Redford, (Charles) Robert, Jr.

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REDFORD, (Charles) Robert, Jr.

(b. 18 August 1937 in Santa Monica, California), one of America's favorite actors, directors, and producers, who by the end of the 1960s had become one of the world's top movie stars.

Redford is the elder of two sons of Charles Redford and Martha Hart, a homemaker. Charles, who delivered milk, worked long hours during Redford's early years. Because the family went to the library every week, Redford developed a tremendous respect for storytelling. He describes himself as "a funny-looking, freckle-faced kid with too many cowlicks." Following World War II, Redford's father found employment as an accountant with the Standard Oil Company and moved the family to Van Nuys, California, where Redford attended Van Nuys High School and graduated in 1955. Redford called Van Nuys "a cultural mud sea." He climbed buildings and stole hubcaps in the Hollywood area to escape the boredom. Redford excelled in athletics and received a baseball scholarship from the University of Colorado at Boulder. While in college Redford developed a drinking problem and started skipping classes and baseball practice. He was kicked off the baseball team and lost his scholarship.

Redford traveled throughout Europe to study painting with the money he earned working in oil fields for Standard Oil in the 1950s. Disillusioned, he moved to the East Coast but then hitchhiked back to Los Angeles, where he began drinking again. In 1958 Redford married Lola Van Wagenen; their family grew to include three children. Lola encouraged Redford to resume his art studies. In September 1958 they moved to New York City, and Redford began studying painting at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He began his study of theatrical set design and acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Up to that point Redford had never been to a play and believed that acting was ludicrous.

In 1959 Mike Thoma, stage manager for the Broadway comedy Tall Story, started to notice Redford's work. Thoma was responsible for recruiting replacement actors and invited Redford to audition for a small part. Redford was hired for a role in The Highest Tree and discovered that he enjoyed acting; he moved back to Los Angeles to try out for acting jobs in television. In 1960 Redford played a dozen roles within six months. His most notable one was on television in the Playhouse 90 series, as a Nazi lieutenant in In the Presence of Mine Enemies. In late 1960 Redford returned to New York to participate in the production of The Iceman Cometh. Redford also was cast in the production of Little Moon of Alban, which had only twenty performances.

Sunday in New York, a Broadway production, gave Redford his first leading role and in 1961 earned him the Theatre World Award. The production ran until May 1962, but during breaks Redford appeared in the television shows Route 66, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Naked City. Redford made his motion picture debut in 1962 in the film War Hunt, an antiwar drama in which he played opposite John Saxon. Despite its low budget, the film won critical acclaim. In 1962 Mike Nichols, who was the director for a production of Neil Simon's new play Barefoot in the Park, noticed Redford and demanded that he play the lead role. Redford played opposite Elizabeth Ashley in the comedy about a young married couple. The production opened in New York City in October 1963 and was an overnight success.

Redford became bored with the monotony of plays, with having to do the same performance several times a week, and withdrew from the cast in 1964, never returning to the stage. Instead, he decided to focus on making motion pictures. In 1962 he was nominated for a best supporting actor Emmy award for his performance in The Voice of Charlie Pont, which aired on Alcoa Premiere, an American Broadcasting Company production.

Redford was not successful in his first four motion pictures, but he doggedly perfected his craft and pursued his goals. In 1965 he appeared in Situation Hopeless—but Not Serious. In 1966 Redford received a Golden Globe award for new male star of the year for his performance in Inside Daisy Clover (1965), a film in which he starred opposite Natalie Wood. In 1966 Redford performed in two other films, The Chase and This Property Is Condemned. Both films received poor reviews, and the public did not seem interested in them, so Redford decided to take his family to Spain and Crete while he waited for the right role. It came in 1967 with the motion picture version of Barefoot in the Park, in which he starred opposite Jane Fonda. The film was a great success, and the critics raved about his performance. In 1968 Paramount cast him in Blue, but Redford did not approve of the final script and walked out, resulting in a lawsuit and unemployment for a year.

In 1969 Redford was cast in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The head of Twentieth Century–Fox initially rejected Redford but offered him the role after arrangements with three other actors did not succeed. The film, now a classic, is based on the real-life adventures of the Wild West's last two famous bandits, who in 1904 fled the United States for Bolivia and its less secure banks. The film, in which Redford plays opposite Paul Newman, resembles Bonnie and Clyde (1967), except that in this movie the robbers are humorous and likable. Redford became a household name following the release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is one of the most successful westerns of all time. The film won four Academy Awards and made Redford a sought-after actor in Hollywood.

Redford starred in and co-produced Downhill Racer in 1969. The film portrays the world of amateur competitive skiing, starring Redford as an ambitious young man from a small town in Colorado who aspires to be an Olympic champion. Critics praised the film, but the public's approval was not nearly as strong as it had been for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Redford's next film, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, was rushed to theaters in December 1969 and earned Redford the British Film Academy's 1970 award for best actor. The public response was about the same as it had been for Downhill Racer. This film, written and directed by Abraham Polansky, is a contemporary western focusing on a manhunt for a Piute Indian thought to be guilty of a crime. Some reviewers saw the film as a masterpiece, while others found it pretentious. The critics were unanimous, however, in their praise for Redford in his role as sheriff. He made Jeremiah Johnson, still his favorite film, in 1972. His success continued with The Way We Were (1973), The Sting (1973), The Great Gatsby (1974), All the President's Men (1976), and many other films in succeeding decades.

In 1981 Redford founded the Sundance Institute, located in Utah, to provide funding for young artists to experiment with cinema. It has grown to include a yearly film festival in Park City, Utah; the success of the Sundance Film Festival has resulted from Redford's unfailing commitment to the independent filmmaker. Redford's passion for his career over family life led to his divorce from Lola in 1985, after nearly thirty years of marriage. He won the Academy Award for best director for the film that marked his directorial debut, Ordinary People (1980). In 1994 Redford won the Cecil B. Demille Award, best picture, for the film Quiz Show. In 1995 he was given the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

Besides his artistic achievements, Redford is also a dedicated environmentalist. He lobbied for the Clean Air Act of 1974 and the Energy and Conservation Act of 1976 and serves on the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. Redford's love of the environment led to his work as founder of the Institute for Resource Management. In 1976 he took time off from film-making to write The Outlaw Trail (1978), which tells about the American West and an old escape route that starts in Canada and ends in Mexico.

Nearly all of Redford's roles in the 1960s were of charming heroes or handsome icons who rarely display emotional extremes. Richard Schickel, in a February 1970 Life magazine article, described Redford as "a perennial adolescent who has a way of making even his contemporaries feel old and has long referred to himself, in his many self-satirical moments, as 'the Kid.'" Redford is one of only a few prominent actors who have complete creative control of their films. Throughout his four-decade-long career, he has starred in roles that depict his beliefs and best suit his screen persona. Robert Redford became a movie icon in the 1960s with successful and varied performances in such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Downhill Racer. He perpetuated the image of the rugged individualist in his roles as a gunslinger and later as a fiercely competitive Olympic skier. Redford's participation in filmmaking increased the popularity of moviegoing among the American public.

Biographies of Redford include Gerard Bardavid, Robert Redford (1980); David Downing, Robert Redford (1982); Bruce Crowther, Robert Redford (1985); Philippe Durant, Robert Redford (1985); and Minty Clinch, Robert Redford (1989). For an account of the making and content of his films, see James Spada, The Films of Robert Redford (1977).

Reed B. Markham