That Certain Summer
Original promotional ad
Written byRichard Levinson
William Link
Directed byLamont Johnson
StarringHal Holbrook
Hope Lange
Martin Sheen
Scott Jacoby
Theme music composerGil Melle
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
ProducersRichard Levinson
William Link
CinematographyVilis Lapenieks
EditorEdward M. Abroms
Running time73 min.
Production companyUniversal Television
Original networkABC
Original releaseNovember 1, 1972 (1972-11-01)

That Certain Summer is a 1972 American made-for-television drama film directed by Lamont Johnson. The teleplay by Richard Levinson and William Link was considered the first sympathetic depiction of gay people on American television.[1] Produced by Universal Television, it was broadcast as an ABC Movie of the Week on November 1, 1972, and received a number of television awards and nominations. The movie was also recognized as being the first network drama to depict a stable, same-sex couple; the first to depict a gay parent; and the first gay themed show to win an Emmy, with Scott Jacoby winning for his performance.[2] A novelization of the film written by Burton Wohl was published by Bantam Books.


Divorced San Francisco contractor Doug Salter is looking forward to a summer visit from his 14-year-old son Nick, who lives in Los Angeles with his mother Janet. The boy does not know that his father is gay and in a committed relationship to Gary McClain, his life partner of several years. Gary stays temporarily with his sister and brother-in-law so that Doug can come out to Nick and tell him about their relationship, rather than surprise him all at once. But Gary otherwise spends most of his time with Doug and Nick, and the boy notices his father seems unusually close to Gary. At one point, Doug takes off his watch to reach into an aquarium. Nick sees the inscription on the of the watch - "To Doug With Love Gary" and realises his father and Gary are more than friends. Greatly confused, he runs off. Janet arrives from L.A. as Doug and Gary are looking for him. Nick is at the cable car barn, where a sympathetic Muni employee, realising the boy has something on his mind, convinces him to go home. Janet and Gary have a poignant conversation during which Gary asserts, "If I were a woman, this would all be acceptable!" to which Janet calmly replies, "If you were a woman, I would know how to compete with you." Meanwhile, Doug and Nick have gone off alone to have a talk. Nick has sort of heard of the word "homosexuality" but isn't quite sure what it means. Doug attempts to explain that, "Gary and I have a kind of marriage." It's a bit too much for Nick to take in; and the visit's over so it's time for him to pack and go home. Doug and Janet talk briefly, and Jenet tells him not to worry about Nick. "Just give him a little time."

Production notes

Hal Holbrook said he turned down the role when it initially was offered to him.[3][4] "I wasn't worried about whether the character was a gay person or not; the reason I turned it down, frankly, is I read the script and I didn't think much happened in it. I just thought it was kind of tame."[3] After discussing the script with Carol Rossen, his second wife, he changed his mind and accepted the role.[3][5] He felt an emotional connection to the character in the film because at the time he had separated from his first wife and he hadn't told his two young children about the split. "It was very easy and natural for me to translate the emotional turmoil I personally was feeling into the turmoil [Doug] was feeling."[3][4] The film remains important to him because it meant so much to so many people.[3]

In a 2007 interview with the Dallas Voice, Martin Sheen reminisced, "I thought it was wonderful. There was a great deal of freedom in it because it wasn't about advocating a lifestyle or a sexuality. It was about two people who adored each other, and they weren't allowed to have a relationship that involved their sexuality."[6] When asked if at the time he was concerned the role could affect his career, he responded, "I'd robbed banks and kidnapped children and raped women and murdered people, you know, in any number of shows. Now I was going to play a gay guy and that was like considered a career ender. Oh, for Christ’s sake! What kind of culture do we live in?"[6]

Doug's coming out speech to Nick was criticized by gay activists who objected to the father telling his son "some people think that it's [homosexuality] a sickness" and "if I had a choice, it isn't something I'd pick for myself". According to writer Richard Levinson, ABC insisted those lines be inserted. He said ABC felt that the film was taking a pro–homosexual stand and the opposing view had to be aired. Levinson said they strongly resisted and totally disagreed with their decision.[7][4] Additionally, ABC insisted there be no physical contact between the lead actors, not even lingering eye contact.[8][7][5]

In an interview with the Television Academy foundation, writer William Link said they first took the project to NBC, but they said "we wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole, get out of here."[9][10] When they took their script to Barry Diller, who created the ABC Movie of the Week, he said yes, but he had to "fight his own network to get it on."[9][10] Link also reported that they couldn't get actors to play that part [Doug Salter], and when Cliff Robertson was approached about the role, he flatly stated, "I'd rather play Hitler than play that man."[9][10] Link also said the night it was on, a bomb threat came in to an ABC affiliate.[9][10]


