A Terrifying Drive With Robert Redford

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The following is an excerpt from my memoir MAGIC TIME: MY LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD

During Property, which I could now return to without the shadow of being drafted looming over me, Robert Redford and I had become friends. We had a mutual love of movies, and we always had something to share with one another about sports. On Sundays, we’d play golf together, and from time to time we’d toss a football.

Bob was not only great looking but a terrific actor to boot. Though he wasn’t a movie star yet, everyone knew he was on a fast track to stardom, but this was before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

One day while we were filming in Los Angeles, he said to me, “I’ve got this house and some land in Utah and I want to drive up there this weekend. Why don’t you come? We’ll trade off driving all night so we can get there Saturday morning. We’ll hang out and then drive back late Sunday in time to be on set by Monday morning.”

That sounded like a great plan, so I said, “Sure, why not?”

Bob drove a Lincoln Continental in those days. We left Paramount around seven o’clock Friday night and drove all the way to Vegas, sharing the driving and stopping at an all-you-can-eat dive along the way.

We’d been talking and talking all the while we drove. We talked about the movie, about sports, and about the A-frame house Bob and his wife, Lola, had built—casual conversation that any two guy friends driving through the desert would be having.

I had been driving for about two hours since leaving Vegas when all of a sudden in the middle of God-only-knows what pitch-black desert in Nevada, Bob said, “Pull off the road.” “Why Bob?” I asked.

The idea unnerved me but he insisted. “Just pull off, just pull over. Trust me.”

His voice was authoritative, insistent, so I pulled off the main road onto a side road and kept driving until he said, “Pull over there.”

“There? That’s dirt,” I said, stating the obvious but trying to hide my growing fear.

“Just pull over and stop.”

In nearly the same instant as I pulled over and put the brake on, Bob shoved the gear shift into park, turned off the engine, grabbed the keys, and said harshly, “Get out.”

If this were a scene in a movie, it would be the moment where the friend of the handsome, popular guy realizes his pal is a serial killer and he’s about to have his throat cut. As close as I felt Bob and I were, it occurred to me at the moment he insisted I get out of the car that, in fact, I barely knew him. My heart was thundering right out of my chest as I got out of the car, making sure to stay on my side of the Lincoln’s vast hood.

I tried to clock the expression on his face. Is that a scowl? I think that’s a scowl. I scanned his pockets for bulges that might reveal the presence of a hidden gun or knife. Braver men than I might have run or fought, but instead, just as I began to feel my legs about to buckle underneath me in sheer terror, Bob began to scream, a long, let-it-all- out scream that clearly had nothing to do with me.

When it was over, he looked at me satisfied, smiled, threw me the keys, and said, “Try it. It’ll be good for you.”

Still shaken and not understanding why he wanted me to, I tried to scream, but only a pitiful little “Ehhhh” sound eked its way up from my totally constricted throat and squeaked out of my mouth.

Even though I was squeaking, all the tension I felt was gone, and I realized that it had been one of Bob’s practical jokes all along. Man, did he get me!

We got back in the car, and as we headed up to Utah, he told me all about Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy and how it was sup- posed to release suppressed trauma.

We stayed that weekend in Redford’s A-frame house on the land that would later become Sundance. With everything Sundance has become since then, whenever it comes across my radar, I still can’t help but remember the night Bob Redford almost slit my throat.

For more, check out MAGIC TIME: MY LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD.