Robert Redford is best known for the distinguished Sundance Film Festival and a shortlist of landmark American cinema. His illustrious career as an actor, producer, and director spans six decades. The Library of Congress honored his work thrice, though few would know this fact directly from the unpretentious movie maker. Yet, three of his films, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, ‘All the President’s Men’, and ‘The Sting’ were preserved by the land’s oldest national institution for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Most do not know about the adversities the great filmmaker and widely recognized Hollywood lead man overcame. Redford survived polio as a child, to start. From humble beginnings, he endured one heart-wrenching setback after another on the road to stardom. As a teenager, he rumbled through a stint of run-ins with the law! We go into depth with little-known facts about the film icon.
The Original Hollywood Heartthrob
Robert Redford galloped into the hall of Hollywood legends when he starred as the Sundance Kid in the classic 1969 film, 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', a modern twist on an old western tale. The film featured Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy, and it signaled the start of a long friendship between the two actors.
The original Hollywood heartthrob was born on August 18, 1939 to Irish-Scottish parents in Santa Monica, California. His father worked as a milkman until he became an accountant and the family moved to Van Nuys. Unfortunately, his mother died in 1955., and after his father remarried, stepbrother William Redford joined the family. He was also close with his uncle David, who taught the very athletic boy how to throw and catch a football. And then tragedy struck. The uncle was killed in 1945 in Luxembourg in the army. In his later years, Redford told NPR, no one spoke about the tragedies of his boyhood.
A Tribute to Childhood Polio with ‘Cathedrals of Culture’
In 2014, Redford directed an installment of a documentary film about architectural wonders. The building he featured, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla designed by Louis Kahn, was chosen for a very sentimental reason. In Cathedrals of Culture, Redford paid respect to Jonas Salk, the groundbreaking scientist who developed the world’s first vaccine for polio. The vaccine effectively eliminated the disease. It is one of the most significant medical achievements of all time.
Most people do not know that Redford, as a child, became afflicted with the potentially deadly illness. He told NPR he became stricken with the disease after overexerting himself by swimming in the ocean on a cold day. He was lucky. His case was mild, and he survived relatively unscathed.
School was Not His Favorite Place
“All I could think about was how to get myself out, once I was in, without relying on a bell ringing,” Redford told Rolling Stone, recalling the days he was trapped at a desk in the classroom. He used every excuse he could think of—stomach aches, bathroom breaks, needing to call home—just to get outside and wander around for a few minutes.
“I was not a good student,” Redford said. “My mind was out the window. I drew underneath the desk. I drew pictures.” The classroom was not the place where he learned. In 2013, he revealed to NPR, “I wasn’t learning the way I was supposed to learn, and I think I realized that my education was going to happen when I got out in the world and engaged with other cultures, other places, other languages and had the adventure of exploration. And I felt, ‘That’s my education.’”
The Fabled Actor was a Teenage Hooligan
“I was a failure at everything I tried,” Redford told Success magazine. He got in trouble with the law. He couldn’t hold down a job. Redford even said he used to work at a supermarket as a box boy and got fired. And then his dad found him a job at Standard Oil, and he got fired from that too!
The worst of it were his brushes with the law. He didn’t say how many times he was arrested, but he did tell Success that it was nothing a street kid in New York wouldn’t recognize as juvenile delinquency. Shrugging it off, he added, it was “just stealing hubcaps and breaking into people’s backyards to use the pool when they were away.” The magazine interviewed the actor when the he was 43 years old. Redford said his shenanigans and irresponsible behavior sprouted from not being happy in his environment.
Redford Won a Sports Scholarship to the University of Colorado
He dropped out after one year. School just was not his thing. Redford went to college in Colorado, looking to escape L.A. and be more close to nature. Though he loved L.A. as a kid, “When the war ended . . . suddenly Los Angeles . . . it felt like the city was being pushed into the sea. . . . Suddenly there were skyscrapers and freeways and smog.”
