Redford went to college in Colorado, looking to escape L.A. and be more close to nature. Though he loved L.A. as a kid, “When the war ended . . . suddenly Los Angeles . . . it felt like the city was being pushed into the sea. . . . Suddenly there were skyscrapers and freeways and smog.”
Colorado was an escape, and he wanted out. Redford’s unmistakable athleticism in high school earned him a baseball scholarship to the University of Colorado. In high school, he also excelled in tennis and football. In college, he pitched for the team and even joined a fraternity. Alas, having lost his mother just several years earlier, he was not quite out of his hooligan stage. Drinking became an issue and he ended up losing his scholarship and having to drop out of the university.
School Was Not His Favorite Place
“All I could think about was how to get myself out, once I was in, without relying on a bell ringing,” Redford told Rolling Stone, recalling the days he was trapped at a desk in the classroom. He used every excuse he could think of—stomach aches, bathroom breaks, needing to call home—just to get outside and wander around for a few minutes.
“I was not a good student,” Redford said. “My mind was out the window. I drew underneath the desk. I drew pictures.” The classroom was not the place where he learned. In 2013, he revealed to NPR, “I wasn’t learning the way I was supposed to learn, and I think I realized that my education was going to happen when I got out in the world and engaged with other cultures, other places, other languages and had the adventure of exploration. And I felt, ‘That’s my education.’”
The Fabled Actor was a Teenage Hooligan
“I was a failure at everything I tried,” Redford told Success magazine. He got in trouble with the law. He couldn’t hold down a job. Redford even said he used to work at a supermarket as a box boy and got fired. And then his dad found him a job at Standard Oil, and he got fired from that too!
The worst of it was his brushes with the law. He didn’t say how many times he was arrested, but he did tell Success that it was nothing a street kid in New York wouldn’t recognize. Shrugging it off, he added, it was “just stealing hubcaps and breaking into people’s backyards to use the pool when they were away.” The magazine interviewed the actor when he was 43 years old. Redford said his shenanigans and irresponsible behavior sprouted from not being happy in his environment.
Falling in Love and Finding His Way
At university, Redford fell in love with Lola Van Wagenen. After he dropped out, so did she. The girl was from a Mormon family. The rollicking romance burned strong surviving a year’s absence when the young man went off to Europe to find his way as an artist. After studying art in Paris for a year, he returned to Lola.
Everything worked out. In 1987, the University of Colorado awarded Redford an honorary degree, and his quest to be an artist led him to develop his acting career.
The couple longed to be wed. Perhaps Lola Van Wagenen did not have the support of her parents, seeing how it was her beau’s fault she dropped out of the university, because the lovebirds decided to elope.
In September of 1958, they stowed off to Las Vegas and were quietly married. Five weeks later, a respectable public ceremony was held in Provo for family, friends, and loved ones.