On Golden Pond (1981) was a successful Broadway play written by playwright Ernest Thompson which was turned into a successful and popular movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda. The film tells the story of a summer spent by an aging couple at their summer home on Golden Pond, where they are visited by their daughter and her new husband and his son.
Original Broadway production
The play opened on February 28, 1979, at the New Apollo Theatre with Tom Aldredge and Frances Sternhagen, and was co-produced by the actress Greer Garson. It was originally produced, Off-Broadway, by the Hudson Guild Theatre company and ran for 126 performances. Sternhagen was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. The production re-opened at the Century Theatre a few months after the run closed at the New Apollo, with the same cast.
Jane Fonda purchased the rights to the play. Like in the play, the couple is visited by their daughter who attempts to close the age-old gap between herself and her father (Jane and Henry's actual real-life situation). Produced by the British ITC Entertainment production company, it starred Katharine Hepburn (Ethel), Henry Fonda (Norman), Jane Fonda (their daughter Chelsea), Doug McKeon (their step-grandson Billy Ray) and Dabney Coleman.
The movie was adapted by Ernest Thompson from his stage play and was directed by Mark Rydell. The movie was released at the same time that Thompson's new play, The West Side Waltz, also starring Hepburn, was being produced on Broadway. Thompson received an Academy Award in 1981 for his work.
It won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Henry Fonda), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Katharine Hepburn) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. It was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jane Fonda), Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Score, Best Picture and Best Sound.
It was a record-setting fourth win for Hepburn, and a first Best Actor Oscar for Henry Fonda, who had received an Honorary Oscar the year before. He was too ill to attend the ceremonies, so Jane accepted the award on his behalf. Henry Fonda would die just five months later.
The movie was one of the highest grossing films of the year.
Despite their many common acquaintances and long careers in show business, Henry Fonda and Hepburn had not only never worked together, but had never even met each other until working on the film. On the first day of shooting, Hepburn presented Henry Fonda with her longtime companion Spencer Tracy's "lucky" hat, which Fonda wore in the film.
Thompson spent his summers along the shores of Great Pond, located in Belgrade, Maine, but the film was made on Squam Lake, in central New Hampshire.
The house used in the film was leased from a New Hampshire physician and was modified significantly for the shoot. The production company was contractually obligated to return the house to its original state after the film wrapped. An entire second floor was added as a balcony over the main living area was requested by the production designer. After the shoot the owner liked the rennovations so much that he elected to keep the house that way and asked the crew not to dismantle the second story. A gazebo and a small boathouse were also relocated during the shoot. Ms. Hepburn did all of her own stunts, including the swimming, for the duration of the shoot. The scene in which Norman (Henry Fonda) and Billy (Doug McKeon) run their boat, the Thayer IV, into the rocks was done repeatedly. The vintage wooden Chris-Craft boats were so sturdy that they kept bouncing off the rocks without any damage. The crew had to modify the boats so they would break away in the wreck. The water level in Squam Lake was so low during the summer of production that Fonda and McKeon could have stood during the scene in which they were supposedly clinging to the rocks for fear of drowning. The September water was barely knee deep, but it was cold enough that the pair had to wear wetsuits under their clothes. Katharine, on the other hand, dove into the water without the aid of the wetsuit. She wanted the scene to keep its authenticity. Scenes in which Billy takes the boat out on his own were filmed on nearby Lake Winnipesaukee.
When visiting Holderness NH, one can take a boat tour of Squam Lake and view the filming sites from the movie. There is also a restaurant called "Walter's Basin", which is named after the trout called "Walter" that Billy catches with Norman. For filming, "Walter" was brought in from a nearby trout pond called "Castle in the Clouds". He was released after his capture back into Squam Lake.
In 2001, CBS aired a live television adaptation of On Golden Pond, which was heavily publicized in the press, mainly due to the reunion of former Sound of Music stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. It also starred Glenne Headly.
In 2005, a new Broadway production starred James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams. It opened on April 7, 2005, at the Cort Theatre. Though it received great notices for Uggams and Jones, the latter receiving a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play, it struggled to find an audience and closed a few months later, in June, after 93 performances. Jones, who was often ill during the production, was diagnosed with pneumonia forcing the production to a sudden close. The production received a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival of a Play.