Based on real-life outlaws of the same names, George Roy Hill’s 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid pioneered the buddy-comedy genre and was a welcomed relief to the societal landscape of the Vietnam War era.
Starring Hollywood heavy-weight Paul Newman and introducing a lesser-known Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy went on to garner four Academy Awards. As fun as the film is to watch, it was even more fun to make. Here are some wildly fantastic facts about the film.
You won’t believe what Paul Newman did to the director on set!
Paul Newman Was Given Top Billing After Someone Else Dropped Out
In the beginning, the film was originally slated to be called “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy.” Paul Newman and Steven McQueen were both A-list actors at the time and the latter agreed to play The Sundance Kid.
But after studio executives wouldn’t give McQueen top billing across the board—opting instead to list his name first in half of the prints, and Newman’s name first in the other half— McQueen dropped out of the film. As a result, the names in the working title got reversed. “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” has a much better ring to it anyway.
Finding The New Sundance Kid Took Time
When he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, William Goldman always had Paul Newman in mind for Butch Cassidy. For The Sundance Kid, Goldman wanted Jack Lemmon, after seeing the actor’s performance in 1958’s Cowboy, but he turned it down.
After McQueen dropped out, the studio approached others such as Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando. It was actually Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, who suggested they try up-and-coming stage actor Robert Redford, who at the time had only done a few films. Newman, Woodward, and director George Roy Hill had to beg the studio to cast Redford.
20th Century Fox’s President Spent Too Much Money On The Screenplay
Richard Zanuck, son of 20th Century Fox co-founder Darryl F. Zanuck, may have been president of the studio at the time but he put himself in some hot water after buying the screenplay for Butch Cassidy. The younger Zanuck was only authorized to spend $200,000 but he ended up shelling out twice that amount for William Goldman’s work.
$400,000 by today’s standards would equate to nearly $3 million (and for the record, that much money has not been spent on a screenplay since that time). Luckily for Zanuck, Butch Cassidy became the highest-grossing film of 1969. He still got fired the following year for money Fox lost over expensive flops like Dr. Dolittle.
Coming up, Robert Redford wanted to do something absolutely crazy but Paul Newman was having none of it.
A Gang By Any Other Name
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had a crew of fellow bandits and outlaws in real life that were collectively known as the “Wild Bunch.” But in the film, the group’s name was changed to the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, named after a spot in Wyoming that Butch used as a home base.
The name was changed after Fox executives learned that Warner Bros. was producing a Sam Peckinpah film called The Wild Bunch, which wasn’t about the same guys but was very similar to Butch Cassidy nonetheless. Warner Bros. was also working hard to get it out before Butch Cassidy.
Newman Had To Do His Stuntman’s Job
Studio executives hired a stuntman and sent him over ahead of time to practice Butch’s showy bicycle moments as seen in the film. Embarrassingly enough, the stuntman couldn’t manage to stay upright on the bike when it came time to shoot those scenes.
Newman ended up doing most of it himself, which turned out to look better in the film. In the end, director George Roy Hill was annoyed the studio wasted money on a stuntman. The only scene Newman didn’t do himself was the one in which the bike crashes through a fence.
Redford Actually Wanted To Do His Own Stunts
Robert Redford reportedly wanted to do all of his own stunts. He was particularly ambitious about performing the stunt in which Sundance jumps on top of a moving train and runs along the top of the cars as they moved. This was very upsetting to Newman.
Newman wasn’t upset because he thought Redford was trying to show off. In fact, Newman was primarily concerned about his co-star’s safety. Redford once recalled what Newman told him: “I don’t want any heroics around here. I don’t want to lose a co-star.” He ended up leaving it to the professionals.
Paul Newman may have been looking out for his co-star, but not so much his director as you’ll soon see…
Newman Was The Funny Man On Set
Paul Newman was known as something of a jokester on the set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In fact, Newman had to see a joke through to its punchline before the cast and crew could continue working and production could commence.
