The real Butch Cassidy', whose name was actually Robert Leroy Parker) got his nickname because he once worked in a butcher's shop. The Sundance Kid--real name Harry Alonzo Longabaugh--got his nickname because he once was arrested in the Wyoming town of Sundance.
Lula Parker Betenson, sister of the real Butch Cassidy, often visited the set, and her presence was welcome to the cast and crew. During lulls in shooting she would tell stories about her famous brother's escapades, and was amazed at how accurately the script and Paul Newman portrayed him. Before the film was released, the studio found out about her visits and tried to convince her to endorse the movie in a series of ads to be shown in theaters across the country. She said that she would, but only if she saw the film first and truly stood behind it. The studio refused, saying that allowing her to see the film before its release could harm its reputation. Finally, at Robert Redford's suggestion, she agreed to do the endorsements--for a small "fee."
Katharine Ross enjoyed shooting the silent, bicycle riding sequence best, because it was handled by the film crew's second unit rather than the director. She said, "Any day away from George Roy Hill was a good one"--this was after she had been scolded and banned from the set for operating a camera.
According to screenwriter William Goldman, his screenplay originally was entitled "The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy." Both Steve McQueen and Paul Newman read the script at approximately the same time and agreed to do it, with McQueen playing the Sundance Kid. When McQueen dropped out, the names reversed in the title, as Newman was a superstar.
On the first day of shooting, involving the train robbery scenes, Katharine Ross came to the set to watch. There were five cameras and only four operators, so cinematographer Conrad L. Hall put her on the extra camera. He showed her how to operate it and how to move it to get her shot. Director George Roy Hill was furious, but said nothing the whole day. At the end of the day, however, he banned her from the set except when she was working.
All the Bolivia scenes were filmed in Mexico, where almost the entire cast and crew, and the director, came down with Montezuma's Revenge (severe diarrhea caused by drinking Mexico's notoriously polluted water). Only Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Katharine Ross were spared, because they refused to drink the water catered on the set and stuck to drinking soda and alcohol for the duration of the shoot.
In order to get the shot of the "super posse" jumping out of the train on their horses, the door on the opposite side of the train car was left open and a ramp placed out of view on that side of the train. In real life, the horses would not have had room in the train car to make such a dramatic leap.
With nine wins it currently holds the record for the British Academy Awards (BAFTAs). It won for picture, actor (Robert Redford), actress (Katharine Ross, direction (George Roy Hill), screenplay, cinematography, film editing, sound and score.
This movie was filmed roughly the same time as Hello, Dolly! (1969), on the sound stage next door. Director George Roy Hill believed that the studio would allow him to film the New York scenes on "Dolly's" sets, since the two films' daily shooting schedules were totally different. After production started, though, the studio informed him that it wanted to keep the sets for "Dolly" a secret and so refused him permission. To work around this, Hill had Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Katharine Ross simply pose on the sets and took photos of them. He then inserted images of the three stars into a series of 300 actual period photos and spliced the two different sets (real and posed) together to form the New York montage.
The more commonly used name for Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid's gang was The Wild Bunch. However, when the Sam Peckinpah film, The Wild Bunch (1969), was released a few months earlier, the name of the gang was changed to the Hole in the Wall Gang to avoid confusion with Peckinpah's film.
The river jump was shot at the studio's Century Ranch near Malibu, CA. Paul Newman's and Robert Redford's stuntmen actually jumped off of a construction crane by Century Lake. The crane was obscured by a matte painting of the cliffs. Newman and Redford start the jump in Colorado, but only land on a mattress.
Ted Cassidy's character Harvey Logan, portrayed as a simple-minded thug, was in fact a suave ladies' man and calculating cold-blooded murderer. He is best known for his clever escape from a jail in Knoxville (TN) in 1902. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, his officially reported death (in a 1904 Colorado train robbery) was contested by mutually exclusive eyewitness claims, which place him simultaneously on several different continents over the following decades.
Paul Newman did his own bicycle stunts, after his stunt man was unable to stay on the bike. The only one he didn't do was the scene where Butch crashes backwards into the fence, which was performed by cinematographer Conrad L. Hall.
