Things You May Not Know About Birthday Boy Robert Redford

Robert Redford

Getty Images / Dominique Charriau / Contributor / Wireimage

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Robert Redford
Getty Images / Dominique Charriau / Contributor / Wireimage

Happy Birthday, Bob!

Robert Redford, the Hollywood legend, political activist, environmentalist, and the force behind the Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival, is turning 86. His acting career now spans eight decades including Broadway, TV, and film. He’s not only been recognized with two Oscars (one honorary); he’s been a Kennedy Center honoree and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That’s an impressive resume. Here are some more nuggets from Redford’s life that even his biggest fans might not know.

Related: The Highest-Grossing Movie the Year You Were Born

Robert Redford
Getty Images / Archive Photos / Stringer / Moviepix

The Basics

Redford was born Charles Robert Redford Jr. on Aug. 18, 1936, in Santa Monica, California, to Charles and Martha Redford. His father was an accountant and his mother died when he was 18. He goes by Robert but prefers to be called Bob. He’s been married twice — to Lola Van Wagenen (1958-1985; four children) and Sibylle Szaggars (2009-present).

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Polio vaccine vial holding in doctors hand

Childhood Illness

Redford had polio as a child. “It was a case of mild polio, but it was severe enough to put me in bed for two weeks,” he told Terry Gross in a “Fresh Air” interview in 2013. “It was alarming, but it wasn’t serious enough to go much further.” Following treatment for the disease, he traveled to Yosemite with his mother, sparking his lifelong love of the outdoors, he told People magazine. He later worked at the park for two summers.


Related: 33 Historic National Park Photos for Vintage Views

American Academy of Dramatic Arts
American Academy of Dramatic Arts by DanHanDan (CC BY-SA)

College Dropout

After graduating from Van Nuys High School in 1954, Redford attended the University of Colorado in Boulder on a baseball scholarship. But that didn’t last long. “I became the campus drunk and blew out before I could ever get going,” he told People magazine in 1998. After leaving school, he spent time in Europe. Upon his return, he met his first wife and moved to New York City where he studied at the Pratt Institute and later the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Related: Famous People Who Were Kicked Out of School

Barefoot in the Park
Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection / Contributor / Moviepix

Big Break

Early acting jobs eventually led to his first Broadway role in “Tall Story” in 1959. At the age of 27, Redford was picked for a lead part in Neil Simon’s play “Barefoot in the Park,” directed by Mike Nichols. “I’d never really done comedy before,” Redford told Entertainment Weekly. “And Nichols had never directed theater, so we both shared a bit of insecurity.” 

The twilight zone

Small Screen

From 1960 to 1964, Redford did a lot of TV work, appearing in episodes of series like “The Untouchables,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Route 66,” “Naked City,” and “Perry Mason.”

Related: 17 Beloved Classic TV Shows You Can Still Watch

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The Roots of Sundance

Many of Redford’s first screen credits were in early 1960s TV Westerns like “Maverick,” “Tate,” “The Deputy,” “Whispering Smith,” and “The Virginian.” They were perfect warmups for his breakout role as the Sundance Kid.

War Hunt DVD

First Feature Film

War Hunt” (1962) — with John Saxon, Sydney Pollack, Gavin MacLeod, Tom Skerritt, and Francis Ford Coppola (uncredited) in the cast — was Redford’s first credited feature film role. Variety said the film was a critical success but has since been forgotten.

Barefoot in the Park DVD

Rising Star

With a growing body of work on his resume, Redford’s star power increased when he reprised his “Barefoot in the Park” role in the 1967 movie with Jane Fonda. He cemented his stardom in 1969’s iconic buddy Western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Fun fact: Director George Roy Hill wanted him to play Butch, but Redford said he related more to Sundance. Hill agreed, the title was changed — to keep the focus on Redford’s more bankable co-star Paul Newman — and the rest was history. No surprise, it’s his favorite movie.

People watching movie in dark cinema

The Roots of (the Other) Sundance

After his success in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Redford cofounded Education Youth and Recreation to promote independent films and documentaries on college campuses. The group didn’t get very far, but Redford told “Fresh Air” it was likely “the genesis” of the Sundance Institute.

The Sting DVD

Hits and Misses

The entertainment database IMDb lists 83 acting credits for Redford, 10 directing credits, and 56 producer credits. He’s known for a string of hits including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Jeremiah Johnson,” “The Candidate,” “The Sting,” “The Way We Were,” Three Days of the Condor,” “All the President’s Men,” “The Natural,” and “Out of Africa.” But, like any big time actor, he’s had his share of films that stumbled. “War Hunt” makes this list as does “Situation Hopeless … But Not Serious,” “Little Fauss and Big Halsy,” “The Last Castle,” and “Havana.”

Related: The Best (and Worst) Movie Remakes of All Time

Out of Africa DVD

The Pollack Connection

Redford and Sydney Pollack became friends on the set of “War Hunt” and Redford would later star in seven Pollack films — “This Property is Condemned,” (1966), “Jeremiah Johnson” (1972), “The Way We Were” (1973), “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), “The Electric Horseman” (1979), “Out of Africa” (1985), and “Havana” (1990).

