He's made his mark in the Hollywood mainstream -- as a popular leading man and an Academy Award-winning director -- as well as in the maverick world of independent filmmaking, where he presides over Utah's prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Throughout his enduring career, Robert Redford has also displayed uncanny acumen for spotting hot movie properties. The Horse Whisperer, which he co-produced, directed, and starred in -- opposite Kristin Scott Thomas -- is his latest coup. Originally slated as a 1997 release but pushed back because of weather woes (wrought by El Nino) during filming, the movie adaptation of Nicholas Evans's bestseller opens this month.

Evans was a struggling screenwriter when he got the idea for what became a publishing phenomenon. In fact, the first-time novelist was only halfway through writing the unabashedly sentimental tome -- about hope and redemption -- when his agent released the manuscript. Then came frenzy, Hollywood style. Following a voracious bidding war, Redford emerged victorious -- shelling out $3 million. Little wonder that when North American publishing rights were later offered, Dell Publishing spent a record $3,150,000. And the rest, as the story goes, is history . . .

So how will the movie compare with the book? Would-be critics can easily brush up with the new movie tie-in version out this month. The Horse Whisperer moves briskly, with its story of a Montana loner who's asked to heal a young girl -- and her horse -- following a tragic accident. Along the way, the country guy falls for the mother (a city gal), and love proves to be the strongest medicine of all. Should the movie become as much a favorite as the book, there could be a stampede for the handsomely produced, The Horse Whisperer: An Illustrated Companion to the Major Motion Picture, available this June.

Fans of Redford might also want to take a look at his previous films -- as they first appeared in print. Judith Guest's Ordinary People (Penguin) remains an absorbing portrait of a family's deterioration following the death of a son. Redford stayed behind the scenes on this one, earning the Oscar for best director.

He was involved in another Best Picture five years later, starring opposite Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (Vintage), the atmospheric autobiographical account of Baroness Karen Blixen's life in British East Africa. Published in 1937, under her (male) pen name, Isak Dinesen, it remains a fascinating saga of one woman's life, and loves, on her beloved farm.

All the President's Men (Touchstone Books) remains a breathless account of the real-life scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency. As detailed by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (in the movie version, Dustin Hoffman and Redford), it's a journey that leads into the heart of a constitutional crisis.

The baseball diamond is the setting for the drama of Bernard Malamud's The Natural (Avon). Ever savvy to his audiences' tastes, Redford insisted that the ending of the movie version be different from that of the book -- so that his character, Roy Hobbs, could wind up a winner, with the proverbial "happy ending."

Ah, Hollywood.


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