Cliff Robertson


Actor
Cliff Robertson

About

Also Known As
Clifford Parker Robertson Iii
Birth Place
Los Angeles, California, USA
Born
September 09, 1923
Died
September 10, 2011
Cause of Death
Natural Causes

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...

Photos & Videos

Autumn Leaves - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Autumn Leaves - Movie Posters
Autumn Leaves - Scene Stills

Family & Companions

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

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.

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 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.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Pilot (1979)
Director
JW Coop (1972)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Ben Parker
Stephen King's Riding the Bullet (2004)
Farmer
13th Child - Legend of the Jersey Devil, Volume 1 (2002)
Mr. Shroud
Mach 2 (2001)
Family Tree (2000)
Waiting For Sunset (1998)
Ted Roth
Race (1998)
Jack Durman
John Carpenter's Escape from L.A. (1996)
President
Renaissance Man (1994)
Wind (1992)
Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991)
Dead Reckoning (1990)
Dr Daniel Barnard
William Holden: The Golden Boy (1989)
Malone (1987)
Dreams of Gold: The Mel Fisher Story (1986)
Mel Fisher
Shaker Run (1985)
Class (1983)
Star 80 (1983)
Brainstorm (1983)
Two of a Kind (1982)
Frank Minor
Dominique (1979)
David Ballard
The Pilot (1979)
Overboard (1978)
Mitch Garrison
Fraternity Row (1977)
Shoot (1976)
Major Rex Jeanette
Obsession (1976)
Return to Earth (1976)
Midway (1976)
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Higgins
Out of Season (1975)
Joe
My Father's House (1975)
Man on a Swing (1974)
Police Chief Tucker
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1974)
Johnny Nolan
Ace Eli And Rodger Of The Skies (1973)
Eli
The Man Without a Country (1973)
JW Coop (1972)
J. W. Coop
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)
Cole Younger
Too Late the Hero (1970)
Lieut. Sam Lawson
The Devil's Brigade (1968)
Maj. Alan Crown
Charly (1968)
Charly Gordon
The Honey Pot (1967)
William McFly
Masquerade (1965)
David Frazer
Up From the Beach (1965)
Sgt. Edward Baxter
Love Has Many Faces (1965)
Pete Jordan
The Best Man (1964)
Joe Cantwell
633 Squadron (1964)
Wing Comdr. Roy Grant
Sunday in New York (1964)
Adam Tyler
My Six Loves (1963)
Rev. Jim Larkin
PT 109 (1963)
Lieut. (j.g.) John F. Kennedy
The Interns (1962)
Dr. John Paul Otis
Underworld U. S. A. (1961)
Tolly Devlin
The Big Show (1961)
Josef Everard
All in a Night's Work (1961)
Warren Kingsley, Jr.
As The Sea Rages (1960)
Gidget (1959)
Kahoona, also known as Burt Vail
Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)
Lt. Comm. Jeff Conway
The Girl Most Likely (1958)
Pete
The Naked and the Dead (1958)
Lt. Robert Hearn
Autumn Leaves (1956)
Burt Hanson
Picnic (1955)
Alan Benson
We've Never Been Licked (1943)
Adams
Corvette K-225 (1943)
Lookout

Writer (Feature Film)

13th Child - Legend of the Jersey Devil, Volume 1 (2002)
Screenwriter
JW Coop (1972)
Writer

Producer (Feature Film)

JW Coop (1972)
Producer
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)
Producer

Cast (Special)

Hollywood's Magic Night (2001)
Sandra Dee (2000)
Interviewee
Bob Fosse: The E! True Hollywood Story (1999)
Interviewee
Lana Turner: Hollywood's Screen Siren (1999)
William Holden: An Untamed Spirit (1999)
The Kennedys: Power, Seduction and Hollywood: The E! True Hollywood Story (1998)
The 70th Annual Academy Awards (1998)
Performer
25th International Emmy Awards (1998)
Presenter
The Lusitania: Murder on the Atlantic (1998)
Narration
Danger in the Jet Stream (1997)
Narration
The GI Bill: The Law That Changed America (1997)
Narrator
Voices of Scotland (1997)
Narration
JFK: A Personal Story (1996)
The Story of the Gun (1996)
Narrator
Earthwinds (1995)
Narration
P.T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman (1995)
Narrator
Sonja Henie: Queen of Ice (1995)
Narrator
The American Revolution (1994)
Voice Of George Washington
Wings as Eagles (1994)
Narration
Lincoln (1992)
Voice
1995 Screen Actors Guild Awards (1992)
Presenter
Life and Death of a Dynasty (1991)
Narration
Ghosts of '87 (1988)
An All-Star Party for "Dutch" Reagan (1985)
World Of Audubon: Galapagos Island (1984)
Narrator
The Screen Actors Guild 50th Anniversary Celebration (1984)
Saturday's Children (1962)
Rims O'Neil

