Cliff Robertson in 1965
|Born||Clifford Parker Robertson, III
September 9, 1923
La Jolla, California, USA
|Died||September 10, 2011
Stony Brook, New York
|Cause of death||Natural causes|
|Residence||Water Mill, North York|
|Education||La Jolla High School|
|Alma mater||Antioch College|
Clifford Parker "Cliff" Robertson III (September 9, 1923 – September 10, 2011) was an American actor with a film and television career that spanned half a century. Robertson portrayed a young John F. Kennedy in the 1963 film PT 109, and won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the movie Charly. On television, he portrayed retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the 1976 adaptation of Aldrin's autobiographic Return to Earth, played a fictional character based on Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms in the 1977 adaptation of John Ehrlichman's Watergate novel The Company, and portrayed Henry Ford in the 1987 Ford: The Man and the Machine. His last well-known film appearances were in 2002 through 2007 as Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man film trilogy.
Robertson was born on September 9, 1923 in La Jolla, California, the son of Clifford Parker Robertson, Jr. (1902–1968), and his first wife, the former Audrey Olga Willingham (1903-1925). His Texas-born father was described as "the idle heir to a tidy sum of ranching money". Robertson recalled that his father "was a very romantic figure—tall, handsome. He married four or five times, and between marriages he'd pop in to see me. He was a great raconteur, and he was always surrounded by sycophants who let him pick up the tab. During the Depression, he tapped the trust for $500,000, and six months later he was back for more." The actor's parents divorced when he was one, and Robertson's mother died of peritonitis a year later in El Paso, Texas, at the age of 21. He was raised by his maternal grandmother, Mary Eleanor "Eleanora" Willingham (née Sawyer, 1875–1957), in California, and he and his father rarely saw each another. He graduated in 1941 from La Jolla High School, where he was known as "The Walking Phoenix". He then served in the United States Merchant Marine in World War II before attending Antioch College in Ohio and dropping out to work as a journalist for a short time.
Robertson was President John F. Kennedy's personal choice to play him in 1963's PT 109 as a young Lieutenant PT boat captain. Kennedy chose Robertson over Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, Warren Beatty (Jacqueline Kennedy's choice), and Jeffrey Hunter.
The next year, Robertson played a presidential candidate in The Best Man.
A life member of The Actors Studio, Robertson won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a mentally disabled man in Charly, an adaptation of the science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon.
Other films included Picnic (1955), Autumn Leaves (1956), Gidget (1959), Sunday in New York (1963), Devil's Brigade (1968), Too Late the Hero (1970), J. W. Coop (1972), Three Days of the Condor (1975), Obsession (1976), Star 80 (1983) and Malone (1987). Late in his life Robertson's career had a resurgence. He appeared as Uncle Ben Parker in the first movie adaptation of Spider-Man (2002), as well as in the sequels Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007). He commented on his website: "Since Spider-Man 1 and 2, I seem to have a whole new generation of fans. That in itself is a fine residual." He was also in the horror film Riding the Bullet (2004).
Robertson's early television appearances include a starring role in the live space opera Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers (1953–1954), as well as recurring roles on Hallmark Hall of Fame (1952), Alcoa Theatre (1959), and Playhouse 90 (1958, 1960), The Outlaws (three episodes).
In 1960, Robertson was cast as the con man with an unusual name, Martinus Van Der Brig, in the episode "End of a Dream" of the NBC western series, Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin and Noah Beery, Jr. In the story line, Van Der Brig persuades series character Grey Holden (McGavin) to transport a group of pioneers to "Rolling Stone", a tract of land which he recently purchased that cannot match the expectations of the settlers. Character actor Robert J. Wilke appeared in this episode as Red Dog Hanlon.
Other appearances included The Twilight Zone episodes "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" (1961) and "The Dummy" (1962), followed by the NBC medical drama about psychiatry, The Eleventh Hour, in the role of Jeff Dillon in the 1963 episode, "The Man Who Came Home Late".
Robertson guest starred in 1963 in the ABC series, The Greatest Show on Earth, starring Jack Palance. He was also cast on ABC's Breaking Point (1964) and the ABC Stage 67 episode "The Trap of Gold" (1966).
He had starring roles in episodes of both the 1960s and 1990s versions of The Outer Limits. He was awarded an Emmy for his leading role in a 1965 episode, "The Game" of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre.