Robert Redford wanted to do all his own stunts. Paul Newman was especially upset about Redford's desire to jump onto the train roof and run along the tops of the cars as it moved. Redford said Newman told him, "I don't want any heroics around here . . . I don't want to lose a co-star."
The bull's name in the film is "Bill." He was flown in from Los Angeles for the bicycle scene, which was shot in Utah. In order to make Bill charge, the filmmakers sprayed a substance on his testicles. Oddly, he didn't seem to mind and endured it through several takes (from The Making of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' (1970)).
Watch for what may be an outtake intentionally used in a bank robbery montage for the sequences in Bolivia. Featured with only a Burt Bacharach score to accompany it, Etta (Katharine Ross and Sundance (Robert Redford) enter a bank where, immediately, an unctuous bank manager insists on taking them to the basement bank vault to demonstrate its security. He unlocks a cell containing a safe and opens it, whereupon, behind the manager's back, Etta hands Sundance a pistol. The manager is cornered and Etta raids the safe. The manager, his hands up, is locked in the cell, leading to some confusion concerning the keys which is the moment Redford decides to drop his gun into Ross' purse and suddenly walk off, causing her to break up with laughter.
Paul Newman often kidded Robert Redford about his tardiness, once suggesting they should rename the movie "Waiting for Lefty" (Redford is left-handed). "Waiting for Lefty" is a 1935 play by Clifford Odets about a group waiting on the arrival of a man called Lefty, who ultimately never shows up.
The only major conflict between Paul Newman and George Roy Hill occurred over what became known as "the Bledsoe scene," a break in the extended superposse chase when Butch and Sundance go to visit an old sheriff hoping to get his help enlisting them in the Army to fight in the Spanish-American War. Newman felt the scene should come at the end of the chase and be the motivation for their flight to South America. Hill disagreed strongly. Every day, Newman came on the set with fresh arguments for why it should be done his way and with increasing passion for his opinion. "Paul was becoming almost anal about it," noted Robert Redford, who at one point jokingly suggested they rename the film "The Bledsoe Scene." Ultimately, Hill won the argument.
Conrad Hall said it was George Roy Hill's decision not to show the posse very clearly and that radios were used to coordinate shooting them from a great distance. He was especially pleased with the fortuitous timing in some of those scenes, such as one shot where Butch and Sundance come over the rocks, just before they leap, and the posse is seen at the last moment, far off in a small clearing.
Paul Newman, who was reluctant to do a comic role, thought he was scaling his performance "a little too high, a little too broad," but director George Roy Hill got him to do less and find his own level of wry humor that fit the character.
A scene that was cut had Cassidy, the Kid, and Etta in a Bolivian cinema and seeing a screen re-enactment of their gang, depicting Butch and Sundance as ruthless killers gunned down by the law. As the two men watch incredulously, shouting at the screen that it didn't happen that way, Etta walks off to the station to catch the train that would begin her journey back to America. George Roy Hill thought that the scene was "a little heavy-handed and unnecessary".
The song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" was written after the rough cut was completed, and when Robert Redford first saw it in the movie, he thought it was terrible. The agents for singer B.J. Thomas regretted letting him do it, and thought it would ruin his career.
Contrary to popular belief, the vocalists on the Burt Bacharach-penned song "South American Getaway" in this film were not The Swingle Singers. It was instead performed by The Ron Hicklin Singers, a group of Los Angeles studio vocalists best known as the real singers behind the background vocals on The Partridge Family recordings.
Before the real Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid ended up in Bolivia, they spent some time in the Patagonia area of Argentina, in a town called Cholila. After robbing a bank and fleeing that country, they spent a brief time in Chile, where they befriended miner Percy Seibert, the inspiration for the character Percy Garris.
The true identity of the historical person known as "Etta Place" is unknown. Historians have many different theories, a popular one being that she was Fort Worth innkeeper Eunice Gray, who died in a fire in 1962.
In addition to some studio interiors and exteriors, the film was shot on location in various parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and--for the Bolivia scenes--Cuernavaca and Taxco, Mexico. The cast and crew enjoyed the location work. Robert Redford said, "We had the best locations possible, to my mind. We had Zion National Park [Utah]; Durango, Colorado . . . You rode through that, it was a joy."
In an on-set interview, Paul Newman discussed his daily routine with columnist Rona Jaffe', including getting up at 5:30 each morning, spending an hour in the pool and sauna, and phoning his wife Joanne Woodward three times a day.
