On the trail of the city's most famous temporary resident

Editor’s note: Forty years ago, Columbus caught Robert Redford fever. The movie star was going to star in the prison drama, “Brubaker,” which would be filmed in Central Ohio, and everyone had one question on their minds: Where would Redford live? Columbus Monthly investigated.

We all know that Robert Redford is coming. That is, we know it unless we’ve had our heads in the sand for oh, six months or so. The town has been buzzing. It’s not that we haven’t had stars here before; after all, there’s been Mickey Rooney, and Allen Ludden, and Gordon MacRae, uh … but this is Robert Redford. In a mere matter of days, Redford will be living, breathing, sleeping in Central Ohio. And he’ll be here for months.

This fact is a matter of considerable concern. Columbus has been fraught with rumor and speculation—hardly a dinner party or office lunch goes by without mention of the man’s name. Where is Robert Redford going to live, really? It’s a matter that has intrigued any number of Central Ohio women, who have visions of blond hair and blue eyes and a boyish grin … and that nice big house that’s for sale a block over. 

Rest easy; we’re here to settle this thing. Robert Redford is going to live in Pickerington. He bought a house there in January. It’s a five-bedroom on two acres, with an indoor pool. We heard it from an office worker who heard it from her parents who heard it from a friend who heard it from a banker in town. So there.

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“Pickerington!?” a photographer we know snorted. He then announced conclusively that Redford had bought a house in Mt. Vernon. Mt. Vernon?? But that’s pretty far from Junction City, the little town to the southeast of Columbus where Redford will be filming “Brubaker” for Twentieth Century-Fox. Nonetheless, said our source, that’s where Redford’s going to live. Y’see, his good friend, Kenyon College grad Paul Newman, knows the Central Ohio area, having been back at Kenyon just last fall to direct a theatrical production there, and Newman advised Redford that Mt. Vernon is nice, and ...

On the other hand, we were told pretty authoritatively that Redford is going to live in Bexley, that he’s moving into the house on North Parkview Avenue owned by The Limited’s president, Les Wexner. Wexner, this story goes, will move in with his mother while Redford’s in town.

Redford is going to live out east, we heard next, but he’ll be in Channingway. A large part of the apartment complex is being blocked off for him and the rest of the crew.

Hmmm. Probably everybody who’s even slightly high-up in the real estate business knows, though, right? “I have never heard as many rumors about anything as I have about this,” says one well-placed real estate agent. Does he know where Redford's going to stay? "No, but I'd like to. My wife is dying to know."

The few people who really are in a position to know are pretty tight lipped about the whole business. This elite group includes a couple of people from the Ohio Film Bureau, some Twentieth Century-Fox employees and a very tiny number of Columbus Realtors. You're dealing with a bona fide star here, my dear, a man who will need and want privacy, who will not want to drag his weary and terribly attractive body home after a hard day's filming only to be met by autograph seekers and groupies (and real estate agents' wives).  

Well, we watched “All the President's Men" pretty carefully—saw it two or three times, in fact—and we made thorough mental notes on those investigative reporting techniques Redford and Dustin Hoffman used. Top Secret, Top Shmecret, we thought. We'll break this story.  

We made numerous calls to both coasts. We talked to local real estate agents, told them how nice it would be for their business if word got around that Redford had settled into their comfy 4 BR, 2B1⁄2, WBFP est. in beaut. setting. (We felt funny talking that way at first, but it grows on you.) We cooed, cajoled, wheedled, harassed. We talked to Ohio Film Bureau staffers, whenever they happened to be in the office and accepting calls. We even offered to meet one potential source in the Statehouse Underground Parking Garage. He snickered. 

One thing we found out was that Redford did not spend the winter flying into Columbus on weekends to troop through available houses. An assistant producer at Fox and Redford's personal secretary were most likely, by all accounts, as far as we can determine, the selectors. The film bureau put them into contact with two area Realtors (DeeMurphy of Sarah Simpson Realtors and Richard Reedy Sr.), and most of the house-hunting contacts have been with these two. 

On the other hand, at the end of January, a Columbus bank executive was telling people with absolute certainty that Redford had been seen at Whisper a couple of times ... that, in fact, Redford had danced with one of the bank's secretaries there. Only she hadn't known it was him till later; "He's shorter than you expect him to be, you know," the banker explained. 

After brief consideration, we rejected the possibility that Redford was going to live in a loft apartment above Whisper.

We queried and sifted and pieced together and cross-indexed. Here are the facts:

Redford wanted to lease, not buy, a house. And he wanted it to be on the East Side. Jill Nienberg, assistant manager of the Ohio Film Bureau, says, “Under his contract, he has to be staying within 10 or 15 minutes of where the dailies are located." The dailies, or the showing of the film shot each day, will probably be where the rest of the cast is located. And there's a good bet that's the Hilton Inn East. 

And Redford surely would want to be fairly close to where the film's being shot. That narrows the location roughly to an area from Bexley to Reynoldsburg, and from Broad Street south to Brice and Pickerington. 

He wants seclusion, of course. Nienberg assured us that one requirement was that the house be one "you can't just drive by.” That means it's back off the road, or out of the way. 

How about size? Redford does not travel alone. Mari Barnum, manager of the film bureau, says his retinue includes “a wardrobe person, a makeup person, a driver, several security people," and frequently his family. That seems to indicate four or five bedrooms, even if some of his staff people stay with the rest of the cast and his family just shows up for occasional visits. 

