Born on August 18, 1936, in Santa Monica, California, Robert Redford has proved to be one of the great talents in American film, starring in classics such as The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In 1978, Redford helped start the Sundance Film Festival, which has grown into one of the film industry's most prestigious events. He has also moved successfully into producing and directing.
Born Charles Robert Redford Jr. on August 18, 1936, in Santa Monica, California, actor and director Robert Redford has proved to be one of the great talents in American film. He is equally at home behind the scenes as he is in front of the cameras. In addition to his own career, Redford has helped advance others in his field through the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival.
The son of an oil company accountant, Redford excelled at sports. He played on the tennis and football teams at Van Nuys High School. On a personal level, however, Redford floundered as a teenager. After his mother died, he ran into some difficulties. "I was a failure at everything I tried. I worked as a box boy at a supermarket and got fired. Then my dad got me a job at Standard Oil—fired again," he later explained to Success magazine. Redford also had a few run-ins with the law for stealing hubcaps and sneaking into other people's yards to use their pools. In 1954, he graduated from Van Nuys High School.
Despite his misbehavior, Redford won a baseball scholarship to the University of Colorado, but he did not distinguish himself as an athlete there. Instead, "I became the campus drunk and blew out before I could ever get going," he told People magazine. Some reports say he dropped out, while others say that Redford was expelled from the university. In either case, he soon decided to move to Europe and become an artist.
His time in Europe was an eye-opening experience for the young Redford. During his time there, he lived the life of a Bohemian and learned about art, politics, and culture. Redford's interactions with students in Paris proved to be very significant. "We all lived in a kind of communal way and I was challenged politically. I didn't have a clue ... When I returned to America a year and a half later, I was much more focused on my country culturally and politically," he told the New Statesman.
After returning to the United States, Redford met Lola Van Wagenan. The couple married in 1958 and lived in New York City, and welcomed their first child soon after. Redford studied first at the Pratt Institute and then the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, switching from design to acting. Then in 1959, he and his wife experienced a terrible loss when the couple's five-month-old son Scott died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Redford poured himself into his acting, and started out his career in the theater. He first appeared on Broadway in the 1959 comedy Tall Story. He had only a small role in the production, but he landed a more substantial part in the 1960 drama Little Moon of Alban withJulie Harris. Perhaps his biggest breakthrough came in 1963 with a leading role in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park directed by Mike Nichols. Redford played Paul, a newlywed lawyer, in the romantic comedy.