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Barefoot in the Park was Robert Redford’s breakout.
He originated the role on Broadway, and when the movie came around, he auditioned.
Producers thought he was the perfect fit. Unfortunately, since he was an unknown, the producers wanted a known-name to play his newlywed wife. Thus, his Broadway co-star, Elizabeth Ashley, didn’t get to reprise her role.
The part was instead offered to Natalie Wood, who turned it down.
Enter Jane Fonda.
“I was very happy to be working with Bob Redford again and looking forward to our cuddling-in-the-cold-apartment scenes, something I hadn’t gotten a chance to do in The Chase,” Fonda said.
Fonda and Redford had previously worked together in 1966 for Athur Penn’s The Chase alongside Marlon Brando and Angie Dickinson. Fonda had gotten that role thanks to her performance in Cat Ballou (read about that here).
“From Hurry Sundown, I went almost immediately into Barefoot in the Park, which would turn out to be my first genuine hit – finally,” Fonda recalled.
The play-turned-film was especially meaningful for its author Neil Simon.
“Barefoot in the Park was the title of the play I started writing about Joan,” Simon said.
In fact, key elements of Barefoot were taken directly from his life, such as the apartment that was on the fifth floor, the water not being turned on, and the hole in the skylight.
However, while the basis was there, the writing went slow, and the first act alone took four months. After some time away, Simon returned, determined to simply finish it and see if it was any good. Little did he know that it was going be a hit play and a successful movie.
“Doing Barefoot in the Park was about as much fun as a playwright like me could have,” Simon said. “If anyone enjoyed the success of Barefoot, there was no one more elated than my mother.”
Simon was especially intrigued by Robert Redford.
“I had never met anyone like Redford before,” he said. “He may have looked like the Marlboro Man, but he had a keen and deceptive intelligence. He didn’t always open up to who he was, because to tell the truth, I think that at twenty-six he was still forming his personality, and being an actor was possibly in conflict with the man he was trying to be.”
According to Simon, during the play’s production, Redford took the time to do sketches of the entire cast during rehearsals.
Fonda also found Redford to be a charming personality on the film set.
“In between scenes on Barefoot in the Park, we shared stories about growing up in West Los Angeles in the forties, about living in Europe… and about our shared love of horses.”
In the end, their chemistry came through on the movie, with Simon recalling it as “magical”.
“There’s something about Bob that’s impossible not to fall in love with. We’ve made three films together, and each time I was smitten,” Fonda said.
When asked what it was like to kiss Redford, Fonda's response was: “Fabulous.”