Exclusive Excerpt from “The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic”
A Big Thank You to author Tom Santopietro for hand-picking this excerpt for us to share with you from his latest book “The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic”.
What Laurents’s screenplay smartly does is to take its time in showing exactly how Hubbell begins to fall for Katie. Audiences know that with these two big stars front and center a love story will inevitably ensue, but they don’t know how and when it’s going to occur. Hubbell does not immediately tumble to Katie’s inner beauty, but instead, he is first intrigued by her at the moment of her greatest humiliation: the rally for peace at which she wins over the crowd until pranksters wave signs behind her that collectively read “Any peace by Katie’s piece.” Katie’s angry knee jerk response is to brand the students fascists, but as the crowd laughs, Hubbell does not join in. Pollack, in fact, felt that Hubbell was “disturbed when she is humiliated.” Hubbell is responding to her intensity and passion, and he silently appraises her – interested but non-committal. Said Barbra: “I liked that scene. I felt like I used to feel a lot, an outcast, people laughing at me. It felt natural.”
It’s a beautifully acted scene which plants the seeds for Hubbell’s growing interest in Katie. At the same time, the two characters seem to live at an overwhelming distance from each other, she with the masses, he with the detached elite who stand aside and observe. Indeed, the way Pollack shoots the peace rally further enhances their dissimilarities on a subliminal level: Katie is the speaker, dominant in the frame, while Hubbell, as spectator, stands lower in the frame, distanced from the speaker’s stage. Opposites in every way, Katie and Hubbell have still not held a direct conversation, a situation changed by the film’s cut to the restaurant where Katie works as a waitress. As Hubbell and gang enter, Katie, in a nice bit of sharp Laurents dialogue that keeps any sentimentality at bay, mutters to ever faithful boyfriend Frankie (James Woods) “Look who’s here – America the beautiful.”
Intrigued by Katie, Hubbell tries without success to make her laugh while he orders hamburgers and cokes:
Hubbell: “In the Coke.”
For his troubles Hubbell receives nothing but a sour look from Katie. They continue to verbally spar:
Hubbell: “We weren’t making fun of you”-
Katie: “You make fun of everyone.”
The rhythm between Streisand and Redford, their different styles and pace of speech as actors, all work to heighten the characters’ differences, even while establishing the glimmer of attraction. Streisand thrusts, Redford effortlessly parries, both actors slipping into the rat-a-tat-tat rhythm of the dialogue with ease. Said Pollack: “You couldn’t do much improvisation here- the scenes were carefully written- one beat led to another. It was all headed in a very certain direction.” James Woods watched both stars carefully, saying of Redford: “He’s such a great film actor. Bob slid into that character very well, and make no mistake, he may not have wanted to rehearse as much as Barbra, but he worked very hard on his approach.”
Audiences have sensed that underneath her surface disdain, Katie has remained fascinated with Hubbell, and when the film cuts to a nighttime scene in the library, she openly and repeatedly glances at him, even as loyal Frankie McVeigh sits right next to her. (The first part of the scripted scene was cut, a loss because of its delineation of character: when Hubbell temporarily left his seat, Katie slid over to steal a look at his notebook, one filled with drawings and the nicely prescient words: “And in the end, would it be worth it?”). Katie simply can’t help but stare at Hubbell, and it’s no wonder: as romantic music plays on the soundtrack, thanks to the lighting by Stradling, Redford’s Hubbell actually seems to glow. Staring at his pencil and oblivious to Katie, his thoughts are a million miles away, while Katie’s are all but palpable.
The scene is granted extra texture by the presence of James Woods’s Frankie, an outcast who jealously watches Katie eye Hubbell. Woods’s presence in the scene was not planned, but was cleverly engineered by Woods himself: “I was thinking about how I could be a part of the scene and realized I could be a part of it by being an obstacle. So- I said to Sydney: ‘I have a great idea.’ Sydney instantly said: ‘You’re not a part of the scene. We don’t need you in there with the two biggest stars in the world.’ Then I said to Barbra: ‘Let’s talk about acting for a minute- the library scene.’ Barbra looked at me and kept her reply short: ‘The scene is with Bob and me.’ I kept going- I told her ‘But isn’t it more interesting if Frankie is there in the library, looking at Katie while she’s looking at Hubbell. Now the scene wouldn’t be so simple- it’s more interesting.’ Barbra took a beat, thought about it, and then said: ‘Sydney- the kid is in the scene!’” Such chutzpah came readily to the Utah born Woods, who in 1970 had snagged a part in the award winning Broadway play Borstal Boy by pretending he was British.
Woods appreciated Pollack’s openness to change: “He was open to last minute improvisation. The great directors are because they know you can often get things you wouldn’t otherwise. Yes, I was happy to have more screen time, but I wasn’t hogging the camera- it was furthering my character as well as Barbra’s. Having me in the library added to Katie’s emotional confusion about Hubbell. She’s so committed to politics yet infatuated with Hubbell even while she has this dorky but devoted boyfriend. It makes audiences wonder ‘What’s she going to do?’”
Thanks to his own unbridled ambition, James Woods was in the scene, side by side with superstars Streisand and Redford and a presence to be noticed. Said Woods of the experience of filming with the two stars: “I loved working with both of them. They were so open to discussion. Barbra was great. We talked and she said ‘Are you afraid of me?’ I said: ‘No. I can act- it’s every man for himself.’ She wasn’t offended- she really laughed.
“Redford was terrific as well. He would sometimes come by my trailer, which was, needless to say, a lot smaller than his! We’d talk about acting- at that point I wanted to be a stage actor. I had just won a Theatre World Award, but he’s such a great film actor I knew I could learn from him. I proudly call myself a character actor, so it’s interesting to me that I think Bob and Brad Pitt, two classically handsome leading men, are at their best when they are being character actors.
“Having him stop by was a terrific opportunity to talk to this big star. Redford was and is a great underactor- he conveys so much with so little. I was, at that point, an overactor. He talked about how to convey emotion on film. If you look in a mirror and your eyes change focus as you start thinking about a problem, you should think the thought, don’t act it. You see the eyes change.
“I learned from him and even though I was a complete unknown, both Barbra and Bob were good to me. It’s actually hard to explain the level of stardom they held at that time because it just doesn’t exist today. They were larger than life stars. The public’s fascination with them was extraordinary. That very short sequence at the beginning of the film where Hubbell throws the javelin? Women were standing around all day just to get a glimpse of him!”
Hope you enjoyed this excerpt!
And don’t forget to check out our interview with author Tom Santopietro about the book here.
–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub
I rewatched the film on Sunday night. I have to read the book. I am surprised they didn’t do a big screen event for the 50th Anniversary. I have the digital and on DVR. When will the film ever release on 4K with perhaps deleted scenes. The end of film gets me every time.