Robert Redford’s On Screen Intrigue And Off Screen Life

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Since Robert Redford first debuted his beautiful face on screen in 1960, he has been a mainstay of Hollywood success. He has worked in front and behind the camera, receiving numerous awards in the process, and living a fascinating life of on screen intrigue and personal tragedies.

A Bout With Polio

At age 11, Redford contracted polio, but fortunately the mild case did not cause any real damage. It inspired him to direct a documentary installment on Jonas Salk, the scientist that developed the vaccine.

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He Could Have Had Mrs. Robinson

By 1967, Robert Redford had begun making a name for himself in Hollywood. He won a Golden Globe for Best New Star for Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and was looking to become a real star. Redford auditioned for Mike Nichols’ classic The Graduate but did not get the part. Nichols felt that Redford was too handsome for the role and audiences would have a difficult time believing that he could not get a girl.

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Gave Nora Ephron Her First Screenwriting Job…Sort Of

Before Nora Ephron became a filmmaker, she was a journalist. She also happened to be married to Carl Bernstein. Redford and All The President’s Men director Alan Pakula were not pleased with William Goldman’s first draft of the script, so Bernstein and Ephron wrote their own script. Redford did not like their copy either, but it was Ephron’s first taste of filmmaking. She would become thrice nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

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The Frat Star

After graduating from Van Nuys High School, Robert Redford went to the University of Colorado. He joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity first as a pledge before becoming a brother. College came at a rough time for Redford as his mother had recently died. He started drinking heavily, referring to himself in a People magazine interview as “the campus drunk,” and left school after only a year and a half. The University of Colorado gave him an honorary degree in 1987.

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A Petty Criminal

In the movies, Redford’s Sundance Kid robbed his way through the Wild West, and his Johnny Hooker conned his way to a payday. He might not have ever robbed a train in real life, but Redford had some small run-ins with law enforcement in his youth. While growing up in California, Redford and his friends got picked up by police for petty crimes on some occasions for stealing hub caps or breaking into the neighbor’s swimming pool.

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He Hates Watching Himself

In sports, it’s a commonplace to watch tape of your performance to prepare for the next game. As a former athlete, you’d think Redford would like to watch his work so he can critique himself and improve. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. He hates watching himself and generally refuses to do so. Redford only approves of his performance in The Sting,  a film he did not see until 2004. The Sting was released in 1973.

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A CREEP Staffer He Was Not

Watergate became Redford’s biggest fascination in the early 70s. He could not get the story out of his head. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were still in the middle of their years long investigation when Redford reached out to them. He wanted to buy the rights and turn it into a film. With so much distrust in the air, Woodward and Bernstein disregarded his call. They thought it was a prank call from Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP).

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I Mustache You To Leave My Mustache Alone

The Sundance Kid’s mustache is one of the most defining pieces of facial hair in film history. Redford almost had to shave his prickly upper lip before filming began. 20th Century Fox studio head Richard Zanuck hated the mustache and wanted him to get rid of it. Redford adamantly fought to keep it. He felt that it was authentic and would add to his character. Zanuck caved and let Redford keep it.

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Walking The Halls With A Hall Of Famer

Robert Redford had a good life at Van Nuys High School. He used his looks and his charm to get away with whatever he wanted. He was a bad student and was very focused on sports. Redford played on the tennis team but concentrated mostly on baseball.  Although he probably did not realize it at the time, Redford played alongside a Hall of Famer. Los Angeles Dodgers great and Cy Young winner Don Drysdale was in his graduating class.

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Finding Sundance Took Some Time

William Goldman knew who he wanted to play Butch Cassidy as he was writing the screenplay. Paul Newman seemed to be an obvious choice and was one of the biggest stars in the world. He wanted Jack Lemmon to play Sundance, but he was not interested. Goldman and Hill approached other actors such as Marlon Brando. Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward suggested Redford, but the studio felt that he wasn’t recognizable enough. They fought for Redford until the execs conceded.

