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BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
(George Roy Hill . 1968 )

 

“Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.”

BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID

George Roy Hull . 1968

 

Thank you Steffi..! 

Robert Redford’s new (fifth) agent, Stephanie Phillips, was checking through some old, well-thumbed scripts at trhe CMA office and found a gem in another CMA client George Roy Hill’s stalled Western. The Sundance Kid. and Butch Cassidy. This was first original movie script by novelist William Goldman ironically, Redford’s friend and neighbor). It would be  best cowboy picture ever made, said the modest Goldman. He just couldn’t sell  it anywhere…

Paul Newman felt somewhat  proprietary about the movie, since Goldman first offered it to him to in late 1966. “The next I know, McQueen called me and said we should make this thing.  I collected the script from McQueen’s house and read it overnight and the next day I called Steve and suggested that the two of us should buy it outright from Goldman. “How much they want?” “$360,000.” “Well,” said Newman, “let’s find $200,000 each.” “No, can’t do that,” said McQueen, ”my agent wants to be the producer…” 

“Then, out of the blue,“ Newman recalled, “Dick Zanuck had it and Hill  was offering it to me, with no Steve attached.”

McQueen, who’d had a bit role in Somebody Up There Likes Me and remained forever envious of Newman’s career, would not accept Paul having top billing, after all the Kid came first in the title. Anyway, he shot off to Europe to make the lacklustre Le Mans. And much later, Foster produced McQueen in The Getaway, directed by Sam Peckinpah, who would have been rather useful at Le Mans!

Despite being 44, Newman switched from Butch to The Kid: the younger, sexier Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (once arrested in Sundance, Wyoming). Goldman had always imagined Jack Lemmon as Butch: Robert Leroy Parker, a schemer, dreamer who had  once worked in a butcher's shop. Newman agreed about Lemmon - “to return a favour.”  But  ever since his cxwboy movie - called just that, Cowboy,  in 1957 -  hated horses!

As they discussed the script, director George Roy Hill was puzzled by Newman’s comments.  “Why are we talking about Sundance. You’re Butch.”

 

George, I was here first

- I’m Sundance. 

 

He read the script again, found both parts equal. “OK, I’ll be Butch.” 

And so the title was changed to  Newman-first - Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid -  by the time Warren Beatty heard about it. He wanted to enlarge, even kinkify the relationship of the duo and the girl. Shampooon Horseback.  He was keen on Sundance until learning that Newman was Butch - and then (of course) Beatty wanted to be Butch.  No way!  So he left, with the nonsensical excuse that the film was too much like his Bonnie and Clyde and, anyway, he preferred to make Richard Brooks’ $ in Germany - the title closely resembled the box-office take. 

Beatty had also said he could get Brando (also 44) for The Kid.  No one wanted Brando. Certainly not Hill.  “Those stories were garbage.” Of course, they were. “Fox wanted Beatty. Paul wanted Jack Lemmon.  But I wanted Bob.”  

It was Paul wanting Marlon. Newman made it a rule to invite Brando to join all his projects. (All refused). Naturallu, when Brando read this script, he wanted to be Butch!   Instead, he felt unable to deal with movies in the aftermath of  the Martin Luther King assassination and  dropped out of public life except for Black Panthers' funerals and eventually making Gillo Pontecorvo’s Queimada (aka Burn!) in Italy, France, Colombia, France, Italy and Morocco.

So… from McQueen-Newman to Lemmon-Newman to Newman-Beatty to Newman-Brando… And it was the instigator of RR as Sundance, Steffi Phillips, who was the very first to mention -  to Redford biographer Michael Feeney Callan in  July 1996 -  that James Coburn had also been in there somewhere… sometime.

Fox chief Darryl F Zanuck wanted Newman and… Robert Wagner. RJ, as he was known, was under Fox contract and, thereby, cheap. No one else wanted him. “I lost it!” he yelled.  “I lost it!”  (And, consequently, the next Newman-Redford fun, too, The Sting).

This is about when and where, according to Newman’s memory of events, that his wife, Joanne Woodward, stepped in. Not wanting to play Etta Price, but suggesting  - as she knew his work and worth and age (32) - that Redford would be better as The Kid.

