17 Surprising Facts About Robert Redford

Robert Redford, smiling that smile of his.
Robert Redford, smiling that smile of his.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Robert Redford’s long, storied career spans 60 years and includes countless Hollywood classics, from outlaw Westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to political thrillers like All the President’s Men. But he's far from just a prolific actor with rugged good looks and a winning smile—he’s also an Oscar-winning director, a staunch supporter of independent films, and a devoted conservationist. Find out more about the living legend below.

1. Robert Redford used to work at Yosemite National Park.

When an 11-year-old Robert Redford was recovering from a mild case of polio in 1949, his mother took him to visit Yosemite National Park. He was immediately blown away by it, and later returned to apply for a job there. For two summers, he worked at Camp Curry—now called Curry Village—and Yosemite Valley Lodge, and spent his free time immersing himself in the natural wonders of the park. “It gave me a chance to really be there every day—to hike up to Vernal Falls or Nevada Falls,” he told Smithsonian.com. “It just took me really deep into it. Yosemite claimed me.” In 2016, Redford got a chance to virtually return to his boyhood playground by narrating the documentary National Parks Adventure, which explores Yosemite and many other American National Parks.

2. Robert Redford earned a baseball scholarship to the University of Colorado.

As a boy, Redford had a natural aptitude for anything athletic, and sports were a main focus of his childhood (along with reading, which his parents both encouraged). In addition to track, tennis, and football, he grew up playing baseball, which eventually earned him a scholarship to the University of Colorado—but it didn’t last very long. “I became the campus drunk and blew out before I could ever get going,” Redford told People in 1998. He either dropped out or was expelled during his sophomore year (there are differing accounts), then relocated to Europe, where he spent a year and a half learning about art, culture, and politics from contemporaries in France and Italy. “I was living with a bunch of bohemians, highly politicized, and I'd be challenged by students about my country and I didn't know what they were talking about,” he told The Guardian. When he returned to the U.S., he made a concerted effort to stay up to date on national goings-on.

3. Robert Redford has been married twice.

Robert Redford and Sibylle Szaggars at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Upon his return to Los Angeles, Redford met a 17-year-old bank teller from Utah named Lola Van Wagenan, who lived in his building. The two married in 1958, moved to New York City, and went on to have four children before divorcing amicably in 1985. In the late 1990s, Redford began seeing German-born painter Sibylle Szaggars, though he predicted he’d never marry again. “I have to be careful in terms of never saying never, but I don’t think I would go there again,” he told People in 1998. He was right to be wary of saying “never”—the couple tied the knot in 2009.

4. Robert Redford’s early adulthood was marked by tragedy.

Redford’s mother, Martha Hart Redford, died suddenly from septicemia—a bacterial infection in the bloodstream—in 1955, when the future Oscar winner was 18 years old. “When I look back on it now, I realize she was the one person who believed in me throughout,” Redford said in an interview. Just four years later, Redford and his first wife, Lola, lost their 5-month-old son, Scott, to sudden infant death syndrome. “People think it’s been easy for me,” Redford told People. “That’s hard to live with. It’s so untrue.”

5. Robert Redford considers his kids to be his greatest achievement.

Robert Redford pictured with his son, Jamie, and daughter-in-law, Kyle, in 2009.Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Three of Redford’s children ended up with careers in the arts: Shauna became an artist, Jamie took up screenwriting, and Amy pursued acting. Redford considers them his ultimate success. “I've made some interesting movies, and I've been very satisfied with the work, but if someone wrapped it all up and said to me, ‘What's your greatest achievement?’ I'd say, ‘The children. They're the best thing in my life,’” he said.

6. Robert Redford got his start on Broadway.

After moving to New York, Redford enrolled at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute with a plan to learn how to design theater sets. But it soon became clear that he was much better suited to being on stage rather than behind the scenes. During an acting class at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Redford impressed his teacher with a scene from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, and something clicked. “Suddenly, I had support for something that was very raw, but felt good to me,” Redford told The Washington Post in 2005. He abandoned his design classes to study acting at the Academy instead, and in 1959 he performed in two Broadway plays: Tall Story and The Highest Tree.

