Timeless: An Interview with A Walk on the Moon Movie Director Tony Goldwyn

Friday, June 22, 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

Actor and filmmaker Tony Goldwyn originally signed onto the 1999 film A Walk on the Moon as a producer, but once he started working on the script with screenwriter Pamela Gray, his priorities shifted. After two years of rewrites, there was still no director, so Goldwyn—eager to preserve the script's vision—stepped up to the plate. Nearly 20 years after Goldwyn’s directorial debut, with Moon now a successful musical on the Geary stage, we called up the star of ABC’s Scandal to find out why this story remains so close to his heart.

Tony Goldwyn, director of the 1999 film A Walk on the Moon, joins Pamela Gray, screenwriter of Moon and book writer
of the musicalat the Toronto Film Festival for the world premiere of their 2010 film Conviction. Courtesy Pamela Gray.
What initially drew you to Pamela Gray’s script?

The Catskill bungalow colonies was a part of the Jewish experience I was not raised in at all and it was so colorful and fabulous. I was captivated by it. And more importantly, I really related to Pearl’s journey of being a person who found herself trapped in a life that she felt wasn’t of her own choosing. And then to take the year of 1969, when our whole cultural fabric was at the apex of change and blowing apart conventional norms, and make that the backdrop for Pearl’s story. That was brilliant.

You’ve directed two films written by Gray, A Walk on the Moon (1999) and Conviction (2010). What’s your collaboration with her like?

There’s a lot of trust between us and we’re not afraid to push each other. Pam will tell you, I can really grind on her to keep rewriting. At the same time, she’ll really push back on me if I’m asking her to change something that is central to what she wants to do. We keep each other honest and argue back and forth in a way that’s productive.

Tony Goldwyn holds the Peabody Award for Scandal.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Do you have any favorite memories from the set?

We only had three days to shoot the Woodstock sequence, and on one of the days, it started raining during our lunch hour. It was torrential downpour for 30 minutes. We thought, “We’re screwed. We can’t keep filming.” But then, just as lunch was about to end, the sky cleared and the whole field looked gorgeous. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Making movies is a miracle.

Why has this story remained so relevant?

People are always coming up to me and saying how impactful the movie was for them. This story Pam wrote is about marriage and family and parenthood and sex and identity. Everybody wrestles with these issues sometime in their life. There’s plenty of films about 1969 that feel old-fashioned because they’re nostalgia pieces about that time, but A Walk on the Moon is not that. The period serves as a metaphor for change and we see that change on a micro-level in the Kantrowitz family. The themes Moon tackles aren’t stuck in the ’60s—they’re timeless.

A Walk on the Moon runs through July 1 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about this story? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

Catskills Life in A Walk on the Moon

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

By Simon Hodgson

High above the Hudson River in upstate New York, the Catskill Mountains are among the most picturesque regions in the United States. For hundreds of thousands of Jewish households between 1910 and 1970, the Catskills became their summer destination. For non-Orthodox households, such as the Kantrowitz family and their friends in A Walk on the Moon, this region represented a rural retreat whose bungalows created a tight-knit community. The bungalow colonies were made up of modest, detached, two-bedroom cabins with their own bathroom and cooking facilities. By the 1940s and ’50s, kucheleins (private rooms with shared kitchens) and bungalow colonies (such as the fictional Dr. Fogler’s in Moon) attracted more than 80 percent of the region’s Jewish vacationers every year.

Marty (Jonah Platt) and Pearl (Katy Brayben) talk outside their bungalow in
A.C.T.s 2018 production of A Walk on the Moon. Courtesy @jonahplatt on Instagram.
Days in the bungalow colonies were unhurried and matriarchal, particularly during the week, when most men were at work in the city. If a bungalow colony had a swimming pool, mothers congregated around it and played cards, while their children swam. Another popular pursuit was mah-jongg, the Chinese game of tiles played by Pearl Kantrowitz and her friends in Moon. During the weekend, the mood shifted. Many Jewish men, from doctors and dentists to teachers and television repairmen (like Marty in Moon) would catch the Friday night train and spend two days in the hills before returning to the city on Sunday.

