When Patrice Townsend met Henry Jaglom in 1974, she didn’t like him. “We fought in his office and I stormed out,” she says. “His abruptness bothered me. I was making $150 a day as a script supervisor and I didn’t need to put up with Henry’s nonsense.” But on the way out she changed her mind when she spotted a poster for one of her favorite movies, A Safe Place, and quickly realized that the director of that film was the man she had just fought with. For his part, Jaglom was intrigued by Townsend’s spunk and beauty. He called her back for a second, bogus appointment: The job of script supervisor was already filled, but he wanted to see her anyway. “We were strongly attracted to each other right away,” Townsend says of their second meeting. “I thought he was interesting, powerful, but strange—definitely someone worth spending time with.”
And so she did. They moved in together “almost immediately,” says Townsend, and were married in 1977. Jaglom wanted to make a movie about that first meeting, but he never did. Instead he has made Always, a cinema à clef documenting their painful breakup, starring Jaglom and Townsend, now divorced, as thinly disguised versions of themselves. Jaglom, 48, was wary about asking Townsend, 34, to be in the film. “I expected her to say, ‘That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. But she just said, ‘Sure.’ ” One possible reason for Townsend’s ready acquiescence may have been the potential financial rewards: She will split the profits 50-50 with Jaglom.
Shot almost entirely in the house Jaglom and Townsend once shared (and where Henry now lives alone), Always tells the story of a woman (Town-send) dropping by for a farewell dinner with her soon-to-be ex-husband (Jaglom). The woman gets food poisoning and is forced to stay for the weekend, during which they explore the failure of their marriage. The movie, which cost less than $1 million, was shot over a three-and-a-half week period in the summer of 1984. “It was like being married again,” says Jaglom. “Patrice would arrive early, then the other actors, then the crew. We’d work, then eat, then work some more, then everyone would go home. Patrice and I would sit around talking after everyone had left. It was like she was leaving me again—every night.”
Always has opened to mostly favorable reviews, although many critics shared the reaction of Jaglom’s father, Simon, who is now in his 80s. “Why,” he wondered, “do you want to tell the world secrets about your intimate life?” Jaglom’s movies have always been intensely personal. Along with his previous four movies, Always places Jaglom squarely in the company of quirky filmmakers like John Cassavetes and Woody Allen. “I like Woody Allen’s pictures tremendously,” says Jaglom, “although we have very different sensibilities. He makes movies like I do, movies that don’t try to hustle every 14 year old in the country.”
Jaglom was raised in New York City, the son of a European financier. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1959, he enrolled in the Actors Studio, then in 1965 struck out for Hollywood. It wasn’t what he expected. He did guest spots on shows like Gidget and The Flying Nun. In 1967 he lost the role of Benjamin in The Graduate to Dustin Hoffman. “I was washing my feet in the sink when I got the news,” he says, “and I remember thinking how powerless I was in the situation. I hate being passive, so I decided to take the power for myself until such time as I could choose my own roles as an actor.” Translation: Jaglom decided to become a director.
It wasn’t until 1969 that he got his break. On the strength of a five-hour documentary he had made about the Six-Day War in Israel, he was signed to edit Easy Rider. Producer Bert Schneider was impressed with his work and bankrolled his first directorial effort, A Safe Place, about a young woman’s troubled coming of age. The movie was a failure but drew a small and admiring audience, including Townsend, who was attracted by its “emotional honesty.”
Townsend grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of a commercial film director and an actress. After marrying Jaglom, she starred in his caper movie Sitting Ducks, but then the marriage began to deteriorate. “It was silly,” she says now. “I was unprepared to be an adult. I was too young and had to find my own identity. I was immersed in Henry’s life and didn’t have one of my own.” Townsend moved out in 1981. “I was desperately hurt by her leaving,” says Jaglom. “The pain was more profound than anything I’d ever experienced. I wasn’t angry at her but at life. The simple fact is she was too young. No one was wrong. She just had to move in a different direction.”
For Townsend that meant becoming more involved in the yoga center where she now teaches. She also took up with the center’s director, Eric Love, 26, and the couple married last year. For Jaglom the loss was translated into a movie, Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? It starred Karen Black, a former girlfriend, and closely paralleled his torment at the time. “Each of my films is a map of my emotional life,” explains Jaglom. “I was completely devastated by the breakup. I ran into Karen and told her what happened. She said, ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’ ‘Do something?’ I said. ‘I can’t even breathe.’ ‘Make a movie about it,’ she said. I went ahead, thinking that instead of it being the unhappy ending of my life, it could be the unhappy beginning of a movie. And maybe I could figure out a happy ending.”
Always is a further exploration of the breakup. Jaglom admits that making it probably was a half-hearted attempt to win Townsend back, but it failed. “It was part of my plan without realizing it quite fully,” he says, “but it made me realize that my life was in its next chapter.” Townsend agrees. “I wasn’t sure it was over between Henry and me when we made the movie,” she says, “but now I know it confirmed the break. I still love him. I really do. But you can’t necessarily spend your life with someone even though you love them.”
Jaglom still talks to Townsend several times a week, although the impending arrival of her baby has put some distance between them. Says Love: “I was always understanding of their relationship, but now I think some of that understanding came from being naive. The more I thought about it, the more upset I got.” Jaglom now dates Andrea Marcovicci, 37. “Andrea and I are very close,” says Henry. “I don’t know where it will go exactly, but we’re having a very full relationship.”
For his next film, Valentine, Jaglom assembled a group of friends in an empty Los Angeles theater on Valentine’s Day and turned the camera on each one, asking the question, “Why are we still alone?” The movie also marks the last screen appearance of Orson Welles, a close friend of Jaglom’s and a partner in a production company they formed four years ago.
It is late afternoon at Jaglom’s house in Hollywood. He is sitting on the patio, the same patio where much of Always takes place. “That’s where Patrice used to have her vegetable garden,” he says wistfully, pointing to the hillside. “Do you believe that as recently as a year ago we were talking about having a baby? Who can figure that out? I believe that if we had had a baby it would have worked out.
“What I’ve learned after making Always is that you can go through the pain and still come out the other side. There is a payoff—you get deeper and know more about life. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss the couple we were or that coming home to this house doesn’t make me crazy occasionally.
“I believe something that Orson once told me when he was talking about his second wife, Rita Hayworth, He said, ‘Once you love them, really love them, you never stop loving them.’ ” Or making movies about them.