Robertson, Cliff(ord Parker, III) 1925-
ROBERTSON, Cliff(ord Parker, III) 1925-
PERSONAL: Born September 9, 1925, in La Jolla, CA; son of Clifford Parker and Audrey (Willingham) Robertson; married Cynthia Stone, 1957 (divorced, 1959); married Dina Merrill (an actress), December 21, 1966 (divorced, 1986); children: (first marriage) Stephanie; (second marriage) Heather. Education: Studied at the Actors Studio. Religion: Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Sailplane and airplane piloting, tennis, skiing.
ADDRESSES: Agent—International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.
CAREER: Actor, director, and writer. Former adjunct professor at Antioch College. Blacklisted by Hollywood for exposing corruption, 1979-82, but later commended by the Hollywood industry, Screen Actors Guild, and the Congressional Record; also appeared in commercials for AT&T during the mid-1980s, and radio commercials for Union Bank in the late 1990s. Adjunct professor at Antioch College, Antioch, OH.
Stage appearances include Late Love, National Theatre, New York City, 1953, and Orpheus Descending, New York City, 1957. Also appeared in Mr. Roberts, The Lady and the Tiger, and The Wisteria Trees. Stage work includes (director) The V.I.P.s, 1981.
Film appearances include Corvette K-225, 1943; Picnic, Columbia, 1955; Autumn Leaves, Columbia, 1956; The Girl Most Likely, Universal, 1957; The Naked and the Dead, Warner Bros., 1958; Gidget, Columbia, 1959; Battle of the Coral Sea, Columbia, 1959; As the Sea Rages, Columbia, 1960; All in a Night's Work, Paramount, 1961; The Big Show, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1961; The Interns, Columbia, 1962; Underworld, U.S.A., Columbia, 1962; My Six Loves, Paramount, 1963; PT-109, Warner Bros., 1963; Sunday in New York, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1963; The Best Man, United Artists, 1964; 633 Squadron, United Artists, 1964; Up from the Beach, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1965; Love Has Many Faces, Columbia, 1965; Masquerade, United Artists, 1965; The Honey Pot, United Artists, 1966; Charly, Cinerama/Selmur Films, 1968; The Devil's Brigade, United Artists, 1968; Too Late the Hero, Cinerama, 1970; The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid, Universal, 1972; J. W. Coop, Columbia, 1972; Alfred Hitchcock, 1973; Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1973; Man on a Swing, Paramount, 1974; Three Days of the Condor, Paramount, 1975; Out of Season, Athenaeum, 1975; Midway, Universal/Mirisch Corporation, 1976; Shoot, Avco Embassy, 1976; Obsession, Columbia, 1976; Fraternity Row, Paramount, 1977; Dominique, Subotsky, 1978; The Pilot, New Line Cinema, 1979; Class, Orion Films, 1983; Brainstorm, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1983; Star '80, Warner Bros., 1983; Shaker Run, New Line Home Video, 1985; Malone, Orion, 1987; Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, Buena Vista, 1991; Wind, TriStar, 1992; Renaissance Man, Buena Vista, 1994; Pakten, Kushner-Locke International, 1995; Escape from L.A., Paramount, 1996; Melting Pot, A-Pix Entertainment, 1997; Assignment Berlin, Hallmark Entertainment, 1998; Family Tree, Independent Artists, 1999; Falcon Down, 2000; Paranoid, 2000; Spider-Man, 2002; and Thirteenth Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil, Volume I, 2002.
Film work includes (director and producer) J. W. Coop, Columbia, 1972; (director) Morning, Winter, and Night, Xanadu Films, 1977; and (director) The Pilot, New Line Cinema, 1979. Television work includes (director and executive producer), Hunters in the Sky. Recordings include Running on Empty (narrator; video documentary).
Television series appearances include Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers, CBS, 1953-54, and Falcon Crest, CBS, 1983-84. Appearances on TV miniseries include Washington: Behind Closed Doors, ABC, 1977; The Key to Rebecca, syndicated, 1985; Ford: The Man and the Machine, syndicated, 1987; Judith Krantz's Dazzle, CBS, 1995; With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right, PBS, 1996. Appearances on TV movies include The Sunshine Patriot, NBC, 1968; Man without a Country, ABC, 1973; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1974; My Father's House, ABC, 1975; Return to Earth, ABC, 1976; Overboard, NBC, 1978; Two of a Kind, CBS, 1982; Dreams of Gold: The Mel Fisher Story, CBS, 1986; and Dead Reckoning, USA Network, 1990.
