The Sundance Kid
August 18, 2020
1973 was a pivotal year for this actor, his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (BC&TSK) catapulting him to the stratosphere of Hollywood stardom. Robert Redford, who turned 37 that year, didn’t look a day over 30 and for women – young and old alike – he became a sex symbol. Happy 84th birthday to, perhaps, the most successful actor of the late 20th century, who was born on August 18, 1936.
Prior to his breakout role in BC&TSK, Redford found his first acting roles on Broadway which then led to television. These roles eventually brought him to the big screen with his first significant role as the male lead in the 1967 movie Barefoot in the Park opposite Jane Fonda.
But Redford was not content to be typecast due to his looks, passing up lead roles in both The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In BC&TSK, however, he found a role which resonated with him and a co-star in Paul Newman which proved to be box office gold.
Over the next several years, Redford had hit after hit. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Starting in 1973, Redford experienced an almost unparalleled four-year run of box office success. The western Jeremiah Johnson’s (1972) box office earnings from early 1973 until it’s second re-release in 1975 would have placed it as the No. 2 highest-grossing film of 1973. The romantic period drama with Barbara Streisand, The Way We Were (1973), was the 11th highest-grossing film of 1973. The crime caper reunion with Paul Newman, The Sting (1973), became the top-grossing film of 1974 and one of the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time when adjusted for inflation, plus landed Redford the lone nomination of his career for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The romantic drama The Great Gatsby (1974) was the No. 8 highest-grossing film of 1974. As well, 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid placed as the No. 10 highest-grossing film for 1974 as it was re-released due to the popularity of The Sting. In 1974 Redford became the first performer since Bing Crosby in 1946 to have three films in a year’s top ten grossing titles. Each year between 1974 and 1976, movie exhibitors voted Redford Hollywood’s top box-office star. In 1975, Redford’s hit movies included 1920s aviation drama, The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), and the spy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975), alongside Faye Dunaway, which finished at Nos. 16 and 17 in box office grosses for 1975, respectively. In 1976 he co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in the No. 2 highest-grossing film for the year, the critically acclaimed All the President’s Men. In 1975, 1977 and 1978, Redford won the Golden Globe for Favourite World Film Star, a popularity-based award that is no longer awarded.”
Of course not all his films were box office winners and, like so many celebrities, age puts certain roles and images out of reach. But Redford was, perhaps, the most committed actor of his generation, turning to directing and producing when acting had all but played out. His most significant achievement post Hollywood heartthrob was in the creation of the Independent movie festival, Sundance.
Held annually near Provo, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival has become the place to launch independent films. In 2008, for example, 125 such films premiered at the festival.
Although Redford officially retired from acting in 2018, there is little doubt that his legacy will be felt for years to come.
It’s so very difficult to pick a favorite Redford role and film. As a romance writer, for me there is perhaps no sadder film than The Way We Were… the 1973 hit with Barbra Streisand. It’s a film which very much influenced me creatively. The storyline was compelling to 16 year old me, rooting for the pair to live happily ever after. That is not how that story ends, however, and somehow I felt sorry for both of the main characters. Redford is outstanding in the role and one believes he is the golden boy Hubbell who wants and needs the perfect life and wife, frustrated by Katie’s strident politicization of everything around her. That said, from a teenagers perspective, he was so very likable, while Streisand was not.
But he was also terrific in All The President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, and The Electric Horseman.
In the past few years I’ve connected with one of my Dad’s former students, Lisa, on Facebook. The same age as me, she is not at all shy about her lifetime love of Robert Redford. I would bet you a dozen doughnuts by the time you read this, she will have posted birthday greetings to her high school (and beyond!) crush. And I will, as I have the past several years, give her a bad time about it. I mean, Redford is at least 20 years older than either of us… but that doesn’t matter to her. She loves all things Robert Redford.
As for me, I picture Robert Redford in my head during the final scene from The Way We Were. Moments earlier he – along with his new paramour – have a chance meeting with Streisand. He returns to where she is passing out Ban The Bomb fliers. From the look on her face, you know she still has a thing for him and why wouldn’t she? He’s devastatingly handsome… a shock of wavy blonde hair down across his forehead, suggestive blue eyes that seem to know it would never work, upturned coat collar, and his square jaw and ever so sardonic slight curve of the mouth. That’s the Robert Redford who captured the hearts of millions of women around the world. And if we had the chance to do it all again, would we? Could we? In a heartthrob’s beat, yes.
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