Colorado was an escape, and he wanted out. Redford’s unmistakable athleticism in high school earned him a baseball scholarship to the University of Colorado. In high school, he also excelled in tennis and football. In college, he pitched for the team and even joined a fraternity. Alas, having lost his mother just several years earlier, he was not quite out of his hooligan stage. Redford began drowning his problems in alcohol. He told People magazine, drinking became such an issue that he ended up losing his scholarship and having to drop out of the university.
Falling in Love and Finding His Way
At the university, Redford fell in love with Lola Van Wagenen. After he dropped out, so did she. The girl was from a Mormon family. The rollicking romance burned strong surviving a year’s absence when the young man went off to Europe to find his way as an artist. After studying art in Paris for a year, he returned to Lola.
Everything worked out. In 1987, the University of Colorado awarded Redford an honorary degree and his quest to be an artist led to acting and film.
The couple longed to be wed. Perhaps Lola Van Wagenen did not have the support of her parents, seeing how it was her beau’s fault she dropped out of the university, because the lovebirds decided to elope.
In September of 1958, they stowed off to Las Vegas and were quietly married. Five weeks later, a respectable public ceremony was held in Provo for family, friends, and loved ones.
Love and Children
Almost a year later, the couple welcomed the birth of their first son. Two and a half months later, tragedy struck. “It was really hard,” Redford recalled. The couple was very young, and Redford had just closed his first theater job. Neither of them had heard of 'sudden infant death syndrome', which is how their first son passed away. Two years later, the young couple gave birth to their first daughter. Shauna was followed by Jaimie, born in 1962, and Amy, another daughter, was born in 1970.
Their worries hardly came to an end. Jaimie, their second son, was born seven weeks premature with a near-fatal respiratory illness. His teen years brought more concern. The boy developed a condition that led to partial colon removal surgery and two liver transplants by age 30. In 1962, about the time his children were born, Redford said, “I was beginning to think I might like to be an actor.”
The End of an Era
After 28 years of marriage, the Redfords went their separate ways. The divorce was final in 1985. Robert Redford has said that the death of two-month-old Scott caused a rift that never healed between the couple. They blamed each other and they blamed themselves. It was Redford who kissed the baby goodnight when they found him lifeless in the crib the next morning.
Following the divorce, the now-famous actor began dating Sibylle Szaggars, who he moved in with in the 1990s and then married, finally, in 2009.
The Beginning of a Television Career
Redford fell in love with stage acting. His very first role was in Tall Story on Broadway. He had one line in the 1959 production, but it saved his family during a tight stretch. He went on to perform countless Broadway shows and other theater productions.
About the time his second child was born, the actor decided to move his acting ambitions to television. His career took off like wildfire. He scored roles in The Twilight Zone, Maverick, The Untouchables, and Perry Mason. The 24-year-old was well on his way to an incredible profession, and to being one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.
A Fish Tale
Just to get gigs, Redford often worked for nothing, or near nothing. One such time was when he was offered $75 to appear on a TV game show. It would be his television debut. The only problem was that when pay day came, the naturalist and budding actor did not see a single penny. The producers insisted he take an expensive fishing rod and call it even.
In the end, it gave him an entertaining story to tell and also some inspiration for his well-known film A River Runs Through It.
The Roots of Sundance Institute and Arts Center
Redford was practically penniless when he took off to Europe to try his hand as an artist. When he was ready to make his first real estate investment, he pulled together $500 for a down payment on two acres of land in the Provo Canyon, just outside of Park City, Utah. It was the perfect retreat from Hollywood. He and Lola built their first house on the property, an eco-friendly design powered by solar energy. The area included a ski resort at the bottom of Mt. Timpanogos, named Timp Haven, which he would eventually rename 'Sundance'.
As years went on, he expanded the property to include 7,000 acres with quarter horses, farmland and a fishing pond. From two small acres to thousands, this is where the first Sundance Film Festival in 1978 was located, becoming, as we all know by now, one of the world’s most prestigious festivals for independent films. The overwhelming success of the event would later require the Sundance Film Festival to be relocated to Park City.
Redford Debuts on the Silver Screen
Robert Redford’s first role on the big screen was a minor part in the film version of Tall Story (1960), but he got to rub elbows with stars Jane Fonda and Anthony Perkins.