Writer (Special)

Sonja Henie: Queen of Ice (1995)
Writer

Special Thanks (Special)

Sonja Henie: Queen of Ice (1995)
Writer

Misc. Crew (Special)

Sonja Henie: Queen of Ice (1995)
Creative Consultant

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Assignment Berlin (1999)
Cliff Garret
Judith Kranz's Dazzle (1995)
Ford: The Man and the Machine (1987)
The Key to Rebecca (1985)
Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977)

Life Events

1953

Played Ranger Rod Brown on the CBS science-fiction series "Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers"

1956

Landed first romantic lead in "Autumn Leaves" opposite top-billed Joan Crawford

1956

Made feature film debut in a prominent supporting role in "Picnic", based on William Inge's stage play

1959

Received top billing for the first time in "The Battle of the Coral Sea"

1963

Chosen by President John F. Kennedy Jr. to portray him during his wartime years in the biopic "PT 109"

1963

Starred in the pilot episode of the cult science-fiction anthology series "The Outer Limits"; episode entitled "The Galaxy Being"

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"

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"

Photo Collections

Autumn Leaves - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Columbia Pictures' Autumn Leaves (1956), starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson.
Autumn Leaves - Movie Posters
Autumn Leaves - Movie Posters
Autumn Leaves - Scene Stills
Autumn Leaves - Scene Stills
Autumn Leaves - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Columbia Pictures' Autumn Leaves (1956), starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Autumn Leaves - Publicity Stills
Here are a number of still taken to help publicize Columbia Pictures' Autumn Leaves (1956), starring Joan Crawford, Cliff Robertson and Vera Miles.
Gidget - Movie Posters
Here are two one-sheet movie posters for Gidget (1959). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters. Aside from the regular release poster, an advance one-sheet featuring Dick Clark is on view.