7. Barefoot in the Park was Robert Redford’s big break.

Redford continued to perform plays in the early 1960s: Little Moon of Alban in 1960, Sunday in New York in 1961, and Barefoot in the Park in 1963. A few years after his first credited film role—1962’s War Hunt—Redford got to reprise his most recent Broadway character in the film adaptation of Barefoot in the Park, acting opposite the already well-established Jane Fonda (coincidentally, Fonda had starred in the movie versions of both Tall Story and Sunday in New York). It premiered in 1967 to generally positive reviews, and Redford’s portrayal of the well-to-do—and almost inconceivably handsome—Paul Bratter catapulted him to a much higher level in the Hollywood stratosphere.

8. Robert Redford is notoriously late.

If you’re running late to a meeting with Robert Redford, don’t panic: he’s likely running even later than you are. “To a person, the colleagues and friends interviewed for this article predicted that Redford would not be on time and that the only question was by how much,” Ann Hornaday wrote for The Washington Post in 2005. (He was late—by nearly an hour.) “He’s been late all his life,” the late Sydney Pollack, who directed Redford in multiple films, told her. When asked about his own reputation for tardiness, Redford grinned and responded, “I’ve heard about it. It’s a myth.”

9. Out of all his films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is Robert Redford’s favorite.

Considering that Redford has built a veritable business empire on the word Sundance, it’s probably not altogether surprising that his character from 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is especially dear to him—in part because it was so much fun to shoot. “I love to ride, I like doing the stunts,” Redford said in 2011. “And Paul [Newman] and I had a great relationship that just evolved in the making of the film.”

10. Robert Redford and Paul Newman liked to give each other gag gifts.

Redford and Newman paired up again for 1974’s The Sting, and the two remained close friends until Newman’s death in 2008. Their relationship was playful both on- and offscreen, and the pals were known to prank each other from time to time. Once, Newman gifted Redford a pillow embroidered with the adage “Punctuality is the courtesy of kings,” poking fun at Redford’s habitual tardiness. For Newman’s 50th birthday, Redford wrapped up an old junkyard Porsche—a nod to Newman’s penchant for auto racing—and delivered it to Newman’s back doorstep. Newman then deposited it in the middle of Redford’s living room. Determined to have the last laugh, Redford had the beat-up automobile made into a garden sculpture, which he set in Newman’s yard.

11. Robert Redford almost turned down The Way We Were.

Filmmakers were pushing hard for Robert Redford to star alongside Barbra Streisand in 1973’s The Way We Were, but he wasn’t keen on Hubbell Gardiner, a character he thought was too one-dimensional to be anything more than a “Ken doll” for Streisand’s Katie Murosky to fall in love with. After extensive script revisions, Redford finally felt that Hubbell was flawed enough to be interesting, and signed on to play the role. He did, however, have one additional concern. “She’s not going to sing, is she?” he asked director Sydney Pollack, referring to Streisand. “I don’t want it to be a musical.” It wasn’t, but Streisand did sing one rather memorable track for the film: “The Way We Were,” which won both Best Original Song at the Oscars and Song of the Year at the Grammys in 1974.

12. Robert Redford was already interested in making a movie about Watergate while the scandal was still unfolding.

Redford didn’t just play Bob Woodward in 1976’s All the President’s Men—he was instrumental in making sure the movie happened in the first place. In 1972, more than a year before Richard Nixon’s resignation, Redford called Woodward and asked to meet about a potential film. Woodward was wary, and even considered the possibility that it was a prank—or worse, someone working in Nixon’s White House—but Redford eventually succeeded in discussing the project with him and fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. Though no decisions were made for a couple more years, when Bernstein and Woodward published their book, All the President’s Men, in 1974, they sold the rights to Redford.

13. Robert Redford founded the Sundance Institute right after winning his first Oscar.

Today, Redford is one of the world’s most famous champions of independent filmmaking, but back in 1981, he was still a novice filmmaker who had just nabbed his first (and only) Oscar for directing his first film, Ordinary People. Almost immediately after the win, he founded the Sundance Institute, an organization that supports independent films. “I’ve always had this personal theory that at just the moment of the highest achievement, you should stop and go back to zero and not take anything for granted,” he told The Washington Post.

But that wasn’t the only reason he decided to devote his resources to indie projects. Cable, home video, and then-new blockbuster franchises like Superman and Star Wars were rapidly changing the landscape of the film industry in the late 1970s, and Redford was thinking ahead about what that might mean for less established artists. “I said, ‘Well, that's OK, the film business is a broad one, but is that going to be at the expense of more humanistic films?’ And I felt that it would be.”