Barnum's assistant and real estate agents involved in the search say things like swimming pools and tennis courts weren't necessities. "He's going to be working 14 or 16 hours a day," says Nienberg. “And Sunday will be his only day off.” 

Not much time to enjoy such accouterments. And they may not have been in the budget. One real estate agent who was contacted to help in the search says she was told to look for a house that leased for $800 a month or less. Reedy says he didn't have that limitation, but says he didn't just show $300,000 homes. "Redford didn't necessarily want something of ‘movie star quality,' " Reedy says. But we can rule out tract houses. “I showed a few of those," Reedy says, "and they were excluded." 

That's one of the few even semi specific things Reedy will say, though. He says he tracked down some places on his own for the Redford people's consideration, called some other Realtors, and ended up showing "around a dozen" homes to Fox representatives. There were several phases: "I'd go and take pictures of the outside of the house and send them to California," he says. "If they liked that, I'd make an appointment to show them the inside."

He won't disclose any addresses: "I'm sure the studio would want this done confidentially."

Dee Murphy is even tighter-lipped about her role in Redford's house selection. Yes, she is "representing the client,” meaning Redford's studio, but "I don't have any comment for you.” Wheedle, wheedle. "I showed about a half-dozen homes; some are general listings, some are not. Some are furnished, some not. I'm really not able to say anything more.” Cajole, cajole. "If you go through the multiple listing book and pick out the nicest homes, you'll probably—no, I really can't say that. I just can't answer any more questions." 

Did Woodward/Redford and Bernstein/Hoffman let a little thing like a stone wall stop them? 

There are probably hundreds of homes that fit the criteria: size, seclusion, availability, location. The best we could do for determined Redford-watchers was narrow the field to a few hot prospects:  

321 Old Trail Dr.: Neighbors around this Laurel Canyon split level swear Redford is moving in. It has four bedrooms, two and a half baths, a private patio with a fountain. (The sound of gently splashing water can be soothing after a rough day on the set.) The house has a formal living room and 11 skylights throughout. It's set off the road, though it may not be secluded enough. Call Wanda Jackson of The Jerry Connor Co., who has the house listed, and ask her if Redford has leased it: "No comment. I really don't want to be quoted," says Jackson. 

Rt. 1, London-Lancaster Rd.: This 4,000-square-foot house has four bedrooms, three baths, and certainly is secluded. It sits at the end of a long drive, surrounded by 20 acres of heavily-wooded land, about 15 minutes from the Hilton Inn East. It was custom-built about 25 years ago, and has an outdoor swimming pool. Dave Carruthers, president of Larry Wade & Co. Realtors, has the house listed. He says he presented "a half-dozen" houses to Twentieth Century-Fox, working through Reedy, and this was one. 

8972 Charington Ct.: Chevington Woods has been mentioned again and again, by Realtors and in varying rumors, as the site of Redford's house. The street dead-ends at this house, so it would be "impossible to drive by.” It has three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a game room and a spiral staircase in its 3,800 square feet. 

We hate to put an end to neighborhood speculation and rumor in some places, but we were able to eliminate a few houses from the possibles list during our investigation. Contrary to what you may have heard, these three just aren't in the running: 

9186 Indian Mount Ct.: It has five bedrooms and a shallow indoor pool, says Sheldon Cooper of Century 21 Acquista-Dillon Realtors, but it wasn't accepted by Fox. 

13467 Chevington Dr. N.: Sally Pettit of Falco, Smith & Kelley Inc. wanted to offer this house, which is now for sale, to Redford. It has three bedrooms, two baths, and a big deck. But Tom Young, of Tom Young and Associates, says he was living in the house at the time, and refused even to consider Pettit's offer. He says, "I didn't want a lot of wild parties and crazy people screwing up my home.”

333 S. Roosevelt Ave.: Some Realtors came up with places, sent photos and descriptions to the film bureau or directly to Twentieth Century-Fox, some made phone calls to both places, some lined up places to show in case anyone contacted them. Cecelia Snider and Mary White of Knolls Realty thought the perfect place for Redford was this four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath, split-level Tudor in Bexley, surrounded by trees. It wasn't even considered.

Even Mari Barnum of the film bureau has resigned herself to the fact that it's only a matter of time until someone follows Redford home from a shooting and comes up with his street address. Veritable parades, probably, lined up at all possible exits to the shooting locale. But we've seen him in “Three Days of the Condor,” and we know he's pretty elusive.

Jill Nienberg says it'll be hard to follow Redford home. After a day of filming, he and his driver "won't just come straight up Rt. 33. They'll be leaving by a back road." 

And, she says, chances are he won't go straight home, anyway. "He'll have to go to dailies, makeup, wardrobe; he'll be eating dinner," she says.

Maybe all this secrecy is unnecessary. Maybe Bob Redford will want to be just one of the folks. After all, he seems friendly on the big screen. And Central Ohioans certainly wouldn't intrude on his privacy … are we the types to go ga-ga over a Movie Star? Maybe he'll have open houses. Maybe he'll invite all the city's investigative reporters over for guacamole, and sit around and swap investigative reporter stories. 

If he does, we'll let you know.

If he doesn't, we're going to go to this spot somebody just told us about off Toll Gate Road just outside of Junction City and hide our car behind a stand of pines next to the road, and look for a black Fleetwood, which is what we hear he'll be using while he's here, and … 

This story originally appeared in the March 1979 issue of Columbus Monthly.

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