Maybe you know him from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or maybe you're a bit younger and know him from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Regardless, Robert Redford has long been one of the most accomplished stars of Hollywood. Whether it was film, television, or theater, Redford’s acting has gained a large audience, but he's always been far more than just an actor.
He has produced and directed a number of classics, as well as kickstarting various independent filmmakers’ careers. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about Redford (or if you’re Redford himself and you want to enjoy a victory lap by reading about yourself), continue scrolling to find out more!
1. Three Notches on Your Belt
As of May 2019, Redford has acted in two films which won the Academy Award for Best Picture (The Sting and Out of Africa) and directed another one (Ordinary People).
2. Teach a Man to Fish…
Most actors have stories about the dodgy ways they were initially paid (or not paid at all) for their first gigs. In Redford’s case, his first professional acting job was an appearance on a game show. Incredibly, he was never given his $75 acting fee, and was instead compensated with an expensive fishing rod. This makes us wonder if this inspired him to direct A River Runs Through It years later!
3. Is That Ironic? Or Just a Coincidence?
When Redford was 13 years old, he won an award for athletics, and the prize was presented to him by none other than Richard Nixon. Nixon, of course, would go on to be the Vice President of the United States, and later its President. Redford went on to star in the film All the President’s Men, which followed the work of two journalists to expose the corruption of the Nixon Administration, resulting in Nixon’s resignation as President.
4. A Star is Born
Redford was born on August 18, 1936, in Santa Monica, California.
5. We’ll Go Far
During his studies at Van Nuys High School, Redford was classmates with a young man named Don Drysdale. Sports fans might recognize that name; he was a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers and later became a sports commentator.
6. Fair Play
Redford was known to do many of his own stunts on film sets, but if stuntmen were hired with the production, he insisted that they would continue to be paid, no matter how many of his own stunts he did.
7. Why Learn to be Right-Handed?
Speaking of stunt work, Redford did all of his own rodeo stunts on the film The Electric Horseman. Not only that, Redford is left-handed, but went through the trouble to portray his character as right-handed. He’s actually had to do this several times in his film career, a recent example being the film All is Lost.
8. For Film Hipsters
Redford is responsible for the Sundance Film Festival (named after one of his most famous characters). Founded in 1978 by Sterling Van Wagenen, the head of Redford's production company, the festival is aimed towards screening and promoting independent films, as well as the people behind said films. Today, Sundance is the biggest independent film festival in the US.
9. What Took So Long?
It’s safe to say that The Sting was one of the most lauded and successful films of Redford’s career. However, of all the people who saw it since it was first released in 1973, Redford himself allegedly didn’t see the film until 2004!
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10. Worthy of a Time Capsule
Three of the films featuring Redford as an actor were chosen by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry for the reason that they were “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” These films were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, and The Sting.
11. Wife and Kids
In 1958, Redford married his college sweetheart, Lola Van Wagenen. The couple had four children together but would eventually divorce in 1985.
12. Long Time No See
In the late 1990s, Redford cast a young actress named Scarlet Johansson in The Horse Whisperer. The two of them would reunite many years later to work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
13. Property Value
In 1960, a near-penniless Redford spent $500 of his savings on two acres of land in Utah. As time went on, this little plot of land grew to more than 5,000 acres in size. This became the location of Redford’s Sundance Institute.
14. Paying Dues
After making his reputation with theater work in the 1950s, Redford transitioned to television and film beginning in 1960. Among the various television programs in which Redford appeared were Maverick, The Untouchables, Perry Mason, Playhouse 90, and The Twilight Zone.
15. A Bit Overcrowded, Aren’t We?
One of Redford’s latest acting credits is All is Lost. The film follows a sailor stuck at sea trying to brave the odds for survival. Rare in American film history, All is Lost features just one actor and minimal dialogue, yet it still had 11 executive producers and six other producers!
16. Side by Side with a Friend
One of Redford’s best friends in the film industry was actor/director Sydney Pollack. After the two men both appeared in the 1962 film War Hunt, Redford would act in seven films that Pollack directed. For anyone curious, they were Out of Africa, Three Days of the Condor, Havana, This Property is Condemned, The Way We Were, The Electric Horseman, and Out of Africa.
