|Redford as a young artist
Nearly from the first Charles Robert Redford Jr. rebelled against the conventional existence
fate had seemed to dole out to him as the son of a lowly milkman. He was born to Charles and Martha Redford on August 18,
1937 and rarely saw his father, who was always out on his routes, during his formative years. His mother was a warm
and consoling, upbeat presence in his life, but when she passed away when he was 18, it figuratively pulled the rug out from
under him, beginning a downward spiral that was fortunately temporary.
The family had moved to
Van Nuys when Redford Sr. got a better job as an accountant after the war. He hated school, Van Nuys, the people he was surrounded
by, all of whom seemed utterly conventional, and worse, completely oblivious to the commonplaceness of their lives. Redford's
restlessness led to a foray into recklessness and minor criminality: he would risk life and limb by climbing buildings in
downtown Los Angeles, and steal hubcaps and tires off automobiles, reselling them for a profit. Some of his restlessness he
vented in a more socially acceptable manner: his athletic prowess garnered him a baseball scholarship from the University
of Colorado in 1955.
Redford was good at sports, but even this proved to be a problem: Sports
bored him. He liked playing well enough, but the mindless nature of the games, the emphasis on winning at all costs, was worse
than tiresome. He had little interest in any of the subjects he was being taught, with the exception of art studies. Soon
he was showing his contempt for the system by failing to show up at baseball practice and cutting most of his classes. When
he did show up he was generally drunk -- he had discovered the "forget your problems" qualities of alcohol -- and overindulged
whenever he could. Eventually, the powers-that-be at U of C had had enough of his irresponsible behavior: his scholarship
was canceled and he himself was given the boot.
This ignominious development led to a temporary
job working in the oil fields of Los Angeles, but only long enough to raise money for a trip to France by freighter. Young
Redford had it in his mind to study painting in Paris. Instead he bummed all around Europe until he found someone willing
to teach him -- not in Paris, but in Florence, Italy. The impatient, ever-restless Redford grew discouraged when he
couldn't seem to progress fast enough to please his instructor. Soon he was back home hitchhiking from the east coast to California,
seeking more solace in a bottle. The restless Redford was 21 and going nowhere.
|Redford appears in The Highest Tree on Broadway
In Los Angeles Redford met a woman who helped him turn his life around: Lola Jean Van Wagenen,
a Mormon from Utah who lived in the same building he did. She helped him gain a new outlook on life and to have the courage
to face up to his problems and set realistic goals for himself. It wasn't long before the two were married in September of
1958. (Eventually they were to have three children, Shauna, David James, and Amy Hart.) Redford decided to concentrate on
his art studies again, and was soon off to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. As Redford was interested in designing sets for
the theater, it was suggested that he attend classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, as this would teach him more
about theater and possibly provide important contacts. Although Redford had thought of acting only as something he might fall
back on if his career as a painter fell through, he actually impressed his teachers enough to win a role in the Broadway show
"Tall Story" when the stage manager (one of his instructors) needed a fill-in for a departed cast member and arranged an audition.
This small role led to a bigger part in Dore Schary's "The Highest Tree," which ran for only
a few weeks. Panicking, Redford fled to California, where he was able to get several television roles on such series as Playhouse
90 and Public Television's Play of the Week, where he appeared in "The Iceman Cometh." But this wasn't enough for Redford,
still restless. He had been bitten by the acting bug, and he was anxious to get bigger and better roles in more prestigious
vehicles. Nothing was going to stop him.
Back in New York, Redford was excited to be cast as Julie Harris' co-star in "Little Moon of
Alban" in 1960. Redford's performance impressed most of the critics, but the play itself was not so fortunate; it closed before
a month was up. Distraught over this new disaster, Redford consoled himself with the money he made appearing on such popular
TV shows as Twilight Zone and Route 66, but the failure still rankled him. Finally he won the lead role in "Sunday in New
York," which had a much longer run than his previous outing. He also appeared as a soldier in his first motion picture, the
virtually forgotten "War Hunt" (l962), a Korean war melodrama starring John Saxon. About this time Mike Nichols caught Redford
in a TV drama and was so impressed that he insisted he would direct the new Neil Simon Broadway comedy "Barefoot in the Park"
only if Redford was cast as Liz Ashley's leading man. The show was a tremendous hit. But while cast and crew members had expected
trouble from the temperamental, slightly ditzy Ashley, it was Redford who became the pain-in-the-ass. The fellow had become
restless again, bored with the monotony of doing the same show eight times every week, so he fooled with the props, misspoke
lines, anything and everything to keep from getting bored. Finally he left the show and has not done theater since.
|Redford as Wade Lewis in Inside Daisy Clover
Ever impatient, rushing toward "The Big 3-0", Redford couldn't wait to become a major Hollywood
player, just as he had "conquered" Broadway. He also knew that while there were boring stretches when you made a movie, once
it was shot it was over, unlike a performance in a play that had to be repeated and repeated again and again. "War Hunt" hadn't
done much for his film career, but he had higher hopes for subsequent projects. Hopes that went unrealized.
