Van Nuys Senior High School

Robert Redford: Van Nuys High School class of ’54

Nearly every junior at Van Nuys High School has read or will read the novel, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which tells the tale about a young, respected man named Jay Gatsby who rises to riches and fame.

In the 1974 movie adaptation, Gatsby is played by Robert Redford, who graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1954.

Growing up as the son of a milkman, Redford soon rose to riches and fame as he became an acclaimed actor, director, producer, businessman, environmentalist, and philanthropist.

He is also the founder of the Sundance Film Festival.

Among the numerous famous alumni who have walked through the halls of Van Nuys High School, such as Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Gordon Levitt, Redford is by far our most distinguished alumnus.

At 80 years old, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in November. This honor is the highest civilian award of the United States and can only be given by the president. Its purpose is to recognize people who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

He was awarded among just 21 scientists, sports stars, architects, other exemplary citizens. However, more importantly, he is a former Van Nuys High School student.

Redford’s many diverse and unique interests has made him the person he is today.

When Redford was a student at Van Nuys High School, he was interested in sports and the arts. He considered himself to be a “bad” student. Being interested in baseball in particular, he enrolled at the University of Colorado on a baseball scholarship. Back at Van Nuys High School, he was actually classmates with the former Los Angeles Dodger baseball pitcher, Don Drysdale.

Redford was then able to save up enough money to move to Europe to study art, but he returned to the states to work as a theatrical designer in New York. As he transitioned to acting, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art.

After making his stage debut in the movie “Tall Story” (1960), things quickly escalated for Redford as he was signed for the film “Barefoot in the Park” (1967). He won a Golden Globe for best new star for his role in “Inside Daisy Clover” (1965) and became a major star when he starred in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969).

The greatest hit of his career was a movie called “The Sting” (1973), for which he received an Academy Award nomination.

Redford embraced a transition and began to direct films rather than act in them.

The very first film that he directed was called “Ordinary People” (1980) and was a highly recognized film that won four oscars and Redford the Academy Award for Best Director in 1981. He continued to direct films including “A River Runs Through It” (1992) and “Quiz Show” (1994) for which he earned another Best Director nomination.

Redford was included in Time Magazine’s list of Most Influential People in the World in 2014.

He was then awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama.

“Robert Redford has captivated audiences from both sides of the camera, through entertaining motion pictures that often explore vital social, political and historical themes. His lifelong advocacy on behalf of preserving our environment will prove as an enduring legacy as his award-winning films, as well as his pioneering support for independent filmmakers across America. His art and activism continue to shape our nation’s cultural heritage, inspiring millions to laugh, cry, think, and change.”