Toward the end of The Way We Were, Hubbell seeks out his ex-wife, Katie, and tells her he can’t get together for a drink later that night. “I know,” she replies, tenderly sweeping his hair away from his eyes. The former couple share a long, silent hug before going their separate ways.
Fifty years ago, The Way We Were united two giants of the silver screen, Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand, to create a timeless love story set against the background of political turmoil. “It’s right there with Gone With the Wind and Casablanca on lists of the 10 greatest romances,” says Robert Hofler, author of the new book The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen.
While the chemistry between Robert and Barbra propels The Way We Were, not everyone was convinced they’d make a good movie match. One producer was lobbying for Ryan O’Neal to play Hubbell. Even Robert had to be convinced to sign on. “I thought it was a good script, but the character in the initial script was, I felt, one-dimensional,” he admitted.
He also worried about Barbra’s reputation. “She will direct herself. It’ll never work,” he told director Sydney Pollack, according to Hofler, who adds that Robert “finally did the movie as a favor to Pollack.”
When filming began, Barbra and Robert’s work styles clashed. The actress liked many discussions and rehearsals, but Robert resisted overplanning. “He liked to keep it spontaneous,” explains Hofler. “He did have a point because in the opening scenes, their awkwardness of not knowing each other” works for the diametrically opposed characters of Hubbell and Katie.
There were other hurdles, too. Barbra is a legendary perfectionist, while Robert is more laid-back. “He had a tendency to be late,” confides Hofler, who notes the crew kiddingly called it “Redford time.” The star also liked to joke and play pranks between scenes. “He always knew his lines, but he liked to start a scene by going, ‘Which scene is this?’ to disarm people.”
Once Barbra caught on that he meant no harm, she relaxed. “I remember liking her energy and her spirit,” Robert said. “I also really enjoyed kidding her. She was fun to kid.”
A HUGE HIT
The Way We Were opened October 16, 1973, to generally good reviews. It would end up making nearly $50 million at the North American box office — a blockbuster in those days. Its theme song also became a hit. “Redford didn’t want her to sing. He didn’t want the movie to turn into a Barbra Streisand musical,” says Hofler. “But it was a No. 1 single, and it revived her recording career. It’s also one of the best theme songs from a movie ever.”
After such a big success, it’s no surprise that there were talks of a sequel — the actors were reportedly offered $8 million each to reunite — but Robert could not be persuaded. “He never did a sequel in his entire career,” notes Hofler.
Barbra, however, always thought Katie and Hubbell’s love didn’t end there. “I envisioned a story in which their daughter, now in college and politically active herself, inadvertently brings them back together,” Barbra said. “It’s inevitable that they reconnect. I still regret that we didn’t make it.”
—Louise A. Barile, with reporting by Katie Bruno