Robert Redford

Robert Redford

Robert Redford

He Has a Close History with Mexico

by Pat Tyson
photos by Kristina Loggia and Calvin Knight

I do think the people of Mexico and their history have been part of my life since I was a child,” explains Robert Redford, the charismatic actor, director and environmentalist who is beloved by people all over the world.

Originally named Charles Robert Redford, Jr., or Bob – as he is known to his close friends – was born August 18, 1936, in Santa Monica, California, and grew up in a working-class community where his family was one of the few anglo families in a Mexican neighborhood.

“I became very attached to the families, their way of thinking and their stories,” he says. “All of that put together over the years has had a big impact on my life – so, I have a history with Mexico.” The reason for his recent visit there was that he wants everyone to realize how significant is this country south of the border.

Redford says that he was anxious to go to Mexico because he believes it’s important for people to understand that the country is a much bigger place than just the bad news that’s presented to America. He also feels that journalism has become so sensational that it seems the only news coming out of there relates to cartels, danger and other negative aspects.

“I know there is another part of Mexico,” he affirms, “You want people to see that; you want to help them understand that it is amazing, simply amazing – the history, the culture, the people and the art!” As a conservationist, his involvement with, and fervent concern for, the environment Redford brings him to comment on the subject of tourism; he feels that times – and even people – have changed.

“I don’t think people any longer want to go into a monstrous place that has destroyed part of the eco-system just to make money,” he states, “I think people are beginning to rebel against that. They’re more interested in going to a place that has respected the environment – or working with it in balance – it makes them feel better about going there. So, I believe that’s the way of the future and I’m here to support that.”

Robert Redford

But before he turned his boundless energies to the improvement of the world around him, he got into youthful mischief and lost his baseball scholarship at the University of Colorado. After attending the Pratt Institute of Art and living the painter’s life in Europe, he studied acting in New York at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

He met and fell in love with Lola Van Wagenen, a consumer activist, who dropped out of college to marry him in 1958. Before they divorced in 1985, they had four children; first came Scott, whom they lost tragically to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in 1959. Next, daughter Shauna, 51, is a painter, who married Eric Schlosser – their first child making Redford a grandfather in 1991. After this momentous event, he remarked “I am, perhaps, the best-looking grandfather around, apart from Marlon Brando, of course!”

Redford also has a son, James (Jamie) 50, a screenwriter and a daughter, Amy, 42, who is an actress. Twenty-four years after his divorce, he married his present wife and longtime companion, Sibylle Szaggars, in 2009. However, during the earlier years his red hair and undeniably good looks had led to many movie and television parts, but his breakthrough role, in 1969, was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when he was 32 years old.

His performance as the Sundance Kid is ranked as number 20th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Heroes and Villains, which ranking he shares with Paul Newman, who portrayed Butch Cassidy. His performance as Bob Woodward in the outstanding All The President’s Men, is ranked number 27 in the same category, which he shares with Dustin Hoffman, who played Carl Bernstein.

In 1973, The Way We Were, a heart-wrenching movie in which he costarred with Barbara Streisand, and the suspenseful The Sting, again starring with Paul Newman, were the two movies that made Redford the number one box office star for the following three years. He then used his influence to advance environmental causes and had become financially able to acquire Utah property, which he transformed into a ranch and the Sundance ski resort in the mountains of Utah.

In 1980, he established the Sundance Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences. Through its programs, the Institute seeks to discover, support and inspire independent film and theater artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work. It has evolved to become internationally-recognized in the active advancement of the work of risk-taking storytellers worldwide.

The Institute’s film festival has become one of the most influential in the world. Redford’s directorial debut, Ordinary People, led to his winning the Academy Award as Best Director in 1981. Some eight years later he got behind the camera again for the screen version of John Nichols’ acclaimed novel of the Southwest, The Milagro Beanfield War.

Demonstrating his wide range as an actor, other significant movies in which Redford has starred include The Great Gatsby, (1974), The Natural (1984), Out of Africa (1985), Havana (1990), Indecent Proposal (1993), Horse Whisperer (1998) and The Clearing (2004). We wondered if he has any favorite movie.

“I’ve loved all my movies, but if I had to choose…where did I have more fun?…where did I enjoy myself the most?” He pauses only for a moment. “It was Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” he responds “I love horses, I love to do stunts, I loved the character. And Paul Newman – he was a fun-loving, fun guy. I loved it all!” It is obvious that his friendship with Newman went beyond simply working together on a movie. “I have lost a real friend. My life – and this country – are better for him being in it. There are certain friendships that are sometimes too good, too strong to talk about.” His present plans include filming in Mexico – at the Baja Film Studios.

“It’s an interesting story about a man on a boat in a storm,” he explains. “There is no dialogue; it’s very bold, very different – and that’s why I’m doing it. In this unbelievable storm – just his mind, his skill and his knowledge and his heart–to keep going under impossible circumstances. It’s different – I like it!” Redford admits to the fact that he has been somewhat of a rebel during his career.

“I became a director because growing up I was impatient, rebellious, didn’t always want to play by the rules,” he acknowledges. I didn’t want to accept someone else’s way of living – to a fault.” Although, in time, he says, he came to respect rules and discipline.

“You need some order in your life to make it work, so that grew as I got older. I gained more respect for discipline, so when I became a director I became very disciplined,” Redford concludes.



To purchase this beautiful 17”X 22” rendered oil painting reproduction, please send a check or money order for $19.95 U.S. to: MexicoTRAVELER Magazine, P.O. Box 210485, Chula Vista, CA 91914. Canada add $5.00 (incl. gst), foreign orders add $9.00. Please allow 2-4 weeks for delivery.
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