Born on August 18, 1936, in Santa Monica, California, Robert Redford has proved to be one of the great talents in American film, starring in classics such as The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Candidate and The Way We Were. Redford also helped start the Sundance Film Festival, which has grown into one of the movie industry's most prestigious events and a great boon for indie filmmakers. The actor has also moved successfully into producing and directing, winning an Oscar for Ordinary People and receiving both directing and best picture nods for Quiz Show.
Born Charles Robert Redford Jr. on August 18, 1936, in a multicultural neighborhood in Santa Monica, California, actor and director Robert Redford has proven to be one of the great talents in American film. He is equally at home behind the scenes as he is in front of the cameras. In addition to his own career, Redford has helped advance others in his field through the Sundance Institute and its related film festival.
Redford's father was a milk man who later worked as an oil company accountant, while his outgoing mother had a passion for literature and films. Taking after his uncle, Redford excelled at sports during his youth, running track and playing tennis and football while also having a robust romantic life. In other arenas, however, Redford said he floundered.
"Actually, 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—fired again," he explained to Success magazine in 1980. Redford said he also had a few run-ins with the law for purloining hubcaps and sneaking onto other people's property to use their pools.
In 1954, Redford graduated from Van Nuys High School. But his mother died in 1955 from septicemia, and a deeply grieving Redford felt lost emotionally.
Artist's Life Abroad
Redford won a baseball scholarship to the University of Colorado, but he did not distinguish himself as an athlete there. Instead, "I became the campus drunk and blew out before I could ever get going," he told People magazine in a 1998 interview. Some reports say he dropped out, while others say that Redford was expelled from the university. In either case, he soon decided to move to Europe and become an artist.
His time overseas was an eye-opening experience for the young Redford, who lived the life of a bohemian and learned about art, culture and international affairs. Redford's interactions with students in Paris proved to be very significant. "We all lived in a kind of communal way and I was challenged politically. I didn't have a clue," he said in a 2007 New Statesman article. "They would ask me questions—the Algerian War was going on, it was very big in France at the time, this was the late 1950s—I was humiliated. I was ashamed that I didn't know much about my country's politics. When I returned to America a year and a half later, I was much more focused on my country culturally and politically."
After returning to the United States, Redford met Lola Van Wagenan in Los Angeles. The couple married in 1958 and lived in New York City, soon welcoming their first child. Redford studied first at the Pratt Institute and then the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, switching from design to acting. Then in 1959, he and his wife experienced a terrible loss when the couple's five-month-old son Scott died of sudden infant death syndrome.
A devastated Redford, who had not been raised to openly express emotional trauma, poured himself into his acting and started out his career in the theater. He first appeared on Broadway in the 1959 comedy Tall Story, followed by The Highest Tree later that year. He landed a substantial part in the 1960 drama Little Moon of Alban with Julie Harris, and then co-starred with Conrad Janis in another humorous outing, 1961's Sunday in the Park. But perhaps his biggest breakthrough came in 1963 with a leading role in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park, directed by Mike Nichols. In the romantic comedy, Redford played Paul Bratter, a newlywed lawyer who establishes a Greenwich Village home with his wife Corie (Elizabeth Ashley).
'Sundance Kid' and 'Way We Were'
Redford did a good amount of TV work for a time and made his big-screen debut in 1962's War Hunt. Still, the actor's film career didn't really take off until 1967 when he reprised his stage role as Paul in the film adaptation of Barefoot in the Park, opposite Jane Fonda. Redford then gave an iconic, star-making turn in the 1969 western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In the film, he played the outlaw known as the Sundance Kid while co-star Paul Newman portrayed Butch Cassidy. The two proved to be a dynamic duo onscreen and forged a lasting friendship, with the movie enjoying both critical and commercial success.
Not one to be typecast as a "pretty boy" and quite particular about the tone of his projects, Redford sought out more challenging fare and avoided trading on his sex appeal. He tackled the sports drama Downhill Racer and the western Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, both released in 1969. Another important film for Redford was the 1972 political drama The Candidate, a dark, satirical look at campaigning.
