Nancy Meyers’ journey to becoming the most financially successful female writer and director of live action movies — her movies have made $1 billion and counting — began in Drexel Hill at the old, bygone Waverly Theater.
As a kid in the 1960s, she’d go there to watch Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and the other stars of the era on the theater’s big screen.
“I went every Saturday until I was old enough to go Friday night, and I guess that was maybe 12 years old,” said Meyers, who took the marquee from the theater and made it the imprimatur of her successful film production company, Waverly Pictures. (Hits include Baby Boom, Father of the Bride and its sequel, What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated, and The Intern.)
“I think readers my age will remember this — to the left of the theater there was a store that sold bicycles and candy. The bicycles were up on the wall and they had a really good candy counter. You’d get a bag of candy and go to the movie theater. What a way to spend a day. What a great way to grow up. It was like a dream,” she said.
Meyers’ Waverly banner flies over her company’s latest picture — Home Again — starring Reese Witherspoon, and written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, Nancy’s daughter. It’s not autobiographical, but it is about a woman who grew up in a show business family returning to the Los Angeles of her girlhood, full of memorabilia left behind by her movie-making parents.
Meyers-Shyer’s dad (and Meyers’ ex) is Charles Shyer, who penned several screenplays with Meyers — their first hit was the Goldie Hawn-starring Private Benjamin, which she wrote after leaving a PBS job in Philadelphia for Hollywood. She had a long professional partnership with Shyer but struck out on her own in 2002, with Something’s Gotta Give, her second-highest grossing movie.
Now, she’s producing her daughter’s screenplay and watching Hallie direct. It’s made her a very proud mom. Proud, too, of the way she has involved other women in the process. “There were women in every department, from finance to production to everything creative,” Meyers said of the Home Again staff.
The movie stars Witherspoon as a woman on the verge of divorce looking to reinvent herself in her native Los Angeles, in her parents’ home. There, she lends a guesthouse to three young men who are aspiring filmmakers.
There’s a comic romance, but the real love story involves the characters’ feeling for movies in general. The young men are awed by the movie artifacts all around them, and the film itself is suffused with affection for movie history — Hallie is “nostalgic already,” Meyers said, “and she just turned 30.”
Meyers had a role in choosing the “relics” seen in the movie, some of which are her own, some borrowed from friends.
“I remember talking to the prop person about the IBM Selectric you see in one scene. I never felt older in my life. I used to type on one of those,” Meyers said.
In fact, the Selectric in the movie belonged to Robert Towne — it’s the machine he used to write Chinatown and other classics.
Jon Rudnitsky, playing a young writer agog at the items in the de facto Hollywood museum, runs his fingers over it.
“It’s like he’s touching the fossilized bone of a dinosaur,” Meyers said.
Meyers’ daughter is part of a large wave of female directors whose work has reached the screen this year. “I think a few years ago, women decided to just start talking about it. Not grinning and smiling and trying not to make waves, but talking honestly about how [the lack of female directors] was a huge problem in Hollywood,” Meyers said. “And it was women making noise that made a difference. Not just in opportunities, but in the movies themselves. Let’s face it, movies about women are best told by women.”
That success, she said, hasn’t made it any easier for stories like Home Again to reach the screen. In the blockbuster/superhero era, it’s still a struggle.
“It’s just increasingly harder and harder for movies like this, about a 40-year-old woman getting her life in order — one human being meeting another human being, and finding something in the experience,” Meyers said.
Those stories are finding a more receptive home on television and on the many streaming platforms.
But for filmmakers like Meyers, that Waverly spell never really wears off, and they want to make movies for the big screen.
“If I were as young as Hallie, I’d be very excited to have a movie on Netflix or Showtime,” Meyers said. “For people like me, I just want to make movies because, honestly, I like going to the movies in the theater. I get excited about seeing movies on the big screen.”