In hindsight, the match is perfect: The Western outlaw role that made Robert Redford a star becoming the name of the group Redford founded to foster maverick voices in the arts.
In reality, the seemingly predestined path from "The Sundance Kid" to everything that now bears the Sundance name -- the ski resort, the institute, the film festival, the cable channel and the catalog store -- was a combination of luck, timing and happenstance.
The premiere of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was 40 years ago this week, on Sept. 23, 1969 (the movie hit theaters nationwide a month later). But, as Redford said this week in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune , his career-defining role nearly didn't happen at all.
"I quickly fixed on the Sundance Kid," Redford said. "But nobody saw that for me. ... I was sent up to read for Butch Cassidy, because that was the more obvious role -- you know, more lively and more comic, more energetic and youthful, because I was about 13 years younger than Paul [Newman]. The original title of [William] Goldman's screenplay was 'The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy,' because Paul was going to play the Sundance Kid."
At the time, Redford had appeared in a lot of live TV but only a few films -- and his reputation in Hollywood, based on his starring role on Broadway and on film in Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park," was as a lightweight comic actor.
For "Butch Cassidy," 20th Century Fox wanted a known actor to partner with the already established Newman. In fact, they had one in Steve McQueen, but McQueen quit in a dispute over who would get top billing.
Redford met with the film's director, George Roy Hill, in a New York bar to discuss playing Cassidy. "I said, 'I'll be happy to read for Butch Cassidy, but that's not the part I'm really interested in. ... The Sundance Kid feels more like a better fit for me,'" Redford said. "Next thing I knew, he completely turned around. He said, 'I know Paul, I've known Paul for years since we were both doing live TV. ... I know that the real Paul is more like Butch Cassidy.' ... That began a long, long road of [Hill] talking Paul out of playing the Sundance Kid."
The studio, though, "tried everything they could to keep me out of the film," Redford said. Hill fought for Redford and introduced him to Newman.
"After the meeting, he said, 'I'd like to go with Redford' -- which is a big, big deal that I'll always be indebted to," Redford said. "Paul's final say is what convinced the studio that they should at least consider me," Redford said.
After he got the role, Redford was instrumental in persuading Hill to film the movie where Butch and Sundance actually roamed: Utah.
While Hill talked about filming in Mexico or Spain, Redford said he told the director, " 'You really ought to check out Utah.' He really wasn't familiar with Utah at all. ... I said, 'You want some real scenery, you want some real power in terms of the landscape and the land they were riding -- because that's where Butch Cassidy really was.'"
Hill, an avid pilot, took Redford up in an open-cockpit biplane to fly over Utah. "I said, 'You gotta go to Kolob, you got to go into southern Utah,'" Redford said. Many of those locations were used in the film, the first of three Redford made in Utah in a decade (the others were "Jeremiah Johnson" and "The Electric Horseman").
Redford's strongest memory of filming "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was, he said, "The fun of it. Just the sheer fun that Paul and I had working together. For me on a personal level, it had everything I love: It had the West, it had me with the horses, to be able to ride and do stunts. ... And just the association with Paul, because he was so generous and he was fun and we gave each other a hard time."
The era of "Butch Cassidy" was pivotal for Redford in many ways.
During production of "Butch Cassidy," Redford was also buying the old Timphaven ski resort in Provo Canyon. Redford's New York investors suggested the name "Sundance" would be a good fit for the resort, but Redford disagreed.
"I fought that tooth and nail," Redford said. "They kept going back to that name, and I kept fighting it. Finally, I said, 'This film is going to come out, and if it's a dog, if it's a big flop, do you want that name -- do you want that flop name on it?'" Redford said. "I had to acquiesce because I realized it was a great name."
That wasn't the only thing Redford got wrong at the time. Redford described his reaction to a rough-cut of "Butch Cassidy," specifically the romantic interlude between Newman's Cassidy and Katharine Ross' Etta Place as, "'What in the hell? What is this? A song in the middle of the movie?' I thought it was a joke. ... I said, 'Well, that will kill the movie.' " (The song, B.J. Thomas' rendition of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," was No. 1 on the Billboard charts for four weeks and won an Academy Award for Burt Bacharach and Hal David -- one of four Oscars the movie received.)
After shooting was done, Redford shot "Downhill Racer," the first movie he ever produced. It was his battles with Paramount Pictures over the distribution of "Downhill Racer" that provoked Redford's interest in promoting independent film -- which led to the creation of the Sundance Institute.
"In hindsight, you look back and you start to see ... there were a lot of seeds being sown in that," Redford said.
The name Sundance, applied to Redford's independent-film movement, "was a natural fit -- it gave it the cachet," said Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism.
"It became a brand," von der Esch said, "and, I think, to Mr. Redford's credit, it was a classy brand. All the way along the line, it's been a first-class brand."
When von der Esch was director of the Utah Film Commission and met with her counterparts from other countries, she said, "I'd say 'Sundance,' and they'd say, 'Ah, Utah.'"
"Sundance, the name, did become more and more meaningful," Redford said. "It was somewhat of a maverick profile. As time went on, everything that was added to Sundance, all the other entities, all fit the same mold."
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" gave Redford the Hollywood clout to make movies he wanted to make, such as "The Candidate" and "All the President's Men." It began Redford's lifelong friendship with Newman. It also introduced Redford to Lula Parker Betenson, Butch Cassidy's sister, with whom he kept in contact for years, as Redford maintained an interest in the history of Butch and Sundance. The movie also inspired one of Newman's charitable efforts: Newman founded The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, for children with serious medical conditions, in 1988 in Connecticut; there are now 11 affiliated camps worldwide.
When Redford looks back on "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," he doesn't think of it as ancient history.
"When you said 40 years, my neck snapped a bit," Redford said. "It very often seems like yesterday."
Since Robert Redford starred in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in 1969, the name Sundance has taken off beyond the movie:
Sundance ski resort » Redford and New York investors bought the Timphaven ski resort in 1969, renaming it Sundance.
Sundance Institute » Founded by Redford in 1981 to foster independent voices in film. Starting with the Filmmakers Lab, the institute now has labs and workshops for screenwriters, film composers, documentarians and playwrights -- as well as a producers' conference and an archive at UCLA.
Sundance Film Festival » What started as the United States Film Festival in 1978 was taken over by the Sundance Institute in 1985, and the name was changed to Sundance in 1991. It has become the most influential film festival in the United States, a launching pad for such filmmakers as the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino.
Sundance Catalog Store » Started in 1989 and inspired by the goods sold at the Sundance resort's general store, the catalog outlet sells women's and men's apparel, accessories and home furnishings.
Sundance Channel » A cable channel launched in 1996, featuring independent films and similarly offbeat programming.
Sundance Cinemas » Movie theaters that specialize in art-house fare. Two opened in 2007, in San Francisco and in Madison, Wis. More are planned.
» The Sundance resort will host a screening of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" -- marking the 40th anniversary of both the movie and the resort -- on Oct. 1, in the Sundance Screening Room at the resort in Provo Canyon. Admission is free, but reservations are recommended; call Derek Kirby at 801-223-4067 or e-mail email@example.com
» Outdoor screenings of "Butch Cassidy" -- marking the movie's anniversary and the centennial of Zion National Park -- are Oct. 2, in the Town Square in St. George, Utah; and Oct. 3, at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheatre in Springdale. The free screenings will start at dusk, around 7:15 p.m.