Principal production credits

Critical reception

Marilyn Beck called it "one of the finest pieces of drama you'll see this year on large or small screen."[5] Out Magazine said the film was "the first television-movie to offer a sympathetic portrayal of homosexuality, and with an all-star cast of Hal Holbrook and Martin Sheen, it was a pretty big deal."[4] Diane Trzcinski wrote in The Lesbian Tide, "this movie explored its subject with sensitivity and honesty. The situation is one that is painfully all too common: a homosexual parent who somehow has to explain to his child the facts of a sexual preference which is a taboo in our society...there were few slick cliches, and perhaps because of the quality of the cast, no glib acting".[11] Television critic for The New York Times John J. O'Connor observed, the movie "is not 'about' homosexuality. It is about personal relationships being affected by the fact of homosexuality. In terms of average television, however, it is something of a major event. The performances throughout the film are excellent"...and the movie "can lay claim to some of the most impressive and sensitive acting ever contributed to television".[12]

Gay historian Stephen Tropiano wrote in his book, The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV, the movie "broke new ground by portraying homosexuals as real people, rather than one-dimensional stereotypes. How honestly and accurately the film reflected gay life in America is certainly debatable, but there's a more important question: who exactly is the film's intended audience? Clearly, it was not male couples living in San Francisco, but heterosexuals who have never met a gay person that hopefully gained some new insight into gay male relationships and the emotional struggle many gay people endure as they seek acceptance from loved ones."[7][13] Film critic Charles Champlin praised the movie for "avoiding melodrama, moralizing or convenient resolutions, and it "would do honor to any size screen."[8]


In 1998, the movie was honored with the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame Award.[14]

In 2014, The Paley Center For Media added the movie to its media collection in celebration of television's impact on LGBT equality. The center noted the movie's success at "educating and enlightening a select few and giving others a little bit of hope", and also "demonstrated the more progressive element of television".[4][15]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
American Cinema Editors Awards[16] Best Edited Television Special Edward M. Abroms Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[17][18] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television Lamont Johnson Won
Golden Globe Awards[19] Best Television Film Won
Primetime Emmy Awards[20][21] Outstanding Single Program – Drama or Comedy Richard Levinson and William Link Nominated
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Hal Holbrook Nominated
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Hope Lange Nominated
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama Scott Jacoby Won
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama – A Single Program Lamont Johnson Nominated
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama – Original Teleplay Richard Levinson and William Link Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Mixing Melvin M. Metcalfe and Thom K. Piper Nominated
Producers Guild of America Awards[22] Hall of Fame – Television Programs Richard Levinson and William Link Won

See also


  1. ^ Shattuck, Kathryn (February 16, 2017). "14 TV Shows That Broke Ground With Gay and Transgender Characters". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Capsuto, Steven (2000). Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 82. ISBN 0-345-41243-5. LCCN 00104495. OCLC 44596808.
  3. ^ a b c d e Hal Holbrook, Amy Harrington (July 11, 2017). Hal Holbrook Actor (Television production). The Interviews. Television Academy Foundation. 33:17 minutes in. Chapter 2
  4. ^ a b c d e McDonald, James (November 1, 2014). "Today In Gay History: Hal Holbrook & Martin Sheen loving partners in That Certain Summer". Out Magazine.
  5. ^ a b c OIP Staff (February 3, 2021). "Actor Hal Holbrook dies aged 95". OutInPerth.
  6. ^ a b Wright, John (October 25, 2007). "BTD speaker Sheen blasts Dems, GOP, Bush". Dallas Voice. Archived from the original on November 5, 2007.
  7. ^ a b c Tropiano, Stephen (2002). The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. pp. 109–112. ISBN 1-55783-557-8. LCCN 2002003220. OCLC 606827696.
  8. ^ a b Pendleton, Jennifer (2005). "Movies for Television - Four Decades of Directorial Excellence". DGA Quarterly.
  9. ^ a b c d "William Link on the TV movie "That Certain Summer"". FoundationINTERVIEWS. October 6, 2016. Archived from the original on December 15, 2021 – via YouTube.
  10. ^ a b c d Isherwood, Charles (February 18, 1997). "Changing Channels". The Advocate. No. 727. p. 26. ISSN 0001-8996.
  11. ^ Trzcinski, Diane (December 1972). "The Great American Cyclops". The Lesbian Tide. Vol. 2, no. 5. p. 10.
  12. ^ O'Connor, John J. (October 29, 1972). "Television". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "10 Years After "The Prime Time Closet - A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV"". Television Academy. October 29, 2013. The focus of the evening was to celebrate the monumental strides the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Identified Community has achieved since the publication of historian Stephen Tropiano's book, "The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV" over ten years ago.
  14. ^ "Tribute to Levinson and Link". UCLA Film & Television Archive. 2014.
  15. ^ "Made-for-TV Breakthrough: That Certain Summer". The Paley Center For Media.
  16. ^ "Nominees/Winners". IMDb. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  17. ^ "25th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  18. ^ Roberts, Jerry (2009). Encyclopedia of Television Film Directors. Scarecrow Press. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-8108-6378-1.
  19. ^ "That Certain Summer – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  20. ^ "That Certain Summer Wednesday Movie of the Week". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  21. ^ "That Certain Summer". Turner Classic Movies.
  22. ^ Madigan, Nick (March 3, 1999). "Producers tap 'Ryan'; Kelly, Hanks TV winners". Variety. Archived from the original on September 23, 2017. Retrieved September 22, 2017.