In 1976, he portrayed a retired Buzz Aldrin in an adaptation of Aldrin's autobiography Return to Earth. The next year, he portrayed a fictional Director of Central Intelligence (based on Richard Helms) in Washington: Behind Closed Doors, an adaptation of John Ehrlichman's roman a clef The Company, in turn based on the Watergate scandal. In 1987, he portrayed Henry Ford in Ford: The Man and The Machine.
In 1984, he narrated an AT&T promotional video documenting some of its technological improvements at the time. Robertson then became AT&T's national television spokesman for ten years, winning the Advertising Age award for best commercial. He was to have been the keynote speaker at an AT&T stockholders' meeting during a strike by AT&T workers, but he refused to cross the picket line and did not speak.
Columbia Pictures scandal
In 1977, Robertson discovered that his signature had been forged on a $10,000 check payable to him, although it was for work he had not performed. He also learned that the forgery had been carried out by Columbia Pictures head David Begelman, and on reporting it he inadvertently triggered one of the biggest Hollywood scandals of the 1970s. As a result of Robertson's whistle-blowing, Begelman was charged with embezzlement: he later was fired from Columbia. Robertson was subsequently blacklisted for several years before he finally returned to film in Brainstorm (1983). The story of the scandal is told in David McClintick's 1982 bestseller Indecent Exposure.
In 1966, he married actress and Post Cereals heiress Dina Merrill, the former wife of Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr.; they had a daughter, Heather (1969-2007), before divorcing in 1989. By this marriage, he also had stepchildren Stanley Hutton Rumbough, David Post Rumbough, and Nedenia (Nina) Colgate Rumbough.
One of Robertson's main hobbies was flying and, among other aircraft, he owned several de Havilland Tiger Moths, a Messerschmitt Bf 108, and a genuine World War II era Mk.IX Supermarine Spitfire MK923. He even entered balloon races, including one in 1964 from the mainland to Catalina Island that ended with him being rescued from the Pacific Ocean. A certified private pilot, Robertson was a longtime member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, working his way through the ranks in prominence and eventually co-founding the EAA's Young Eagles program, which he chaired from its 1992 inception to 1994 (succeeded by former test pilot Gen. Chuck Yeager). He was flying a private Beechcraft Baron directly over New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. He was directly over the World Trade Center, climbing through 7,500 feet, when the first Boeing 767 struck. He was ordered by air traffic control to land immediately at the nearest airport following a nationwide order to ground all civilian and commercial aircraft following the attacks.
|We've Never Been Licked||Adams (uncredited)|
|Autumn Leaves||Burt Hanson|
|1957||The Girl Most Likely||Pete|
|1958||The Naked and the Dead||Lieutenant Robert Hearn|
|Days of Wine and Roses||Joe Clay||Part of the Playhouse 90 anthology series|
|1959||Gidget||The Big Kahuna|
|As the Sea Rages||Clements|
|Battle of the Coral Sea||Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Conway|
|1960||Riverboat||Martinus Van Der Brig||"End of a Dream" (NBC-TV)|
|1961||The Big Show||Josef Everard|
|"A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" (The Twilight Zone)||Christian Horn|
|All in a Night's Work||Warren Kingsley, Jr.|
|Underworld U.S.A.||Tolly Devlin|
|1962||The Interns||Dr. John Paul Otis|
|The Dummy: The Twilight Zone: Episode 98||Ventriloquist|
|1963||My Six Loves||Reverend Jim Larkin|
|PT 109||Lt. (j.g.) John F. Kennedy|
|Sunday in New York||Adam Tyler|
|1964||633 Squadron||Wing Cmdr. Roy Grant|
|The Best Man||Joe Cantwell|
|1965||Up from the Beach||Sgt. Edward Baxter|
|Love Has Many Faces||Pete Jordon|
|1967||The Honey Pot||William McFly|
|1968||The Devil's Brigade||Maj. Alan Crown|
|Charly||Charlie Gordon||Academy Award for Best Actor
National Board of Review Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
|1970||Too Late the Hero||Lt. (j.g.) Sam Lawson|
|1972||J. W. Coop||J. W. Coop|
|The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid||Cole Younger|
|1973||The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock||narrator|
|Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies||Ace Eli Walford|
|1974||Man on a Swing||Lee Tucker|
|1975||Out of Season||Joe Tanner||Entered into the 25th Berlin International Film Festival|
|Three Days of the Condor||J. Higgins|