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Doing His Own Stunts

Redford insists on doing his own stunts. In Butch Cassidy,  he demanded to do his stunts which drove Newman crazy. After Redford had expressed his desire to jump onto the train roof and run from car to car, Newman said, “I don’t want any heroics around here . . . I don’t want to lose a co-star.” For some films, he would pay the stunt guild as to not put stuntmen out of work. He did his own stunts in All Is Lost at age 76.

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The Natural Isn’t His Only Baseball Experience

As Roy Hobbs, Robert Redford smacked a game winning home run off the overhead lights. Off the screen, he was also quite a good baseball player. He played in high school and was good enough to earn a baseball scholarship to the University of Colorado. Redford was an outfielder and occasional pitcher for the Buffalos. After he had left school, he worked in California’s oil fields before making enough money to study painting in Europe.

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Getting Behind The Camera

After twenty years of putting his handsome self in front of the camera, Robert Redford decided to try his hand in the director’s chair. In his first attempt, Redford knocked it out of the park. Based on the novel by Judith Guest, Ordinary People was a smash hit. The film won four Academy Awards, one of which went to Redford for Best Director. Actor Timothy Hutton also won an Academy Award for the movie in his first onscreen appearance.

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Not Crazy For Those School Days

Even if he did not get kicked out of the University of Colorado, it is possible that Redford would not have made it to graduation anyway. He once said, “All I could think about was how to get myself out, once I was in, without relying on a bell ringing. Having to go to the bathroom, having a stomachache, forgetting to call home—I used them all. Then usually all I’d do is walk around the yard a little and go back in.”

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George Roy Hill’s Gift

During shooting for The Sting, Robert Redford complained on a handful of occasions about how he was not doing enough actual acting and was more just running around from place to place. When they wrapped up filming, George Roy Hill gave Redford a gift to commemorate his whining. It was a small sculpture of the Looney Tunes character Road Runner made out of nails. The joke gift’s inscription read, ” If you can’t be good, be fast.”

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A Career Worth Rewarding

It might be a surprise that in Robert Redford’s illustrious film career he has only won two Oscars, and was only nominated for acting once. He won his first Oscar for directing Ordinary People and would not receive another until the Academy bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award on him in 2002. In 2016, Redford received the highest civilian honor in America, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition, France appointed him a chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.

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Reuniting Butch and Sundance Was Not A No Brainer

When George Roy Hill signed up to direct The Sting, it seemed like a no brainer to bring back Butch and Sundance to work with Hill. The studio had an issue with pairing Newman and Redford together again. Universal felt that because Newman and Redford had such great banter that audience could not believe that they would be capable of double crossing each other. They thought the film would lose some suspense, but Hill talked them into it.

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A Ball Game And A Co-Star

When he was putting All The President’s Men together, Redford felt casting himself as Bob Woodward would put too much star power into the film. He realized he needed another big star to fill the role of Carl Bernstein and create some balance with the main characters. One day, Redford was attending a Knicks game when he found his Bernstein. Dustin Hoffman was at the game and Redford approached him with the idea on the spot.

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Chemistry Problems

Mia Farrow, Redford’s co-star in The Great Gatsby, could never quite click with Redford on screen. She claims that she could not forge any chemistry with him because he was obsessed with the Watergate scandal. Farrow said that he spent all of his free time locked away in his trailer, closely following the happenings in Washington and watching the scandal unfold. His interest in the story would eventually lead to the development of All The President’s Men two years later.

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Captain Planet, He’s Our Hero

During shooting for Three Days of the Condor, Redford brought his environmentalism to the set. The film is set in winter, but they shot the movie during the fall. To give the streets a winter feel, they needed to defoliate and remove leaves from the saplings on the street from which they filmed. Redford thoroughly oversaw the process to assure that no lasting damage was done to the trees and that it was done carefully.

