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Also Known As: Clifford Parker Robertson Iii Died: September 10, 2011
Born: September 9, 1923 Cause of Death: Natural Causes
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, USA Profession: actor, TV spokesman, director, journalist

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

As a child growing up in an idyllic California coastal town in the years before the Great Depression, Cliff Robertson was raised to value hard work and perseverance. He saw action in the South Pacific during World War II and worked as a newspaperman before heading to New York City to make a name for himself as an actor. Classes with the Actor's Studio led to his Broadway debut and a busy schedule of work on stage, on television and in such feature films as "PT 109" (1962) and "The Best Man" (1963). An Academy Award winner for playing the title role in "Charly" (1969), Robertson segued smoothly from star roles to character parts in the mid-Seventies but his career was derailed by the 1977 "Hollywoodgate" scandal. After exposing the embezzlement of more than half a million dollars by the head of Columbia Pictures, the actor found himself blacklisted in the industry. Robertson reemerged in a run of high profile films in the early Eighties, reestablishing himself as a venerable American actor, among the last of a dying breed, and a true survivor.Born in La Jolla, CA on Sept. 9, 1925, Clifford Parker Robinson III was the only son of Audrey Willingham and Clifford Parker Robertson, II, heir to a ranching...

As a child growing up in an idyllic California coastal town in the years before the Great Depression, Cliff Robertson was raised to value hard work and perseverance. He saw action in the South Pacific during World War II and worked as a newspaperman before heading to New York City to make a name for himself as an actor. Classes with the Actor's Studio led to his Broadway debut and a busy schedule of work on stage, on television and in such feature films as "PT 109" (1962) and "The Best Man" (1963). An Academy Award winner for playing the title role in "Charly" (1969), Robertson segued smoothly from star roles to character parts in the mid-Seventies but his career was derailed by the 1977 "Hollywoodgate" scandal. After exposing the embezzlement of more than half a million dollars by the head of Columbia Pictures, the actor found himself blacklisted in the industry. Robertson reemerged in a run of high profile films in the early Eighties, reestablishing himself as a venerable American actor, among the last of a dying breed, and a true survivor.

Born in La Jolla, CA on Sept. 9, 1925, Clifford Parker Robinson III was the only son of Audrey Willingham and Clifford Parker Robertson, II, heir to a ranching dynasty. After the divorce of his parents and his mother's death from the onset of peritonitis due to a ruptured appendix six months later, Robertson was taken in by his maternal grandmother Eleanor Sawyer Willingham, a divorceé who adopted the boy and raised him in partnership with an uncle. Robertson's charming but shiftless father would return throughout his childhood to dip into his son's trust fund. To keep the boy from inheriting his father's spendthrift tendencies, Robertson's Calvinist grandmother tutored him in the importance of hard work, self-reliance and perseverance. At the age of nine, he lied about his age to secure a job delivering newspapers. He made extra money trapping lobsters off the coast of California and traded the scutwork of cleaning airplanes and engine parts at Speer Airport in San Diego for flying lessons, riding his bicycle the 13 miles from La Jolla six times a week.

Inspired by the writings of adventurer Richard Halliburton, Robertson joined the Maritime Service at age 15. He saw action during World War II in the South Pacific, North Atlantic and Mediterranean theatres. In peacetime, he studied journalism at Antioch College in Ohio and wrote for The Springfield Daily News. Persuaded that he might make a better living writing for the theatre, Robertson headed for New York City. His first jobs in Manhattan included working for a detective agency and waiting tables and parking cars at the Stork Club. He joined a summer stock company to learn the mechanics of live performance and played parts in repertory. While acting in small roles on live television, Robertson heard about The Actor's Studio, an offshoot of The Group Theatre run out of an abandoned church on the West Side. As a young cadet at Brown Military Academy in Pacific Beach, Robertson had escaped the monotony of drilling by volunteering for campus theatricals; his summer stock apprenticeship had never been more than a means to an end of becoming a playwright. It was during his time with the Actor's Studio that Robertson began to seriously entertain the notion of making a career of acting.