“There was sort of a joke on the set. Paul Newman, I think, probably knew every joke known to man so he was always telling a joke. They’d say ‘camera ready’ and he would have to finish his joke before we could all do the scene,” Katherine Ross once recalled.
Katherine Ross Was Banned From Set
At the time, Katherine Ross was dating the film’s cinematographer, Conrad Hall. Ross was interested in camera work and for one shot he let her operate an obsolete camera. Director Hill was infuriated to find out an amateur was operating his cameras.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but when we got back to the hotel, the production manager came and told me that I was banned from the set except when I was working. And it became very difficult to shoot for me. In fact, it took a long time before I even wanted to see the film,” Ross admitted in an interview.
Paul Newman Was Quite The Prankster
Paul Newman is something of a legend throughout Hollywood when it comes to on-set pranks. When filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, director George Roy Hill was the victim of Newman’s hi-jinks. When Hill ignored Newman’s suggestions for a scene, Newman allegedly sawed the director’s desk in half.
When Hill sat down, the desk collapsed in his lap. Other sources say that Newman cut up the desk because apparently Hill “wouldn’t pay his bill for liquor which he borrowed from my office.”
There were indeed animals on set that had to be coerced into playing their parts by a very special method as you’ll soon learn.
Katherine Ross Liked This Scene The Most
Katherine Ross was undoubtedly affected by her ban from the set, so much so that she often didn’t feel comfortable after the incident occurred. As a result, her favorite scene to shoot was the silent bicycle riding sequence with Paul Newman.
While filming this scene, she was most at ease because it was handled by the film crew’s Second Unit and not director Hill himself. She reportedly said, “Any day away from George Roy Hill was a good one.”
There Was Something In The Water
The entire cast and crew traveled to Mexico to film all of the Bolivia scenes. While there, almost everyone suffered from what is known as Montezuma’s Revenge—a severe form of diarrhea that results from drinking the local water.
The only people who weren’t affected by this were Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katherine Ross, who refused to drink the water that catering services provided. They probably knew that Mexico’s local water was polluted, so they stuck to drinking soda and alcohol throughout the duration of their stay.
Bill The Bull Had To Have A Bit Of Encouragement
If you recall the bicycle scene with Butch and Etta, Butch gets chased by a bull after he crashes through a fence. The bull’s name in the film was “Bill” and he was no ordinary bull but rather, a Hollywood bull hired by the studio.
Bill was flown from Los Angeles to Utah, where the bicycle scene was shot. Apparently, Bill didn’t naturally want to go after Paul Newman, so in order to make him charge, filmmakers had to spray a special substance on his nether regions, which he reportedly didn’t mind too much.
Next, learn all about the real-life people that this film is based on! There really was a posse of lawmakers out to get them…
The Real Butch Cassidy Was A Butcher
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were based on real-life outlaws. The real Butch Cassidy was named Robert Leroy Parker, born in 1866. He was a notorious train and bank robber who became the leader of a gang of outlaws called the “Wild Bunch.”
As a teen, Parker met an outlaw named Mike Cassidy and decided to use the man’s last name. Later on, he worked as a butcher in Wyoming, which is supposedly how he came to be known as the infamous “Butch Cassidy.” As an outlaw, it was important to use an alias to hide your identity.
The Sundance Kid Adopted His Name In Jail
The real-life Sundance Kid was a man named Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, born in 1867 in Pennsylvania. He was only 15 years old when he traveled west with a cousin. In 1887, he was in Sundance, Wyoming when he decided to steal a gun, a horse, and a saddle from a ranch. He was eventually captured and sentenced to 18 months in jail.
It was supposedly during his time in jail that he adopted the name “Sundance Kid.” Though he tried to live life as an honest ranch hand after jail, he returned to a life of crime which is how he became associated with the Wild Bunch.
There Was A Super-Posse In Real Life
In the film, a “super-posse” of the best lawmen team up to hunt Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as a group. The outlaws manage to stay a step ahead for much of the chase, which culminates in the scene on the cliff, where Butch and Sundance decide to jump into a river before feeling to Bolivia.