Videos

Movie Clip

Underworld U.S.A. - The Girl Backed Down Newly-paroled Tolly (Cliff Robertson), burgling in his quest for revenge, encounters Gus (Richard Rust) with failed drug-mule Cuddles (Dolores Dorn), in Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A., 1961.
Underworld U.S.A. (1961) - Meet Your Maker Tolly, now grown up to be Cliff Robertson, and in jail for 13 years since the murder of his career criminal father, donates blood in order to meet the prison doctor (Henry Norell), just to get at one of his dad's killers, Farrar (Peter Brocco), in writer-producer-director Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A., 1961.
Underworld U.S.A. - Stick Close To Him First syndicate boss Connors (Robert Emhardt) chairing a council, then on the phone with colleague Gela (Paul Dubov) with aide Gus (Richard Rust) and secret infiltrator Tolly (Cliff Robertson), in Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A., 1961.
PT 109 (1963) - Ship At Two O'Clock! Apart from some gaudy Hollywood music, the incident pretty much as recorded, August 2, 1943, Lt.j.g. John F. Kennedy (Cliff Robertson) and Ensign Leonard Thom (Ty Hardin) in command, as their boat, with no radar, is crushed by a Japanese destroyer, in the Solomon Islands, in PT 109, 1963.
Star 80 (1983) - The Personality Of A Pimp Sleazy Vancouver native Paul Snider (Eric Roberts) just arrived in LA, agonizing with his fianceè, future playmate Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway) after meeting Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner (Cliff Robertson), who explains the problem with his staff, writer-director Bob Fosse manipulating time in flashback, in Star 80, 1983.
Star 80 (1983) - Open, They Go For Art Writer-director Bob Fosse’s ambitious, arresting opening, introducing Mariel Hemingway in voice and photos as his subject, Playboy model Dorothy Stratten, and Eric Roberts as her promoter and husband Paul Snider in a damning flashback, in the fact-based Star 80, 1983.
Star 80 (1983) - Make It A Wild Animal More complex montage from writer-director Bob Fosse, with Eric Roberts as Paul Snider and Mariel Hemingway as Dorothy Stratten in her first Vancouver photo session, Hugh Hefner’s brother Keith as the photographer, Cliff Robertson as the Playboy impresario himself, and Carroll Baker her distraught mother, early in Star 80, 1983.
Sunday In New York (1964) - Hello, Lover! Rod Taylor is on the train from Philadelphia, Jane Fonda is riding to Manhattan on the Metro North line and Cliff Robertson is landing his TWA jet at Idlewild, with the jaunty opening tune sung by Mel Torme, in Sunday In New York, 1964, directed by Peter Tewksbury.
PT 109 (1963) - Let's Take A Practice Run Lt.j.g. John F. Kennedy (Cliff Robertson) congratulates his crew on passing inspection then, with Ensign Thom (Ty Hardin) takes the boat out for its first test, in PT 109, 1963, from the book by Robert J. Donovan.
Brainstorm (1983) - Open, Phase Compensation Producer-director Douglas Trumbull’s clever opening, Louise Fletcher the head scientist, Christopher Walken her colleague and subject, along with Jordan Christopher as Gordy, Joe Dorsey as Hal, trying out what we’d today probably call Virtual Reality, in Brainstorm, 1983, also starring Natalie Wood.
Brainstorm (1983) - You Had A Breakthrough Scientist Michael (Christopher Walken) trying to calm Lillian (Louise Fletcher), going to see their boss Alex (Cliff Robertson), who’s also bringing Michael’s estranged wife, designer Karen (Natalie Wood), on board, with excellent technical detail about semi-conductors, in director Doug Trumbull’s Brainstorm, 1983.
Gidget (1959) - Getting Straignt A's A learning-to-surf sequence, Francie (Sandra Dee) with girlfriend B-L (Sue George), the Kahoona (Cliff Robertson), her parents (Arthur O'Connell, Mary LaRoche) and snubbed by Moondoggie (James Darren) in Gidget, 1959.

Trailer

Gidget - (Original Trailer) A young girl (Sandra Dee) dreams of winning acceptance from a gang of surfers.
Devil's Brigade, The - (Original Trailer) Experienced Canadian soldiers and misfit Americans join to beat the Nazis in The Devil's Brigade (1968).
Brainstorm (1983) - (Original Trailer) A scientist battles the military for control of a machine that records sensory experiences-including death in Brainstorm (1983).
Best Man, The - (Original Trailer) Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson are two presidential hopefuls forced to consider dirty politics in Gore Vidal's The Best Man (1964).
Midway - (Original Trailer) Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda star in Midway (1976), a spectacular re-creation of the World War II battle that turned the tide for the U.S. in the Pacific.
Underworld U.S.A. - (Original Trailer) Cliff Robertson plays the police against the mob to bust open Underworld U.S.A. (1961) directed by Samuel Fuller.
Naked and the Dead, The - (Original Trailer) A green lieutenant comes up against incompetent officers and a sadistic sergeant during World War II in The Naked and the Dead (1958), directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Aldo Ray.
Sunday In New York -- (Original Trailer) Cliff Robertson, a philandering pilot, gets real moral, real fast when his sister Jane Fonda contemplates a premarital fling on a Sunday In New York (1964).
Girl Most Likely, The - (Original Trailer) A girl accepts three wedding proposals at once and dreams of marriage to each man in the musical remake of Tom, Dick and Harry, The Girl Most Likely (1957).
Honey Pot, The - (Original Trailer) Rex Harrison plays a millionaire out to fleece former lovers in The Honey Pot (1967) from the writer/director of All About Eve.
PT 109 - (Original Trailer) Future president John Kennedy (Cliff Robertson) fights to save his crew when their PT boat sinks in the Pacific in PT 109 (1963).
Three Days of the Condor - (Original Trailer) A CIA researcher uncovers top secret information and finds himself marked for death in Three Days of the Condor (1975).

Family

Clifford Parker Robertson II
Father
Audrey Robertson
Mother
Heather Robertson
Daughter
Mother Dina Merrill.

Companions

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

Bibliography

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).