Between 1953 and 1954, Robertson starred in the CBS science fiction series "Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers," for which he pocketed $175 a week. Taping the series by day, he made his Broadway debut at night, appearing opposite Elizabeth Montgomery in the Rosemary Casey comedy "Late Love." In 1955, he made his proper film debut in "Picnic," Joshua Logan's adaptation of the William Inge play, which had been a hit on Broadway two years earlier. In Robert Aldrich's "Autumn Leaves" (1956), Robertson shed his collegiate image to play Joan Crawford's younger, psychotic lover and a battle-hardened army officer in Raoul Walsh's "The Naked and the Dead" (1958), based on the novel by Norman Mailer. He received unanimous praise as the alcoholic antihero of "The Days of Wine and Roses," which John Frankenheimer staged live for "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961), but lost the part in Blake Edwards' 1962 film adaptation to Jack Lemmon. Able to transition smoothly between pink-cheeked charm and dead-eyed ferality, the actor segued easily between appearances as an aimless surf bum in Paul Wendkos' "Gidget" (1959) and a merciless contract killer in Sam Fuller's "Underworld USA" (1961).

To play WWII Navy lieutenant John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the fact-based "PT 109" (1962), Robertson was approved by JFK himself, then the 35th President of the United States. Robertson did a dramatic about-face to play an unscrupulous presidential candidate in "The Best Man" (1963), adapted by Gore Vidal from the 1960 political novel by Garson Kanin. Robertson enjoyed many high-profile film assignments throughout the Sixties but the jewel in his career crown was the title role in "Charly" (1968), as a mentally handicapped adult whose IQ is boosted to the level of genius by radical neurosurgery. Robertson had won an Emmy for playing the role in 1961, when the Daniel Keyes source novel Flowers for Algernon was dramatized as an episode of "The U.S. Steel Hour" (ABC, 1953-1963) by director John Frankenheimer, and received an Academy Award for his work in "Charly." In 1971, Robertson made his feature film directorial debut with "J.W. Coop," casting himself in the role of an ex-convict who rehabilitates himself as a rodeo rider.

A demanding and at times difficult actor, Robertson made bold and unusual choices in his film roles through the Seventies. He played Wild West outlaw Cole Younger to Robert Duvall's Jesse James in Philip Kaufman's revisionist Western "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid" (1972), and was a small town police chief who reluctantly partners with a psychic to solve a murder case in Frank Perry's fact-based "Man on a Swing" (1974). In Sydney Pollack's "Three Days of the Condor" (1975), the actor was charmingly persuasive as a sinister CIA insider bedeviling Robert Redford's outside man. Traveling to Canada for Harvey Hart's "Shoot" (1976), Robertson joined Ernest Borgnine and Henry Silva in a downbeat tale of a rivalry between weekend hunters that escalates into full scale warfare. For Brian De Palma, Robertson headlined the Hitchcockian "Obsession" (1976) and on the small screen he played NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the ABC telefilm "Back to Earth" (1976), which detailed the nervous breakdown and eventual recovery of the second man to walk on the moon.

In 1977, Robertson became the leading man in a Hollywood scandal after exposing Columbia Pictures studio head David Begelman's role in an embezzlement scam. Although the studio board of directors pressured Robertson to remain silent on the subject of the theft of what amounted to $650,000, the actor spoke his mind about "Hollywoodgate" in an interview published in The Wall Street Journal and soon found himself blacklisted within the industry. He worked infrequently for the next two years, during which he directed live theatre and developed what would be his second feature as a director, "The Pilot" (1980), adapted from the novel by Robert P. Davis. Robertson made a comeback in the early Eighties, as Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner in Bob Fosse's "Star 80" (1983) and as a principled research scientist in Douglas Trumbull's "Brainstorm" (1983), a sci-fi extravaganza co-starring Natalie Wood, who died tragically during filming.

