"As a director, I wouldn't like me as an actor," Robert Redford has famously said. "As an actor, I wouldn't like me as a director." His own opinion aside, he has won industry acclaim for both jobs and perhaps single-handedly revived independent film-making in the US with his Sundance Institute.
Santa Monica, California
Charles Robert Redford Jr was born on August 18, 1937, in Santa Monica, California, to Charles and Martha Redford. The family was far from wealthy, despite their posh address, and Charles Sr looked to his son to turn the tide putting the future actor under pressure he didn't welcome. "I didn't like being told I had to change the direction of the family," he says of his youthful rebellion. "I didn't like being told the only way to get out was to go to law school, and be a certain sort of person. I didn't like being pushed."
Robert's mother died just before he graduated from high school and the Natural heart-throb shipped off to the University of Colorado. However, the aspiring athlete lost his baseball scholarship reportedly due to his penchant for alcohol benders and later enrolled at New York's Pratt Institute of Art before jetting off to Europe to test his skills as an artist. On returning to New York, he enrolled and studied acting at the Academy Of Dramatic Arts, before breaking out in the original Broadway run of Neil Simon's Barefoot In The Park. He reprised the stage role in the famed 1967 film version opposite Jane Fonda and with the success of the 1969 blockbuster Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, he established himself as a major star in the true old sense of the word.
As an actor, Robert starred in some of the biggest movies of the Seventies, including The Way We Were, All The President's Men and The Sting. In 1981 he picked up an Oscar for his directorial debut Ordinary People. Celebrated film roles and directorial stints would follow, yet Robert would strive to maintain a comfortable distance from the general public throughout his career.
Robert wed Lola Van Wagenen on September 12, 1958. They had four children together, one of whom died tragically from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). They raised the kids in New York, though the actor continued to work in Hollywood and push his own social and political agenda. The couple were to divorce in 1985.
In 1980 he established the Sundance Institute which has proved to be much more than an annual film festival. The year-round workshop nurtures young talent far from the glow of Tinsel town, and is a labour of love for Robert. "It would be nice, just for my ego, for people to know how hard I work on it," says Redford, who consistently receives heaps of praise from visiting artists but doesn't court publicity.
A staunch environmentalist, the ageing heart-throb turned his energy and star power towards preserving southern Utah's landscape from would-be miners. So outspoken was he that he received death threats, but carried on with the appeal nonetheless, celebrating victory in 1996 when then US President, Bill Clinton, created a 1.7 million acre national monument to protect the area.
If Redford's popular image has been that of a hellraising womaniser, it is one his close friends temper. "He's a long way from being a saint," says director Sydney Pollock of Redford, with whom he worked on numerous films including the Oscar-winning Out Of Africa. "But if you're talking about 'substance' versus the impression he gives, it's a case of total misunderstanding by the world for years. He's a minimalist. Everyone projects what they want onto him. Whenever he holds back, they fill in the gaps."