|Midway||Cmdr. Carl Jessop|
|Return to Earth||Buzz Aldrin|
|Washington: Behind Closed Doors||William Martin||Adaptation of The Company; character based on Richard Helms|
|1979||The Little Prince
Martin the Cobbler
Rip Van Wynkle
The Diary of Adam and Eve
|Host; The pilot (Little Prince)||Package of Claymation shorts by Will Vinton|
|The Pilot||Mike Hagan|
|Falcon Crest||Dr. Michael Ranson||Season 3|
|Star 80||Hugh Hefner|
|1985||Shaker Run||Judd Pierson|
|Ford: The Man and the Machine||Henry Ford|
|1991||Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken||Doctor Carver|
|1994||Renaissance Man||Colonel James|
|1995||Waiting for Sunset or The Sunset Boys (Pakten)||Ted Roth|
|1996||Escape from L.A.||President|
|1998||Assignment Berlin||Cliff Garret|
|Melting Pot||Jack Durman|
|2000||Falcon Down||Buzz Thomas|
|2001||Mach 2||Vice President Pike|
|2002||13th Child||Mr. Shroud||Robertson was one of the writers of this film|
|2004||Spider-Man 2||Ben Parker||Cameo|
|Riding the Bullet||Farmer|
|2007||Spider-Man 3||Ben Parker||Cameo; Last film appearance|
Robertson received an award from Antioch College Alumni in 2007 for his contributions to his field of work. In addition to his Oscar and Emmy and several lifetime achievement awards from various film festivals, Robertson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. He was also awarded the 2008 Ambassador of Good Will Aviation Award by the National Transportation Safety Board Bar Association in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 18, 2008, for his leadership in and promotion of general aviation.
- "Cliff Robertson, who played JFK in 'PT-109', dies". Yahoo! News. September 11, 2011. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
- "Career Achievements". The Official Website of Cliff Robertson. Retrieved October 15, 2011.
- Keepnews, Peter (September 11, 2011). "Cliff Robertson, Oscar-Winning Rebel, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- California Births, 1905–1995 Familytreelegends.com
- Several obituaries have stated that Robertson was adopted by his parents. However, the California Birth Index of 1905–1995 states that Clifford P. Robertson was born to a mother whose maiden name was Willingham, in Los Angeles County, California, on September 9, 1923.
- Mother's birth and death information per records accessed on ancestry.com on September 12, 2011
- Father's birthplace accessed on ancestry.com on September 12, 2011
- Green, Michelle (December 5, 1983). "Cliff Robertson". People. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
- Mother's death information per records accessed on ancestry.com on September 12, 2011
- Grandmother's name and dates accessed on ancestry.com on September 12, 2011
- "Cliff Robertson". Film Reference.com.
- "Cliff Robertson/Hollywood Walk of Fame". Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- "Cliff Robertson".
- "Cliff Robertson". Yahoo!
- Hoberman, J. (August 26, 2003). "Lights, Camera, Exploitation". Village Voice. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
- Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 278. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
- "Cliff Robertson's Career Achievements". Retrieved November 14, 2007.
- "Berlinale: 1989 Juries". berlinale.de. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- ""End of a Dream", [[Riverboat (TV series)|Riverboat]], September 19, 1960". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 21, 2013. Wikilink embedded in URL title (help)
- "Cliff Robertson". The Telegraph (London). September 11, 2011.
- McClintick, David. Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street, William Morrow and Company, 1982.
- Hall, Bob. Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine. Cliff Robertson Collects Vintage AircraftArticle on Robertson's private aviation collection. 2004.
- First Cross-Country Soaring or (You Ain't John Wayne – Robertson)
- Official Cliff Robertson site
- "US film actor Cliff Robertson dies aged 88". BBC. September 11, 2011. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- The Complete Definitive Collection Season 3, Disk 5
- Official website
- Cliff Robertson at the Internet Movie Database
- Cliff Robertson at the Internet Broadway Database
- Cliff Robertson at Find a Grave
- Interview in the Archive of American Television
- Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre episode "The Game" at the Internet Movie Database
- Warbird Registry entry on MK923
- "Cliff Robertson, 1923–2011: Actor, Writer, Producer and Director", a Special English presentation of Voice of America