His first major role in a motion picture found him starring in the Korean War drama War Hunt, that tells a story about a war-ravaged lieutenant and his platoon trapped on the enemy’s side. This film led to a lead role starring with Alex Guinness in another war movie. Except this one was a comedy. It was called, Situation Hopeless . . . But Not Serious. Soon enough, he starred in the 1965 film Inside Daisy Clover, which won him a Golden Globe award for best new star.
Too Handsome to Cast
As Redford’s career hummed along, he came across a role the director would not cast him in. Looking for an actor to portray the awkward Benjamin Braddock in the 1967 film The Graduate, director Mike Nichols screened Redford but eventually turned him down for Dustin Hoffman, who turned out to be the perfect fit.
As Nichols tells it, “Robert wanted the part. I said, ‘You can’t play it. You can never play a loser.’ And Redford said, ‘What do you mean? Of course I can play a loser.’ And I said, ‘O.K., have you ever struck out with a girl?’ and he said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he wasn’t joking.” The director simply could not envision Redford playing a young college graduate, and a virgin, struggling to get a girl.
The Sexy Blonde Stereotype
One thing Redford tried desperately to avoid was being typecast as the good-looking blonde guy. “This constant reference to me being the way I looked made me crazy, like I was being put into a cage", Redford lamented. But it’s also true that Hollywood is a magnet for the prettiest people. Observe, one of the differences between a modern Hollywood heartthrob and Redford is he doesn’t pose or flex or try to look good. It’s like he can’t help it.
Nevertheless, Redford wanted to be cast for his acting skills—for his craft, instead of his face. “The notion is that you’re not so much of an actor, you’re just somebody that looks well,” he said. Adding, “That was always hard for me because I always took pride in whatever role I was playing.” Later in life, the actor found a bit of an escape from the stereotyping, “The nice thing about getting older is you don’t have that so much anymore.”
Too Blonde to be Michael Corleone
Redford’s performance as the Sundance Kid locked him in as a good-looking, intelligent actor with an edge. Studios desired him, whether or not he fit the part. Paramount execs insisted someone like Robert Redford play The Godfather’s Michael Corleone, but the notoriously stubborn director, Francis Ford Coppola, would not have it. He tenaciously stood by his choice—Al Pacino. It was a bitter fight. Pacino recalled, “The studio didn’t want me after they hired me.” (They said he was too short to play Corleone.)
When Paramount studio executives made clear to Coppola their choice to cast Redford, Coppola dismissed it saying he could not picture a blonde Sicilian. He preferred an unknown actor who looked Italian-American to play the heir-apparent to the Godfather’s throne. Others considered for the role by the studio for the 1972 movie were Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Martin Sheen. The rest is history.
Too Attractive to Ravish an Actress
Robert Redford debuted in a spy role in the conspiracy thriller Three Days of Condor. But he had to sit one of the parts out. It wasn’t a stunt scene—as the athletic actor is always proud to mention he does most of his own stunts—it was a rape scene. Actress Faye Dunaway, who starred opposite, playing a kidnap victim, later wrote in her memoir that the idea of being kidnapped and violated by Robert Redford was not at all terrifying.
To achieve an authentic-looking take, director Sydney Pollack took charge, furtively stepping in as the spy, and with cameras rolling, Dunaway recalls the fear. “He scared the hell out of me.” Dunaway said, during the take, the director lunged at her shouting, ‘I AM GOING TO GET YOU.’ She recalls, he kept moving closer, “his eyes glaring at me as he went on detailing all the horrible things he was going to do to me, and let me tell you, Sydney has an inventive mind. He is also a great actor.” She called him relentless.