For most bungalow colonies and smaller hotels, the easy rhythm of the days would be accented by visits from traveling peddlers, from Hymie the Dairyman to Ruby the Knish Man to garment vendors hawking blouses. Children and mothers alike would visit the carts or car trunks, sometimes for a tasty treat, but often just to break up the routine. The slow days could be a grind for teenagers accustomed to living in the city. Many felt like Alison in A Walk on the Moon, who sings, “It’s the summer of ’69 out there / It’s the summer of ’59 up here / There’s something happening everywhere / Everywhere but here.”
Pamela Gray’s family bungalow at Tommy’s Lodge, Swan Lake, in the early 1960s. Courtesy Pamela Gray. 
Although the mountains have moved on from their ’60s pinnacle, the nostalgic legacy of those vacations lives on in America’s collective memory. Pamela Gray, the writer of the 1999 movie who adapted Moon for the stage, chose 1969 as the period for her story not only for its lunar landing and Woodstock synchronicity, but also because this Jewish vacationland was on the cusp of disappearing. “It was the end of an era,” says Gray. “Even though it’s never said in both the film and the musical that the heyday of the Catskills is waning, I do want audiences to feel that sense of change.”

A Walk on the Moon runs through July 1 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the history behind the show? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

The Summer of ’69: A Snapshot of America

Friday, June 15, 2018

By Elspeth Sweatman

Looking back, the summer of 1969 seems idyllic. A hamburger cost 10 cents, a gallon of gas, 35. But throughout those dog days, a sense of revolution was sweeping the nation. On the streets, beehive hairdos were giving way to tie-dye shirts and bell-bottom jeans. On the airwaves, girl groups were competing with rock ’n’ roll and protest anthems. On television, Bonanza was followed by footage of the Vietnam War. Like Pearl and Alison in A Walk on the Moon, many Americans felt they were on the cusp of radical change. Here’s a snapshot of America in that life-changing year.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the US flag. Photo by Neil Armstrong/NASA. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Burning Draft Cards

On June 27, Life magazine published photos of the 241 American soldiers killed in Vietnam during a one-week period. The public response was immediate, visceral, and divided. By 1969, US armed forces had been in Vietnam for almost 15 years. Although most Americans initially viewed this intervention as necessary in the fight against communism, as the body count rose, many lost confidence in the US government. Anti-war protests grew. Young men burned their draft cards. Anti–Vietnam War sentiment would grow until US troops withdrew in 1975.

One Small Step

At 7:56 p.m. PST on July 21, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered the iconic line, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he stepped onto the surface of the moon. He was joined a few minutes later by fellow crew member Buzz Aldrin. Together, they planted the US flag and a plaque reading, “We came in peace for all mankind.” It was the culmination of a decade of dreams, successes, and failures for American space exploration. Nationwide, 120 million people tuned in to watch the moon landing on their television sets. 

Opening ceremony at Woodstock. August 14, 1969. Photo by Mark Goff. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
The Road to Woodstock

For three hot August days, more than 400,000 people crowded into an upstate New York dairy farm to hear their favorite musicians: Janis Joplin, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, and 26 other acts. The Woodstock Music & Art Fair would become a defining moment, not just in music but in American culture. It instantly became a shining example of social harmony, and an illustration of the power of the anti-war movement that would gain traction in the 1970s. In 2017, the Woodstock site was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Women's Movement

Inspired by anti-war protests, female rock musicians, and books such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), many women in the 1960s were reexamining their lives and joining the fight for freedom and equality. For some women, such as Pearl in A Walk on the Moon, this meant ditching tight 1950s girdles in favor of loose-fitting clothing and reassessing their dreams and desires. For others, such as Pearl’s daughter Alison, it meant joining the second-wave feminist movement. All over the country, women were marching for equal rights in all aspects of society.

A Walk on the Moon
runs through July 1 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the history behind the musical? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.
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