Barefoot in Washington Square Park
On May 25, 1967, the film Barefoot in the Park, based on the Neil Simon play, was released. It’s fun to watch this film now, to see how some things have changed, and some have not.
The first scene is of our happy newlywed couple riding in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park. But ‘Barefoot in the Park’ is not about being barefoot in Central Park;” while Jane Fonda and Robert Redford are honeymooning at the Plaza Hotel, the film then moves to their new apartment in Greenwich Village.
And it’s their trials and tribulations as newlyweds, as young people trying to make it in New York without much money, as new residents of Greenwich Village dealing with some of the colorful characters of the time, and as a freespirited wife trying to make peace with a more buttoned-up husband who would never go “barefoot in the park,” that the film so entertainingly documents.
Which is not to say the film is all historical accuracy. For instance, in the film, the couple supposedly lives at 49 West 10th Street, but the street Jane Fonda is walking on [7:40 into the film] is actually Waverly Place, near Sixth Avenue.
When Robert Redford returns home from his job, he gets out of a cab, and the awning of the Hotel Earle Bar & Restaurant [103 Waverly Place, corner of MacDougal] is seen in the background along with a glimpse of Washington Square Park [16:00], not West 10th Street as the film claims. Built in 1902 as a residential hotel and named for its original owner, Earle S. L’Amoureux, the Hotel Earle was a haven for writers and artists (Dylan Thomas stayed there.) It was re-named the Washington Square Hotel in 1986 (credit for spotting many of these inconsistencies goes to my colleague, Amanda).
Fonda and Redford go on to talk about how expensive their little apartment is, at $125 a month rent, so they decide to lie to their parents and tell them that the rent is only $75.63. Of course the joke to the non-New York audience is that the apartment is so tiny, but many New Yorkers, even today, would be thrilled with an apartment this size. And the running joke about the 5th floor walk-up may be lost on those of us for whom it was a way of life. But the story line about the building being occupied by an assortment of colorful characters nevertheless rings true today, much as it did almost fifty years ago, and likely fifty years before that.
It’s great to see scenes in the film that take place in locations that look much the same today. The horse-drawn carriage in Central Park scene could have been filmed yesterday, except for the telltale cars that drive by – a Corvair, even. And while Washington Square Park has undergone two major renovations since then, the basic elements we see today are still there — benches, trees, monumental arch, etc.; Washington Square Park is still recognizable 46 years later.
There are also scenes filmed on lower Fifth Avenue, on the blocks just above Washington Square Park. Once again, except for the vehicles (especially the M5 bus! – the old yellow and green one, I think), the buildings look much as they do today.