Nicknamed “the Godfather of Indie Film” and the founder of the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford is regarded as one of the most famous actors and filmmakers of his generation. Beginning his professional acting career in the 1950s, he quickly became one of the most sought-after actors in the business, especially after his performance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. On top of his success in Hollywood, he is viewed as an all-around leader and forward thinker being named by Time as one of the “Most Influential People in the World” and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Take a look at some of the lesser-known facts about his life and what makes him so interesting.
His First Time Professionally In Front Of The Camera Was A Game Show
For many actors, the beginning of their career was a time when they would be paid very little if anything at all for a job. Their only goal was to be in front of the camera for exposure, so making money wasn’t always involved.
This was the case for Redford, whose first professional acting gig was an appearance on a game show. He was promised $75 for his work but never received it. Instead, he was compensated with an expensive fishing rod that he had no complaints taking.
Only One Nomination As An Actor
Although he is regarded as one of the most famous actors of his generation, Robert Redford hasn’t been shown much love at the Academy Awards. Despite appearing in two films that won Best Picture, Redford himself has only ever been nominated for one Academy Award as an actor for his performance in The Sting.
All of his other nominations were for directing and producing Quiz Show as well as directing Ordinary People. The only award won was for Best Director for Ordinary People. He also received an honorable award for producing Quiz Show.
He Purchased A Ski Resort
After the financial success of his films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Downhill Racer, Redford used some of his earnings to purchase a ski resort on the east side of Mount Timpanogos just northeast of Provo, Utah. Originally called, “Timp Haven,” Redford appropriately renamed the establishment “Sundance.”
Everything worked out, as Redford and his wife Lola had already built a home in the area in 1963. The resort also has a film history, with the movie Jeremiah Johnson, one of Redford’s favorites, being filmed in the area.
Too Attractive For A Role
Initially, in the late 1960s, Redford was strongly considered for the role of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, a film about a recent college graduate who becomes romantically involved with an older, married woman.
In the end, the role ended up going to Dustin Hoffman, who seemed to be a better fit for the character. Supposedly, Redford was passed up for the part because director Mike Nichols didn’t think it was realistic that a girl would turn down somebody who looked like Redford.
He Had Polio As A Child
Although polio isn’t as common as it was in the past, outbreaks were still a concern when Redford was growing up in the 1930s and 40s. Unfortunately, Redford contracted the disease when he was just 11 years old. Luckily it only turned out to be a mild case.
Yet, his personal encounter with the disease led him to write a short documentary about the Stalk Institute for Biological Studies in California. The organization was named after Jonas Salk, the man who developed the first vaccine against the disease.
He Wanted His Films To Be As Authentic As Possible
Jeremiah Johnson, a 1972 frontier western was originally planned to be filmed in a sound stage in Los Angeles. However, this didn’t sit well with Redford who was adamant that filming should take place in Utah.
Not only did Redford currently live in the state, but he felt that it would add a lot more authenticity to the film that would have been lost had it been shot in Los Angeles. Eventually, director Sydney Pollack began to agree with Redford and even offered to personally reimburse the production company for any difference in cost.
He Kickstarted Edward Burns Career
One man in the film industry that owes almost everything to Robert Redford is the actor and independent filmmaker Edward Burns. In the mid-1990s, Burns was trying to make it big in the entertainment industry and ended up spending almost all of his money, around $28,000, on his film The Brothers McMullen.
Once Burns had completed the film, by chance, he ran into Redford in the elevator of the Entertainment Tonight studio where he gave him a copy of the film. Redford enjoyed the movie so much that he screened it at the Sundance Film Festival. This led to Burns securing a distribution deal, earning $10 million at the box office.
He’s Accomplished What Few Have Before
Robert Redford is one of just two people to accomplish something incredible at the Academy Awards. He’s one of the few people to ever direct a film which won Best Picture which was for Ordinary People, as well as act in a film that won the same award, which was the case in his films Sting and Out of Africa.
The only other person to have achieved this in the history of the Academy Awards in Laurence Oliver. Oliver even co-starred with Redford in the film A Bridge Too Far.
Mia Farrow Never Felt On-Screen Chemistry With Redford
In 1974, Redford starred alongside Mia Farrow in a Hollywood adaptation of Scott F. Fitzgerald’s iconic novel, The Great Gatsby. However, during filming, Farrow frequently complained that she wasn’t able to develop any on-screen chemistry with Redford and was fearful that it was ruining the film.
She directly blames Redford for this, claiming that he was obsessive about the Watergate Scandal, which was occurring at the time rather than the film. Little did Redford know that he would later go on to star in a movie about the events surrounding the scandal.
He Lost His Scholarship At College
As a young adult, Robert Redford attended the University of Colorado Boulder beginning in 1954 and was there for a year and a half. He was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and worked at the restaurant/bar The Sink.
