“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 for the role. I was desperate to get a shot of the two of them together, but everyone was very tight-lipped about his visits to the set. We didn’t know if Redford was meeting with Helms privately, on set, on the phone—the entire situation was very hush hush.”
Three Days of the Condor starred Robert Redford as a CIA analyst with the code name ‘Condor’. Filmed in 1974, Redford quietly enlisted Richard Helms as a consultant in order to bring authenticity to his role. Richard Helms was fresh from his dismissal as Director of Central Intelligence and recent appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to Iran, as designated 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. President Nixon’s resignation during filming and another scandal exposing a wave of CIA misconduct, known as the ‘Family Jewels’ scandal would be headline news, and Helms was intimately connected to both.
“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 set talking to Robert Redford. Robert Redford was—and still is—not only one of the best actors who ever walked in front of a camera, but also a very aware actor. He’s socially aware, artistically aware and politically aware. 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.”
A year later, Redford would star in another politically charged film All the President’s Men. Two years later, Helms would be prosecuted for ‘not fully, completely, and accurately’ testifying to Congress, with a two-year suspended sentence and a $2,000 fine.
Extract taken from “Every Picture Tells a Story” published with ACC Editions, more information at ACC Art Books.
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