Here’s looking at you, Kid
The classy and principled Robert Redford, to be honored tomorrow by Oscar, never let his pretty face get in the way of solid achievement

The Philadelphia Inquirer

March 23, 2002

By Art Carey

One of the few sure things about tomorrow night’s Academy Awards ceremony is that an honorary Oscar will go to Robert Redford.

This is amazing twice:

Redford, fiercely independent, has made it clear over the years that he despises the moviemaking establishment and prefers the mountains of Utah to the hills of Hollywood.

Redford, along with actor Sidney Poitier, is being honored for lifetime achievement, which means the Sundance Kid is no longer a kid. In August, he’ll be 65, able to collect Social Security.

Like many men of my generation, I adopted Redford as a hero after I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in which he accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of eclipsing Paul Newman, then the reigning icon of cool.

His sun-kissed looks, of course, were part of it, but Redford in reel life and real life, came across as more than just a pretty face. Beneath that charming all-American smile was something edgy and subversive, a hint of outlaw rage. He was a rebel with a cause, a Woodstock-era Gary Cooper, noble and idealistic, silhouetted against the frontier horizon in Jeremiah Johnson long hair and beard.

To me, someone who grew up on the Main Line, where phoniness is elevated to an art, and who, perhaps naively, took the motto of his prep school seriously – esse quam videri (to be rather than to seem) -- what was most engaging about Redford’s movies was the recurring theme of the discrepancy between image and reality, illusion and truth, how things appear to be and what they really are.

In Downhill Racer, Little Fauss and Big Halsy, The Way We Were, and The Candidate, Redford played men who were gold on the outside, tin on the inside. Perhaps because of his overwhelming handsomeness, he has always seemed acutely aware of the treachery of beauty, the cosmetic dazzle and false promise of the shallow faceman. He knows that an appealing shell often masks an empty core.

“Are you still a nice gentile boy?” Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) asks her gorgeous goy-toy husband after discovering he’s been unfaithful in The Way We Were.

“I never was,” Redford’s Hubbell Gardiner replies. “I only looked it to you.”

Off-screen, Redford has managed to keep his private life just that. His three children have grown to adulthood without making police-blotter cameos. He and his wife parted company without scandalous headlines in the tabs. His romantic liaisons since have been quiet and discreet. Mercifully, we’ve been spared the sight of an aging Sundance Kid trying to recapture his youth by squiring around busty bimbos du jour.

By any measure, his life has been a success. He has honor, power, riches, fame and the love (most assuredly) of women. But he has been successful in more important ways: He is doing work he loves. He has held to his principles. And he is giving back, through his passion for the environment, Native American culture, and the West, and his Sundance Institute, a launch pad for many independent filmmakers.

Yes, he’s an old man. Compared with most grandfathers, he looks marvelous, but time has taken its toll: His face is as craggy as a weathered mesa. In The Horse Whisperer, the girl who loses her leg in a horse accident asks Tom Booker (Redford): “What are you afraid of?” He replies: “Growing old. Not being much use.”

The line may have been autobiographical. It also is inconceivable. Redford’s lifetime achievement, in my book, is this: On screen and off, he has been uniquely useful. He has lived the life he imagined, and lived it on his own terms -- with conscience, style and class.

© 2016 Art Carey. All rights reserved.