What Happens In Vegas… Dyan Cannon on the 45th Anniversary of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

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Last month, writer/director Paul Mazursky passed away and in honor of the late filmmaker the Landmark Theatre’s Anniversary Classic Series will screen Mazursky’s directorial debut Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice with special guest, Dyan Cannon.

In the film Cannon plays Alice, the last of four married friends to submit to “free love” on a weekend in Vegas. The actress was full of surprises—she spoke to me by phone from a checkout line at a Trader Joe’s—and began with mention of her deceased friend, Mazursky, in honor of whom she’s participating in a post screening Q&A.

In step with Cannon’s gesture of fidelity, I asked her about her part in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a comedy that recognized the gravity of the 60’s ramrod zeitgeists, while also revealing the whole thing wasn’t as heavy as it wanted to be.

MoviesWithButter: You worked on two films with Paul Mazursky, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and—
Dyan Cannon: The Pickle. I was a great friend of Paul’s and we stayed in touch all these years. You know, three weeks before he passed I saw him chipper as ever, having lunch with Mel Brooks. He was a great friend and I’d do anything for him.

MWB: Alice, your character in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, was the stoic holdout to “free love.” She’s important because the film’s conclusion about the value of free love is determined by what makes Alice cave in.
DC: I wasn’t looking at it that way. I was playing a woman who was uptight and afraid of her own sexuality—and a woman who wanted to stay Kosher and true to everything she knew.

MWB: Did you say “Kosher?” It was for you that your first husband Cary Grant wore a Star of David around his neck, yes?
DC: I don’t remember that…I don’t think he did.

MWB: Hollywood lore is hilarious; I can’t tell you how long I’ve believed that story. You just used the word “uptight” to describe your character, Alice? I always viewed her as a traditionalist, or an anxious non-adapter.
DC: She was uptight. What happened in Las Vegas [to Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice] was very detrimental if you recall. You know, I don’t know really how much things have changed. I really don’t. I think the marriage covenant today is still about fidelity and between the 60s and the 80s it was just less talked about. Paul [Mazursky] was very ahead of his time and brought it out in a brilliantly unique way. In truth, morality is morality and fidelity is fidelity and I still believe in fidelity in marriage. [That has] nothing to do with the 60s.

MWB: The film’s tone is a pitch perfect mix: Bob and Carol are absolutely austere about the beauty of honesty while they screw around on each other. Alice, however, is almost the straight man.
DC: I was amazed that Natalie didn’t want that part because I thought it was the best part for exactly the reasons you’re stating.

MWB: Well, Alice is in the power seat. The big question in the film is why anyone should change his or her morality, or way of thinking. The last holdout can determine if any change is really worth doing.
DC: Alice is absolutely pivotal, and that was why I didn’t understand why Natalie didn’t do that part but I was really glad she wanted to do Carol!

MWB: What was the part’s biggest challenge?
DC: The most challenging scene was the one in the psychiatrist office. That psychiatrist was Paul’s [real life] psychiatrist. He really did pull his ear in the scene, and that was something the guy did in real life. We did that in one take but I was all revved up for it. That scene was Alice showing what she really was; she couldn’t hide behind anything. That’s just an acting thing. It’s hard to explain where you go when you’re acting. As women, we’re capable of going in any way [direction] and it’s just discipline that doesn’t allow it, but in acting you can go the distance because you have lines and you know the outcome, so you can go with it. You allow yourself to roam.

MWB: That’s kind of poetic given your role, Alice, is a real non-roamer.
DC: I don’t know—if you like poetry. I just think change is possible and I think as far as the character I was playing, after that one night…she was different. The others were all trying to be so gallant so big. “C’mon, let’s do it!” and finally she called their bluff. After that instance, she wouldn’t be as gullible or afraid to speak her mind.

For tickets to the screening and Q&A with Dyan Cannon, go here

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