August 18, 1936– Robert Redford:
“It’s an honor putting art above politics. Politics can be seductive in terms of things reductive to the soul.”
Redford was born in Santa Monica, a seemingly perfect beginning for a golden boy. A major figure in the world of film, he works behind the scenes and in front of the cameras.
At 13 years old, I remember thinking that he was prettier than his co-star, the young, all-legs, big haired Jane Fonda in the film version of Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park (1967), a role he had done on Broadway. I rather like the current Redford: too tan, too much surgery, too weird hair. He was too perfect for too long.
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid was playing in theatres 47 years ago. Redford, never giving a bad or false performance (except for maybe that accent in Out Of Africa in 1985), has only been nominated for one Oscar for his acting work, but he does have a bunch of statues on his mantle, including an Academy Award for Best Director for Ordinary People (1981) and another for Life Time Achievement. He should have been nominated in 2013 year for what might be his best performance in All Is Lost.
Surprisingly, Redford was a bit of a bad boy in his youth. The son of an oil company executive, Redford played on the tennis and football teams in high school. But he floundered after his mother died. He had run-ins with the law for stealing hubcaps and sneaking into other people’s backyards to use their pools. Redford:
“I was a failure at everything I tried. I worked as a box boy at a supermarket and got fired. Then my dad got me a job at Standard Oil and I was fired again.”
After high school Redford was accepted at University Of Colorado on a baseball scholarship. Redford says:
“Instead, I became the campus drunk and blew out before I could ever get going.”
He was expelled from the university and he moved to Paris to become an artist. Redford lived as a Bohemian and learned about art and politics. Redford wrote:
“We all lived in a kind of communal way and I was challenged politically. I didn’t have a clue. When I returned to America a year and a half later, I was much more focused on my own country culturally and politically.”
Redford studied design at Pratt Institute and acting at the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts. He made his Broadway debut in a tiny role in the comedy Tall Story (1959), but he landed a better part in the drama Little Moon Of Alban (1960) opposite Julie Harris. Redford finally got that leading role as young newlywed Paul in Barefoot In The Park (1963), playing opposite Elizabeth Ashley and directed by Mike Nichols.
Redford played a sensitive gay 1930s-era actor in the film Inside Daisy Clover (1965) winning a Golden Globe Award for Best New Star. He landed the film adaptation of Barefoot In The Park (1967), showing real chemistry with Fonda. Redford’s star-making role came with the western Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969) with his most perfect costar Paul Newman. The pair proved to have phenomenal onscreen chemistry, and the film was a critical and commercial success, and a cultural phenomenon.
To avoid being typecast as a “pretty boy,” Redford took challenging projects including the timeless, dark, satirical political campaign drama The Candidate (1970), especially relevant this summer.
1973 was the “Year Of Redford” with both The Sting and The Way We Were. In The Sting he played opposite Newman again, and although he may not have been as pretty as his costar, he showed terrific comic chops. He received his first Academy Award nomination for the film. In The Way We Were, Redford starred opposite Barbra Streisand and this time he was the prettiest again. Their chemistry is steamy hot and both actors are at their most charismatic and at the very top of their considerable movie star wattage.
At a career high, Redford wanted out of the Hollywood scene. He had bought land in Utah and his love of the land moved him to become an environmental activist. In the 1970s, Redford received death threats for his efforts to stop development on public land in Utah. In the 1980s, he tried to show how you could have progress and still respect the land when he formed The Sundance Institute, created to help and support independent filmmakers. He later launched the Sundance Film Festival, the most important showcase for independent films for the past 25 years.
He took more time between acting roles like the baseball classic The Natural (1984), the romantic adventure Out Of Africa (1985) opposite Meryl Streep. Redford directed more often: The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), A River Runs Through It (1992) with Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt, and the real life story corruption in 1950s game shows, Quiz Show (1994), and the equine soap opera, The Horse Whisperer (2000).
I find Redford to be a skilled craftsman as a director. I like him so much that I find a way to forgive Redford for the miserable, embarrassing, icky Golf Fable-Magical-African-American-Friend tale The Legend Of Bagger Vance (2000).
He is a smart savvy producer, businessman, environmentalist, and philanthropist, an unabashed liberal with strong history of support for Gay Rights, Marriage Equality, and Native American Rights. In 2014, Time Magazine named Redford one of The World’s 100 Most Influential People. He is a true Westerner, the way his friend and co-star Paul Newman was an Easterner.
My favorite Redford performance is in the Watergate thriller All The President’s Men (1976) and I also have a soft spot for Sneakers (1992), a witty early cyber thriller that is even more relevant today than when it was released.
For an old style movie star, Redford has remained rather relevant. 26 years ago, Sundance Institute hosted the Greenhouse Glasnost with scientists from the USSR and the USA coming together to discuss the issue of climate change before climate change was even an issue. As an actor, director and producer, Redford has examined the search for our country’s soul with The Candidate, All The President’s Men, The Electric Horseman (1979), Quiz Show, Lions For Lambs (2007) and The Company You Keep (2012). Last year’s A Walk In The Woods and Truth, where he portrays newsman Dan Rather, follow this familiar theme.
Redford, at 80 years old, continues to work. He can currently be seen in Disney’s unnecessary live-action remake of 1977’s musical Pete’s Dragon
“Humor. Skill. Wit. Sex appeal.That order.”