Great Gatsby DVD

Quite the Ladies’ Man

Redford’s boyish charm and rugged good looks landed him leading man roles in films opposite some of the most popular actresses of the past 60 years including Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Barbra Steisand, Katharine Ross, Glenn Close, Faye Dunaway, Mia Farrow, Meryl Streep, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Demi Moore.

The Chase DVD

Jane Fonda’s Crush

Redford and Jane Fonda have co-starred in four films — “Barefoot in the Park,” with Redford reprising his role from the Broadway play, “The Chase” (1966), “The Electric Horseman” (1979), and “Our Souls at Night” (2017). “I realize that I’ve grown up, because in the three previous movies, I was always in love with him,” Fonda told Ellen DeGeneres in 2017 after the fourth film wrapped. “I fell in love every time.”

Ordinary People DVD

Moving Behind the Camera

Redford’s directorial debut in “Ordinary People” won him a best-director Oscar. To date, he’s directed nine more films including “Quiz Show,” “The Horse Whisperer,” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”

Academy Awards

Big Awards

While Redford has appeared in many highly regarded films, he’s seldom been honored himself by Academy Award voters. He has two statuettes — one for best director for “Ordinary People” and a second honorary award for his body of work, including creating Sundance and “being an inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere.” He was also nominated for best actor for “The Sting,” and best director and best picture (as producer) for “Quiz Show.”

Related: 29 Small-Budget Films That Went on to Win Oscars

A River Runs Through It DVD

​​That Voice

A fan of documentary films, Redford has narrated more than 20 of them including “Planet Earth: One Amazing Day” and “National Parks Adventure,” and at least a few feature films including “A River Runs Through It,” which he also directed and produced.

All Is Lost DVD

Not Much to Say

Redford worked from a 30-page script — with almost no dialogue other than a voiceover — for 2013’s “All is Lost,” where he’s the only character alone on the screen, engaged in a life-or-death struggle on a damaged yacht in the Indian Ocean. The New York Times called it “the performance of his life.”

The Old Man And The Gun [Blu-ray]

Never Say Never

Redford said 2018’s “The Old Man & the Gun” was to be his last film role, but by the time the film premiered, he had changed his tune. “I think it was a mistake to say that I was retiring because you never know,” he told People magazine. He’s since played Alexander Pierce — the character he originated in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — in the megahit “Avengers: Endgame” and he also did the voice of Lokia the Dolphin Monster in the 2020 film “Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia.” His grandson, Dylan Redford, was one of the film’s directors and a co-producer. What’s next?

Sundance Mountain Resort

Land Baron

On a motorcycle trip home to California from college in Colorado, Redford took a wrong turn in Utah and came through Provo Canyon where he saw Mount Timpanogos. Taking a side road to get a better look brought him to the area where he would eventually create the Sundance Mountain Resort. He later purchased 2 acres of land there and built a house with his first wife, who was born in Provo, Utah. As his career progressed, he continued to buy land and in 1969 bought 5,000 acres that included the Timp Haven ski area, changing the name to Sundance. Despite selling the 2,600-acre Sundance Mountain Resort in 2020, he still owns about 1,800 acres in the area.

Sundance theater

Growing Influence

On the heels of his best-director Oscar, Redford established the nonprofit Sundance Institute in 1980 to help aspiring filmmakers, with workshops starting the following year. In 1985, the institute took over the U.S. Film Festival — later to become the Sundance Film Festival — providing a showcase for independent and documentary films. The Sundance Catalog was launched in 1989, featuring items available in the Sundance General Store. The Sundance Channel (now Sundance TV) launched in 1996 with a focus on documentaries and independent feature films.

Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution

Environmental Films

In 2005, Redford and his son James founded the Redford Center to support environmental storytellers. The younger Redford’s 2017 documentary “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” was one of the center’s projects. In 2020, the San Francisco-based nonprofit said it would award grants to help fund 22 feature-length films “committed to telling stories of environmental justice and solutions,” said The Hollywood Reporter. The commitment “represents a tripling of the number of films funded in its previous cycle.”

Crooked Beak of Heaven Mask, Kwakwakaʼwakw, 19th century
Crooked Beak of Heaven Mask, Kwakwakaʼwakw, 19th century by PierreSelim (CC BY-SA)

An Eye For Artifacts

Along with land, Redford has acquired a large collection of Native American art and artifacts, according to Architectural Digest. “Their art is a constant reminder to me that everything is sacred and nothing is sacred,” he told the publication. “I try to live that way. You have to risk breaking things.”

George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin by Henry Söderlund (CC BY)

Up Next

Redford and “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin are among the producers of this summer's AMC series “Dark Winds,” a “Western noir thriller” based on Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn & Chee book series, reported. Redford earlier produced the film “The Dark Wind,” featuring Lou Diamond Phillips and Fred Ward, and “Skinwalkers,” written by Redford’s son James.