Happy Birthday Robert Redford: Celebrating the Hollywood Icon with His Most Iconic Films

by Jennifer Shea
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Robert Redford turns 85 today. And the Hollywood icon has spent over six decades making movies. Many of them became cultural classics.

The actor and director is also a noted environmentalist (as was his late son, Jamie Redford) who began advocating for environmental protections long before it became fashionable. He got involved in 1970 with the Environmental Protection Act. And he has seen the cause wax and wane over the years.

“Now it’s coming back because the consequences are clear, the evidence has landed in people’s back yards,” Redford told Time in 2015 of the need to protect the environment. “Before people would say it is the Doomsday prophecy, you are trying to scare us. But we are beyond that now, because it’s clear.”

Redford also founded the Sundance Film Festival in 1985. It went on to become a cutting-edge destination for emerging filmmakers. The festival takes place at Redford’s old Utah resort, which he has since sold on the condition that the buyers follow his sustainability guidelines.

On Redford’s birthday, here are just a few of the iconic films to his credit.

Robert Redford Receives Oscar Nomination for ‘The Sting’

In “The Sting,” released in 1973, Redford played the grifter Johnny Hooker. Hooker teams up with professional con man Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to get back at a crime boss who murdered their friend Luther. The title reportedly derives from the term for the moment when a con man separates a mark from his money, per IMDb.

Led by Gondorff, Hooker becomes the point man in an elaborate scheme populated by dozens of eccentric, likable con artists who are determined to take down the murderer, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). The scheme centers on a fake horse betting operation, with the parlor set up by Gondorff and staffed by his con artist friends. They’re aiming to take Lonnegan for $500,000. But to do it, they’ll need to successfully weave an intricate web.

Redford received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Hooker, who is by turns wide-eyed and impish, in the film.

Watch Redford and Paul Newman building their con here:

Redford Stars in the Classic ‘All the President’s Men’

It was no mean feat to take the events of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book, “All the President’s Men,” and make them into a dramatic work. The events surrounding Nixon’s resignation needed no embellishment. Robert Redford worked to develop the movie over three and a half years. At Warner Bros.’ insistence, he also starred in it. Redford explained in later interviews that Woodward and Bernstein blew him off at first, but he took it, because he knew the story was something special.

In a 2013 interview with AARP Magazine, Redford said it’s a shame how journalism has changed since then. But so, too, has Congress, he noted. And he pointed to his TV documentary, “All the President’s Men Revisited,” about the era in which the original 1976 movie was made.

“A key point in the documentary is the Senate hearings,” Redford said. “There’s a moral tone to those hearings. Both sides of the aisle, the Republicans and the Democrats, were trying to get to the truth. That would never happen today. First, there’d be no hearings. Secondly, they’d be fighting.”

Watch Redford as Woodward in the famous parking garage scene here:

Redford Wins Best Director Oscar for ‘Ordinary People’

1980’s “Ordinary People” was Redford’s directorial debut, and he went on to win an Oscar for it. The movie stars Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton. It follows a well-off family grappling with the death of an elder son, and the mental health struggles of the surviving younger son that result from that event.  

“The very real achievement of Robert Redford… is that the Jarretts become important people without losing their ordinariness, without being patronized or satirized,” the New York Times wrote upon the film’s release. The movie, it said, “is a moving, intelligent and funny film about disasters that are commonplace to everyone except the people who experience them.”

Redford later said he was searching for material that was about behavior and feelings, and “Ordinary People” fit the bill. The movie was adapted from the novel by Judith Guest.

“I really am grateful for the trust that I received from a terrific cast,” Redford said in his Best Director acceptance speech. “I love them, and I appreciate their love, too.”

Watch Redford win Best Director at the 1981 Oscars here:

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