Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Not what I expected, but that's OK
I have always loved Robert Redford. Partly because in the 1970s, when I came of age, he was so perfect and so prevalent. More enduringly because his career has stood for something. His serious films are genuinely thought-provoking and his even his light "popcorn movies" come with a message. Not all of his movies have been successful, but they have all been quality. His choices are interesting, including his decision to keep his private life private.
So I was eager to read the first in-depth biography of his life. And it's not what you'd think.
He's auto didactic and passionate about the world around him in a big, big way. He learns it and he wants to share it. That's where his heart is. It can be about conservation, producing, acting or directing. Horses or motorcycles or cars. He was like that as a child with sports and travel and remains like that today.
He's also more complicated and more stubborn than I ever would have suspected. His first marriage to wife Lola, a union that lasted 26 years and was held up as an ideal, really began unraveling much earlier than the public suspected. Yet it wasn't because of infidelity or the temptations that accompanied his superstar status -- at least not the conventional ones we see on TMZ, like drugs and parties.
It was opportunity and adventure that took him away from home. And during those absences, his wife -- a teenager when they met -- grew up and away from him. She went from being a supportive satellite/anchor to the sophisticated woman who dealt with family issues on her own when he was away. She also became an environmentalist in her own right. He had a difficult time adapting to this -- a loner to the core and, as he admits, unable to resist rebellion and competition, even with the wife he loved and needed. They separated, they recommitted, they tried therapy. She finally chose to continue her education on the east coast, as far away from Utah and Hollywood as she could get. She was sending a message not lost on him. And it was sad.
There's a treasure trove of tales about his professional and personal relationships with Sydney Pollack, Paul Newman, William Goldman and Alan J. Pakula. They were all honest about his strengths (intelligence, nuance) and weaknesses (self-centered much?). He was also refreshingly honest about how bad he is with money. No, don't worry -- no one needs to have a car wash to support the Sundance Kid. But his business endeavors were all ambitious and mostly unsuccessful.
His is a compelling story -- fascinating and a little sad. I'm glad I read it.