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Cliff Robertson

Cliff RobertsonAKA Clifford Parker Robertson

Born: 9-Sep-1923
Birthplace: La Jolla, CA
Died: 10-Sep-2011
Location of death: Long Island, NY
Cause of death: Natural Causes

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Uncle Ben in Spider-Man

Military service: US Merchant Marine (WWII)

As a boy, Cliff Robertson was fascinated with airplanes, and would often hang around the hangers at a small airport nearby, where he traded odd jobs for an occasional quick flight. As a young man, he tried to enlist as a Navy flyer but with less than perfect vision he joined the Merchant Marine instead, serving during World War II. He saw action in the South Pacific, Mediterranean, North Atlantic and France. After the war Robertson became a reporter. He wrote for the Springfield Daily News in Ohio, but soon he wanted to try writing for theater. He signed on with a small playhouse, and learned the business from the back side -- building sets, hanging lights, and, because everyone was expected to perform, acting as well. To his astonishment, he received good reviews. He was offered roles off-Broadway, and eventually on Broadway, before deciding to enroll in the Actors Studio.

In 1953, he had the title role on a Saturday morning science-fiction show, Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers. In 1955, he won his first noteworthy film role in the small-town melodrama, Picnic. He played Joan Crawford's schizophrenic husband in Autumn Leaves (1956), The Big Kahoona in the first Gidget movie (1959), and a vengeful safecracker in Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. (1961). When Warner Brothers announced plans to film PT 109, a book about the new President's war heroics, Kennedy himself suggested Robertson for the lead.

Robertson won the Best Actor Oscar in 1968 for playing Charly, a retarded man whose intelligence is increased in a scientific experiment. He later wrote, produced, directed, and starred in J.W. Coop, a small 1971 gem about a rough-luck rodeo cowboy. He played a CIA middle-management type in Three Days of the Condor (1975), and a haunted husband in Brian De Palma's best film, Obsession (1976).

In 1977, Robertson's career was abruptly interrupted when he learned that studio head David Begelman had written a check for $10,000, payable to Robertson for work Robertson had not done. And after writing the check, Begelman had then endorsed it, to himself. The situation smelled funny to Robertson. Indecent Exposure, a book by David McClintick, details the scandal, which turned out to be much bigger than one phony $10,000 check. Begelman pleaded no contest to grand theft, was fined $5,000, jumped to a different studio, and continued his career. Years later he committed suicide. Robertson was unofficially blacklisted, and was for several years absent from the big screen.

In 1979, he directed and starred in The Pilot, an introspective drama about an alcoholic airline pilot, but it was barely distributed in America. In 1983, Robertson returned as Hugh Hefner in Star 80, and as the CEO of a company researching memory replay in the science fiction film, Brainstorm. Over the next few decades he became a reliable character actor, appearing in dozens of films and TV shows, from Falcon Crest to Escape from L.A. to Spider-Man.

Robertson was a collector of airplanes, and an avid pilot, who held single-engine land and sea, multi-engine, commercial, instrument, balloon and glider ratings. Aviation was, he said, more of a passion to him than acting. He was a close friend of Burt Rutan, designer of the Voyager airplane and SpaceShipOne. In 1969, as Nigeria was ravaged by civil war, Robertson helped organize flights bringing food and medicine into the area. And in 1978, when Ethiopia was hit by famine, Robertson again organized incoming supply flights for charity.

Wife: Cynthia Stone Lemmon (Jack Lemmon's ex-wife; m. 1957, div. 1959)
Daughter: Stephanie Robertson
Wife: Dina Merrill (actress, m. 1966; div. 1989)
Daughter: Heather Robertson (dancer)

    University: Journalism, Antioch College

    Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
    Ducks Unlimited
    Experimental Aircraft Association
    Screen Actors Guild New York Board of Directors
    Endorsement of AT&T
    Oscar for Best Actor 1969 for Charly
    Emmy 1966 for Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre "The Game"
    Hollywood Walk of Fame 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

    The Lyon's Den Hal Molloy (2003)
    Falcon Crest Dr. Michael Ranson (1983-84)
    Batman Shame (1966-68)
    Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers Rod Brown (1953-54)

    The Pilot (1980)
    J. W. Coop (Oct-1971)

    With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story (24-Jul-2010) · Himself
    Spider-Man 3 (16-Apr-2007)
    Riding the Bullet (15-Oct-2004) · Farmer
    Spider-Man 2 (30-Jun-2004)
    13th Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil (25-Oct-2002)
    Spider-Man (3-May-2002)
    Mach 2 (13-Mar-2001) · Vice President Pike
    Falcon Down (2000)
    Family Tree (13-May-1999)
    Escape from L.A. (9-Aug-1996) · President
    Renaissance Man (3-Jun-1994)
    Wind (11-Sep-1992)
    Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (24-May-1991)
    Dead Reckoning (23-May-1990)
    Malone (1-May-1987)
    Shaker Run (1985)
    Star 80 (10-Nov-1983) · Hugh Hefner
    Brainstorm (30-Sep-1983)
    Class (6-Jul-1983) · Mr. Burroughs
    Two of a Kind (9-Oct-1982)
    The Pilot (1980)
    Dominique (1978) · David Ballard
    Fraternity Row (3-Jun-1977)
    Obsession (1-Aug-1976)
    Midway (18-Jun-1976) · Cmdr. Carl Jessop
    Shoot (28-May-1976)
    Three Days of the Condor (24-Sep-1975) · Higgins
    Out of Season (Jun-1975)
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (27-Mar-1974)
    Man on a Swing (1974)
    The Man Without a Country (24-Apr-1973)
    Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies (1-Apr-1973)
    The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid (12-May-1972) · Cole Younger
    J. W. Coop (Oct-1971)
    Too Late the Hero (20-May-1970)
    Charly (23-Sep-1968) · Charly
    The Devil's Brigade (15-May-1968) · Maj. Alan Crown
    The Honey Pot (21-Mar-1967) · William McFly
    Masquerade (13-Apr-1965) · David Frazer
    Love Has Many Faces (24-Feb-1965) · Pete Jordon
    Up from the Beach (1965)
    633 Squadron (24-Jun-1964) · Wing Cmdr. Roy Grant
    The Best Man (5-Apr-1964) · Joe Cantwell
    Sunday in New York (13-Nov-1963) · Adam Tyler
    PT 109 (19-Jun-1963) · Lt. John F. Kennedy
    My Six Loves (3-Apr-1963)
    The Interns (8-Aug-1962)
    Underworld USA (13-May-1961)
    The Big Show (10-May-1961)
    All in a Night's Work (22-Mar-1961)
    Battle of the Coral Sea (23-Oct-1959)
    Gidget (10-Apr-1959) · The Big Kahuna
    The Naked and the Dead (6-Aug-1958) · Lt. Robert Hearn
    The Girl Most Likely (17-Dec-1957) · Pete
    Autumn Leaves (1-Aug-1956) · Burt Hanson
    Picnic (11-Feb-1956) · Alan Benson

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