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.
But enough hearsay. Down to hard evidence.
Exhibit A: Although I was continually put off from seeing Redford in person, there were other means by which to pursue the investigation. From Pictorial Parade we obtained the photograph above. The Redfords are strolling up Fifth Avenue, a few steps from the Sheey-Netherland and an easy prey to plane geometry. Note the trash disposal can on the right. I imagined that by measuring its height, calculating the distance from it to Redford, and refurbishing some of the axioms from my ninth-grade geometry class, I would have Mr. Redford in the proverbial hypotenuse. But Redford’s men apparently beat me to the punch. When I went to measure the trash can, I found it had been replaced with one of those heavy cement ones with the advertising panels.
No problem. What they had forgotten to do was rub out the lines in the pavement. These lines, I discovered, are exactly 50 inches long. Now, measuring my eight-by-ten glossy photograph, I find that 50 real inches are reduced to three and seven-sixteenths photographic inches. (This is measure horizontally across the pavement at a point just beneath Mr. Redford’s epicenter.) Redford, meantime, is four and seven-eighths photographic inches tall, allowing a little for him to straighten his neck. Therefore, 3 7/16 ÷ 4 7/8 = 50 ÷ X, with X = Redford. Solving for X, we find tat Redford is almost exactly five-eleven, with his shoes on. And note the heels. It may be hard to see in the reproduction, but in the original glossy photo his left heel looks very much like one of those two-inch jobbies. What’s more, his right heel, though obscured from view, must be at least three inches off the ground. (If you don’t believe me, try walking with both the heel and the toe of your back foot touching the ground.) Netting footwear and gait from our equation, Mr. Redford would appear to be around five-eight-and-a-half in his bare feet, or perhaps even less.*
Exhibit B: Michael J. Pollard claims to be five-feet-eight. Well, that’s another article (as is Jack Nicholson who they say is only five-feet-eight). But taking him at his word, notice how he stacks up next to Redford in this unretouched photo. And again Redford is wearing heels that are an inch and three-quarters at the very least.
Exhibit C: Caught “barefoot in the park,” yes—but obviously stretching. And take note that the lines in the pavement seem to have been removed also.
Exhibit D: Redford is nobody’s fool. Have you ever noticed how he is always the last one off a step? But we are nobody’s fool, either. We can count bricks. However many stones Redford may weight—we couldn’t care less—he is clearly 26 bricks tall.
Persuasive as the indirect evidence is, the only way to really be sure, we decided, was to see the man eye to eye, and then take a look at his footwear. It was not easy to arrange such a meeting.
But I have seen Robert Redford, at last, and I can tell you that he is five-nine-and-three-quarters.
Give or take.