Friday, 9 June 2017

Roger Smith R.I.P.

Roger Smith, who starred as Jeff Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip, died on June 4 2017 at the age of 84.

Roger Smith was born on December 18 1932 in South Gate, California. He was only six years old when his parents enrolled him in school for singing, dancing, and elocution. He was 12 years old when his family moved to Nogales, Arizona. There he took part in school plays and played on the football team. He went to the University of Arizona on a football scholarship, then served in the United States Navy.

It was when he was stationed in Honolulu while in the Navy that he met James Cagney, who was then filming Mister Roberts (1955). Mr. Cagney encouraged Roger Smith to go to Hollywood after he was discharged from the Navy.

Mr. Smith made his television debut on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour in 1948, competing as a singer. He made his acting debut on television in an episode of Damon Runyon Theatre in 1956. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as a reporter in Over-Exposed that same year. Over the next few years he appeared in such films as Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), Operation Mad Ball (1957), No Time to Be Young (1957), Crash Landing (1958), Auntie Mame (1958), and Never Steal Anything Small (1959). He guest starred on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, The Sheriff of Cochise, The George Sanders Mystery Theatre, Father Knows Best, Wagon Train, and Sugarfoot. It was in 1958 that he began a five season run as Jeff Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip. He also guest starred as Jeff Spencer on Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six. He left 77 Sunset Strip when a blood clot was discovered in his brain.

In the Sixties Roger Smith played the lead role in the sitcom Mister Roberts, which was based on the play and the movie of the same name. He guest starred on the TV shows Kraft Suspense Theatre and The Farmer's Daughter. He appeared in the films For Those Who Think Young (1964), Rogue's Gallery (1968), and 7 uomini e un cervello (1968).

It was in 1965 that Roger Smith was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that causes  skeletal muscle weakness. In 1967 he married actress Ann-Margret. Given his condition, Mr.Smith retired from acting to manage his wife's career.

Mr. Smith also wrote as well as acted. He wrote several episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, as well as episodes of Surfside 6 and Mister Roberts and the feature films The First Time (1969) and C.C. & Company (1970). In 1960 he recorded an album titled Beach Romance, on which he sung 11 songs. He also produced several of Ann-Margret's television specials.

Roger Smith seemed to be born to play Jeff Spencer, the suave, wisecracking, non-practising attorney who worked alongside Stu Bailey (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) as detectives at the address 77 Sunset Strip. He played the role perfectly. That having been said, he could play other roles. The more serious-minded Lt. Doug Roberts of Mister Roberts was in some ways a far cry from Jeff. In the Wagon Train episode "The Daniel Barrister Story" he played a doctor dealing with a smallpox epidemic. Mr. Smith was also a very good television writer. He penned one of the best 77 Sunset Strip episodes, "The Silent Caper", which unfolded with absolutely no dialogue. Married to Ann-Margret for a little over 50 years, he proved very adept at managing her career. Roger Smith's career as an actor may have been brief, but due to his talent both in front and behind the camera it remains memorable.

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