With the Hollywood heavyweight announcing his retirement from acting, a look back at a 33-year-old Redford on the rise.
John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Published August 6, 2018
Published 10 days ago
"Robert Redford is riding very tall in the saddle just now," announced LIFE magazine in its 1970 cover story on the 33-year-old actor. Not yet the Hollywood heavyweight — actor, director, tastemaker — we know today, Redford was coming off his 1969 star-making turn in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," playing the Kid opposite Paul Newman's Cassidy. And, as the magazine presaged, the best was yet to come for Redford. Over the next decade alone, he would star in the films "The Way We Were," "The Great Gatsby," "All the President's Men," and "The Sting" (for which he would receive his first Academy Award nomination). But back in 1970, in Redford's little corner of Utah, LIFE photographer John Dominis and writer Richard Schickel (Redford's friend and New York neighbor) captured him right on the edge of glory.
John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesRIDING HIGHBorn in California, Redford found himself drifting aimlessly through his late teens and early 20s, lasting just a year in college at the University of Colorado. "Most of it spent on the road, not exactly a Dharma Bum, but discovering what Kerouac and all the others who tried to poeticize this experience in the '50s discovered: that a car hurtling through the night on a straight stretch of prairie road is a kind of mobile Magic Mountain for the poor man — silent, detached, a place to discover yourself," LIFE reported. And so, Redford dabbled in painting, then enrolled in the American National Theatre and Academy in New York, thinking he'd be a stage designer. Forced to take an acting class, Redford unleashed — and found his passion. "Everybody's got a bear in him," Redford said. "It's all in getting him out and controlling him."
John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesA STAR IS BORNAfter a turn in the big-screen adaptation of "Barefoot in the Park" in 1967 (he'd originated the role on Broadway), Redford stepped out of the Hollywood limelight for two years, since he and the industry "could not agree on what the exact nature of [his] future should be." But then came "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." "And it is what has finally made Redford the star everyone has been predicting he would be for a decade," wrote LIFE. (Pictured: Redford with his family, including daughter Shauna, son Jamie, and wife Lola at home in Utah.)
John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesRENAISSANCE MANRedford used his artistic skills to help design and build his Utah home, according to LIFE.John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesAVERSE TO FAMEPerhaps part of the reason it took Redford nearly a decade to truly break out as a legitimate star was his aversion to celebrity, his disinterest in playing the fame game. "I don't like working a lot and I don't really respect the profession, the business of being an actor," he told LIFE. "I have no need to be a star. All through my career people have been telling me, 'In three years, you're going to be the biggest star in Hollywood.' I've got all these plaques naming me the star of tomorrow. But I never did believe it."
John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesHOME ON THE RANGEAnd so, it's not hard to imagine how Utah became something of a refuge for Redford, away from the Hollywood glitz and the New York hustle. Here, Redford is seen cheekily buddying up to a cardboard cutout of co-star Paul Newman, gifted to him by Grauman's Chinese Theater in L.A., where their film's premiere was held.John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesA TRUE DAREDEVILMuch ink was spilled in Redford's cover story about his on- and off-screen daring, with skiing, in particular, listed as one of his many passions. To wit, Redford purchased a large ski area west of Provo, Utah — ultimately renaming the tract of land "Sundance." (Redford would go on to found the Sundance Film Festival in 1978.) And, later, he convinced (or "browbeat" as the cover story says) a Hollywood producer into making the film "Downhill Racer," about an arrogant competitive skier. However, because of a knee injury, Redford was forced to use a stunt double for much of the action in the film.John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesA MAN FOR ALL SEASONS"Some people think he stands a fair chance of becoming one of those rare stars who sums up, all by himself, the spirit of his time," wrote Redford's friend Schickel. "As Brando did for the '50s, as no one quite did for the '60s." Yet, there remained something old-fashioned, timeless about "Bob," as his friends call him. Concludes Schickel: "The kids, who dig him, think surely he must speak for them — cool, anarchical and, as the magnates say, a rebel. I don't think he is — not the way they mean. He is less a now man than a then man, a romantic, radical individualist of the kind that 19th Century America produced and celebrated."
John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty ImagesROBERT REDFORD ON THE COVER OF THE FEBRUARY 6, 1970 ISSUE OF LIFE.