BetteBack – DECEMBER 14,1988: Screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue Talks Beaches And Female Friendships

Pacific Stars and Stripes
No ‘fem-bond’ films for screenwriter
By Vernon Scott
DECEMBER 14,1988

HOLLYWOOD – Mary Agnes Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay for “Beaches,” starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, said her motivation was simple: “I’ve never seen a relationship between women portrayed on screen that resembled anything I’ve ever known.”

“Whenever women are portrayed together on screen they are seen as harpies, lone huntresses, competitive and fighting,” said Donoghue, a bright, incisive and articulate woman. “They never show affection or allegiance. They are she-wolves
out there hunting down their best interests.”

It isn’t so in real life, said Donoghue, who also wrote the tender, touching movie “The Buddy System” four years ago starring Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon.

“When men write about women relationships, too often there is a savagery involved,” Donoghue said, “and I’ve never encountered anything like that in my associations with women.

“I don’t think men write as well about the intimate relationship between women that includes an almost secret language, the shorthand communication that females basically understand through shared experience.

“There is an unconscious knowledge that women have about themselves and each other that they comprehend without having to make a point of it.

“Men write well about male and female relationships, but not about women and women.

“By the same token, I wouldn’t dare to write about male relationships on, say, an aircraft carrier in battle. I don’t know what men think or feel toward one another. I know nothing of the intimate relationships between men.

“I really like women. I have a natural sympathy for them, which I also realize is not necessarily an automatic thing among my sex.”

Donoghue is no Pollyanna. She doesn’t write soupy stories about female bonding – “fem-bond films” she derisively calls them – and she stays away from “fem-jep films,” movies that place females in jeopardy.

She has changed “Beaches” considerably from the novel by Iris Rainer Dart, on which her screenplay is based, to provide more action and more scenes between the principal characters.

“I’ve made the story more realistic,” she said. “The plot is less melodramatic than the book. I wrote a film about what makes the relationship work, not what divides it.

“Women friendships are among the most important relationships in a lifetime. Women never fight about men, but that’s what movies are always trying to say.”

“In this picture the women remain friends from childhood until the death of one of them when they are in their 40s. I know about that. I lost a lifelong friend myself.”

The general consensus in Hollywood is that female bonding films are not good box office, but Donoghue rejects that theory.

“This picture will interest men because it’s a story of friendship between two people, not just
two women. It’s a story of survival and continuation.”

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