"Situation Hopeless -- But Not Serious" (1965) had Alec Guinness holding soldiers Redford and Michael Connors prisoners in
a cage even though the war has ended, but it wasn't even kinky enough to make up for its shortcomings as a "comedy." Redford
was embarrassed to play the role of a bisexual actor forced into a studio-mandated marriage in "Inside Daisy Clover" (1965)
with Natalie Wood, a bowdlerization of a racy, roman a clef Hollywood novel. Although he was cast as a character
whose escape from prison sets things in motion, Redford was overshadowed by the presence of Marlon Brando in "The Chase" (1966).
Even the acerbic Miriam Hopkins (who was in the supporting cast) couldn't hold a candle to the behind-the-scenes histrionics
between scriptwriter Lillian Hellman, director Arthur Penn, and producer Sam Spiegel, who disagreed about virtually every
aspect of the production. "This Property is Condemned" (1966) reteamed Redford with Natalie Wood in a film that took a one-act
by Tennessee Williams and tried to expand upon it with often ludicrous results. Its failure was enough to send Redford fleeing
from Hollywood with his wife and children all the way to Crete (with a stopover in sunny Spain)! Redford had had it with Hollywood
and the fast life, and wanted a brand new lifestyle for himself and his family.
|As The Sundance Kid in "Butch Cassidy"
Finally Redford succumbed to entreaties to reprise his Broadway role in "Barefoot in the Park"
for the film version. His restlessness again won out over his desire to flee the rat race, and he was back in Hollywood in
1967. "Barefoot in the Park" was a hit, but it still didn't mean Redford was a "superstar." He had hit thirty and still hadn't
quite "made it." Twentieth Century-Fox didn't feel he was big enough to cast in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" with
Paul Newman, and they tried to enlist the services of at least three other bigger names before negotiations with them fell
through and Richard Zanuck, head of the studio, reluctantly agreed to sign him.
turned Redford into a star every bit as big as Newman, if not bigger. He also became one of America's premier sex symbols,
a standard of male beauty against which all men were measured. Arguably, Redford's career was built more upon sex appeal than
any great acting ability, although he has shown his mettle in films that provide an appropriate showcase for his abilities.
The success of Butch Cassidy made Redford a bankable actor who could essentially pick and choose his own roles. He had reached
the very pinnacle of Hollywood success.
Unfortunately, Redford did not always make felicitous
choices. Although "Downhill Racer" (1969) was a project important to Redford in that he wanted to show the empty life of an
egotistical athlete of the type he had had so much contempt for in youth, it never managed to rise above blandness in its
portrait of a ski bum. Redford worked with once-blacklisted Abraham Polonsky in the revisionist western "Tell Them Willie
Boy is Here" (1969), which many critics found pretentious and heavy-handed. Redford battled with director Sydney J. Furie
over the helming of "Little Fauss and Big Halsy" (1970), which teamed him with Michael J. Pollard as motorcycle racers. He
blamed Furie for the film's failure and didn't mind saying so. "The Hot Rock" (1972) cast Redford as a jewel thief in a somewhat
bland but entertainingcomedy.
|Redford as a young student at the AADA
"The Candidate" (1972) was one of Redford's better pictures of the seventies, a right-on-the-money
look at behind-the-scenes political machinations. It was perhaps no coincidence that it was better material than usual: Redford
had initiated the project himself. This was also the case with "Jeremiah Johnson" (1972), with Redford as a trapper struggling
to survive in the wilderness of long-ago Utah. Undoubtedly Redford, who had brought property in Utah where his wife hailed
from, got the idea for the movie from walking across the vast stretches of the acreage he owned. Redford's next two films
were gigantic hits: "The Sting" (1973), which reteamed him with Paul Newman and was surprisingly popular; and "The Way We
Were" (l973), in which he co-starred with Barbara Streisand. Some of the best scenes were left on the cutting room floor in
this study of a romance between a political activist and a "Joe College" hunk. There was little chemistry between Redford
and Streisand ("She isn't going to sing, is she?" queried Redford), and even less between Redford and Mia Farrow in the bomb
adaptation of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1974). The troubled production showcased Redford at his somnambulistic worst.
Redford was a huge star at this point and his career could afford a few misses, or just-plain-minor films, such as "The Great
Waldo Pepper" and "Three Days of the Condor," a lackluster CIA thriller.
Washington Post reporters
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were planning to write a book about the people behind the watergate burglary when Robert Redford
strongly suggested that they change the focus of the book from the burglars to: themselves! He not only thought a book of
the reporters' investigation into the watergate affair would make a more riveting tome, but also a hell of a good movie. Redford
went to the powers-that-were at Warner Brothers and talked them into buying the film rights to the Bernstein-Woodward non-fiction
account. The result was arguably Redford's best film as an actor, "All the President's Men" (l976). The film was so suspenseful
that it held the members of the audience in its grip even though they already knew the outcome. William Goldman's sharp script,
Alan J. Pakula's taut direction, and the performances of Redford and co-star Dustin Hoffman (not to mention a superb supporting
cast) all added up to a first-rate "thriller."