However, while at school, Redford began drinking heavily, resulting in him losing his half-scholarship and being kicked out of school. After leaving Boulder, he traveled to Europe where he lived in France, Spain, and Italy, continuing his education at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Redford Almost Found Himself Acting In The Godfather
Although The Godfather is regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made, it’s easy to forget that the filming process was anything from easy. One of the biggest issues surrounding its production was actually the casting process.
Director Francis Ford Coppola had to fight tooth and nail in order to get Al Pacino to play the legendary character of Michael Corleone. Before securing Pacino for the role, producer Robert Evans was set on approaching Redford, whom he argued could pass as a northern Italian. Obviously, Coppola didn’t see it.
One Of His Oscars Means A Lot
At the 53rd Academy Awards, Robert Redford’s film Ordinary People was nominated for six Academy Awards, taking home the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor. While the film did incredibly well, the fact that Redford won Best Director was particularly noteworthy.
The award made him one of five other directors to win Best Director for their first film. The others who achieved this are Sam Mendes, James L. Brooks, Jerome Robbins, Delbert Mann, and Kevin Costner.
He Really Prepared For His Role In All The President’s Men
Before filming All the President’s Men, both Redford and Dustin Hoffman memorized each other’s lines so they could interrupt each other when in character so their dialogue sounded as authentic as possible. Furthermore, the two actors also spent a lot of time at the Washington Post newsroom in the weeks leading up until shooting to get a feel of what the environment was really like.
They also attended meetings and shadowed journalists to see what they did on a daily basis. At one point, a school tour was occurring at the newsroom and the students were far more excited to see Robert Redford rather than the real Bob Woodward, the character he plays.
He Was Extremely Close With Paul Newman
It’s not surprising to learn that Robert Redford was exceptionally close with Paul Newman, his old friend, and frequent co-star, best known for their performances in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
They were also both known to play pranks on each other, sometimes even going what most people would consider too far. On one occasion, while filming The Sting, Newman stole Redford’s keys and hid his Porsche somewhere he couldn’t find it, leading him to assume that it had been stolen.
He Lost A Child To Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
After a year of marriage, Redford and his then-wife Lola Van Wagenen welcomed their son Scott into the world on September 1, 1959. Tragically, the infant died just five two and a half after being born due to sudden infant death syndrome.
Back in 2011, Redford opened up about his loss in AARP the Magazine stating, “We were very young. I had my first theater job, which didn’t pay much. We didn’t know anything about SIDS, so the only thing you think is that you’ve done something wrong. As a parent, you tend to blame yourself. That creates a scar that probably never completely heals.”
His Acting Career Has Come To An End
According to Redford, he is officially retired from acting with his last starring role being in the 2018 crime film The Old Man and the Gun. However, the next year, he made a cameo appearance as Alexander Pierce in Avengers: End Game, reprising the role he first played in Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Supposedly, he took these small roles because his grandchildren are huge fans of Marvel and thought it would be awesome if he could somehow get involved.
He’s Involved In Environmentalism And Political Activism
Redford is an avid supporter of environmentalism, Native American Rights, LGBT rights, and the arts. He’s been involved in advocacy groups such as the Political Action Committee of the Directors Guild of America and is a trustee of the National Resources Defense Council.
Redford has also made it very clear that he is opposed to the TransCanada Corporations Keystone Pipeline, and was regarded by its CEO, Russ Girling in 2013, as one of the leaders of the protest movement.
He Had A Substantial Television Career
Before becoming the Hollywood icon that he is, Redford performed at small theaters until he was spotted by a Broadway agent during a performance of The Sea Gull. This landed him a part in the play Barefoot in the Park, getting his name out in the open.
From there, he went on to have a rather successful career in television during the early-to-mid 1960s, appearing on shows such as The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Perry Manson, as well as numerous others. He even won an Emmy as Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Voice of Charlie Pont in 1962.
He Almost Wasn’t The Sundance Kid
Although playing the Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is arguably one of Redford’s most iconic roles, turning him into a full-fledged movie star, he almost didn’t get the part.
There were actually several well-known actors who were offered the part including Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, Robert Wagner, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Lemon, and Steve McQueen. Redford was at the end of the list, and lucky for him, every single one of the other actors turned down the role, presenting him the opportunity of a lifetime.
He Likes To Help Young Talent
Most likely inspired by Paul Newman, who helped Redford make a name for himself in the film industry, Redford likes to go out of his way to help the younger generations. One of the first examples of this was when he worked closely with the unknown-at-the-time Brad Pitt on his film A River Runs Through It, which launched Pitt’s career.
Redford also established his Sundance Institute, which is considered to be a stepping stone for future film talent. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Steven Soderbergh all got their start there.