This rite-of-passage yarn – about a recent college graduate who at long last leaves his home and his overbearing (pathologically so) mother to get his own apartment in bohemian Greenwich Village – represents Mazurky’s memories of his first giddy months of independence.
Like his hero, Larry Lapinski, young Paul Mazursky came to Manhattan in 1953 hoping to launch an acting career. He rented a seedy apartment and fought with his mother about cutting the apron strings.
He was surrounded by odd types who just a few years later would be celebrated as beatniks. He had a girlfriend, and a best friend who seduced that girlfriend.
And in the end he landed a job in a Hollywood movie (Mazursky was cast as a juvenile delinquent in The Blackboard Jungle) and headed west.
Mazursky cast the film – his fifth feature after Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Alex in Wonderland, Blume in Love, and Harry and Tonto – mostly with unknowns: stage actor Lenny Baker as Larry, Ellen Greene (who would originate the role of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors) as Larry’s girl; Christopher Walken as his womanizing friend; Lois Smith as a suicidal actress; Antonio Fargas (who was beginning to become famous as Huggy Bear on TV’s Starsky & Hutch) as a flamboyant gay guy.
The one established star was Shelley Winters, a two-time Oscar winner for A Patch of Blue and The Diary of Anne Frank. She played Larry’s domineering mother, a character based on Mazursky own mother, Jean.
By the time he got to work on the screenplay, Mazursky has written, his parents were dead “so I could write without fear (although I was positive at the time, and still am today, that Jean was watching).”
Winters’ grasp of the role, Mazursky claims, was practically psychic.
Shelley came up to me one morning and asked me if my mother had been a great typist.
“Who told you that?” I asked, stunned.
“Nobody told me anything,” said Shelley. “Answer my question.”
I told Shelley that my mother could type 120 words a minute. She was a whiz. “She had a lot of part-time typing jobs,” I added.
“I knew it,” said Shelley. “I just knew it. She also loved the movies, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, but you can tell that from the script.”
“Oh, yeah,” Shelley said with a smirk. “Where in the script does it talk about her loving foreign films?”
In some uncanny way, Shelley Winters was fast becoming Jean Gerson Mazursky. I didn’t realize it but I was reacting more like Shelley’s son than the director of a movie.
“You can’t get enough of Shelley Winters’ performance,” the great New Yorker critic Pauline Kael wrote. “With her twinkly, goo-goo eyes and flirty grin, Shelley Winters is a mother hippo charging – not at her son’s enemies but at him. Fat, morose, irrepressible, she’s a force that would strike terror to anyone’s heart, yet in some abominable way she’s likeable.”
Mazursky called this “an uncanny piece of writing. Pauling Kael had just described Jean Mazursky.”
Next Stop, Greenwich Village had an uproarious debut at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Recalled Mazursky:
The movie began and within minutes the audience began to stamp their feet loudly at the sounds of Dave Brubeck. I whispered to Shelley, “They hate it! Let’s go!”
“No, they love it,” she said. “In France foot stomping is good.”
When the lights came on at the end, Shelley and I took a 10-minute bow. I was stunned.
Roger Ebert nicely captures Next Stop’s charms:
“The movie's part autobiography and part fiction, but it's all of a piece because Mazursky captures the tone of the 1950s. Larry and his friends hang around the village, occupy a corner of a coffee shop, live in each other's apartments, share each other's problems, and answer the regular false alarms of the girl who keeps saying she's going to kill herself...
“The Village is a way station where it's possible to try out new ideas and friends, to grow up but also to grow outward. And as Larry finally leaves New York (after a farewell visit to his old neighborhood) we see that he's leaving more than just the city.
“Perhaps that's why the movie seems so fondly dated, because it represents a definite time of life – with a beginning in late adolescence and an end in manhood – that can't be stretched or preserved, only remembered.”
Other films in the series “Paul Mazursky: Love and Laughter”
Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.:
- April 7: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) Rated R
- April 14: An Unmarried Woman (1978) Rated R
- April 21: Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986) Rated R
- April 28: Scenes from a Mall (1991) Rated R
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.