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The Long Goodbye almost didn’t happen, at least not the version that eventually emerged with Elliott Gould as Raymond Chandler’s private eye Philip Marlowe reinvented as perhaps the last principled man in the cynical post-Watergate 1970s. Gould graced the cover of Time magazine in 1970 as “The Star of an Uptight Age.” That same year he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and he starred in M*A*S*H. He was on top of the world. A couple of years later, he was just another unemployed actor when then-United Artists head David Picker told him about the Chandler film, which was then attached to director Peter Bogdanovich. Gould wanted the part and he needed the job, but Bogdanovich had other ideas.

“Bogdanovich couldn’t see me in it,” Gould recalls during a Q&A at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival where he received the festival’s 2012 Freedom of Expression Award.

The director favored more hard-boiled casting. He wanted Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum (who would go on to play Marlowe twice in 1975′s Farewell, My Lovely and 1978′s The Big Sleep).

“I couldn’t argue with that. They were like my uncles,” Gould says, but he adds, “We’ve seen them, but you haven’t seen me.”

But then Bogdanovich was out and Robert Altman, who had already directed Gould in M*A*S*H took over the reins.

“You are that guy,” said Altman.

“That guy” in this case being a slobby loner with an obnoxious orange tabby for a roommate, who just can’t let it go when his good friend Terry Lennox (ex-baseball player and Ball Four author Jim Bouton) gets into trouble, even at the expense of his own hide.

That Gould’s Marlowe is not so tough as the traditional Marlowe can perhaps best be summed up by the one question about a costar asked of Gould at the film festival event. Bouton, classic tough guy Sterling Hayden, Laugh-In comedian Henry Gibson, director Mark Rydell, and fraudster Clifford Irving’s mistress Nina Van Pallandt were all part of The Long Goodbye cast. None of them rated a query. No, what inquiring minds wanted to know was, what was it like to work with that scene-stealing cat?

“You can’t lie to nature,” answered Gould. “Nature will take its course.” – Pam Grady