The ‘Robert Redford’s Never Bad in Bed’ School of Filmmaking

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Much anticipated for Barbra Streisand was her first love scene with Robert Redford in the film The Way We Were. “Streisand was a star who reportedly had had affairs with many of her leading men,” said one member of the production team.

A notable except was Walter Matthau on the set of Hello, Dolly! The two stars famously loathed each other from almost the first day of production on that movie musical. Unlike Elliott Gould in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, or Sydney Chaplin in the Funny Girl stage musical, or Omar Sharif in the movie version, or Ryan O’Neal in What’s Up Doc?, Redford was a happily married family man with four children when he signed to do The Way We Were in June 1972. Initially, he even refused his new leading lady’s request for the customary first meeting before production began. Streisand had asked and she asked, and finally, Streisand asked the film’s director, Sydney Pollack, “Why can’t I sit and talk with Bob Redford? I’m going to act with him in the movie.” Pollack had to tell Streisand that her new costar preferred the spontaneity of not rehearsing, of not meeting her beforehand. The news did not set well with the notoriously punctilious performer.

“Finally, it started to get destructive,” said Pollack, and he had no choice but to tell Redford, a close friend, “You’ve got to go, because she’s starting to take it personally.”

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The long-delayed meeting was set on Streisand’s turf, at her Holmby Hills estate. Redford left his wife, Lola, at home in Utah but insisted that Pollack accompany him to the dinner. He wanted to keep this strictly professional. Pollack understood Redford’s method beyond the mere fact of his not wanting to sleep with his next leading lady.

“He believes very strongly that the strangeness contributes to the chemistry in a movie,” said Pollack. “Strangeness” accurately describes the first scenes in The Way We Were shooting schedule, where Streisand plays a college student five years younger than herself, and Redford is a good decade older than his character. It is that stage in the relationship between Katie Morosky, the Jewish communist, and Hubbell Gardiner, the gorgeous Gentile jock, “when she was supposed to be awkward with him,” said Pollack.

According to the director, Streisand became infatuated with Redford at that dinner. “Barbra was delighted because she had a crush on him, even before we started,” he revealed. “It was hard for women not to have a fixation, because he was everywhere, like Elvis. He was the golden boy long before Hubbell came along.”

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For perhaps the only time, Arthur Laurents agreed with Pollack, who had already fired the screenwriter regarding needed changes in the original script. “She was simply mesmerized by him because she found him so beautiful,” said Laurents. “She was infatuated with Robert Redford, who handled it well, neither encouraging her nor using her crush to his advantage.”

When it came to their first love scene in the movie, Redford protected himself in more ways than one. He wore two athletic supporters, while Streisand chose to don a bikini.

“It was a pretty G-rated scene,” the film’s second assistant director Michael Britton recalled.

Indeed, producer Ray Stark had already cautioned that he didn’t want even “a heavily shadowed nude scene.” The Way We Were was going to be PG rated, just as it was going to be two hours long and not a minute more. Stark had already deleted a “fuck” in the script for the same reason: He wanted the largest audience possible, and a dreaded R rating wouldn’t give him that.

While Pollack called for a closed set, with only him and the cinematographer present, Britton, a special assistant to both the director and the leading man, managed to be present for the two-day shoot in Katie’s apartment, constructed on Stage 21 at Warner Bros. in Burbank, California. The scene required Redford to act like he either was very drunk or was sleeping or both. It required Streisand to act both nervous and thrilled as she slowly undresses to slip naked under the bedcover next to her costar. From there, Hubbell rouses himself enough to move on top of Katie.

In the finished film, it’s not clear whether he actually inserts himself, and most definitely, neither character achieves orgasm. In Laurents’ novel, The Way We Were, published in 1972, a year before the film’s release, there is no doubt. Laurents wrote, “[T]hen he threw back the coverlet and rolled on top of her, and then he was inside her.” The passage goes on to reveal that the sex is very quick: he climaxes, and she does not, and the only kiss she receives from him is on her neck. In both the novel and the movie, when it’s clear that Hubbell has fallen asleep on top of her—in the movie, his sudden narcolepsy is cued by a minor key shift in the music—Katie says, “Hubbell. Hubbell. It’s Katie. You do know it’s Katie?”

It was a simple scene. But “