The Sundance Kid
Despite the bumpy start with the studio, The Sundance Kid was the role Robert Redford was made to play. “When I read it, I thought, ‘This is perfect for me,’” Redford informed the Salt Lake City Tribune. He told them, looking back at the film 50 years later, he always related to the “outlaw sensibility,” ever since he was a kid. The studio, on the other hand, wanted him to play Butch in the 1969 Oscar-winning film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
“The studio did not want me,” Redford explained, “and they tried everything to keep me out of the film.” But Paul Newman and writer William Goldman stood up to the studio until they kept him in. Paul Newman basically said he would only be in the movie if Redford played The Kid. Redford responded, “I never forgot that.” The two remained friends and developed a very close, decades-long bond since that shoot. In the end, The Academy passed Redford by, he missed on a Golden Globe nomination, but the Sundance Kid was granted a BAFTA from across the pond.
Reuniting with Paul Newman, Redford starred in The Sting, the top-grossing film of 1974 and the magnum opus of Redford’s career, earning him an Oscar nomination. Playing a two-bit swindler, he teamed up with revered con man Henry Gondorff (Newman). Redford, as Johnny Hooker, does his part to set the silver screen ablaze in this revenge crime caper set in 1936. The movie was beyond popular in the seventies, identified by a brilliantly catchy ragtime soundtrack.
Prior to its many accolades and being preserved by the Library of Congress, Redford was concerned about his part and felt that his character may be running around so much that there would be little acting involved. For his consternation, he was awarded a “Looney Tunes” Road Runner sculpture as a gag gift when filming wrapped up. And, fun fact, despite the great success, ironically, Redford did not view the film until 2004. He went to see it with his grandson during Christmastime at a movie theater in Utah.
Another Box Office Smash Hit
The Way We Were is one of Redford’s political movies, but it showcased his comedic side. Sydney Pollack’s romantic drama, taking place during the investigations by the 'House Un-American Activities Committee', portrayed Redford’s character as complicit with the Republicans’ corrupt witch hunt. His complicity drives a wedge into his marriage. The film premiered on October 16, 1973, two years before the committee was abolished.
The movie, based on the novel and screenplay by Arthur Laurents, costarred Barbara Streisand. The diva contributed a song to the soundtrack, which, of course, saturated the airwaves. Her immense draw as a performer, combined with Redford’s appeal—who played her love interest—helped make Pollack’s six-time Oscar-nominated work an amazing success at the box office. The Way We Were grossed $50 million.
All the President’s Men
In All the President’s Men, Redford played investigative journalist Bob Woodward, with Dustin Hoffman, who played fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. The movie follows the pair as they unravel a string of corruption that eventually brought President Nixon down. It’s Redford’s most political movie and it was another huge triumph. The 1976 film won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. In all, it was nominated for 8 Academy Awards.
Redford missed a nomination, but he dove into the role. He haunted the backrooms and news desks of The Post for weeks, studying and observing reporters and getting into the headspace of an investigative reporter, and of the man who uncovered the Watergate Scandal that ultimately forced Nixon’s resignation. He met the ill-fated president when he was 13. Nixon was governor of California and Redford was receiving an athletics award. “When I went up [to the stage] and Nixon handed me the ribbon and shook my hand, I got just a bad vibe,” Redford recalled, “And that stuck with me.”
Redford was Obsessed with Watergate
A couple of years before starring in All the President’s Men, Redford would be completely captivated by the impeachment hearings of the president. The entire nation was fixated on the daily broadcasts which were aired live on television. Redford was no different.
At the time, however, he was on location filming Francis Ford Coppola’s The Great Gatsby (1974). The movie, based on Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, starred Robert Redford as Gatsby and Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan. Farrow, frustrated as the very-distracted Redford’s love interest, blamed his Watergate-watching obsession for their lack of cinematic chemistry. The movie was not received well. The New York Times called it “frivolous without being much fun.”
Redford’s First Flop
Not even Robert Redford and a virtual catalog of A-listers on the billing could save A Bridge Too Far. The WWII film was a far cry from the monster success of his previous films, but the colossal project with a cast list including James Caan, Laurence Olivier, and Sean Connery was a big score for Redford’s bank account. In 1977, $2 million was top pay for actors. Redford was paid $2 million for two weeks of work!
The epic war film’s heavy production costs and cool critical response left the studio with a take home pay of about $50 million, but it cost half that amount to make. On top of that, the Academy shunned it for having the audacity to reveal fatal inadequacies of the Allied forces, resulting in zero nominations. Critics agreed, the massive undertaking created impressive staging and amazing scenes, but they complained it was too slow and may have contained historical inaccuracies.