Hill thought:  “Yes, that might be interesting. Only that.”  Enough  to meet him at Joe Allen’s bar on 46th Street when Redford’s understood that Newman  would be Sundance “since the title led off with that name”  - with Butch as the co-star.  Hill was surprised when Redford announced he’d  be better as Sundance. Surely  Newman, was really more like Butch. No so, countered Hill, “he’s not  really Hud, you know, he’s full of nervous energy and funny.” 

However, the more they talked, the more Hill wanted Sundance to be “the nice kid down the road  who's been  to the post many times but never really made it  over  the finishing line.” Now all he had to persuade Newman that Butch was the perfect fit for him aand thaty  the title could be switched around, etc, etc.   Newman had seen Redford in Broadway’s Barerfoot in the Park  and Inside Dasiy Clover and had yet to be convinced about him.  But he soon was.

Hill said: “Trust me, it’s Redford as the Sundance Kid.”  “What the hell.” said Newman. ‘I met Bob.  I liked him. After   that, you go by instinct…  It was an exceptional piece of writing anyway and under George’s  direction, I knew it would be a fine movie.”

“It was Paul who made the decision,” said Redford.  “I will always be indebted to him for that - taking a chance on a comparative newcomer.”

 

Robert Redford, however,

was the new Doris Day to Zanuck

 

Big mistake,  said Hill,  that was just The Look. “He had a Celtic wildness that shone through the laid-back dude.”

Butch and Sundance met for dinrne. Bingo!! Got on like a house on fire, “talking,” said Redford, “about everything but the film.”   Well, Newman did say that  Redford could take either part…  and his seventh film made him a superstar.  They were much alike in their attitudes, hopes, desires, Both stars found Hill a perfect director. Newman suggested that the film would have been as good with any other two actors. If they got on. Except as Newman and Lee Marvin proved in Pocket Money, 1971,  t’ain’t  necessarily so. 

 “On a gut level it appealed to me as a fairy-tale,” said Redford. “Also fitted into with some of the things I’ve done in life. When I was very young I didn’t think it would so so bad to be an outlaw.  A lot of those people were just kids, doing what they did -  robbing banks, holding up trains - as much for the sheer fun of it  as for  anything else... For the most part, it was the most consistent  fun of  any film I’ve ever done.”  Plus he was paid $150,000,  compared to $60,000 for Barefoot in the  Park and $90,000 for Little Fauss and Big Halsy, which was no Butch and Sundance.

Newman  got  much, much more.  But Redford’s big pay day would come. Many times over.

Etta Pace .    Before Katharine Ross became the girl with raindrops falling on her head, Etta was Joanna Pettet. When she proved pregnant, Redford's favourite  Natalie Wood, was considered. Goldman, among the many, fell for Jacqueline Bisset. “The most beautiful woman I've ever seen...  a genuinely eerie physical beauty.  I did the standard double take, stared... and fell up the steps of the commissary.” He recovered enough to talk to her about losing her accent which she duly did - as Newman’s daughter in another Western,The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, 1972. Ross met actor Sam Eliott on the film (his first) and they wed in 1984 and had a daiughter, Cleo Rose

The critics got it all wrong. Pauline Kael was offended by it (!) and the usually spot-on Roger Ebert  grumbled that it must have looked good on paper. It did, of course, and was even better on-screen. Newman called it “a love affair between two men.”They went on into The Stingagain for George Roy Hill, another  buddy movie, more male camaraderie.. Or as co-producer Julia Phillips preferred to phrase it, “a dick-love story.”

Newman and Redford  kept searching for a third trip together - turning down, among others,Steven Spielberg's Always,1989… not to mention producer Edward L Montoro's  soundalike  spaghetti Western, Sundance Cassidy and Butch The Kid.

Final word from Newman “Too bad they got killed in the end, ‘cos those two guys could have gone on in films forever.”

Footnote. Producer Paul Monash, cinematographer Conrad Hall and George Roy Hill all died within days of each other in January 2003.






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