Other actors under consideration for the role of Sundance were Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty. McQueen withdrew due to billing disagreements, and Beatty declined as he found the film too similar to Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and decided to do $ (1971) instead.
Cinematographer Conrad Hall said he overexposed much of the film because he thought the lightness of the story did not require dramatic lighting and color, but that 20th Century-Fox and DeLuxe (the color film processing lab) brought back a lot of the richness of tones, as was their trademark style.
William Goldman wrote that he couldn't say what the producers' contributions were to the picture because "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."
Jack Lemmon turned down the role of Sundance because of a scheduling conflict with The Odd Couple (1968). He also didn't like riding horses, and he felt he had already played too many aspects of the Sundance Kid's character before.
Two fictional western characters may have been derived from the real Butch Cassidy (1866-1908): Butch Cavendish, the arch rival of The Lone Ranger, and good guy Hopalong Cassidy, film persona of William Boyd.
Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice behind Tony the Tiger and singer of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", lends his voice to the bank robbing montage song. His is the incredibly low voice that is heard throughout the song.
The character of LaFors was the inspiration for the character of the same name in Mallrats (1995). That character was a tenacious and impressive mall security guard who even wore an identical hat to the LaFors character in this film.
Marlon Brando was seriously considered to team with Paul Newman for one of the roles. He turned it down due to his commitment to Burn! (1969). He also felt that it was too similar to his role in One-Eyed Jacks (1961).
William Goldman first came across the story of Butch Cassidy in the late 1950s and researched it on and off for eight years before sitting down to write the screenplay. He later recalled, "The whole reason I wrote the. . . thing, there is that famous line that [F. Scott Fitzgerald] wrote, who was one of my heroes: 'There are no second acts in American lives.' When I read about Cassidy and Longbaugh and the super posse coming after them--that's phenomenal material. They ran to South America and lived there for eight years and that was what thrilled me: they had a second act. They were more legendary in South America than they had been in the old West . . . It's a great story. Those two guys and that pretty girl going down to South America and all that stuff. It just seems to me it's a wonderful piece of material". Goldman said he wrote the story as an original screenplay because he did not want to do the research to make it authentic as a novel.
Director Chris Columbus started going the movies at age ten on Saturday afternoons and this was one of the first he saw. He recalled, "I had never seen anything like it. It was just such a breath of fresh air. I loved being in that world".
According to William Goldman, when he first wrote the script and sent it out for consideration, only one studio wanted to buy it--and that was with the proviso that the two lead characters did not flee to South America. When Goldman protested that that was what had happened, the studio head responded, "I don't give a shit. All I know is John Wayne don't run away." Goldman rewrote the script, "didn't change it more than a few pages, and subsequently found that every studio wanted it."
With US box-office receipts of over $100 million, it was the top grossing film of the year. Adjusted for inflation, it ranks as the 34th top-grossing film of all time and the top 10 for its decade, due in part to subsequent re-releases.
The film initially opened to lukewarm reviews, which depressed George Roy Hill and William Goldman, but their moods were lifted when a friend of Goldman's told him about waiting in line in the rain to buy tickets on a chilly October day (a few weeks after it premiered). As the earlier audience filed out, one man who had just seen it shouted out, "Hey, it's really worth it!" "When I heard that story, I thought for the first time that we really might have something after all," Goldman said. Indeed, the film got great word of mouth and audiences grew solidly and enthusiastically.
Conrad Hall was not pleased with the night shots in the film, such as the one in which a man is selling bicycles down on the street. He thought they had too much light and shadows and told film critic Leonard Maltin he preferred really dark night shots, such as the ones in Bonnie and Clyde (1967).
