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Robert Redford Was My Friend

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Robert Redford was my friend. Or maybe he wasn’t. Time has a way of shifting the narrative.

Robert Redford, New York, 1959

Robert Redford, New York, 1959

I met Redford in 1959 when he was a student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I had come to New York earlier in the year hoping to become a fashion photographer. That ambition faded quickly when I realized I was more interested in the models than the clothes. Not quite ready to give up photography, I drifted into theater work.

I was living in my second floor photo studio in Hell’s Kitchen, just scraping by, when Redford phoned about head shots. I had never heard of him, few people had. He came by a few days later and we started what would be the first of several photo sessions.

I noticed immediately that he stood out from the other acting students who passed through my studio. He seemed more intense, more intelligent, and more introspective than most. I liked him immediately, I think because he was totally devoted to his career but not in the least pretentious. There wasn’t anything “theatrical” in his manner.

But what a natural before the camera! Over the years people have asked how I got Redford to pose as he did. The answer is that I did very little directing; I just pointed the camera and he did the rest. People have also asked about the cigarettes. He didn’t inhale.

Redford returned to the studio two or three of times over the next few weeks and I visited him and his wife Lola once or twice in their Upper East Side apartment. A friendship developed (at least in my mind), but was interrupted by a terrible family crisis. Lola and Robert’s month’s-old child, Scott, died of sudden infant death syndrome.

I wanted to call to see how they were doing, but felt awkward and just couldn’t get myself to pick up the phone. It seems dumb now, but that’s the way it was.

The Candidate

That would have been the end of the story except for Redford’s choice of a filming location in 1972. My friend, Dr. Mort Stein, called to say that Robert Redford was filming the Candidate in San Francisco, and there was a call out of extras. He thought it would be fun to be part of the political convention scenes, and might also have been interested in finding out if I really did know this famous actor. Maybe I could say hello again. I knew I wouldn’t bring up why we had lost contact, but maybe I could think of another excuse to approach him.

Then I remembered. I had a debt to collect.

Robert Redford, New York, 1059

I introduced myself during a break in the filming, secretly hoping he would embrace me as a long lost friend. He didn’t. In fact, he had no idea who I was. Had I exaggerated to myself the importance of our earlier relationship? Maybe so; wouldn’t many people like to think they had been friends with Robert Redford?

When it became clear that Redford had no idea of who I was, I was glad I had brought a copy of a photograph he had ordered before Scott died, but hadn’t paid for.  He recognized it, and immediately came up with seven dollars.

I’ve told this whole story so many times over the years that I’m not sure now about the truth.  Was there really a time when Redford considered me a friend?

I did visit his apartment and meet his wife, and I do know I photographed him because I have all the negatives.

But friendship? That might be an entirely different story.


7 Responses

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  1. I remember part of this story, but not the whole story. What did you do with the $7.00?
    The truth is, once anyone has the good fortune to know you there will always be a friendship. Thank you for our friendship. Maridy


    February 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    • What a great story. And I remember being in your studio with Mom- I was only about 7 I think., but I remember climbing stairs to get to your apartment and the photography equipment and your dog. I remember a German Shepard. It was all very bohemian.


      February 3, 2012 at 5:46 am

  2. Dear Ron,
    I remember you telling me the story when I was at the age of 16. You told it exactly the way you wrote it now. Now I am 36 years of age. The story didn´t change in the last 20 years of time. Why should it have changed the years before? Is it possible to forget a friendship over time? Love you, Nele


    February 3, 2012 at 11:22 am

  3. “Robert Redford Was My Friend | Ron Greene’s Blog” definitely got me simply hooked with ur web site! I reallywill certainly be back again considerably more normally. Thank you -Shelli


    August 17, 2013 at 1:06 am

  4. “Robert Redford Was My Friend | Ron Greene’s Blog” in reality got me personally addicted with ur page! I personallywill certainly be back more regularly. With thanks ,Charmain


    August 17, 2013 at 3:29 pm

  5. What stunning photography and gorgeous image of a wonderful actor.


    January 16, 2014 at 2:56 pm

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