Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of the most fondly remembered Westerns of all time. Paul Newman and Robert Redford made the perfect partnership, the tone was light, and as for that cliffhanger ending… well, we won’t say too much in case you haven’t seen it.
Behind the scenes, though, Butch Cassidy… had enough going on to start several barroom brawls. Starting with an alleged affair, we bring you the lowdown on this out-and-out outlaw classic.
Newman and Bacon
Paul Newman reportedly romanced Nancy Bacon during the making of Butch Cassidy… in 1968. Writing in 2009, the Daily Mail described Bacon as “a divorced Hollywood journalist whom 20th Century Fox had sent to write a piece about him for a magazine.” The Mail covered Shawn Levy’s book Paul Newman: A Life.
Newman himself was most certainly not divorced. He’d been married to actress Joanne Woodward (pictured above) for a decade. Bacon, who was editor of Confidential Magazine, is quoted as saying their relationship was “the worst-kept secret in Hollywood.”
The pair were said to have split after a year and a half. Bacon claimed she wound things up, partly because the veteran actor was drunk all the time. Stories about Newman and Bacon’s affair have been challenged in the press.
Newman and Woodward were together till his death in 2008. Bacon published her own book, Legends and Lipstick, before passing away in 2018.
Joanne Woodward found the Sundance Kid
Robert Redford has a lot to thank Joanne Woodward for. His name wasn’t even in the stetson before Newman’s other half mentioned him to producers.
According to Pure Volume, director George Roy Hill and co struggled to sell the relative unknown to 20th Century Fox. Eventually, they succeeded and a legendary screen double act was formed.
The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy?
The characters were originally billed the other way round. Steve McQueen had jumped into the saddle as the Sundance Kid. However, he wanted his name hanging highest on the poster, over Paul Newman’s.
In an unusual turn of events, it was suggested that half the country watch “Newman and McQueen” and the other half “McQueen and Newman.” This drove the star away like a Bullitt, leaving Newman on top. The title was then altered to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
No ordinary Western movie
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid wasn’t your typical cowboy flick. Seen by some as the original buddy movie, it was a far cry from John Wayne pictures.
Screenwriter William Goldman (1931 – 2018) found Hollywood bigwigs rejecting the story. Why? They objected to the characters high-tailing it to South America.
Sean Egan’s 2014 book The Reluctant Storyteller quotes Goldman’s exchange with a disgruntled exec. When it was pointed out that the journey was historically accurate, the reply came back: “All I know is John Wayne don’t run away.”
Robert Redford and the Raindrops
Another offbeat element of the film was the insertion of an easy-listening number.
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” performed by B.J. Thomas and composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, is one of Butch Cassidy’s classic ingredients. It plays over the dusty Old West action, though not everyone was a fan.
Robert Redford hated the track. “There was no rain,” he told USA Today. “At the time, it seemed like a dumb idea. How wrong I was.”
Katherine Ross was banned from the set for touching a camera
Katherine Ross committed a cardinal sin… touching George Roy Hill’s camera. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Her then-partner, cinematographer Conrad Hall, let her take a turn with some equipment. When the director heard about this, he stopped Ross from being on set during her free time.
Needless to say, the working relationship between the pair wasn’t the best. Another actor who may have witnessed tensions was Sam Elliott. He was taken with Ross but lacked the A-List credentials to say howdy.
Years later they shared top billing for horror film The Legacy. A romance blossomed and the pair have been happily married to this day.
A very special historical advisor
Lula Parker Betenson, Butch Cassidy’s younger sister, was on set to add a layer of authenticity. Her level of involvement isn’t clear, but she was pictured with Redford and Newman and she helped endorse the movie when it came out. Betenson passed away in 198o.
A rather unpleasant tummy bug with a movie-style title hit cast and crew hard out in Mexico. Montezuma’s Revenge came via the local water supply, and had everyone running for the bathroom.
Everyone except for Newman, Redford, and Ross it seems. Pure Volume writes that the stars “refused to drink the water that catering services provided” and “stuck to drinking soda and alcohol throughout the duration of their stay.”
Connections to Mel Brooks
Butch Cassidy… was a comedy. So it made sense to have a couple of Mel Brooks collaborators in the mix.
Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars played Agnes and Marshal, respectively. Both appeared in Young Frankenstein (1974), though they worked with Brooks more than once. Mars famously played a Nazi playwright in 1967’s The Producers.
Leachman and Mars went on to have recurring roles in Malcolm In The Middle (2000 – 2006).
Critics didn’t rave about it
Butch Cassidy… took time to gain its iconic reputation. Critics weren’t too kind at first, with Time magazine even comparing the action to Adam West’s Batman!
It was maybe a little ahead of its time. Today, the movie is part of the US National Film Registry. The American Film Institute also voted it the 7th greatest Western in 2008.
Butch and Sundance 2
10 years after the release of Butch Cassidy… a prequel came out, titled Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. There was no Newman and Redford. Tom Berenger and William Katt took over the roles. Jeff Corey reprised the part of Sheriff Bledsoe.
Directed by Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, The Three Musketeers), the film featured various rising stars, such as Peter Weller and Christopher Lloyd. Both would go down in movie history – Weller as Robocop and Lloyd as Back To The Future’s Doc Brown.
The ‘Hole In The Wall’ legacy
Paul Newman was noted for his charity work. In 1988 he founded the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp project. Named after Butch and Sundance’s posse, it gave seriously ill children an unforgettable Wild West experience.
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As for Redford, he went on to form the Sundance Institute, which has championed artists since 1981.