The famous bicycle riding sequence was shot in Utah in a spot 25 miles east of Hurricane, in a ghost town that dated from around 1900 (it was a state park at the time of filming) that had been a Mormon settlement but was abandoned when a nearby river flooded it out. A few relic buildings remain standing, including a Mormon church, a few houses a few farm buildings and a barn. The film company was based in St. George, Utah. Production designer Philip M. Jefferies and his construction department built the cabin set at the center of the ghost town's main street, opposite the small brick Mormon church. The cabin set was built utilizing walls that could be pulled away from the structure, allowing a camera crew to light and film inside the cabin, with windows for capturing Paul Newman riding his bicycle in the main street area. The "studio cabin" was left intact after filming was completed, becoming a curiosity feature of the ghost town's remaining standing structures. Visitors have since stripped the area of the post and rail fencing built as part of the town's structure set decorating. In 1981 the film's original producer Paul Monash and Lawrence Schiller (who was a still photographer on "Butch Cassidy") joined forces to produce Child Bride of Short Creek (1981), an NBC-TV movie of the week. With production designer Hub Braden, they returned to the "Butch Cassidy" ghost town, to see if it could serve as a location for the film they were about to produce. The site had been stripped bare except for the shrubs and trees and a few remaining structures. The location site was revived, adding false structure fronts, set dressing, outhouses and fencing, and can be seen in the final film.
According to the supplemental material on the Blu-ray disc release, Richard D. Zanuck at 20th Century-Fox purchased the script, originally called "The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy", for $400,000, double the price the studio's board of directors had authorized.
William Goldman decided to make Etta a teacher because he had seen a photo of the real-life woman and decided she was too young and pretty to be a prostitute. In fact, most women of that profession in the old West looked haggard, unhealthy and coarse in the photos he had seen of them.
Paul Newman's uncredited hairdresser on the film was Jay Sebring, the top hair designer of the day, who was one of several Hollywood notables, including Sharon Tate, murdered by Charles Manson's gang in August 1969, barely a month before the film's release.
William Goldman said that many young people saw the superposse as a metaphor for the government/authority during the years of anti-war protests. He said his students said the similarity lay in the relentlessness by which both "would hunt you down."
In the first previews, the audiences went wild with loud, extended laughter, which upset director George Roy Hill, who thought perhaps he had made the film too funny. "They laughed at my tragedy," he said, and reworked it to take out some of the bigger laughs.
Several critics took William Goldman to task for the contemporary, overly cool and clever quality of the dialogue. Although he defended it by noting the picture was set in the early 20th century therefore not as far removed historically as they claimed, he also later noted, "There's a lot about the screenplay I don't like, the smart-assness being just one of them. I also find there are too many reversals and that the entire enterprise suffers...from a case of the cutes."
A scene written to show Sundance returning to his boyhood home in the East was replaced with the New York montage. In the South America segment, he originally had the characters age to reflect the number of years they spent there, but that was also dropped. "My movie script was darker than the film because of these elements," said William Goldman.
Paul Newman didn't want to play Butch, pleading with George Roy Hill to watch what Newman considered one of his worst performances in the comedy Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958). "I'm a terrible comic actor," Newman insisted, but became more convinced when Hill told him he didn't have to go for the jokes, but to just play it straight.
The film's ending was mocked in the British sketch comedy show The Fast Show (1994). The characters Simon and Lindsay run out from a shed and start shooting at unseen paintball players in a paintball match, which ends in a freeze frame and gunshots are heard.
The actual historical cabin on the ranch that Butch Cassidy owned in Argentina is located 4.96 miles due north of the town circle of Cholila at 42°26'22.56"S and 71°25'32.08"W. This is the cabin shown in the bicycle scene with Paul Newman and the song "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head".
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Though Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were reported killed in San Vicente, Bolivia, on November 7, 1908, the location of their grave has been lost. This has resulted in a long-lived conspiracy theory that their deaths were faked, or that two other men were killed and misidentified as them. Until the 1930s, several eyewitness claims reported encountering one or both men, yet the chronology and geography of the claims are often mutually exclusive. A handwriting expert has claimed that Spokane auto mechanic William T. Philips, who died in 1937, wrote in Cassidy's hand, yet other historians insists that Philips' and Cassidy's known whereabouts on a certain date mark them as separate individuals.
Percy Garris is based on Percy Seibert, a Maryland mining engineer for whom Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid worked in Antofagasta, Chile. Contrary to Strother Martin's on-screen death, Seibert was alive when the two died, and served as the coroner's witness. In a 1930 interview, Seibert reaffirmed having identified the two dead in 1908, and insisted that the "William T. Philips" theory was "rubbish". Conspiracy theorists have him lying to the coroner so that his friends could be declared legally dead and start a new life.