The Internet list of notable persons born in Santa Monica includes Shirley Temple, Frank Gifford, Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen, Jack Black and my neighbor, Tony Award-winning actor Paul Sand. If you Google for yourself, be prepared to scroll as there’s 500 names!
Given his contributions to film, the environment and political activism, and with all due respect to the other 499, our most accomplished native son has to be Robert Redford. Growing up, Redford hung out at the beach, the pier and the Aero Theater, among other Santa Monica locales. Guess what? On Aug. 18, the ever-fit Redford turns 80!
I once met Robert Redford, although perhaps “met” is a stretch. In 1975, I was a messenger for the company that owned the Shores. I worked in an office with almost all female employees, which, as you shall see, tied into my dubious Redford encounter.
My job included depositing rent checks at the Century City Bank of America. One morning, as I was about to enter BofA’s underground parking, I noticed a film crew setting up. (Probably for the “deep throat” scene in “All the President’s Men.”) I also noticed Redford, shirtless and tan, apparently killing time throwing a baseball with a crew member. I parked at the curb and approached tentatively in hopes of his autograph to show the gals back at the office.
Surprisingly, Redford and I became engaged in conversation, which included Marlon Brando, method acting and politics in film. (I complimented “The Candidate” wherein Redford played a young politician who sells out to win an election.) You’d have thought Bob and I were going to be BFFs. Not exactly.
Things started going south when I brought up Redford’s autograph, apparently a sore subject. He explained he didn’t do that, asking why should his autograph be any more important than mine. I joked that I’d be happy to swap autographs. (If you didn’t find that terribly amusing, neither did he.)
As I tried another tact, all I clearly remember next was Redford asking, “Do I need to call security?” (Never a good sign.) From Bob’s BFF to a stalker! Deeply disappointed, I replied, “No, you don’t need to call security.”
Dejected, I walked to my car but before I got in, I turned around. “By the way,” I said like I was Roger Ebert, “’The Candidate’ was highly overrated.” Redford gave me a bewildered stare. And that’s my rather embarrassing recollection. Except that, years later, when I saw “The Candidate” again, I actually thought it was an excellent movie. Oh well.
Speaking of movies, one of my all-time favorites, “Ordinary People,” garnered Redford the 1980 “Best Director” Oscar. (Along with Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay.) Almost a quarter-century later, in 2014, the Academy honored Redford with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Redford’s film credits are too extensive to mention here as are his contributions to independent film making by founding Sundance and his passion for the environment. The latter began when Redford’s mother took him to Yosemite when he was 11 and had just overcome polio. The experience was life-changing.
As a result, Redford has been an outspoken environmental activist, donating his time and money. This includes his terrific narration of the 2016 IMAX documentary, “National Parks Adventure,” which vividly explores over 30 national parks.
In 2011, Redford participated in another documentary, “Warrior of the Court,” about his boyhood idol, tennis legend Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez. (About whom I would write a screenplay, as it happens.”) In the movie, Redford shared a touching story.
As a teenager, Redford was a ball boy for a tournament. Purely by chance, Gonzalez asked him to warm him up. Redford rushed onto the court determined to hit the ball so powerfully Pancho would be compelled to ask, “Hey, kid, what’s your name?” Instead, after five minutes, Gonzalez barked, “Kid, I want to warm up! Just hit me the damn ball.”
Redford was thoroughly embarrassed. And yet, as he reflected back 60 years, he smiled, “It was still one of the finest days in my life.” As I reflect back 40 years, I can’t quite say the same about Redford’s, “Do I have to call security?” Then again, at least it made for a column.
Finally, and before I forget, to our most illustrious native son, happy birthday, Bob!
Robert Redford stars in the Disney 3-D movie, “Pete’s Dragon,” which opens nationwide Friday.