THE SUNDANCE KID: Robert Redford

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We present some biographical notes of Robert Redford to whet your appetite for the brand new biography of the actor-director by William Schoell and Lawrence J. Quirk. The book is entitled THE SUNDANCE KID: The Unauthorized Biography of Robert Redford and beginning in July 2006 it will be available in major bookstores and on line at barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com. You can order a copy online by clicking on the photo of the cover. Enjoy!

The Sundance Kid
Click on photo ot order online

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.

Redford in War Hunt

     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.
     Butch Cassidy 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.

Redford: Older and Wiser

     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 in 1994.

     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.

But these are just the bare bones of Redford's fascinating life and career. For more intimate moments and revelations, behind-the-scenes details, a look into his family problems and all the intrigue at Sundance, pick up a copy of THE SUNDANCE KID: The Unauthorized Biography of Robert Redford THE SUNDANCE KID is an in-depth look at the life, acting style, films and directorial approach of this durable major star and decided Hollywood player. Written by major film historian Lawrence J. Quirk and acclaimed biographer William Schoell, it is a must for any Redford fan, star-watcher or anyone curious about the goings-on in Hollywood and off the screen.


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Entire contents copyrighted 2004 - 2005 by William Schoell and Lawrence J. Quirk, except for items written by other authors, in which case said authors retain the copyright of their work . Opinions expressed by individual authors and reviewers are not necessarily the opinions of High and Low NY.