Redford's social concern also showed up in "Brubaker"
(1980) in which he played a prison warden bent on reform, and in which some felt he showcased his "bleeding heart liberal"
politics to disadvantage.
Hollywood was littered with the bodies of actors-turned-directors who failed to make their mark,
so it was a surprise when Redford was so successful with his first directorial challenge: "Ordinary People" (l980). The film
examined the lives of a family who seem to have everything on the outside, but who are completely unable to communicate with
each other, with disastrous results. Redford extracted excellent performances from Timothy Hutton and Mary Tyler Moore, who
had been considered little more than a cute sitcom queen up to that point. In reality Moore's private life in some ways was
not that different from the life of the character she was playing. Redford was able to help her plumb to the depths of her
soul and bring much that was unpleasant to the surface. The film won a Best Picture Oscar, and Redford won for Best Director.
In the early eighties Redford began to get "into politics," campaigning for Democratic senatorial candidate Ted Wilson in
Utah. Owner of 7000 acres of Utah land (which grew from two acres Redford bought from a sheepherder in the late fifties),
Redford also took up the cause of conservation, which did not endear him to many developers, leading him to be burned in effigy
at one point because of his stand on ecology. On the other hand, independent American filmmakers were thrilled when he turned
his ski resort, Sundance, into a workshop for them in 1981. This in turn led to the Sundance Festival which attracts much
media attention each year as it showcases the work of often daring young filmmakers. Redford started the Sundance cable channel
Through the eighties, Redford gradually tapered off his film appearances, doing one
film a year until concentrating mostly on directing and/or producing projects starring other people. Redford worked with Kim
Basinger in "The Natural (l984), a mediocrel adaptation of a Bernard Malamud story, and was virtually inundated by John Barry's
romantic musical score in "Out of Africa" (1985), in which he was woefully miscast as an Englishman and easily out-acted by
Meryl Streep. "Legal Eagles" (1986) traded on Redford's undeniable charm and charisma, but he had little on-screen rapport
with tough co-star Debra Winger. Critics considered "Havana" (1990), in which Redford reteamed with frequent director Sydney
Pollack, the actor's nadir, but the picture had its moments.
Redford produced at least two films
that resulted from the filmmakers' workshop at Sundance, both directed by Michael Hoffman: "Promised Land/Young Hearts" (1988)
and "Some Girls" (1989). In 1988 he also produced and directed a film that employs as villains some of those nasty developers
who dared to hang him in effigy: "The Milagro Beanfield War," which cast Chick Vennera as a landowner holding off against
the greedy bastards who want his property. Again, Redford's social concerns were dictating his choice of material.
On the personal front, his marriage disintegrated due to his obsession with his work and his wife's different needs. He dated
other women, among them Kathy O'Rear, with whom he embarked on a lengthy casual relationship. He also had an affair with
"Milagro-Beanfield" star Sonia Braga. (In later years he kept company with painter Sibylle Szaggars.)
In spite of his infrequent film appearances (and occasionally ill-advised choices, as
far as some people are concerned), the nineties and onward was an extremely productive period for Redford. His social
concern came to the fore again in "Incident at Oglala" (1992) a documentary which he executive-produced and narrated about
a Native American allegedly framed for two murders. 'Sneakers" (1992) was a forgettable comedy that made little impact, but
Redford really scored with the racy "Indecent Exposure" (1993) as a billionaire who offers a couple a tremendous sum if he
can sleep with the wife (Demi Moore). The film was a big hit with audiences if not with critics.
But it was as a director that Redford got the highest marks. "A River Ran Through It" (l992) featured Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt
in a tale of family unity that seemed dull and insubstantial to some, but simply deliberately-paced and poetic to others.
"Quiz Show" (l994) was more popular and the positive critical judgment more uniform. Redford guided a brilliant John Turturro
as a contestant caught up in the quiz show scandals of the fifties to a riveting performance.
Redford also starred in "Up Close and Personal" with Michelle Pfeiffer -- still a romantic leading man with a sexy leading
lady -- which began life as a biography of the late newswoman Jessica Savitch but soon mutated into something altogether different.
Redford has made his creative mark as both actor and director. He won acclaim for "The Horse Whisperer"(1998) -- the first
time he ever directed himself -- a big- screen adaptation of big bestseller that proved Redford was still a major player
in Hollywood. Two years later he directed Will Smith and Matt Damon in "The Legend of Bagger Vance," and reunited with Brad
Pitt for the thriller "Spy Game." He appeared in "An Unfinished Life" with Jennifer Lopez. Age has not slowed Redford
down, nor limited his creativity. "I'm not afraid of aging," he has said. "It's a fact of life, unless you go to some length
to arrest it, and that's not me." He has avoided cosmetic surgery and acknowledges that his "pretty boy" days are over. "Nobody
is swooning over someone my age," he says modestly, but women still shriek "My God -- it's Robert Redford!" every time the
actor is spotted in public.