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The Sting: Facts And Trivia About The 1974 Best Picture Winner

Icons | June 15, 2021

A Newman Redford pairing meant box office gold. (amazon)

When someone says Paul Newman and Robert Redford, most people immediately think of “Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid.” However, their 1973’s “The Sting” grossed bigger box office numbers and garnered more awards at the Oscars. Amazingly, producers of the show originally envisioned Henry Gondorff as a fat mentor and secondary character to the 19-year-old whippersnapper Johnny Hooker. Except, when Newman got hold of the script he fell in love with the Gondorff role and would only play Gondorff. Writers went back to the drawing board, slimming down the part’s waistline and beefing up Gondorff’s importance. Here’s everything you never knew about the iconic heist movie.

Who doesn't love a conman movie? (britannica)

The Studio Balked At A Newman Redford Reunion

Normally, a studio would grant any consideration under the sun to cast Redford and Newman. Especially, after the pair’s seminal chemistry in “Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid.” Nevertheless, Universal Studios executives worried that since “The Sting’s” plot revolved around the two central characters playing one another false, Redford’s and Newman’s cozy chemistry wouldn’t work. Thankfully, director George Roy Hill convinced them that the Hall of Fame actors could perform perfidy as easily as loyalty.

Robert Shaw hardly recognizable as his "Jaws" character. (BAMFstyle)

Always Room For Robert Shaw

Despite the film’s unimpeachable success, a lot of luck went into its coronation. For example, Robert Shaw wasn’t supposed to play Doyle Lonnegan. The role was initially cast for Richard Boone, star of “Have Gun - Will Travel,” but Boone apparently had other ideas. Without explanation, he dropped out and refused all calls from producers and even his agent!

In came Robert Shaw, who just so happened to injure his leg playing racquetball just days before shooting. The director decided to go with it and made his limp part of the character. That’s movie-making on the fly!

Redford well on his way to icon status. (Dramachanneluktv)

Reshoots In Week One

Furthering “The Sting’s” ad-libbed production, the director Hill hit the reset button after the first week. According to screenwriter David Ward, Hill “didn’t like what he did the first week of shooting, and thought it could be better, so he reshot it.” Apparently, it was the opening sequence where Redford and Robert Earl Jones snooker some mobsters in an alley.

Unlike the director, producer Michael Phillips felt so confident the movie would become a roaring success. “Believe it or not, I rehearsed my Oscar speech before we rolled our first shot. It was naive, even though it worked out that I won.” Naturally, like all well-laid plans it went to pot, “When I got up there, I just babbled.”

What more could you want? (strandtheatre)

Success Breeds Contempt

In ‘73, “The Sting” took in $156 million, making it the fourth highest-grossing movie in history to that point. Unfortunately, for those involved such a lucrative film had lawyers circling. First, David Maurer, author of “The Big Con,” sued, claiming the movie stole from his novel. Universal settled for $300,000, which of course, pissed Ward off who drew upon many nonfiction books for research purposes. Followay Productions then attempted to piggyback off that lawsuit, claiming they owned the right to “The Big Con” and, therefore, any intellectual property made of it. That lawsuit was thrown out.

Newman sued both the state of California for income taxes and Universal studios for lost revenue for VHS sales. Hill also joined Newman on the VHS lawsuit that included revenue from the film. Unfortunately for them, Newman knew well enough to leave the classic alone. The studio was able to rope Ward into writing the sequel but he did unsuccessfully try to remove his name from the credits. Mac Davis and Jackie Gleason attempted to fill the giant shoes of Newman and Redford to no avail. “The Sting II” grossed just $6 million and faded into obscurity.

Tags: 1970s Actors | Paul Newman | Robert Redford | The Sting

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!