As his career thrived, Redford sought refuge from the Hollywood scene. He had bought land in Utah in the 1960s, and he continued to add to his holdings there over the years. His love of land encouraged him to become active in environmental causes. In the 1970s, Redford even received death threats for his efforts to stop certain developments in Utah.
Redford had a banner year in 1973 with two major hit films—The Way We Were and The Sting. In Sydney Pollack's Way We Were, Redford starred opposite Barbra Streisand in a drama that charts the ups and downs of one couple's relationship. For The Sting, Redford again joined forces with Newman to play con artists in 1930s Chicago. Redford received his first Academy Award nomination for the film.
The middle of the decade saw the actor starring with Mia Farrow in the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby and then teaming up with Faye Dunaway in the 1975 CIA thriller Three Days of the Condor, also directed by Pollack. Redford returned to political fare and scored another success with 1976's All the President's Men. He and Dustin Hoffman played reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in an acclaimed drama about the Watergate scandal.
Oscar for 'Ordinary People'
With 1980's Ordinary People, Redford showed that he was more than a movie idol, providing a heartbreaking look at a family torn apart by loss and grief. The film served as his directorial debut and starred Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland and Timothy Hutton. The drama brought Redford his first Academy Award—one for best director. Around this time, Redford helped establish the Sundance Institute, created to help and support independent filmmakers through workshops and other means. The Sundance Film Festival (previously established under a different moniker) then became a related platform for indie works to be viewed and promoted, hence positioned as an industry cornerstone for decades.
During the 1980s, Redford chose only a few acting roles. He starred in the baseball drama The Natural (1984) with Robert Duvall and Glenn Close as well as the romance Out of Africa (1985), opposite Meryl Streep. Again working behind the camera, Redford directed The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), starring Ruben Blades and Sonia Braga. The film showcases a group of local farmers struggling against a major development project in their area.
Redford earned great accolades for his rural family drama A River Runs Through It (1992), which starred Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt. Two years later, he explored the real-life corruption of 1950s game shows in Quiz Show, again earning strong praise for his work and two more Oscar nominations in the categories of directing and best picture. Redford later became a triple threat in 1998's The Horse Whisperer, working as director, producer and star of the project. He'd also made a couple of high-profile acting appearances in the sexually charged Indecent Proposal (1993), a major hit, and the journalism drama Up Close & Personal (1996), with the latter co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer.
Playing Dan Rather in 'Truth'
In more recent years, Redford has been selective about his film work. After 2000's The Legend of Bagger Vance, he directed and starred in 2007's political drama Lions for Lambs with Tom Cruise and Streep, which proved to be a commercial and critical disappointment. His next directorial effort, The Conspirator, was released in 2011 and looks at the trial of Mary Surratt, the only woman charged in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The following year, Redford directed and starred in The Company You Keep, co-starring Shia LaBeouf and Julie Christie. The thriller tells the story of a 1960s radical who has been living underground and is discovered by a reporter.
Redford gave an impressive performance on the big screen in 2013's All Is Lost, playing a sailor caught in dire, life-threatening circumstances. After co-starring in the 2014 Marvel Comics outing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he took on another kind of adventure in the adaptation of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. The following year, Redford portrayed real-world journalist Dan Rather in Truth, a film that explores 60 Minutes' controversial coverage of George W. Bush's military service.
Redford has received numerous awards and honors. He has earned his place in film history not only for his own artistic endeavors, but for the opportunities he has provided others to advance their work. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized his contributions to the medium in 2001 with an honorary award for serving as an "inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere."
In 2016, Redford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Redford is currently married to Sibylle Szaggars, a German painter. The couple wed in 2009 in Hamburg after being together since the mid-1990s. His first marriage to wife Lola ended in 1985, and they had four children together—daughters Shauna and Amy and sons Scott and Jamie.
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