When working in Hollywood, Judith Guest, author of the book “Ordinary People,” had this advice: “Try and work with somebody who is a reputable person and a person that you can trust.” For Guest, that person was Robert Redford.
After Guest, who lives in Minneapolis, wrote “Ordinary People” in 1976, she received a hand-written letter from “R. Redford.” Guest thought Redford’s letter was just fan mail, but it turned out he was interested in turning the book into a movie.
Guest soon found herself dealing with a lengthy contract. Not everything in the contract was to her liking.
“The thing that bothered me the most was the 13-episode TV show with or without my help,” she said. “I couldn’t sign my people away; these are my people.”
But after thinking it over for a weekend, Guest signed the contract.
“I thought I could sacrifice my integrity, because it was Robert Redford,” she said.
Guest said her experiences in Hollywood are split into two eras, before “Ordinary People” and after “Ordinary People.”
“I have no bad memories from that experience because someone was in charge,” she said. “Redford was in charge.”
“Ordinary People” made it onto the big screen in 1980 and won four Academy Awards.
“For me the whole experience of ‘Ordinary People’ from the novel, to Redford’s decision to make it into a movie, to schools using it as a literary text, everything has been in a big birthday present,” Guest said.
Guest was the second speaker in the Stephens College Citizen Jane Women in Film Speaker Series. The series began in September with TVbyGirls founder, Barbara Wiener.
The series continues in 2006 with Martha Williamson, executive producer of “Touched by an Angel,” and Victoria Riskin, past president of the Writers’ Guild of America, west.