Barbra Streisand fought to get Robert Redford for ‘The Way We Were’

Barbra Streisand fought to get Robert Redford for ‘The Way We Were’

How Barbra Streisand fought to make Robert Redford’s The Way We Were character more than ‘just an object’

“Give him anything he wants.”

In an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, My Name Is Barbra, the EGOT winner recalled the lengths that she and director Sydney Pollack went to in order to secure Redford as her character Katie Morosky’s pal and love interest Hubbell Gardiner in the 1973 romantic drama.  

“Bob is that rare combination… an intellectual cowboy… a charismatic star who is also one of the finest actors of his generation,” Streisand wrote, per the extract in Vanity Fair. “But like my husband, he’s almost apologetic about his looks, and I liked that about him.”

She added, “So I wanted Redford for Hubbell. But he turned it down.” 

After Redford’s refusal, Streisand said she hoped Pollack, who was a close friend of Redford’s, could persuade him to take the part instead. “I have to give Sydney credit,” she admitted. “He was as persistent as I was, because we both felt that only Redford would make the picture work.” 

THE WAY WE WERE, from left: Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, 1973

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in ‘The Way We Were’

| Credit: Everett

Redford, however, had reservations. Wrote Streisand, “Bob was concerned that the script was so focused on Katie that Hubbell’s character was underdeveloped. (He was right.) Bob asked Sydney, ‘Who is this guy? He’s just an object… He doesn’t want anything. What does this guy want?’ In Bob’s opinion, he was ‘shallow and one-dimensional. Not very real.’ ‘A pin-up girl in reverse,’ as Sydney put it.”

To appease Redford, Streisand reached out to Pollack and told him, “Give him anything he wants.” 

“‘Write more scenes to strengthen his character. Make it equal,'” she recalled telling the director. “So Sydney hired two excellent writers, David Rayfiel and Alvin Sargent, to beef up Bob’s part and go deeper, beneath that golden-boy exterior. And I told Ray to pay him whatever he wanted. But Bob’s answer was still no. I was heartbroken.” 

With pressure mounting to hire a different actor — Ryan O’Neal was supposedly “next” on the list — Pollack and Streisand asked for another week to try to convince Redford one last time. 

“The negotiations went down to the wire. I was in the middle of filming Up the Sandbox in Africa, and one day I got a telegram from Sue Mengers that simply said: ‘Barbra Redford!'” Streisand recalled. “That’s when I knew he’d finally said yes… and I was so thrilled! The courtship had been tough, but Bob’s reluctance had a big influence on the script and ultimately resulted in a richer, more interesting character.”

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In Robert Hofler’s 2023 book, The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen, Pollack, who died in 2008, revealed that Redford was also very concerned about his potential costar before eventually agreeing to the role. 

“She has never been tested,” Redford reportedly told Pollack. “Her reputation is as a very controlling person. She will direct herself. It’ll never work.” Redford was also worried that Streisand would use her Grammy-winning vocals in the film: “She’s not going to sing, is she? I [don’t] want her to sing in the middle of the movie.”

Streisand did end up singing the film’s eponymous theme, which won the award for Best Original Song at the 1974 Oscars. Upon its release, The Way We Were became an instant box office smash, as audiences followed Katie and Hubbell’s bittersweet love story over the course of multiple years. 

My Name Is Barbra hits bookshelves Nov. 7. 

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