In real life, there really was a super-posse that went after the actual Butch and Sundance. But what really happened wasn’t as dramatic. As soon as the real Butch and Sundance found out who was in the super-posse, they fled to South America knowing they’d never be able to outrun the group.
Screenwriter William Goldman wasn’t always a screenwriter but he ended up writing one of the most successful films of the 1960s.
The Original Cut Of The Film Was Too Funny
After Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid premiered in 1969, it went on to become the quintessential buddy comedy of the 1970s. Despite how well it performed in theaters, critics weren’t impressed, especially since the film didn’t adhere to the standard of traditional western films. This was primarily because the movie was funny.
In fact, some felt that it was too funny for the time period it was trying to depict. Richard Zanuck has recalled that screen-test audiences found the film to be uproarious and that it had to be re-edited several times to be considered “respectable.”
Reynolds Wasn’t Sure Of This Award-Winning Pop Song
When Robert Reynolds first saw the bicycle scene with the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” he thought it was terrible. B.J. Thomas’ agents regretted letting the singer take the job and thought it’d ruin his career.
The song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who were pros of pop songwriting. Regardless of how anyone felt with the song in the film, it went on to pick up the 1970 Academy Award for Best Original Song and has since been used in a plethora of films and television shows.
“Most Of What Follows” May Or May Not Be True
There’s a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that says “Most of what follows is true,” but as it turns out, this statement could never really be confirmed. Screenwriter William Goldman was fascinated by the real-life outlaws and was surprised that no one had really written about them in the past.
Goldman was primarily a novelist before he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and because of his enchantment, he decided to just write what he knew. But he didn’t want to have to go through all the research of life in the Old West that writing a novel would require, so he wrote a movie instead.
George Roy Hill Was Given All The Credit
People today might be surprised to learn that director George Roy Hill went so far as to ban Katherine Ross from the set for operating a camera. But for anyone who has worked with him, they know that Hill was just that domineering by nature.
William Goldman even once said that he couldn’t say what the producers contributed to the film because Hill garnered all the credit. “[On] a George Roy Hill film, George is the giant ape. Because of his vast talent, his skill at infighting, his personality, he runs the show,” Goldman said.
Newman’s Indiscretion Started On Set
Paul Newman famously said, “I have steak at home, so why should I go out for a hamburger?” in regards to his faithfulness to his wife Joanne Woodward. But apparently, it was all talk as the actor allegedly began an 18-month affair with Hollywood journalist Nancy Bacon in 1968 while filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The affair was no secret either. “Referring to his old remark, they’d say: ‘Paul may not go out for Hamburger, but he sure goes out for bacon,'” Bacon recalled to biographer Shawn Levy.
Butch Cassidy’s Real Sister Was On Set
While making Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the cast and crew were allegedly visited by Butch Cassidy’s actual sister, Lula Parker Betenson. In between shooting, Betenson would tell stories about her brother’s escapades, which ought to have helped with accuracy in the film.
When the studio found out Betenson was there, they wanted her to endorse the film in a series of ads but she only wanted to do it on the condition that she saw the movie before its release and she genuinely liked it. They refused to let her do that but she still did the endorsements for a small fee.
Butch Cassidy Still Has The Most BAFTAs
As it stands, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holds the record for the most BAFTA awards to its name. Butch Cassidy has nine BAFTAs and no other film in history has yet surpassed that feat.
At the British Academy Film Awards, Butch Cassidy won Best Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematograpy, Best Actor for Robert Redford, Best Actress for Katharine Ross, and others. Paul Newman was also nominated for Best Actor at the time but was probably pleased to see his colleague win.
A Friend Confirmed Their Deaths In 1908
The character of Percy Garris was based on a real-life person named Percy Seibert. Seibert was a mining engineer from Maryland who worked for the real Butch Cassidy in Antofagasta, Chile. Even though Garris dies in the film, Seibert was actually still alive when the real-life Butch and Sundance were reported dead.
