Esquire loves Robert Redford: Our last true movie star

Bogart is gone, so here is Robert Redford, our last true movie star.
Photo: ap

NEW YORK, April 2, 2013 - The latest edition of Esquire magazine features Robert Redford. It is a Redford hardened and grizzled by age but still formidable.

The prettiness has given way to ruggedness.

He has endured.

Hello America! Bogart is gone, Gable is gone, Newman is gone, so here is Robert Redford, our last true movie star.

What comes through in this profile is of a man, an actor, who for an entire generation played by the rules of Hollywood but was always in rebellion against conformity. He paid his acting dues in New York, later came success and adoration in Hollywood, but his heart has always been the outdoors, Western-style.

He was, and remains, the rebel with a cause as much as were his contemporaries James Dean and Marlon Brando, except that Redford was cursed with striking good looks. He had to keep proving himself the real deal, which he eventually did, and yet in film and in real life he kept being drawn to outcasts, and to people who fight to preserve the American frontier spirit.  Still today he is pained by “developers” who ruin the good earth.

The well-written Esquire piece can speak for itself. I can add to the picture only from some fleeting exchanges we had on the set of Indecent Proposal.

Wish I knew then what I know now from Esquire. Redford is attracted to the “American way of winning and losing.” This explains his baffling (baffling to me) attraction to my book, which features the billionaire as “a winner in a world of losers.” Finally I understand.

The difference is that in the book the billionaire who offers an ungodly temptation is a sultan from an oil-rich desert kingdom.

Fans of the novel complained.

But isn’t an American billionaire the same as a sultan, and, if Hollywood insists on making changes from page to screen for the sake of box office, who better than Robert Redford to play the part of an American sultan? I later learned that when he was approached about the role, he said, “This will work.”

My first impression of Redford was of his ease and charm. He was courtly and courteous when introduced to my wife and kids, and when someone introduced me as the author of the novel he was filming, Indecent Proposal, he smiled and said, “New York?”

“Guilty,” I said and we both laughed.

This was the moment when I learned that in Hollywood you were from another planet if you came from New York.

You were respected and feared for the gravitas associated with the east. 

From Hollywood’s point of view, New York weaved genius; Hollywood only weaved magic.

Even tinsel-town’s elite were intimidated by novelists from the east.

What a strange and unexpected inferiority complex. There is a tradition that when New York novelists work in Hollywood for a few weeks they are accorded the usual respect. But if they stay on to write screenplays they quickly get downgraded to hacks and lunch lonely and alone in the commissary.

The filming was being done at the Las Vegas Hilton. Part of the actual casino floor was being used for the filming.

We were off to the side in a private room, where Redford and others came for wardrobe changes and to rest.  

“No, no,” Redford said in response to my guilty plea. “I admire New York novelists.”

“I admire Hollywood actors,” I said.

He gave this some thought. Then he pointed to all the action on the set, where the crew was preparing him for his next scene with Demi Moore.

“You must think this is all so crazy,” he said, somewhat embarrassed and apologetic.

“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “This is my first movie.”

“We’ll do our best,” he said.

Then the call came for him to get on set and he excused himself with a touch of gallantry.

Later the script girl, or some other member of the crew, turned and said, “You’re from New York, right?”


“We admire your book.”

“Well I am from New York,” I said, beginning to catch on.

Obviously it wasn’t me but New York that so impressed and terrified everybody. So it wasn’t only Redford who thought in terms of East and West. They all did.

I was asked what I thought of the screenplay that was taken from my book, and I preferred to leave that one unanswered.

Then I heard someone whisper the news to the director, Adrian Lyne: “The novelist is here — from New York.”

From his director’s chair he turned and gave me a rueful nod.

The novelist makes people nervous on the set. They really do not want us around. You have written your novel. Someone else wrote the screenplay. You did your job. You were paid. The check cleared. Your name will appear prominently on the opening credits. What more do you want?

After the scene, the famous one at the craps table, Redford came back to get his hair touched up.

“How’d I do?”

Turned out he did very well, east and west.


Jack Engelhard, a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist, Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, brings his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior and reaches around the globe.

Read more Jack Engelhard, A Novelist’s View of the World

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Jack Engelhard

Jack Engelhard enjoys international fame as a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, which was turned into film starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. His memoir Escape From Mount Moriah has been acclaimed for excellence and a movie version was an official selection at CANNES. Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer. Engelhard’s journalism covers all topics, with special focus on  the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe. He can be contacted at


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