‘Out of Africa’: Another Epic
Teaming up with Sydney Pollack once more, Redford played opposite the brilliant Meryl Streep in the screening of Isak Dinesen’s novel 'Out of Africa'. The love triangle story takes place out in the farmlands and hills of the African bush, allowing Redford to fully exploit his rough and rugged sexy side. To this end, he kept his American accent. Pollack felt an English accent would be distracting to viewers. Redford went into the project thinking he had to produce an English accent. Some of those scenes had to be re-filmed.
The 1985 film was hugely successful. Redford went all out to get the role of Denys Finch Hatton and play it as an Englishman, but that could have made it a very different movie. Streep shined in the lead role as Karen Blixen and secured a Best Actress Oscar nomination. The film won an Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director. With two Academy Awards under Pollack’s belt, Out of Africa is, arguably, his most successful film.
Box Office Bank: Indecent Proposal
Three reasons the intriguingly titled Indecent Proposal was an instant smash hit: Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, and Robert Redford. Because, clearly, its success was not tied to a complex storyline. The movie is about a moral dilemma presented by a dashing billionaire (Redford, obviously) who offers one million bucks to an adoring hubby, played by Harrelson, to sleep with his loving wife. Deal. (They’re in Vegas, after all).
The movie, based on Jack Engelhard’s novel, reignited the too-handsome-to-screen controversy. The billionaire character in the novel is an average looking Arab, Redford’s a far stretch, even at age 60. Even more controversial was the fact that the screenwriter left out other significant details, namely, the husband in the story is Jewish and the cultural ramifications of Arab/Jew conflicts were replaced with Hollywood glitz. The movie got two thumbs down and three Razzies, but it was a box office hit.
‘The Horse Whisperer’
In yet another epic cinematic release, Redford stepped up his game by producing, directing and starring in a film for the first time. He had already tried his hand at getting behind the camera in 1980 with his directorial debut, Oscar-winning Ordinary People. The film was a huge success, and so was The Horse Whisperer.
Redford is the horse whisperer, healing horses by working his magic and miraculously training even the most difficult gelding. He is credited for welcoming Scarlet Johansson to the big screen. She played a girl whose horse needed the healing hands of the whisperer. Fun fact: Redford and Johansson reunited many years later on the set of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
‘All is Lost’
All is Lost is a one-man show. Redford plays a man stranded on a yacht in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and he is the only character in the 2014 film. “I liked the idea there were no special effects,” Redford points out. “It was a very low-budget film, very independent in its spirit and budget,” he said, adding, “It was more of a pure cinematic experience—the way films used to be, maybe even going back to silent films.”
All is Lost is practically a silent film. The script, barely 30 pages, gives the actor very little to say, but it was one of his most demanding roles ever; a lesson to his younger self who won a Road Runner gag gift for worrying about not having enough lines to call it acting. After screening at Cannes, it brought Redford a Golden Globe nomination, and Alex Ebert a Golden Globe win for Best Original Score. It was recognized by the Academy with a nomination for Best Sound Editing.
Behind the Scenes on the Shipwrecked Yacht
By the time he worked on this project, he was 77. Nevertheless, he performed all his own stunts under somewhat brutal conditions. Filmed out at sea in Mexico, whipped by waves and wind, the man who we would call elderly, save for his athleticism, braved sun, sea, and a script with zero special effects. For two months, he faced fire hoses dousing him relentlessly for storms created by wind and rain machines.
In the movie, a wayward shipping container rams his yacht, tearing a gaping hole into the ship’s hull and his character must repair the damage. Some hailed his performance his lifetime achievement. And it’s true, he sacrificed a lot in his commitment to independent film. The physically demanding role under harsh maritime conditions caused him to lose 60 percent of his hearing in one of his ears.
Besides a $4 Million Contract, Redford Joined the Cast of ‘Captain America’ Because...
