “farted in my face” and mentioned she “dressed in combat boots and a miniskirt … I thought, 'Oh my goodness.'" In an interview, MacLaine said while she and Nicholson filmed a post-coital scene, “Debra Winger was under the covers. I didn’t know she was going to be there. That kind of tension was going on on the set.”

Over the years, Winger has neither confirmed nor denied the rumors. But during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen in October 2018, Winger told Cohen “there’s something true in there."

7. MacLaine referred to Winger’s “turbulent brilliance” in her Oscar speech.

In April 1984, MacLaine finally won her first Oscar, for Best Actress. During her acceptance speech, she said: “I wanted to work with the turbulent brilliance of Debra Winger. She literally inhabited the character so thoroughly that I thought for four months I had two daughters.” The camera cut to Winger, who can be seen laughing at the comment, but in 1990, Winger told the Los Angeles Times she wasn’t happy with the adjectives.

"I have a T-shirt that Shirley gave me the day after the Academy Awards when she felt the necessity to call me turbulent and brilliant instead of just brilliant," said Winger. "She heard I was a little rattled, and the T-shirt said, 'Turbulent Means Brilliant.' Oh, give me a break! If it needs an explanation, don’t say it."

8. Nicholson had “doubts” about showing his gut.

In an interview with Roger Ebert, Nicholson confessed he had “a lot of vanity.” In one scene, Aurora interrupts his lap swimming and invites Breedlove—who’s only wearing swimming trunks and an unzipped hoodie—into her bedroom to look at a Renoir painting, and, well, to have sex. “When I stuck the old gut out there in the crucial scene, I had doubts about it on the set when I did it, and in the editing, and last night at the premiere I had a lot of doubts, and I was wondering if for my next picture I should play Tarzan."

9. MacLaine is a lot like Aurora.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, MacLaine stated that Aurora was her favorite part to play and admitted that she and the character share many similarities. “That’s the closest I’ve come to being like a character,” MacLaine said. “I mean, I don’t know, frankly, how difficult it was to play her. I think I just played myself.”

10. It inspired an Off-Broadway production.

From October to December 2016, Terms of Endearment the play went up at 59E59 Theaters, off-Broadway. Molly Ringwald played Aurora, and Hannah Dunne (Griffin Dunne’s daughter), played Emma.

11 Surprising Facts About George R.R. Martin

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know the epic HBO series is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but beyond the TV show, how much do they really know about the author? Sure, they know it’s taking him a really long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, but what about him as a person? Here are a few things you might not know about the man who brought us the world of Westeros.

1. As a kid, he made money selling monster stories.

The famed author grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father was a longshoreman. "When I was living in Bayonne, I desperately wanted to get away," Martin told The Independent. "Not because Bayonne was a bad place, mind you. Bayonne was a very nice place in some ways. But we were poor. We had no money. We never went anywhere."

Though his family didn't have the means to travel outside of Bayonne, Martin began to develop a love of reading and writing at a very young age, which allowed him to imagine fantastical worlds beyond his New Jersey hometown. He also learned that writing could be a profitable endeavor: he began selling his stories to other kids in the neighborhood for a penny apiece. (He later raised his prices to a nickel.) Martin's entrepreneurial efforts came to an end when his stories began giving one of his kid customers nightmares, which eventually got back to Martin's mom.

2. He is obsessed with comic books.

In 2014, Martin sat down for a Q&A about his career at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Though, given his love of fantasy worlds, it might not be surprising to learn that Martin is a comic book fan, he also credits the genre with inspiring him to begin writing in the first place.

"I’m so grateful for comic books because they were really the thing that made me a reader, which in return made me a writer," Martin said. "In the 1950s in America, we had these books that taught you to read, and they were all about Dick and Jane, who were the most boring family you ever wanted to meet ... I didn’t know anyone who lived like that, and it just seemed like a horrible thing. But Batman and Superman, they had a much more interesting life. Gotham City was much more interesting than wherever it was where Dick and Jane lived.”

3. He built a library tower in Santa Fe.

In 2009, Martin bought the home across the street from his house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned it into an office space with a library tower built inside. The tower is only two stories tall, because of city building restrictions, but it seems only fitting that the author/history buff would want to be surrounded with books while he writes.

4. A fan letter got his professional writing career started.

Martin's love of comic books is what got his professional career rolling, too. "I had a letter published in Fantastic Four, and because my address was in there I started getting these fanzines and I started writing stories for them," Martin said during the same Santa Fe Q&A. "Funny enough, people writing stories in these fanzines at the time were just awful. They were just really bad, which was good because I looked at these awful stories and knew I could do better than that. I may not have been Shakespeare or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I was certain I could write better than the crap in the fanzines, and indeed I could."

5. A failed novel led to a television writing career.

More than 10 years before A Song of Ice and Fire debuted in 1996, Martin wrote a book called The Armageddon Rag in 1983. Though it was a critical disappointment, producer Phil DeGuere was interested in adapting the project with Martin's help. While that never came to fruition, DeGuere thought of Martin when they were rebooting The Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s and brought him on board to write a handful of episodes. He later did some writing for the live-action Beauty and the Beast series, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

6. Network television standards were not a fit for Martin's style of writing.

Though Martin found success as a television writer, the constant back-and-forth about what they were or were not allowed to show proved to be too much for the writer. "[T]here were constant limitations. It wore me down," Martin told Rolling Stone. "There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too 'politically charged,' how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people ... The character had to remain likable."

7. He owns an independent movie theater.

In 2006, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe closed its doors, which saddened many locals who were regular patrons, Martin among them. Several years later, Martin decided to give the theater a second life and, after a slight makeover, reopened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to independent films, the theater holds regular special events—including screenings of Game of Thrones episodes. There's also an onsite bar that serves Game of Thrones-themed cocktails, like the signature White Walker.

8. Martin credits HBO with changing the rules of television.

Network television standards may have been too tame and regimented for Martin's tastes, but all that changed with HBO and The Sopranos, which he credits as paving the way for a series like Game of Thrones to exist in its current form at all.

"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he’s in the psychiatrist office, he’s talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he’s driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn’t care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."

9. Martin thinks it's important for writers to break the rules.

While he's an admitted fan of William Goldman, Martin has a very different opinion of noted screenplay expert Syd Field. "There is a book out there by Syd and it’s his guide to writing screenplays and it’s probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been done for the movie industry,” Martin said. “For some perverse reason, it has become the bible not for writers but for what we call 'the suits,' the guys at the studios whose job it is to develop properties and give notes to supervise screenplays. They take Syd Field’s course and they buy the book and they start criticizing screenplays like, ‘Well you know, the first turn is supposed to be on page 12 and yours is not until page 17, so obviously this won’t do!'"

"Syd just writes downs these ridiculous rules," Martin continued. "If there really was a formula as he says, then every movie would be a blockbuster. We would just connect A, B, and C and we would have a great movie and everyone would pack the theater to see it. But every movie is not a blockbuster. Many movies that follow his rules precisely actually go down the toilet."

10. He’s a skilled chess player.

"I started playing chess when I was quite young, in grade school," Martin told The Independent. "I played it through high school. In college, I founded the chess club. I was captain of the chess team." Eventually, Martin discovered that he could actually make some money off this skill.

"For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

11. He has a very specific way of writing, which is why he hasn't finished the winds of winter.

Fans have been waiting for a while for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Martin has been honest about why it's taking him so long. "Writer’s block isn’t to blame here, it’s distraction," he said. "In recent years, all of the work I’ve been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life no body did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day."

Can You Guess the Meaning of These Dothraki Words?

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