14. Robert Redford convinced the author of A River Runs Through It to let him adapt it for film.

In 1976, Norman Maclean published A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, a semi-autobiographical collection of tales about his upbringing in early 20th-century Montana, which garnered literary acclaim and piqued the interest of Hollywood filmmakers. But Maclean held onto the rights, reluctant to hand the reins to people who likely wouldn’t let him have much say in the adaptation of his work. Redford, on the other hand, promised to consult with the author and his family throughout the whole process, and Maclean agreed. Unfortunately, Maclean didn’t live long enough to see the final result; he passed away in 1990, and the Redford-directed film—starring a young up-and-comer named Brad Pitt—didn’t hit theaters until 1992.

15. Robert Redford was friends with Gabriel García Márquez.

When Redford invited Gabriel García Márquez to lead a Spanish-speaking lab at the Sundance Institute, the renowned author of One Hundred Years of Solitude suggested a deal—he’d visit Sundance if Redford would come with him to Cuba, which Redford agreed to do. During their vacation in Havana, García Márquez introduced the actor to Che Guevara’s widow, who sold him the rights to her late husband’s memoir The Motorcycle Diaries. The film adaptation, produced by Redford and directed by Walter Salles, was released in 2004, and Jorge Drexler’s “Al Otro Lado del Rio” clinched an Oscar for Best Original Song.

16. Barack Obama awarded Robert Redford the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

Robert Redford receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In 2016, President Barack Obama presented Redford with America’s highest civilian honor for his contributions as an actor, director, producer, and conservationist. Redford wasn’t the only member of the cultural elite to receive the award that year: Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Ellen DeGeneres, and Lorne Michaels were also honored, as were Bill and Melinda Gates and Michael Jordan. When asked what was going through his mind during the ceremony, Redford told C-SPAN that he wished his parents were alive to see it. “I don’t think either one of them saw this coming,” he said with a chuckle.

17. Robert Redford may or may not be retired from acting.

While promoting the release of 2018’s The Old Man & the Gun—which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy—Redford confessed that he was ready to hang up the acting hat he’d been wearing for 60 years. “Never say never, but I pretty well concluded that this would be it for me in terms of acting,” he told Entertainment Weekly that August. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s enough.’ And why not go out with something that’s very upbeat and positive?”

It’s a good thing Redford qualified his statement with a “Never say never,” because he took it back the following month. “I think it was a mistake to say that I was retiring because you never know,” he told People at the New York premiere of the film in September.

The 10 Best Air Fryers on Amazon


When it comes to making food that’s delicious, quick, and easy, you can’t go wrong with an air fryer. They require only a fraction of the oil that traditional fryers do, so you get that same delicious, crispy texture of the fried foods you love while avoiding the extra calories and fat you don’t.

But with so many air fryers out there, it can be tough to choose the one that’ll work best for you. To make your life easier—and get you closer to that tasty piece of fried chicken—we’ve put together a list of some of Amazon’s top-rated air frying gadgets. Each of the products below has at least a 4.5-star rating and over 1200 user reviews, so you can stop dreaming about the perfect dinner and start eating it instead.

1. Ultrean Air Fryer; $76


Around 84 percent of reviewers awarded the Ultrean Air Fryer five stars on Amazon, making it one of the most popular models on the site. This 4.2-quart oven doesn't just fry, either—it also grills, roasts, and bakes via its innovative rapid air technology heating system. It's available in four different colors (red, light blue, black, and white), making it the perfect accent piece for any kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Cosori Air Fryer; $120


This highly celebrated air fryer from Cosori will quickly become your favorite sous chef. With 11 one-touch presets for frying favorites, like bacon, veggies, and fries, you can take the guesswork out of cooking and let the Cosori do the work instead. One reviewer who “absolutely hates cooking” said, after using it, “I'm actually excited to cook for the first time ever.” You’ll feel the same way!

Buy it: Amazon

3. Innsky Air Fryer; $90


With its streamlined design and the ability to cook with little to no oil, the Innsky air fryer will make you feel like the picture of elegance as you chow down on a piece of fried shrimp. You can set a timer on the fryer so it starts cooking when you want it to, and it automatically shuts off when the cooking time is done (a great safety feature for chefs who get easily distracted).

