I was recently looking through my extensive DVD collection (yes, I’m the bloke who still buys them…) and I noticed how many films I have that starred Robert Redford. Among them, Barefoot in the Park’ ‘The Sting’ ‘All the Presidents Men’ ‘Three Days of the Condor’ and ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ for a kick-off. Many of those titles are among my favourite films, so he is obviously someone I admire in the acting game. So, high time for a Speakeasy on the man I’d say.
He was born Charles Robert Redford in August 1936 and grew up in Santa Monica. Mum was Martha, and dad Charles Robert Redford snr. The family are of English and Irish descent, with his forefathers landing in the US in the 1840s. Redford was a highly competitive kid, who excelled in track and field and, especially tennis from the age of 8. All that ended for a while though aged 11, when he suffered an attack of Polio, which left him paralysed for a few weeks.
Growing up in Southern California, Redford got caught up in race-related gang wars, bullied and pushed around by a member of The Pachucks, an Hispanic street gang.
Redford – ‘There was a kid called Felix who picked on me, probably because I went to a good school, I was good at track and popular with the girls, and he beat up on me. I toughened up fast.’
His mother died in 1955 and that seemed to trigger the rebel inside of him. After graduating high school, he went to the University of Colorado, before he lost his baseball scholarship, due to his excessive drinking. Deciding to get away for a while, from 1956 he hit the road and travelled across the US and Europe for a few years, picking up small prison sentences for minor offences along the way, as well as trying to make a career as an artist.
When he finally landed back in the US, he at first studied art, and then in 1959, enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
His first work as an actor, was on the stage, performing on Broadway in the early 60s. He also appeared on TV around the same time, in shows like Perry Mason, Dr Kildare, The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Minor film roles saw him in Inside Daisy Clover for which won a best newcomer Golden Globe award and he worked together with Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando on The Chase in 1966 .
His major breakthrough success was due to the comedic play Barefoot in the Park in 1963, written by Neil Simon. In it, Redford played the newly married husband Paul, a part he reprised for the 1967 big screen version, where he played alongside Jane Fonda, as his new bride Corie.
The success of the Barefoot film found him being offered similar parts and wary of being typecast, he turned them down, including The Graduate, the film that went on to make a star of Dustin Hoffman of course. Instead, he teamed up with Paul Newman for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid in 1969, a role which earned him a Bafta Then came the ski drama Downhill Racer, Tell Them Willie Boy is Here and The Candidate by 1972.
That same year he starred in the ‘man in the wilderness’ western Jeremiah Johnson , followed in 1973 by The Way We Were with Barbara Streisand, and then The Sting, the classic ‘grifter’ film, which reunited him with Paul Newman. The Great Gatsby was next in 1974, followed by the spy thriller Three Days of the Condor in 1975, and the politically charged All the President’s Men in 1976, alongside Dustin Hoffman, rounding off a superb run of stellar roles.
He was an exec. producer on All the Presidents Men, which indicated a slow move towards working behind the camera too.
With the money made from early films, Redford bought a ski resort in Utah 1969, which he renamed ‘Sundance’ and it was there that he would eventually set up the Sundance Film Festival for independent films in 1978, which by 2008 had 125 films showing, with more than 50,000 people in attendance. His work done in establishing the festival, Redford has taken a backward step from it, in recent years.
After A Bridge Too Far in 1977, he took a break, before coming back in the The Electric Horseman in 1979, and Brubaker in 1980. His directorial debut came with Ordinary People in the same year, which picked up four Oscars, including one for Redford as Director as well as the Best Picture award. He starred in the baseball film The Natural in 1984, and the Oscar winning Out of Africa with Meryl Streep in 1985. In 1992, He directed Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It and 1993 starred in ‘Indecent Proposal’ which spawned the following joke…
Husband (reading Indecent Proposal review during breakfast) asks his wife: ‘Honey would you sleep with Robert Redford for a million dollars?’
Wife: ‘Where am I going to get that kind of money?’
1996 saw him in Up Close and Personal and he was the Horse Whisperer in 1998, which was another film that he directed.
His production Wildwood Enterprises, Inc. co-produced The Motorcycle Diaries in 2004, which was based on the memoir of a young Che Guevara. Of his later onscreen work, All is Lost won rave reviews for a film in which he was the only actor on screen and there are only 50 odd words of spoken dialogue.
Married twice, first to Lola in 1958, with whom he went on to have four children and then divorced in 1985. He married long time partner, artist Sibylle Szaggars in 2009.
Off screen, he is a supporter of Native American rights, LGBT rights and is an active environmentalist.
In 2018 he picked up a golden globe nomination for The Old Man and the Gun and then announced his retirement from acting. He has somewhat backtracked on that statement, now saying it was a ‘mistake to announce that’ and it’s now more of a case of…‘never say never, I pretty well concluded that this would be it for me in terms of acting, and I’ll move towards retirement after this because I’ve been doing it since I was 21. I thought, ‘Well, that’s enough. Announcing it, was a mistake.
The Mumper of SE5
THE SPEAKEASY VOLUME 2 – AVAILABLE NOW
THE SPEAKEASY Volume Two by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)
Illustrations by Lewis Wharton
Foreword by Rhoda Dakar
Available to ORDER here
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