Robert Redford never planned to play Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men,” the Oscar-winning 1976 adaptation of Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of their investigation of the 1972 Watergate break-in and the cloak-and-dagger cover-up by the Richard Nixon White House.
Redford didn’t even want the movie to be in color.
“I originally wanted to make a black-and-white, small film with two unknowns,” said Redford, who also served as producer on the film, which was directed by Alan J. Pakula and costarred Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam and Hal Holbrook.
“The studios said, ‘We don’t want to do this because everybody knows the outcome,’” he recalled. “I said, ‘You don’t know the inside of what happened. What you don’t know is really a detective story.’”
Warner Bros. finally agreed to make the film but only if Redford would star.
“I said, ‘Oh, brother.’ I had to find somebody of equal stature. So I went to Dustin.”
Redford, Hoffman, Bernstein and Woodward reunite for the Discovery Channel documentary “All the President’s Men Revisited” airing Sunday.
More than just a look back at the film’s production, the documentary, which Redford narrates and executive produced, chronicles the events that led to Nixon’s near-impeachment and ultimate resignation from the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974.
The documentary details the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., the subsequent scandal and the1973 Senate Watergate hearings.
Woodward and Bernstein won a Pulitzer Prize for their journalistic investigation, which led to their bestselling books, “All the President’s Men” and “The Final Days.”
Besides historical footage, the documentary features the revelatory and often shocking secret tape recordings that Nixon made that implicated him in the cover-up, along with interviews with several people involved in Watergate, including the Washington Post’s then executive editor, Ben Bradlee; Hugh Sloan, the former treasurer of the Committee to Re-Elect the President; Alexander Butterfield, the former deputy assistant to the president; and John Dean, the former White House counsel who cooperated with prosecutors and implicated administration officials, Nixon and himself at the Watergate hearings.
Redford’s interest in doing a film revolving around Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation was piqued just a month after the Watergate break-in.
“I was like, ‘Who are these guys?’ I was fascinated by the hard work of journalists,” he said. “I was fascinated by what hard work could produce.”
Bernstein, 28 at the time, recalled getting a call from Redford in 1972, but the journalists weren’t interested.
“We just went on with our work,” said Bernstein, who is still close to Woodward. “I remember saying to Woodward, ‘The last thing we need right now is to get involved in some movie and confirm what the Nixon people and others are claiming — [that] we are in this for some kind of glory and we have an agenda.’”
The documentary, Bernstein said, shows Nixon “much like we wrote in ‘The Final Days,’ except it shows him more out of control and his total unsuitability for being president of the United States, particularly emotionally.”
“It was a moment in time when there was a convergence of all kind of things — personalities, the largest being Nixon, all of these people and the willingness to flagrantly break the law and think they would never be accountable,” said Woodward, 29 at the time of the break-in.
Both Woodward and Bernstein praise Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and Bradlee for taking the risk of allowing them to continue to investigate the story and running interference when the White House criticized the paper’s coverage.
Woodward recalled a lunch he had with Graham in January 1973.
“Nixon had just won a massive landslide reelection,” he said. “It looked like the story was stalled. It wasn’t clear if there was going to be a Senate investigation. When she asked if we are going to know the whole truth about Watergate, I said, ‘Never, because it was a criminal conspiracy. People are afraid to talk.’ I remember so vividly, she looked across the lunch table and when I said ‘never,’ she said, ‘Never? Don’t ever tell me “never.”’"
Dean, a visiting scholar and lecturer at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, wrote about his days at the Nixon White House and the Watergate scandal in the books “Blind Ambition” and “Lost Honor.”
He said Nixon “was a different person for different people. I went to work for the public image. My initial conversations with him were different than later conversations. I don’t think I really met him until the conversation of March 21.”
It was on that day in 1973 that Dean told Nixon that the cover-up was a “cancer on the presidency” and that if the cancer wasn’t removed, the president “would be killed by it.”
“I hoped Nixon would pound his fist on the table and say, ‘We have to end this, this is going to bring down the presidency,’” Dean recalled. “But he doesn’t. When I walked out of there, [I knew] we were all in deep trouble.”
Though he played such an important role in the Watergate affair, Dean doesn’t appear in the classic film.
“Pakula invited me to a screening,” said Dean, who is working on a book using the Nixon tapes to tell the story of what Nixon knew and when regarding Watergate.
“After the screening, I said, ‘You never mention my name in the film,’” Dean said. “He said, ‘That’s not possible.’ I got a message back [later] and he said, ‘You’re right. I haven’t a clue how that happened.’”
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