17. Will and Rob
Speaking of recurring collaborations, Redford appeared in five films that boasted William Goldman as a screenwriter. These were A Bridge Too Far, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, The Hot Rock, and The Great Waldo Pepper.
18. Beep Beep!
If you thought that Tom Cruise purposefully does a lot of running in his movies, you ought to watch Redford in The Sting. His character does so much hasty traveling that Redford was allegedly worried that he wasn’t given much time to do any real acting. According to one of the producers, Redford was given a special gift at the end of the production: a sculpture of the Looney Tunes cartoon character known as the Road Runner!
We wish we could have seen Redford’s face when he got that present for his troubles!
19. Second Time Around
During the 1990s, Redford began a relationship with a woman named Sibylle Szaggars. After more than twenty years together, they were married in 2009, and remain so as of May 2019.
20. Golden Boy
Despite being one of the most famous actors of his generation, Redford was only ever nominated for one Academy Award in an acting category (this was for The Sting). All his other Academy Award nominations were for directing (Quiz Show, Ordinary People) producing (Quiz Show), or was an honorary award. In case you’re curious, the only awards that Redford actually won were for Ordinary People and his aforementioned honorary award.
21. A Nice Vacation Spot
Speaking of that plot of land in Utah, Redford also purchased a nearby ski resort called Timp Haven, which lay at the bottom of Mt. Timpanogos. Under Redford’s ownership, the ski resort was renamed Sundance and embraced environmentally friendly policies. It was the original location for the Sundance Film Festival, but when the festival became too big and unwieldy, it was relocated to Park City, Utah.
22. Now’s Not the Time to Experiment!
Out of Africa ended up being one of the most iconic films of Redford’s career. What might have undermined the love for that film, however, was Redford’s initial decision to play his character as an Englishman. Director Sydney Pollack was able to persuade that audiences would be too distracted by Redford struggling through the film with an attempt at an English accent, and so his character was made an American.
23. Making it Rain!
To give you an idea of how high Redford’s star was during his heyday, allow us to bring up his performance in the World War II film A Bridge Too Far. Redford allegedly made $2 million for what amounted to two weeks of work!
24. I Love Those Stinkin’ Badges!
Redford’s own favorite film (excluding anything he’s ever worked on) is John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
25. Hey, That’s Grandpa!
Redford had a couple of reasons for co-starring in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Firstly, he rarely plays villains, and was interested in playing against type. Another reason for acting in the film was that Redford’s grandchildren are allegedly Marvel fans, and so he wanted to appear in an MCU film for them.
26. Thanks, Robert!
As a director, Redford is responsible for movies which led to acting Oscar nominations for four different actors. These actors were Timothy Hutton (who won his Oscar), Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch (all in Ordinary People) and Paul Scofield (in Quiz Show).
27. This Won’t Work!
In the late 1960s, Redford was strongly considered for the lead role in The Graduate, that classic movie about a young man who begins an affair with an older, married woman. Of course, Redford didn’t get the role, losing it to Dustin Hoffman. You might wonder what kept Redford from securing the job, and the answer is that director Mike Nichols didn’t think it was realistic for someone who looked like Redford to have trouble getting the girl.
It’s a rare thing in Hollywood when you’re considered too handsome for a role!
28. Money Where Your Mouth Was
For most of his life, Redford has been a staunch environmentalist. Part of his activism on that subject includes being an active trustee of the Natural Resources Defence Council.
29. Thanks, Sydney!
One of the scenes in the spy thriller Three Days of the Condor involves Redford’s character capturing and threatening the character played by actress Faye Dunaway. One problem with the scene was that, according to Dunaway herself, she felt that “the idea of being kidnapped and ravished by Robert Redford was anything but frightening.” Director Sydney Pollack, himself a talented actor, eventually stepped in and provided a performance terrifying enough to garner a real reaction from Dunaway.
30. In My Humble Opinion
Like any great actor, Redford has been asked which of his performances he liked best. While he considers Jeremiah Johnson to be his favorite of his films, he considers his performance in The Sting to be the only one that he’s completely satisfied with.
31. The Blessing and Curse of Fame
One of Redford’s most well-known roles was that of legendary reporter Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men. In preparation for the film, Redford spent several weeks hanging out at the Washington Post headquarters, studying how journalists worked. One day, he was spotted by high school students who were being given a tour of the premises. While they took pictures of him, Redford tried to draw attention to the real Bob Woodward, who passed by the group.
