Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Late Great Cliff Robertson

He was Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers, Charlie Gordon, and Uncle Ben Parker. He won both an Oscar and an Emmy. Cliff Robertson was a versatile actor with a long career in film, on television, and the stage. He died today, 10 September 2011, the day after his 88th birthday.

Clifford Robertson was born in Los Angeles, California on 9 September 1923. He attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. For a time he worked as a journalist.

Cliff Robertson made his film debut in 1943 in We've Never Been Licked and appeared the same year in Corvette K-225. He made his television debut in an episode of Short Short Dramas. He played the lead in the Saturday morning space opera Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers. Throughout the Fifties he appeared in such shows as Hallmark Hall of Fame, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Kraft Theatre, Wagon Train, Westinghouse Desliu Playhouse, Playhouse 90, The Dick Powell Theatre, The United States Steel Hour, and The Untouchables. He appeared in such films as Picnic (1956), Autumn Leaves (1956), The Girl Most Likely  (1958), The Naked and The Dead (1958), and Gidget (1959).  On Broadway he appeared in the productions Late Love, Orpheus Descending, and The Wisteria Trees.

In the Sixties he appeared in such films as All in a Night's Work (1961), The Big Show (1961), Underworld U.S.A. (1961), My Six Lives (1962), The Interns (1962), PT 109 (1963, in which he played Lt. John F. Kennedy), Sunday in New York (1963), The Best Man (1964), Masquerade (1965), The Honey Pot (1967), The Devil's Bridgade (1967), and Charly (1968--for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor). On television he appeared in the recurring role of the villain Shame on Batman. He also appeared in the shows Bus Stop, Ben Casey, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Suspense, The Red Skelton Hour, Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre, and Bracken's World.

In the Seventies Mr. Robertson appeared in such films as J. W. Coop (1971), The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), Man on a Swing (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975), Midway (1976), and The Pilot (1980). He appeared on television in the mini-series Washington Behind Closed Doors. In the Eighties Cliff Robertson appeared in such films as Star 80 (1983), Class (1983), Brainstorm (1983), Shaker Run (1986), and Malone (1987). On television he was a regular on Falcon Crest. From the Nineties into the Naughts he appeared in such films as Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991), Wind (1992), Renaissance Man (1994), Escape From LA (1996), Spider-Man (2002), and Riding the Bullet (2004). He appeared on television on The Outer Limits.

Cliff Robertson was a versatile actor whom I believe was always underrated. While his name may not be as recognisable as some of his contemporaries, I think there can be no argument that he was a great actor capable of playing nearly any role set before him. This can be seen in the role for which he won an Oscar, that of Charlie Gordon in Charly. The movie deals with a mentally challenged man who undergoes treatment which transforms him into a genius. Mr. Robertson was convincing as both the sweet, but mentally challenged Charlie and as the not so sweet, genius version of Charlie. Despite the leap in intelligence, it was easy to believe it was the same character because of Mr. Robertson's performance. Indeed, throughout his career he played a number of different roles, from surfer dude The Big Kahuna in Gidget to Cole Younger in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid to Ben Parker in the Spider-Man movies. Cliff Robertson played a wide array of characters and was convincing every time. Few actors had his range.

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