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A Grifter Meets The Delta Blues

The Sting was one of the biggest hits of the 70s and earned Redford, his only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Working with Newman and George Roy Hill proved to be a success yet again. In the film, Redford plays a con man named Johnny Hooker. The character’s name was a tribute to Mississippi Delta blues guitar legend John Lee Hooker. Hooker is best known for his songs Boogie Chillen and Crawling King Snake.

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His Daughter’s Scandal Riddled Boyfriend

While Redford was filming The Natural, his daughter Shauna received terrible news: her boyfriend Sid Wells was shot in the head. Forensic evidence pointed to Wells’ roommate Thayne Smika, but a grand jury did not think so. Over thirty years later, Smika is still in hiding with his whereabouts unknown. Police opened a cold case investigation in 2010, but still, Smika is missing. Redford left the production for a day to attend the funeral with Shauna.

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Buying The Rights To Watergate

The Watergate scandal had entirely consumed Redford’s personal life. He could not be pulled away from the television for a minute to take a break unless it was for work. After bugging Woodward and Bernstein enough, the relented and sold him the rights to make their book into a film. Redford paid $450,000 for the rights, which is the equivalent of $2.4 million today. He would make more than his money back as the film made $70 million at the box office.

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I’m A Star – Let’s Go Fishing

Like any other actor, Robert Redford started at the bottom and worked his way through Hollywood into stardom. His first professional acting role was on a TV game show. For his work, Redford was paid $75. Instead of taking the cash, Redford chose an alternative method of payment. He accepted a fishing rod as compensation. If he were to accept a fishing rod as payment for his career ($170 million net worth), he would have over two million fishing rods.

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Am I Butch or Sundance?

Once it became apparent that Redford would star alongside Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, , they came across some confusion. Newman believed that he was playing Sundance. At the time, the film was called The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy, and he expected top billing. He was fine with playing Butch, but now they were in a predicament where the less famous actor was listed first. The solution was simple: just switch the title to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

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A Strict Autograph Policy

Interested in having Robert Redford sign something for you? You better ask at the appropriate time. If you see him at a public event, he will be more than willing to sign something for his fans. However, do not even think about approaching him when he is with his family. Redford appreciates when his fans leave him alone in public so he can continue with his day. He won’t be rude, but he won’t sign your shirt.

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Founding Sundance Film Festival

In 1978, the Utah/US Film Festival opened to attract visitors to Utah. Redford acted as the chairman of the festival, focusing on independent film and those filmmakers working outside the Hollywood construct. Redford at the helm helped bring prestige and recognition to the festival. In 1991, the festival changed its name to reflect Redford’s most famous character, the Sundance Kid and was called the Sundance Film Festival. He has served as chairman of the festival each year since its inaugural event.

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Dealing With Tragedies

Robert Redford is no stranger to family tragedies. His mother died when he was just a teen after not seeking medical treatment after having stillborn twins. With his father emotionally distant, Robert became close with his uncle David. David was killed in World War II, and it devastated Redford. Even his adopted mutt was run over by a car. He said, “I always had this thing… That death was on my shoulder, 24/7. My dog. My mom. My uncle. A darkness right on top of me.”

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Tears In Heaven

As difficult as it was for Redford to deal with the death of his mother and uncle, nothing prepared him for the heartbreak of losing a son. He had been married to Lola Van Wagenen for a year when she gave birth to Scott Anthony Redford. Scott would barely make it two and a half months before dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Redford blames himself for not checking on the baby before he died. “That creates a scar that never completely heals.”

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Another Family Health Scare

Only three years after Scott died, the Redfords were back in a familiar yet horrifying situation. When his son Jamie was born, he came prematurely with Hyaline Membrane Disease. The disease causes structural immaturity in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Jamie was given a 40% chance to live and Redford “feared he would lose another son.” Lola was also affected by the difficult pregnancy. In the end, both mother and child would survive.

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