After a two-year run on the primetime soap opera "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-1990) and a 10-year stint as the national TV spokesman for AT&T, Robertson pushed past retirement age with a string of assignments in films with budgets high and low, made for television and the cinema. He played pioneer auto maker Henry Ford in "Ford: The Man and the Machine" (1987) and was the President of the United States in John Carpenter's satiric "Escape from L.A." (1996), a belated sequel to "Escape from New York" (1979). Later, Robertson loaned his estimable gravitas to Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" (2002) and its two sequels as web-slinging superhero Peter Parker's homily-prone Uncle Ben. The actor passed away one day after his 88nd birthday on Sept. 10, 2011 in Long Island, NY.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Pilot, The (1979) Director
2.
  JW Coop (1972) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Spider-Man 3 (2007)
3.
 Spider-Man 2 (2004) Ben Parker
4.
 Spider-Man (2002) Uncle Ben Parker
6.
 Mach 2 (2001) Vice President Pike
7.
 Family Tree (2000) Larry
8.
 Waiting For Sunset (1998) Ted Roth
9.
 Race (1998) Jack Durman
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Worked for a short time as a journalist
:
Gained acting experience on the stage (including Broadway) in the early 50s; made appearances in "Mister Roberts", "The Wisteria Tree" and "Orpheus Descending", among others
:
Made his earliest TV appearances in the early 50s on such dramatic anthology series as "Short, Short Drama" and "Montgomery's Summer Stock"
1953:
Played Ranger Rod Brown on the CBS science-fiction series "Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers"
1956:
Made feature film debut in a prominent supporting role in "Picnic", based on William Inge's stage play
1956:
Landed first romantic lead in "Autumn Leaves" opposite top-billed Joan Crawford
1959:
Received top billing for the first time in "The Battle of the Coral Sea"
1963:
Starred in the pilot episode of the cult science-fiction anthology series "The Outer Limits"; episode entitled "The Galaxy Being"
1963:
Chosen by President John F. Kennedy Jr. to portray him during his wartime years in the biopic "PT 109"
1966:
Made recurring appearance as the dastardly cowboy Shame, one of many 'special guest villains' who appeared on ABC's cult TV series "Batman"; in his last appearances on the show, his then-wife Dina Merrill also guest-starred as Calamity Jan
1968:
Starred in the NBC TV-movie "The Sunshine Patriot"
1971:
Made feature producing, directing and writing debut in "J.W. Coop", in which he also starred in the title role
1975:
Began playing occasional second leads or prominent supporting roles in films such as "Three Days of the Condor" opposite Robert Redford
1977:
Became involved in "Hollywoodgate" scandal when he accused Columbia Pictures president David Begelman of forging his name to a $10,000 check; Robertson later claimed that he was subsequently unofficially blacklisted in the entertainment industry
1979:
Directed his second feature film "The Pilot," in which he also starred
1981:
Wrote and directed the stage play "The V.I.P.s"
1983:
Played recurring role of Michael Ransom on the nighttime CBS soap opera "Falcon Crest"
1983:
Returned to features with roles in "Class", "Star 80" and "Brainstorm"
:
Began providing voice-overs and making appearances to a large number of TV commercials for AT&T
1990:
Acted in the two-character stage play "Love Letters" in both New York (opposite Elaine Stritch) and Michael Learned (in San Francisco)
1990:
Hosted a series of six syndicated TV documentary specials titled "Medal of Honor: True Stories of America's Greatest War Heroes"
1991:
Returned to feature film-actnig with a role in "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken"
2002:
Cast as Peter Parker's Uncle Ben in "Spider-Man," directed by Sam Raimi
2004:
Reprised role of Uncle Ben in "Spider-Man 2"
2007:
Made his third film appearance as Uncle Ben in "Spider-Man 3"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Antioch College: -

Notes

Robertson is a member of the Soaring Society of America and has at times owned as many as seven airplanes.

Robertson served to the rank of lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve.

Robertson was appointed to the board of directors of the New York chapter of the Screen Actors Guild in 1980.

Robertson was a council member of the Writers Guild of America from 1984 to 1986.

Robertson has served as honorary chairman of the American Cancer Society and has also done work for the United Way, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the Mental Health Association, the End Hunger Network, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.

Robertson has received honorary doctorates of fine arts from Bradford College (1981), MacMurray College (1986) and Susquehanna University (1988).

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Cynthia Stone Lemmon. Actor. Formerly married to Jack Lemmon; married c. 1957-1959.
wife:
Dina Merrill. Actor. Second wife; married December 21, 1966; divorced.
companion:
Barbara Clark.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Clifford Parker Robertson II.
mother:
Audrey Robertson.
daughter:
Heather Robertson. Mother Dina Merrill.

Contributions

Wagtail ( 2007-12-05 )

Source: not available

Robertson has a daughter, Stephanie, to his first wife, Cythia Stone Lemmon.

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