Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Robert Redford and Me


How about a break from health care reform in favor of a bit of levity?

Away from the silver screen, I've never laid eyes on Robert Redford. Not so much much as a nanosecond of a celebrity sighting from a hundred yards off. Even so, we've crossed virtual paths a couple of times.

Shortly after I moved to Austin in 1981, John Nichols set up a table at Scholz' Garten to sign copies of his newest novel, The Nirvana Blues. As an admirer of The Milagro Beanfield War and The Magic Journey, I wanted to meet Nichols even though -- in those grad school days -- I could ill afford the price of a hard copy novel. Nonetheless, I went down to the Garten and stood in the signing line.

The line moved slowly because Nichols actually spent time chatting with each patron. I thought about what I wanted to talk about, and by the time I reached the head of the line, I had it: I had seen something somewhere that a film company had taken out an option on Milagro. Was this true? Nichols smiled broadly. It was indeed true, and he had been talking to "Bob Redford" about the possibilities. He didn't know whether anything would come of it, but "Bob" was really interested. A film of Milagro was released seven years later, 1988, written in part by Nichols and directed -- yes -- by Bob Redford.

In the mid-90s at the behest of good friend Paul Newman, Redford became in investor in The Nation. Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation and a truly kind man, relished telling me the following story. It seems he had lunch one afternoon with Redford and Newman. Navasky -- who I don't think would mind me say looks nothing like that pair -- trailed them out of the restaurant when lunch was over. A woman grabbed his coat sleeve wanted to know something: "I know you're somebody. But who?"

Finally, while I can't claim to have heard this one first hand, I am reading the book from which this one comes. It's 1966 or '67, and Redford -- a young, up-and-coming actor who had already done acclaimed work on Broadway and had starred in Barefoot in the Park with Jane Fonda) approached director Mike Nichols about lead role in a film Nichols had begun called The Graduate. As Nichols tells the story,
We were friends, we had done [the stage version of] Barefoot. I was playing pool with him and I said, 'I'm really sad, but you can't do it. You can't play a loser. He said, 'Of course I can play a loser!' I said, 'You can't! Look at you! How many times have you ever struck out with a woman?' And he said, I swear to, 'What do you mean?' He didn't even understand the concept. To him it was like saying, "How many times have you been to a restaurant and not had a meal?' (from Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, Mark Harris, p. 237)
For the record, I have a meal when I go to a restaurant. As for how many times I've struck out, well, let's save that one for the record books...

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R. I. P., Marva Wright...


It's a week late, by R. I. P. Alex Chilton, too...

8 comments:

Foxessa said...

Because, back in the day, we were invited to attend two of the Sundance Institute Film Seminars, one on Composing Film Scores* -- and one as composer to one of the choreographers invited to the summer Choreographing for Film Seminars, we have met 'Bhob.' It is 'Bhob,' spoken almost breathlessly.

It was the closest I've ever been to an actor of that star power. I watched him turn it on, and turn it off. It was really hard not to look at him, but we all worked very hard at our manners, i.e. stare at him clandestinely. He was very nice as a personality, as nice that way as he was nice to look at.

As per usual with every famous actor I've met (most lately the guys who play Draper and Sterling), I was astonished at how small he was.

But meeting Bhob was a long time ago. My time does fly.

Love, C.

* The upshot was that V. was certain he'd never want to do that, silly man.

The Institute even hired me a Correcting Selectric as the SO of the composer. I wrote 6 chapters of my first novel during those weeks.

sussah said...

I was sorry to learn about Marva Wright. In the '90s she used to live directly across the street from us in Gentilly, and I remember a white stretch-limo coming by to pick her up for JazzFest performances. sp, n.o.

ZenYenta said...

You know Victor Navasky?

K. said...

C: My late wife returned from an exhibit of movie costumes that included one of Bhob's from The Sting. She couldn't get over how tiny it was: "That is one little man."

S: Now that sounds like fun! We lived in a musician's neighborhood in Austin -- we often saw Jimmy Vaughan working on a vintage T-Bird in his driveway.

ZY: Indeed I do. Drop me a note and I'll fill you in.

Roy said...

I meant to do a memorial post for Alex Chilton last week and never got to it; I think I got distracted by something else.

I'm trying to count the "famous" people I've known or run into. Nobody of Redford's status, anyhow. But I ended up in a conversation with Dizzy Gillespie at least twice in the '80s, and as described in my Just A Song post on "Addicted" I hung out & jammed with Dan Seals and Cheryl Wheeler. But I do have a story about Arlo Guthrie.

Soon after the release of Alice's Restaurant Arlo played in the Baltimore area (I forget exactly where now) and some friends dragged me to the concert. I hadn't heard of Arlo yet, but I played a lot of Woody's songs, and when I was told that Arlo was Woody's son, I figured it might be interesting.

The concert was great, and the man was as hilarious back then as he still is now. But there was even more of a link that night. Remember "body shirts", those tight-fitting shirts with the weird side seams that hugged your torso? Well, I was wearing one that night - light blue with a white small-floral print, with the three-button sleeve and the high collar - hippie wear for sure! And Lo and Behold! Arlo was wearing the same shirt that night!

So after the concert we went backstage, and eventually I made my way to Arlo (this was the '60s at the start of his career, so there wasn't a big crowd or the necessity for security then), and I asked him if he'd autograph my shirt. He said yes, but on one condition - I had to autograph his shirt in return. Definitely one of those '60s moments!

nursemyra said...

I love your Arlo story Roy!

Vale Alex and Marva

K. said...

Roy, I don't suppose you have any pictures of yourself in that shirt!? And if you do, would you dare post them?

I'm not big on this stuff, but one time did have the ultimate celeb sighting: Jackie and Caroline in New York at a play intermission. I was within a foot of them; Jackie was in her 50s at the time and utterly ravishing.

NM, thanks for dropping by! Love yer blog. We've read a few of the same books.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

ah marva you were way too young. rest well dear friend.

milagro beanfield wars loved the book - for me it was the strongest of the trilogy. but all of nichols' writings are worthy of checking out.


restaurants - looking forward to your thai one!! more on that later