In fact, Seibert served as a coroner’s witness for his friends, which confirmed their deaths in 1908. Conspiracy theorists who believed that Butch and Sundance were still out there believe that Seibert lied so that they could start a new life.
The Love Of Her Life Was Under Her Nose
Actor Sam Elliott is well known for his roles as cowboys and ranchers, so it makes sense that he made his film debut in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You may not see his face very well but Elliott played a card player in the film. Things would come full circle when he married Katharine Ross in 1984.
They didn’t have any scenes together in Butch Cassidy but they met again in 1978 when they both starred in The Legacy. They remain married to this day and live on a seaside ranch in Malibu.
Harvey Logan’s Character Wasn’t Accurate
Ted Cassidy played Harvey Logan in Butch Cassidy. While the film portrays Harvey Logan as a simple-minded thug, in real life he was anything but. The real-life Harvey Logan was reportedly a ladies’ man and a cold-blooded murderer.
Logan also went by the name “Kid Curry” and was known as “the wildest of the Wild Bunch.” He reportedly killed at least nine law enforcement officers over the course of five shootings, not to mention the other innocent men whose lives he took.
Paul Newman Founded The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp
Though the Hole in the Wall Gang was up to no good in the film, in real life Paul Newman sought to make sure the name was associated with something better. In 1988, he founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for kids with serious illnesses.
The camp was created to look like a kid-sized version of the Old West seen in Butch Cassidy. Kids with physical and medical limitations were allowed the opportunity to participate in many activities that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
Robert Redford Was Always Late
When it came to tardiness, Robert Redford took the cake. Redford was reportedly always late to set, much to the chagrin of his castmates and the crew. At one point it got so bad that Paul Newman joked they should rename the movie “Waiting for Lefty,” as Redford was left-handed.
There’s actually a 1935 play of the same name written by Clifford Odets. It’s about a group of people who are waiting for a man named “Lefty,” who ultimately never shows up.
Coming up: something else the two actors disagreed on.
They Wanted To Borrow The Set
In the script, Butch, Sundance, and Etta go to New York City before escaping to South America, which called for a turn-of-the-century New York which would have been costly to construct. Nearby, 20th Century Fox had the set of Hello, Dolly! which takes place in New York during that time.
George Roy Hill asked if he could use the set of Dolly for a few scenes but was ultimately denied the request. Instead, he snuck his actors on set and took pictures of them to create a montage.
The River Jump Was Filmed In Two Places
One of the most momentous scenes is when Butch and Sundance jump into the river to evade the super posse. This scene took a lot of work, so much so that it was filmed in two different places! Newman and Redford start the jump, which was filmed in Colorado, but they only land on a mattress.
The shots of them making a dive into the river was filmed by stuntmen in Malibu, California at Century Ranch. Stuntmen jump from a construction crane, which was hidden by a matte painting of the cliffs.
No One Ever Saw This Scene
Toward the end of the film, there was a scene in which Butch, Sundance, and Etta are at a cinema watching a movie about themselves and the Wild Bunch. In the scene, Butch and Sundance are vocally lambasting the film, calling out its inaccuracies. Etta then gets up and walks out of the theater, heading for a train station to begin her journey home to America.
The scene was ultimately cut because George Roy Hill thought it was “a little heavy-handed and unnecessary.”
People Believe They Faked Their Deaths
The real Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid were reported dead in San Vicente, Bolivia back in 1908. Despite this and the fact that there were witnesses, there have been conspiracy theorists who claim that their deaths were faked. One of the reasons people believe this is because the location of Butch and Sundance’s graves has been lost.
Since then, many people have come forward claiming to have encountered one or both men but all of the stories have been unconfirmed.
Robert Redford Couldn’t Agree With Newman On This
Paul Newman and Robert Redford may have gotten along just fine, but they certainly came from two different schools of acting. You’ve already learned that Robert Redford was notoriously late to set, which may have had something to do with his acting style.
