He was rarely taken seriously as an actor. Even with extensive credits in theater and television, Robert Redford was regularly cast as the patented pretty boy for a medium, film, always desperate for a strikingly handsome leading man to lure the ladies. Even as he worked through formidable dramas and comedic pairings with pal Paul Newman, the golden boy with superstar status found industry respect incredibly hard to come by. The public loved him, making many of his movies throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s certified hits. But the ability to be something more than a pre-tabloid presence, and punchline, always appeared to elude him.
So imagine the stifled snickers when Redford announced he intended to direct. In 1978, he helped launch the original Sundance Film Festival (and later Institute) and longed to move from in front of the camera to behind it. After reading Judith Guest’s devastating novel of suburban angst, Ordinary People, he immediately bought up the rights. He hired Oscar winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent to adapt the book and went about securing Paramount’s support in financing and distribution. As major league names such as Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro prepared to take the ‘80 awards season by storm, Redford snuck in with his tale of a suicidal teen and the tragedy which reshaped his weak-willed WASP family, walking away with many of the year’s most important accolades in the process.