Buy it: Amazon

4. Secura Air Fryer; $62


This air fryer from Secura uses a combination of heating techniques—hot air and high-speed air circulation—for fast and easy food prep. And, as one reviewer remarked, with an extra-large 4.2-quart basket “[it’s] good for feeding a crowd, which makes it a great option for large families.” This fryer even comes with a toaster rack and skewers, making it a great addition to a neighborhood barbecue or family glamping trip.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Chefman Turbo Fry; $60


For those of you really looking to cut back, the Chefman Turbo Fry uses 98 percent less oil than traditional fryers, according to the manufacturer. And with its two-in-one tank basket that allows you to cook multiple items at the same time, you can finally stop using so many pots and pans when you’re making dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Ninja Air Fryer; $100


The Ninja Air Fryer is a multipurpose gadget that allows you to do far more than crisp up your favorite foods. This air fryer’s one-touch control panel lets you air fry, roast, reheat, or even dehydrate meats, fruits, and veggies, whether your ingredients are fresh or frozen. And the simple interface means that you're only a couple buttons away from a homemade dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant Pot Air Fryer + Electronic Pressure Cooker; $180

Instant Pot/Amazon

Enjoy all the perks of an Instant Pot—the ability to serve as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, and more—with a lid that turns the whole thing into an air fryer as well. The multi-level fryer basket has a broiling tray to ensure even crisping throughout, and it’s big enough to cook a meal for up to eight. If you’re more into a traditional air fryer, check out Instant Pot’s new Instant Vortex Pro ($140) air fryer, which gives you the ability to bake, proof, toast, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Omorc Habor Air Fryer; $100

Omorc Habor/Amazon

With a 5.8-quart capacity, this air fryer from Omorc Habor is larger than most, giving you the flexibility of cooking dinner for two or a spread for a party. To give you a clearer picture of the size, its square fryer basket, built to maximize cooking capacity, can handle a five-pound chicken (or all the fries you could possibly eat). Plus, with a non-stick coating and dishwasher-safe basket and frying pot, this handy appliance practically cleans itself.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dash Deluxe Air Fryer; $100


Dash’s air fryer might look retro, but its high-tech cooking ability is anything but. Its generously sized frying basket can fry up to two pounds of French fries or two dozen wings, and its cool touch handle makes it easy (and safe) to use. And if you're still stumped on what to actually cook once you get your Dash fryer, you'll get a free recipe guide in the box filled with tips and tricks to get the most out of your meal.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Bella Air Fryer; $52


This petite air fryer from Bella may be on the smaller side, but it still packs a powerful punch. Its 2.6-quart frying basket makes it an ideal choice for couples or smaller families—all you have to do is set the temperature and timer, and throw your food inside. Once the meal is ready, its indicator light will ding to let you know that it’s time to eat.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Slow-Motion Picture: Netflix Is Rolling Out New Playback Speed Controls

You can stay in the Daredevil universe just a bit longer with the slower playback options.
You can stay in the Daredevil universe just a bit longer with the slower playback options.

Netflix is now letting some users adjust the playback speed of its content, meaning you can finish The Irishman in a mere fraction of its 3.5-hour run time (or make it last even longer).

As The Verge reports, viewers will have the option to watch videos at 0.5, 0.75, 1.25, or 1.5 times their normal speed, and the feature will be available for regular streaming content and offline downloads. So far, Netflix is only offering it to Android mobile users, but tests are in the works for iOS devices and the web app, too.

When Netflix shared plans to develop playback speed controls back in October 2019, some leaders in the entertainment industry voiced their opposition. Filmmaker Judd Apatow, for example, took to Twitter to explain that distributors like Netflix shouldn’t be allowed to alter content created by others. The streaming giant didn’t abandon the idea, but it did take the negative feedback into consideration. In a July 31 press release, Netflix explained that it was limiting the number of speeds to just four, and each program will always start playing at the normal speed—that way, viewers will have to consciously choose to speed up or slow down videos on a case-by-case basis.

And while content creators may dislike the thought of having less control over how people experience their work, it’s not a new concept. As Netflix pointed out, DVD players and DVRs have long included playback speed options—the feature has also been available on YouTube for years. More importantly, speed controls give users with vision impairments the opportunity to accelerate the audio—since some can process audio faster than sighted folks—and it gives deaf and hard-of-hearing users the chance to slow down the subtitles. Both the National Association of the Deaf and the National Federation of the Blind have endorsed Netflix’s new feature.

While you’re waiting for Netflix to expand the offering to iOS and web users, here are 25 other hacks to enhance your Netflix viewing experience.

[h/t The Verge]