Mazursky shops for laughs in 'Scenes from a Mall'


NEW YORK -- Paul Mazursky has pretty good concentration. Talking about his latest movie, "Scenes from a Mall," he has a tendency to veer off on tangents -- though he somehow always finds his way back to the mainstream. Which, it should be pointed out, is much the same way that he built his career.

Mr. Mazursky, who was born in Brooklyn, moved initially from acting to teaching acting to stand-up comedy. Armed with satirical and character bits, he started going places -- Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles.

He arrived in the last in 1959 and decided to stay. He found a certain liberation on the West Coast ("If you wanted," he says, "you could walk around in your underwear and nobody would care") and immediately sent for his wife, Betsy, and their eldest daughter, Meg. He also liberated himself from stand-up.

After writing for Danny Kaye's television show for four years, he set his sights on the big screen and began writing movies with Larry Tucker. And when "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" went before the cameras in 1968, Mr. Mazursky and Mr. Tucker were the executive producers. A year later, Mr. Mazursky directed his first movie, "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," from a script he and Mr. Tucker co-wrote.

He liked it. So much, in fact, that Mr. Mazursky has helmed a dozen more including, among others, "An Unmarried Woman," "Moscow on the Hudson," "Harry and Tonto" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills."

He's especially happy with his latest film. "Scenes from a Mall," which he co-wrote and which stars Bette Midler and Woody Allen, deals with a couple celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary. What starts as a happy day soon turns otherwise as each confesses to their infidelities.

"I had this vision," says Mr. Mazursky, who has been married to Betsy for 37 years, "of two people having an argument for an hour and a half about their private life in a very public place."

He's already working on his next "favorite" child, which is called "The Pickle."

"It's about a movie director who, because he's had a string of turkeys and had a couple of divorces and owes back taxes," Mr. Mazursky reports, "is broke and he needs a job. So he takes one, to direct a science-fiction movie, a kid-type movie."

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