Iconic Spotlight : Robert Redford & Richard Helms, by Terry O’Neill

“In 1974, I was on the set of the film Three Days of the Condor in New York City.  Robert Redford was the lead and we knew that the former director of the CIA, Richard Helms, was serving as his personal consultant.  I was desperate to get a shot of the two men together, but everyone was very tight-lipped about his visits to the set.  We didn’t know if Redford was meeting with Helms in private, on the set or on the phone –it was all hush hush.”

Redford’s role in Three Days of the Condor was a CIA analyst with the code name ‘Condor.’  Redford quietly enlisted Richard Helms as a consultant in order to bring authenticity to his role.  Helms was fresh from his dismissal as Director of Central Intelligence and recent appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to Iran, as designed by President Nixon.  Although technically based in Tehran, Helms found himself frequently in Washington, D.C. due to his testifying in front of Congress about various CIA activities, including Watergate.

“Everything about the filming was tense, mainly because the film was very topical.  New York City was a bleak place in 1974, the President had just resigned, and the former head of the CIA was supposedly on the set talking to Redford.  I knew that if I could somehow be there at the moment when they were talking, it would be an indelible image

“I first saw them sitting together from a distance.  It was perfect, both having coffee in Styrofoam cups, an eerie and foggy city in the background and two very powerful men sitting in their coats on director’s chairs.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I knew I couldn’t move a muscle because I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself.  I quietly put on a long lens and snapped.”

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