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Cliff Parker Robertson III

Clifford Parker Robertson III 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.

Background

  • Robertson was born in La Jolla, California, the son of Clifford Parker Robertson, Jr. (1902–1968), and his first wife, Audrey Olga Robertson (née Willingham; 1903–1925). His Texas-born father was described as "the idle heir to a tidy sum of ranching money". Robertson once said, "My 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."

  • Education

    • Robertson's parents divorced when he was one, and his 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 rarely saw his father. He graduated in 1941 from La Jolla High School, where he was known as "The Walking Phoenix". He served in the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II, before attending Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio and dropping out to work as a journalist for a short time.

    Career

    • Robertson was President John F. Kennedy's personal choice to play him in 1963's PT 109. 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), Wild River (1960), Underworld USA (1961), The Interns (1962), Sunday in New York (1963), 633 Squadron (1964), Devil's Brigade (1968), Too Late the Hero (1970), J. W. Coop (1972), Three Days of the Condor (1975), Obsession (1976), Class (1983), Star 80 (1983), Malone (1987), Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991), and John Carpenter's Escape from L.A. (1996). Late in his life Robertson's career had a resurgence. He appeared as Uncle Ben Parker in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002), as well as in the sequels Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007; his last acting role). 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 included 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). Robertson also appeared as a special guest star on Wagon Train for one episode, portraying an Irish immigrant.

      In 1958, Robertson portrayed Joe Clay in the first broadcast of Playhouse 90's Days of Wine and Roses. In 1960, he was cast as Martinus Van Der Brig, a con man, in the episode "End of a Dream" of Riverboat.

      Other appearances included The Twilight Zone episodes "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" (1961) and "The Dummy" (1962), followed by The Eleventh Hour in the 1963 episode, "The Man Who Came Home Late". He guest-starred on such television series as The Greatest Show on Earth, Breaking Point and ABC Stage 67. 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. He appeared twice as a guest-villain on ABC's Batman as the gunfighter "Shame" (1966 and 1968), the second time with his wife, Dina Merrill, as "Calamity Jan".

      A certified private pilot, he was a longtime member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), working his way through the ranks in prominence and eventually co-founding the Young Eagles Program with EAA president Tom Poberezny. Robertson chaired the program from its 1992 inception to 1994 (succeeded by former test pilot Gen. Chuck Yeager). Along with educating youth around aviation, the initial goal of the Young Eagles was to fly one million children (many of them never having flown before) prior to the 100th Anniversary of Flight celebration on December 17, 2003. That goal was achieved on November 13, 2003. On July 28, 2016, the two millionth Young Eagle was flown by actor Harrison Ford.

      In 1957, Robertson married actress Cynthia Stone, the former wife of actor Jack Lemmon. They had a daughter, Stephanie, before divorcing in 1959; he also had a stepson by this marriage, Chris Lemmon. 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. By this marriage, he also had stepchildren Stanley Hutton Rumbough, David Post Rumbough, and Nedenia Colgate Rumbough. He resided in Water Mill, New York.

    Personality

    Interests

    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. His first plane ride was in a Lockheed Model 9 Orion. As a 13-year-old he would clean hangars for airplane rides. He met Paul Mantz, Art Scholl, and Charles Lindbergh while flying at local California airports. His piloting skills helped him get the part as the squadron leader in the British war film 633 Squadron. He entered balloon races, including one in 1964 from the mainland to Catalina Island that ended with him being rescued from the Pacific Ocean.

    In 1969, during the civil war conflict in Nigeria, Robertson helped organize an effort to fly food and medical supplies into the area. He also organized flights of supplies to the ravaged country of Ethiopia when it experienced famine in 1978. Within the EAA, he founded the Cliff Robertson Work Experience in 1993, which offers youths the chance to work for flight and ground school instruction.

    Robertson was flying a private Beechcraft Baron over New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. He was directly above the World Trade Center climbing through 7,500 feet when the first Boeing 767 struck. He was instructed by air traffic control to land immediately at the nearest airport after a nationwide order to ground all civilian and commercial aircraft following the attacks.

    Connections

    • In 1957, Robertson married actress Cynthia Stone, the former wife of actor Jack Lemmon. They had a daughter, Stephanie, before divorcing in 1959; he also had a stepson by this marriage, Chris Lemmon. 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. By this marriage, he also had stepchildren Stanley Hutton Rumbough, David Post Rumbough, and Nedenia Colgate Rumbough. He resided in Water Mill, New York.
    • spouses: Cynthia Stone
    • Dina Merrill
    Cliff Robertson III
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    Born September 9, 1923
    Died September 10, 2011
    (aged 88)
    Nationality
    • 1933 - 2008
      Actor
      United States