“I like the idea of stepping into new territory,” Redford told the Los Angeles Times of his interest in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The 2014 Marvel film raked in $96.2 million its first weekend, April’s biggest opening of all time, easily absorbing his salary. And, becoming his most lucrative project. The veteran actor played Alexander Pierce, an old comrade of Nick Fury. The role payed homage to Redford’s 1970s thrillers. “I’m doing [the film] because it’s different. It’s a new thing for me. I think these films are really powerful. I think they’re great,” Redford said. “This is the kind of film I would have loved to see as a kid.”
The 77-year-old also said, “One of the reasons that I did the movie was I wanted to experience this new form of filmmaking that’s taken over where you have kind of cartoon characters brought to life through high technology.” Just the opposite of All is Lost, which was made without CGI or any special effects at all.
A Lifetime of Achievement in Cinema
Redford has been acting since he was 21 years old. He has performed in 80 films throughout his almost 60-year career. In 2016, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, and in 2002, the Academy presented him with the Lifetime Achievement honor.
He was also honored by the Directors Guild of America. Additionally, three of his films were significant enough to be chosen by the Library of Congress for preservation. Finally, he received the highest French honor, the Légion d’Honneur, in 2010.
The Elusive Oscar
Redford has no doubt enjoyed a stupendous career, but you might be surprised to learn he never won a Best Actor Academy Award. In fact, out of the many epic films he’s starred in, Redford has only been nominated for an Oscar for his acting one time. His performance in 'The Sting' earned him his sole Academy Award nomination. 'Out of Africa' was up for seven Oscars, but none in his name.
As for his directing efforts, he’s had more luck. 'Ordinary People' earned him an Oscar in 1980. Likewise, 'All the President’s Men', in which Redford directed, produced, and starred, was nominated for eight. Although, it only won for Best Screenplay.
Achievement in Directing
'Ordinary People' serves as Redford’s directorial debut. He is one of only five other directors in the history of the Academy Awards to win an Oscar for a first-time production. He’s in the company of Kevin Costner, Delbert Mann, Jerome Robbins, Sam Mendes, and James L. Brooks. It led to an impressive career in directing, starting with an Oscar for Ordinary People. It was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the decade. It won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
In 1994, Redford’s movie was nominated for two Oscars! 'Quiz Show', a historical movie about a television game show scandal, was in the running for Best Picture and Best Director, but the film missed on both. 'Forrest Gump' took the gold.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom
One of Redford’s most glorious moments came when President Obama honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. After receiving the award from a president who he very much admired, the actor was so grateful, he responded, “I wished my parents were alive.”
Another honor he is proud of is shared with a person he also deeply respects, Laurence Olivier. Both directors won a Best Picture Oscar and also acted in the film. In Redford’s case, he acted in not just one, but two Best Picture winners. 'The Sting' and 'Out of Africa' both took home the Oscar. Incidentally, Redford co-starred with Olivier in the epic war movie, 'A Bridge Too Far'.
A Director Respected by His Colleagues
Redford has a great reputation as a director. Actors jockey for a chance to get a part in his films. And it’s not just the working environment they are attracted to—his films win accolades from the Academy and the Industry. Actors Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Paul Scofield have all been nominated for an Oscar.
And he even looks out for the little guys in production. Notably, Redford makes sure stuntmen are paid well, even if they sit on the sidelines while actors like himself perform their own stunts.
Redford Made Ed Burns a Filmmaker...By Chance
Ed Burns was struggling to make 'The Brothers McMullen', a comedy about three Irish Catholic brothers in N.Y.C. After sinking his last $28,000 into the production and fearing the end of it, he happened to run into Robert Redford. Hopping into the elevator together at the Entertainment Tonight studios, the two men discussed Burns’ project.
Redford looked at a copy of the film and liked it so much he told Burns he would screen it at Sundance. For Burns, this was huge, it meant a distribution deal and enough funding to wrap up the project. The independent film brought in $10 million at the box office.
The Newman/Redford Bromance
Robert Redford first met Paul Newman at the screening for 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. Newman legendarily secured Redford in his role as the Kid, and they developed a special lifelong friendship. One story Redford likes to share of his lively friendship with Newman is the Porsche gag. For Newman’s 50th birthday, Redford found a beat-up Porsche, wrapped a bow around it, and sent it to Newman’s house. The sportscar did not even have an engine!
