If you’re the most sun-dappled guy on the planet, it’s sometimes hard to be taken seriously. “He has turned almost alarmingly blond,” film critic Pauline Kael wrote of Robert Redford. “He’s gone past platinum, he must be plutonium; his hair is coordinated with his teeth.” In films such as Downhill Racer, The Great Gatsby and The Natural, his blazing beauty regularly eclipsed his leading ladies; who even remembers that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid involved a love story between a male and a female? (“Bob and Paul really do have a chemistry,” Paul Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, once said. “Someday they’ll run off together and I’ll be left behind.”)
He’s the sex symbol who never had to try too hard, who turned passivity into a sexual style. Redford gives off light, not heat; he is a cool, distant object of desire, and his greatest parts (All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, The Candidate) were men of intellect, not passion. Perhaps it’s not surprising that in recent years he’s been happier behind the camera than in front of it.
Redford may eventually leave his most lasting marks as a champion of independent filmmaking (with the Sundance Festival) and as an environmentalist: He recently donated 850 acres of land in his beloved Utah to an environmental organization to protect it from development.
In His Own Words: “If you stay in Beverly Hills too long, you become a Mercedes.”