From the January 27, 1975 issue of New York Magazine.
Write a story about war in the Middle East and you get four, maybe five, letters. Mention in a movie story, as I did, that Robert Redford is short, and you really catch it. Writes an editor at Cosmopolitan: “Robert Redford does not belong on anybody’s list of ‘short’ men. He is six feet in his cowboy boots and, though there is some controversy, he is, at the least, five-ten-and-a-half without them.” (Italics added.) Or, as a tallish woman who rides the elevator is his East Side apartment building with him put it, a little ambiguously: “As good looking as he is, I’d walk in the gutter to make him six feet tall. If he wanted to be seven feet tall, I’d walk on my knees.” Another woman who has ridden the very same elevator—and where better to size someone up than in an elevator?—swear the man is five-seven or five-eight, tops.
“It’s so funny,” a publicist from one of the movie companies told me—“it’s a source of endless speculation. Just last week I was having lunch with an editor who had met him and who was remarking about how short he is.”
And there is a matter of principle here, of sorts. How many other contemporary issues are there, after all, that have real, solid, definitive answers? I mean, if investigative journalism can’t answer this one, of what can we be sure? In the name of Truth, therefore, and in the hope that even I, who am no giant, might be as tall as this American hero, we began nosing around.
To begin with, we put the question to Redford’s people directly. Becky Britton, his assistant, told me, “He says he’s six feet tall, so I’m sure he is. Or at least five-eleven. I’ve never measured him.” And no, she didn’t think he would consent to let us measure him, either. Even so, we felt confident on the strength of her testimony that all estimates we had received in the six-one to six-three range could be eliminated. The New York Times, which pegged him at six-two recently, would seem to have been caught napping on this one.
The head of a major motion-picture studio, shortish, guesses that Redford is five-ten. An average height investment banker who has met Redford estimates five-nine—“with his cowboy boots on.” And to a towering West Coast television producer I spoke with, Redford looks to be five-seven or five-eight.
Is it possible that a movie star can move among millions of fans and conceal his height? His age I could understand. Everyone lies about his age. His sex, even. It’s been done. But his height? This is an issue, I think it is becoming clear, the importance of which cannot be underestimated.
Now, you can look at this thing two ways. You can figure that people overestimate his height because, as the editor from Cosmo went on to say, “Redford is very tall when standing on his charisma.” Or you can figure that he is so enormous on the screen and in our minds’ eyes that when you finally get to seeing him in person—just real—you have to say, with Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”
An editor at Ms., through whose offices Redford occasionally walks to get to one of his own, says he is “quite narrow” and at least five-feet-ten. “He is taller than I am,” she says, “and I am five-nine-and-three-quarters. Can I tell you a story even though it has nothing to do with his height? I think the greatest experience of my life—it must have been comparable to taking cocaine, which I did once—was late one Friday afternoon when I was jogging around the reservoir, on one of those wintry gray days, and the water was gray—and all of a sudden running toward me was Redford, all reddish-suntanned in one of those blue Abercrombie & Fitch jogging suits, and he looked like he was nine feet tall he was so terrific.” This is an editor at Ms., no less.
Yet at Warner Communications, where Redford has another office-of-convenience, the secretaries, I’m told, were disappointed by his life-size appearance.
With some people, the urge to please Redford is such that he can grow right in the midst of a conversation. I spoke with a woman at Columbia who has dressed him for six pictures, beginning with Barefoot in the Park (see exhibit C), and she acknowledged that yes, Redford was definitely less than six feet tall. She would guess five-ten, she said. Five-ten. Okay, we talked a little more… he wears no special shoes, she says, he is just so perfectly proportioned that he appears tall; he is terribly athletic… and when I came around to explaining that Redford passes himself off as six feet tall, my source allowed as to how she didn’t think he was that tall, but guessed that he was “at least five-eleven or five-eleven-and-a-half.” Minimum.