Newman sent the Porsche back, but not before he crushed it into a cube. Redford responded to Newman’s prank by having an artist fashion it into garden décor, and back it went to Newman’s yard.“We Played these tricks on each other and the idea was you would never acknowledge the trick played on you,” Redford said. Unfortunately, Redford lost Newman to cancer in 2008.
Collaborating is the Name of His Game
Redford worked with Newman on several projects, but he liked to collaborate with many others in the industry too. He is known for being loyal to film professionals who have garnered success in the past.
Screenwriter William Goldman is one person Redford relied on for excellence and worked well with. Redford starred in five of Goldman’s films, starting with 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. The others are 'A Bridge Too Far', 'All the President’s Men', 'The Great Waldo Pepper', and 'The Hot Rock'.
Collaborating with Sydney Pollack
Sydney Pollack was one of Redford’s best friends in the film industry. They worked together often and made many spectacular movies. The two actors first met filming 'War Hunt' in 1962. As Pollack moved his efforts toward being a director, Redford was his first pick for lead roles. Redford starred in seven of Pollack’s films. Besides 'Out of Africa', he also starred in 'This Property is Condemned', 'Jeremiah Johnson', 'The Way We Were', 'The Days of the Condor', 'The electric Horseman', and 'Havana'.
When asked at the 2019 Marrakesh Film Festival which director most impacted him, Redford responded, Sydney Pollack, because they shared a “deep and lasting friendship.” Sadly, he lost another friend to cancer in 2008. Sydney Pollack succumbed to the disease when he was 73 years old.
A Friend to the Environment
Before most people heard of global warming, Redford was talking about the ramifications. By 1989, he was already voicing his concern about the effects on the environment. As a trustee for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) he went on television with an ad that asked for President Obama’s help with reducing carbon pollution from power plants.
Redford has been an advocate for the environment and a leader of the cause longer than most Hollywood activists have been saving the world.
The Roots of an Environmentalist
His love of nature started at age 11, when his mother took him to a national park as a reward for surviving a two-week bout with polio. Living in the L.A. area, he loved the ocean and surfing. To escape the freeways and skyscrapers of Los Angeles, he “went into the mountains, into the Sierras and worked at Yosemite National Park and fell in love with nature.”
He went off to Colorado for college to be in nature and to escape L.A. smog. When he met his first wife Lola, whose family was from Utah, he fell in love with the area too. After purchasing land near Salt Lake City, he saved the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and he helped save old-growth redwood in California.
What Is Robert Redford’s Favorite Film?
Redford's favorite movie is 'Jeremiah Johnson', a western by Sydney Pollack based, in part, on the titular legendary mountain man, played by Redford. The film opened at Cannes Film Festival in 1972. Though 'Jeremiah Johnson' was his favorite role to play, Redford considers 'The Sting' to be his best performance.
When asked what his favorite film by any movie maker is, he lists John Huston’s 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'. Hands down, no contest.
With a role in the crime thriller 'The Old Man & the Gun', Redford announced his retirement. The movie was released in September 2018. At the time, he told Entertainment Weekly it was his last project. “Never say never, but I pretty well concluded that this would be it for me in terms of acting, and [I will] move towards retirement after this ’cause I’ve been doing it since I was 21.” But in 2019, he showed up in Marvel Studios’ 'Avengers: Endgame', revisiting superhero junction with a cameo appearance of Alexander Pierce.
He also commented about art and society. Redford said, “Art criticizes society, that’s its role, it draws attention to what the truth is. It keeps us honest. Art is a critic of society.” Redford’s contribution to film and independent filmmaking is incredible. The Sundance Institute, a nonprofit he founded that dedicates itself to supporting independent filmmakers, is world renowned. After six decades of commitment to his craft, the actor-director not only built a stellar reputation in the industry, but also a net worth of $170 million. For many years to come, his immense influence and contribution to film will continue to live on.