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Two Film Critics Whose Romance Had a Hollywood Ending

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Andrew Sarris was a latent bloomer, living vicariously through movies and, until he was 32, in his mother’s apartment in Queens. Yet Sarris was not just another New York film nut. In importing France’s so-called auteur theory to America, he revolutionized not only film criticism but also Hollywood’s understanding of itself—the director had now emerged as the star. And to a new movie-mad generation of college kids, Sarris became the Samuelson of cinema—his encyclopedic The American Cinema became required reading.

Among Sarris’ prettiest disciples at the time was a blond post-deb from Richmond, Va. named Molly Haskell, who wrote bulletins for the French Film Office—a promotion arm for Paris moviemakers—and devoured Andrew’s column in New York’s The Village Voice.

When they were introduced in 1966, Sarris, a squat, slovenly son of Greek immigrants, was still ill at ease with women and particularly with a wellborn knockout like Haskell, 11 years his junior. “I took one look at Molly,” he recalls, “and my first reaction was that it was hopeless—she was so pretty and spoke French.” Molly, understandably, had reservations of her own. “Andrew had a completely movie idea of how to pay court,” she laughs. “He would say things like, ‘You have a lot of Southern charm,’ or some asinine thing like that.” Andy admits now, with a sigh, “I wasn’t a good make-out man.”

Three years later, in 1969, they were married in an Episcopal ceremony. And soon her career began to catch up with his. “If you called up Andy for an article,” reports Rafe Blasi, an editor on the now defunct Show magazine, “he immediately asked if there was something Molly could write.” But it was more than a case of shilling for the woman he loved. “Andy’s instincts were very sound,” says Blasi. “He knew she had talent.” The most conclusive proof came this year with the publication of her first book, From Reverence to Rape, tracing the sexist treatment of women in films in the last five decades. Among many raves, the New York Times declared that Haskell demonstrated “all those abilities that lesser feminist writers can only claim for their sex.”

Either Sarris or Haskell would have hooted at a movie scenario as implausible as their own happy ending. Molly, a descendant of Revolutionary Army General William Campbell and Confederate General Wade Hampton, grew up in the genteel splendor of the FFV, the First Families of Virginia. Andrew was raised in blue-collar Brooklyn and Queens where his parents were on relief for 11 years after his father’s real estate business went bankrupt in the Depression. Molly is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Sweet Briar College, whereas Andrew survived a “mediocre” performance at Columbia University. And while Molly capped off college with a graduate year in Paris at the Sorbonne, Andrew fumbled into a succession of demeaning odd trades including messenger duty and editorial flunky on a crossword puzzle magazine.

Their struggling years are now behind them. Sarris runs (but doesn’t edit) a stable of four junior reviewers at the Voice including Molly. On the side he’s an associate professor of film at his alma mater, and she moonlights for Viva. Molly is busy on a novel, and Andrew, who just finished a book on John Ford, hopes to start a memoir and novel himself. They screen, usually together, at least 20 movies a week. The favorite family auteurs include Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renoir.

Andrew, who “never had many friends” before he met Molly, has at 45 found his social life blossoming as much as Molly’s career. “They have both grown in marvelous ways since their marriage,” says New York Times critic Vincent Canby, Andrew’s best man at his wedding. “Ten years ago nobody would have taken Molly seriously—she was a pretty face. It’s a perfect combination because Molly has the social graces Andrew lacks.”

The Sarrises have just bought a five-and-a-half room co-op on New York’s Upper East Side. They already had a condominium on the beach in Quogue, L.I.—a gift from Molly’s mother—where they shuttle weekends during the summer.

For the present they are sharing the mortgage payments. Of course, a starlet, or even a working Hollywood grip, out earns a critic. Sarris, for all his teaching and royalties (from six books) made $28,000 last year, and Molly brought home $15,000. “We’re living way over our heads,” Andrew says with a tinge of anxiety. Then, shrugging it off in a reviewer’s impression of Walter Matthau, he adds, “but then that’s the only way to live these days.”