Robert Redford’s latest movie, “The Company You Keep,” is a political action thriller which is getting rave reviews. I’ve recently concluded Redford may be Santa Monica’s most famous native son. On my somewhat eclectic list, Shirley Temple is number two and Charlie Sheen number three. (Feel free to e-mail your list.)
Born in Santa Monica in 1936, Redford apparently abhors our “out-of-control” development. In this month’s Esquire Magazine, Redford said because of the city’s congestion he’s “never here more than two or three days at a crack.” (Depending on how this column turns out, I’m not sure whether I hope Redford’s in or out of town today.)
As it happens I met Redford in 1975 while he was filming a scene from “All the President’s Men.” We actually chatted until the conversation ended in a bit of a disaster. But first I should explain how it was that I had recently moved to Santa Monica.
For years I’d been living in Idyllwild, a town of 2,000 in the mountains above Palm Springs. I worked for the U.S. Forest Service and wrote for the town paper. As fate would have it a Hollywood agent apparently loved my column, “I blew out the candles and got a hernia.” (I was 29 and felt old. Imagine how I feel now.)
The column was about a Jewish mother who desperately wants her wayward hippie son to be a lawyer. The agent, who has long since passed away, showered me with compliments, even predicting that I “would be the next J.D. Salinger.” (I hope he didn’t mean I’d wind up a grumpy old recluse.)
The agent effusively proclaimed that the column would make a great book and movie, which caused my head to spin. What I discovered later was that he was a manic-depressive in a supremely manic phase. My luck.
As I’d just broken up with my girlfriend, I was tempted by the agent’s suggestion that I move to L.A. (This was long before the Internet age where I could have just e-mailed my writing.) He even knew of a vacant apartment at the Shores (in ‘75 they had 200 vacancies) and a day job.
It was crazy but that had never stopped me before, so I up and moved to Santa Monica. A year later I was done with my book, “An Eight Pound Six Ounce Lawyer.” After I finished it my unshaven agent confessed that he couldn’t help me market it. In fact he hadn’t been out of bed in a month. Yikes!
Meanwhile the office I worked in was primarily staffed by attractive women. My duties were to drive to buildings owned by the company, collect rents and make bank deposits in Century City. It was boring but I had my nights free to write.
One day, as I was pulling into the underground parking lot in Century City, I saw Redford, with his shirt off, throwing a baseball with a film crew member as they set up to shoot the pivotal Deep Throat scene with Hal Holbrook.
There was Redford, aka Jeremiah Johnson, Condor, Gatsby and the Sundance Kid, whose career and politics I so admired. I pulled the car to the curb and nervously walked over. To my amazement, within a minute I was conversing with Redford about politics, movies and sports.
In fact, everything was going great until, thinking about the girls in the office, I casually asked Redford for an autograph. Apparently this was a hot button issue. Redford was adamant, “I don’t do autographs.”
I pleaded couldn’t he just make this one exception, blabbing about the girls in the office. The conversation came to a rather abrupt and awkward end when Redford asked sternly, “Do I need to call security?”
Dejected, I said no and slinked away. I didn’t even share with the girls about my “run-in with Redford” as I definitely didn’t want to repeat the “do I have to call security?” line.
Cut to a mere 37 years later. I had just finished writing a screenplay, “Fury and Grace,” about Latino legend Pancho Gonzalez who was essentially the Jackie Robinson of tennis. Gonzalez was also Redford’s boyhood hero. In fact, Redford had volunteered to friends that he’d love to see a screenplay about Pancho. Fate anyone?
I had my agent (not the manic-depressive) contact Redford’s Santa Monica office and amazingly he agreed to read the script after the Sundance Film Festival. It seemed like serendipity. After all, Redford and I have so much in common. He’s an Oscar-winning director and producer and I … well, for a disabled neighbor I walk a golden retriever named Oscar. Coincidence, I think not.
How did it all end up? Only slightly better than at the Century City parking lot as Redford passed on my script. (Personally I don’t think he ever read it. But the good news is he didn’t once bring up calling security.
Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.