Much to Redford’s surprise, the students didn’t care about one of the journalists who helped bring down Richard Nixon’s presidency and were far more interested in the actor playing Woodward in an upcoming movie.
32. No Place Like Home
The 1972 frontier western Jeremiah Johnson was initially meant to be filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles, but Redford furiously fought to have the production filmed in Utah. Not only was Utah Redford’s home, but the locations were accurate to the story and would add authenticity to the film. Director Sydney Pollack eventually joined Redford in the fight, vowing to personally reimburse the production company for any difference in cost.
In 2016, Redford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President Barack Obama.
Speaking of Redford’s environmentalism, he’s brought that ideology to his film sets. During the production of Three Days of the Condor, saplings and trees had to be stripped of their leaves to make it seem like winter. Redford was personally invested in overseeing the process to make sure that there was no permanent damage done to the plants.
35. A Cinderella Story
One person who owes Redford a large debt of gratitude is actor and indie filmmaker Edward Burns. During the mid-1990s, Burns was trying to break into the entertainment industry, so he spent $28,000 on a small film called The Brothers McMullen, about three Irish American brothers struggling with their love lives. After the film was completed, Burns managed to meet Redford in the elevator of the Entertainment Tonight studio and gave him a copy of the film. Redford liked it so much that he had it screened at the Sundance Film Festival that year.
The Brothers McMullen secured a distribution deal, which included more money for post-production work. It made $10 million upon box office release and secured Burns the career which he enjoys to this day.
36. Going Out on a High Note
According to Redford, he is officially retired from acting. His final starring role was the 2018 crime film The Old Man & the Gun. The following year, he made a cameo appearance in Avengers: Endgame, reprising his character from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
37. You Got Me!
It’s long been noted that Redford was close friends with his frequent co-star Paul Newman, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that they had a fun time ribbing each other on the set of The Sting. One of Newman’s best pranks on Redford involved the Porsches that both actors drove during that production. At one point, Newman managed to steal Redford’s car keys and hide the latter's Porsche, letting his friend believe that the car had been stolen.
38. The Elite of the Elite
Redford is one of just two people in the history of the Academy Awards to direct a film which won Best Picture (Ordinary People), while also acting in at least one other film to win the same honor (The Sting, Out of Africa). The only other person to do so in the history of the Academy Awards is Laurence Olivier. Interestingly, Redford co-starred with Olivier in the epic war movie A Bridge Too Far.
39. Another Drink Won’t Hurt, Right?
As a young man, Redford attended the University of Colorado Boulder on a scholarship. He also acted as the pitcher for the university’s baseball team during his time there. However, his studies were cut short due to alcoholism. His drinking habits got to the point where he lost his scholarship and had to leave the university.
40. He’s Too Busy Preparing to Extend his Career!
In the early 1970s, Redford starred in a Hollywood adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. However, his co-star, Mia Farrow, later complained that she hadn’t been able to develop any real chemistry with Redford, despite them playing a romantic couple in the film. Farrow blamed Redford for this, saying that at the time, he was obsessed with the events of the Watergate scandal, which was unfolding as the production progressed.
Given that Redford would later star in a highly acclaimed film about said scandal, we can safely say that he was right to pay attention to the news!
41. He is Missed
One of the great tragedies of Redford’s life involved his firstborn child. Born in 1959, Scott Redford was just over two and a half months old when he died of sudden infant death syndrome.
42. Why Not?
It’s hard to remember that before it was a smash hit and hailed as a classic, The Godfather was a nightmare production, including the casting process. Director Francis Ford Coppola had to fight very hard to get Al Pacino cast in his star-making role of Michael Corleone. Incredibly, one of the people who was strongly considered was Redford! Producer Robert Evans argued that Redford could be passed as a “northern Italian.” Yes, a northern Italian boy from a Sicilian family.
We’d have loved to be in the room when Coppola heard that justification.
43. Beginner’s Luck
Redford is one of only six people to win the Best Director Oscar for the first film he ever directed (Ordinary People). The other five people to hold this achievement are James L. Brooks, Sam Mendes, Jerome Robbins, Delbert Mann, and Kevin Costner.