Robert Redford’s life is really like a Greek tragedy. He is a hero in his own play, but, one searches for cause, the triumph, indeed the antagonist.
Born in 1937, in Santa Monica, California, his was not a tranquil life. He had some scrapes with the law even as a young teenager. He even spent a few nights in jail for vandalism. He drank a lot, even as a youngster. His mother died in 1955, right after Robert graduated from high school. (One could easily get the impression that his was not a particularly happy home.) He never had dreams of Hollywood, though, and never thought of Los Angeles as a haven of anything.
He says he saw the times (the 1950’s) as all reactionary to WWII. He seems to have resented the fact that his family was poor (so he says), and they didn’t seem to participate in the great economic surge that developed after the war. “Concrete replaced grass,” he decrys, looking back, like a sulking adolescent, masking his envy in the guise of Nature worship.
He won a baseball scholarship to Colorado University, which he quickly lost due to his own drinking problem. He says his family could never have afforded to send him to CU, and he emphasizes the scholarship aspect. Then he spent some time at the Pratt Institute in New York, but doesn’t say who financed that.
For a while, Redford wanted to be a painter, a real artist. He went to Europe. (Again, who arranged this? Who financed this?) He lived in there for 18 months, in Florence and in Paris, and says it was a true bohemian life, one of penury and hardship. (He also says he had no talent for it.) He says he lived with “highly politicised” students, and was often challenged about America, and never knew what to say.
He says, however, that this time in Europe really influenced him. It’s pretty clear that it encouraged him further in his isolated, individualistic life. He came back to the United States, and spent time at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, in New York, studying acting–the ultimate hide-away for alienated folk in the world, the haven for severe “individuals.” For a time, he lived in New York and in the home of his new bride, Provo, Utah. He obviously didn’t want to lose touch with his resentment of capitalistic success. Interestingly, his first wife, Lola Van Wagenen, was a Mormon, an epitomical social example of the isolated, non-belonging types. The Utah Mormons were outsted from Illinois over 130 years ago, because of their unwillingness to be part of the larger social environment.
By the 1960’s Redford was buying up land in Utah, developing a ski resort and the Sundance Institute. Redford has always had the double life, of capitolizing in capitalism, yet openly decrying it, defying it, and creating a “nature” refuge for himself as an environmentalist. He has always professed great poverty in earlier life, but somehow was also able to travel, go to school, and buy land. Always working hard for success available through free enterprise, yet openly decrying it.
But, let’s reconsider that European stint, which he says saved him from becoming a brainwashed Republican. What was happening in Florence, in Paris, in the 1950’s?
Florence, of course, was part of the Axis powers. Italy had had to unite with Hitler, or be destroyed by him. For one thing, the Florence Agreement of 1950 was a “communist” concept UNESCO forwarded, that educational, scientific, and cultural materials should be freely shared amongst the nations. In other words, no one should get a head. No one should have an advantage, even if that nation created its own advantages by the genius of its own cultural values. Is that the kind of thinking that Redford picked up over there? No super powers? No room for America’s greatness?
France, of course, had shown no loyalty to anyone but herself. The usual position. During WWII, citizens waved Nazi flags when the Germans barged through town, and American flags when the Yanks marched in. To this day, France has remained a narcissistic political entity. Shall we say, “individualistic?” Is this what appealed to Redford in Paris?
France was recovering from WWII, and also in the agonies of “nationalization.” France was dependent on it’s coal industry for the vital energy of the nation. Who would control it? The government? or the companies? Thus, the communist approach trumped the terrors (I should say, “anxieties”) of the free market.
Were Europeans also reacting at all to America’s involvement in Korea? America had emerged from WWII as guardian of the world, both hemispheres. Was old Europe just envious of England’s “independent” son? You’d think Redford would idolize America, seeing his own life has always played out the theme of independence.
The details of Redfords associations during his short stay in Europe are not readily available, but it is clear that he wishes to attribute his “independence” from America on this basis. He wants to have support. He wants authenticity for his extended adolescent rebellion against his father country, shall we say. He must justify his position.
Redford seems to have combined two things: actual capitalism and professed communism. This is called dissembling. We shouldn’t say hypocrisy, because Redford has been consistent in his isolationism, his individualism, his rebellion. But it is dissembling, presenting one issue as a disguise for another.
Redford is like a glorified misfit, a triumphant angry kid. But, who backed him? Who provided the money? Who developed the Redford phenomenon? He’s no actor, handsome as he is. He’s been willingly used by larger forces than himself, forces which, in his way of thinking, supported what he believed in. He’s sincere in that. I don’t think he ever “sold out.” I think he believes what he believes, not for the money. He simply united with those who also believe what he believes, but have money to makes things happen.
Redford is very much a hero in his own person. But, his own person is contrary sort of thing. He simply learned to “capitalize” on it. He’s more American than lots of Americans, despite himself.