It was such a potent pairing, the tag line simply said: ”Streisand/Redford/Together!” The Way We Were was a sugary respite from dark early-’70s movies like The Godfather and Mean Streets. It seemed tailored to the charms of its two leads, and in a way it was. When Arthur Laurents wrote the book (and the screenplay), he fashioned the role of awkward Jewish activist Katie Morosky especially for Barbra Streisand. And director Sydney Pollack insisted no one but Robert Redford could play Hubbell Gardiner, her pampered WASP golden boy. When The Way We Were opened on Oct. 17, 1973, moviegoers ratified the casting hunches: The film — which went on to reportedly gross a silk-lined $45 million — became synonymous with soapy Me Decade romance.
At first, Redford balked at playing straight man to Streisand’s dervish. It took several months of haranguing from Pollack — as well as some meatier scenes — to convince him. ”I don’t think this picture would have been a hit without him,” Pollack says. ”You knew she would knock it out of the ballpark. The question is, was there somebody batting the ball back?”
The Funny Girl and the Sundance Kid proved a charismatic combination — and the movie a crowd-pleaser. It had lustrous period settings, with a hit title song crooned by La Babs herself and a swooning score (composer Marvin Hamlisch won Oscars for both). And it had a lot of tears (Streisand crying scenes: seven), a lot of anger (Streisand outburst scenes: six), and a lot of love. The Way We Were ”touched a nerve with everybody, as corny as it is,” Pollack says. However, there were ”a lot of people who murdered me when that picture came out.”
Yeah, like the critics. Time called it ”ill-written, wretchedly performed, and tediously directed.” Feminists railed against Katie’s self-sacrifice for her man. And Pollack, who snipped 11 minutes from the film after a preview audience began walking out, took some heat for backseating the Communist witch-hunts. ”There was no question where the audience’s heart was,” says the director. ”They wanted the love story and didn’t want politics to get in the way.”
They got what they wanted — and so did the players. Thanks to a deal guaranteeing a percentage of the film’s profits, Streisand made a tidy sum. Pollack and Redford (who’d worked together twice before) went on to collaborate on four more movies, including Three Days of the Condor and 1985’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Out of Africa.
Over the years, Pollack has received several sequel scripts (including one by Laurents), but nixed them all for lacking the original’s charm. As for the film’s pop-culture resonance, Pollack is as surprised as anyone, but he credits his stars: ”There was something about the way the two of them were together that was terrifically touching.”