There were certain things that he disagreed with Newman on, such as the need to rehearse a scene before filming it. Redford thought it was unnecessary and lessened the spontaneity but he relented to rehearse out of respect for Newman, who was more of a veteran actor anyway.
This May Have Been A Deleted Scene
One of the scenes in the film is suspected to be an outtake that was intentionally used. Of course, when they’re in South America, Butch, Sundance, and Etta are up to their typical antics, including robbing banks.
In one scene, they arrange to get a bank manager to take them down to the vault. That’s when Etta hands Sundance a pistol behind her back and they corner the manager. They lock up the manager in the cell but there appears to be confusion with the keys, leading to Sundance handing the gun back to Etta, which makes her laugh.
It Was The Top-Grossing Film Of Its Time
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid raked in $102.3 million at the box office in North America alone. When adjusted for inflation, that would amount to $699.3 million today! That certainly made it the top-grossing film of its time but if it had to compete with the movies of today’s era, it would have to do a lot more.
These days, the top grossing films bank in over one billion dollars and as of 2019, Avengers: Endgame is the top-grossing film of all time with $2.7 billion.
They Fought Over The Bledsoe Scene
George Roy Hill, as you know, wanted most of the control on the set of his film and it’s not surprising that this often led to conflicts. One of the biggest conflicts on set was between Hill and Paul Newman in what became known as “the Bledsoe scene.”
Butch and Sundance visit an old sheriff named Bledsoe seeking his assistance to get them enlisted in the Army to fight in the Spanish-American War. Newman felt that this scene should be at the end of the super posse chase to serve as their motivation for fleeing. He fought Hill over it almost every day but was ultimately ignored.
The Real Etta Place
In real life, Etta Place was obviously involved with the wrong crowd. It was believed that she made a living on her own as a woman of the night, but screenwriter William Goldman didn’t feel too good about that notion.
Goldman thought that Place looked too young and pretty to be giving herself away like that, especially since most women in photos of the Old West looked haggard and unhealthy. The real Place didn’t look that way so he decided to get a little creative and make her a teacher instead.
You May Have Heard This Voice Somewhere
During the montage of bank robberies in the film, the song that plays over it includes a very low voice singing. If you thought that this voice sounded a bit familiar, then you wouldn’t be far off in thinking that you’ve heard it somewhere else.
It’s actually the voice of Thurl Ravenscroft, who has lent his voice to characters like Tony the Tiger. Perhaps Ravenscroft’s most distinct work is singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
No One Knows Etta Place’s Real Name
Despite being a real-life person, the true identity of Etta Place is still virtually unknown. Etta Place was likely not even her real name because her origins have been shrouded in mystery. There have been many suspected identities of hers, the most popular being that she was Eunice Gray, a Fort Worth innkeeper who died in a fire in 1962.
Others suspect that her real name was Ethel Bishop, who was a music teacher that lived around the corner from a brothel. Other names that could have been hers are Ann Bassett and Madaline Wilson.
Newman Had His Doubts
Being the veteran actor that he was, Paul Newman was at first a little wary of taking on such a comical role. He was trained, after all, to do so much more and had proved it in previous films. At one point he began doubting his own performance, believing that he was playing Butch Cassidy “a little too high, a little too broad.”
It was director George Roy Hill that actually got Newman to relax a bit and actually do less on set. This allowed Newman to find his own level of wry humor that made him play the character naturally.
They Didn’t Go Straight To Bolivia
In the film, Butch, Sundance, and Etta end up in Bolivia, which did actually happen in real life. But before they even got to Bolivia, the real-life Butch, Sundance, and Etta had a long way to go. They first spent time near Patagonia, Argentina, in a small town called Cholila.
They had to flee that country after robbing a bank and subsequently went to Chile, which is where they befriended Percy Seibert, who would end up in the film as Percy Garris.