Appearances on episodic television include Short Dramas, NBC, 1953; Treasury Men in Action, ABC, 1954; Robert Montgomery Presents, NBC, 1954; Philco TV Playhouse, NBC, 1955; "A Fair Shake," The U.S. Steel Hour, CBS, 1956; "The Days of Wine and Roses," Playhouse 90, CBS, 1958; "The Liam Fitzmorgan Story," Wagon Train, NBC, 1958; "The Underground Railway," The Untouchables, ABC, 1959; "The Man Who Knew Tomorrow," The U.S. Steel Hour, CBS, 1960; "Ballad for a Badman," Outlaws, 1960; "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon," The U.S. Steel Hour, CBS, 1961; "A Hundred Yards over the Rim," The Twilight Zone, CBS, 1961; "The Story of Connie Masters," Outlaws, 1961; "Man on the Mountaintop," The U.S. Steel Hour, CBS, 1961; "The Dark Sunrise of Griff Kincaid," Outlaws, 1962; "The Dummy," The Twilight Zone, CBS, 1962; "The Galaxy Being," The Outer Limits, ABC, 1963; "The Game," Bob HopePresents the Chrysler Theatre, NBC, 1965; "Come Back Shame" and "It's the Way You Play the Game," Batman, ABC, 1966; "The Great Escape" and "The Great Train Robbery," Batman, ABC, 1968; Front Page Challenge, 1975; Take Charge!, PBS, 1988; First Flights, Arts and Entertainment, 1991; and "Joyride," The Outer Limits, 1999. Also appeared in Alcoa Theatre, NBC; Studio One, CBS; Alcoa Premiere, ABC; and Philco-Goodyear Hour.
Appearances on TV specials include The Screen Actors Guild Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration, 1984; An All-Star Party for "Dutch" Reagan, 1985; Galapagos: My Fragile World, TBS/PBS, 1986; Ghosts of '87, PBS, 1988; William Holden: The Golden Boy, Cinemax, 1989; Medal of Honor: True Stories of America's Greatest War Heroes, syndicated, 1990-91; Life and Death of a Dynasty, PBS, 1991; Wings as Eagles, ABC, 1994; Earthwinds, Discovery Channel, 1995; Intimate Portrait: Stephanie Powers, Lifetime, 1999; Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, 2002.
MEMBER: Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, Bath and Tennis Club Palm Beach, Maidston Club (East Hampton, NY), River Club (New York City), Brook Club (New York City), Players, Wings Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Emmy Award for best actor, 1966, for "The Game," Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre; Academy Award for best actor, 1968, NBR Award for best actor, National Board of Review, and Golden Globe nomination for best motion picture actor in a drama, both 1969, all for Charly; Theatre World Award, 1970, for Orpheus Descending; congressional recognition for exposing Hollywood corporate studio corruption, 1979; Sharples Aviation Award, AOPA, 1983; Wallace Award, American Scottish Foundation, 1984; Advertising Age Award, 1985; Lifetime Achievement Award, Long Island Film Festival, 1988; Special Achievement Award for acting, Florida Film Festival, 1998; honorary doctorate of Fine Arts from Bradford College, 1981, MacMurray College, 1986, and Susquehanna University, 1988. President John F. Kennedy personally chose Robertson to portray him in PT-109.
J. W. Coop (screenplay), Columbia, 1972.
(With Robert P. Davis) The Pilot (screenplay), New Line Cinema, 1979.
(With Michael Maryk) Thirteenth Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil, Volume I (screenplay), Alex Mendoza & Associates, 2002.
Also author of the play The V.I.P.s, 1981. Robertson reportedly wrote a sequel to Charly in the 1990s.
SIDELIGHTS: Actor Cliff Robertson's own biography might well be the subject of a movie. The son of a father who loved partying and women much more than he cared for his son and wife—the elder Robertson was married half a dozen times in an era when divorce was uncommon—young Robertson was adopted and raised by his grandmother after his own mother died of a ruptured appendix when he was two years old. Consciously disavowing the negative role model set for him by his father, he grew up with a strong work ethic, and as a child even lied about his age so that he could get a job delivering papers.
In 1955, the young Robertson appeared in the film Picnic as the clean-cut Kansan who loses his girlfriend, Kim Novak, to his old buddy William Holden. His career entered high gear in the early 1960s, when no less a figure than President John F. Kennedy personally chose Robertson to play him in PT 109, which dramatizes Kennedy's wartime service. Against the advice of his agent, who told him that playing a mentally retarded man would spell the end of his career, Robertson took the title role in Charly, an adaptation of Daniel Keyes's moving novella Flowers for Algernon, and walked away with the Academy Award for best actor in 1968.
Four years later, Robertson wrote, produced, directed, and starred in J. W. Coop. At the outset of the film, Coop is released from prison after eight years, and intends to return to work as a professional rodeo cowboy. But as the overly confident Coop discovers, much has changed in the world since the early 1960s, and he finds himself bewildered by the society he encounters.
J. W. Coop was well received, and Robertson went on to create a second project, The Pilot, in which he played Mike Hagan, a successful commercial flyer who tries to hide his alcoholism. The year of The Pilot's release in 1979, however, found Robertson embroiled in a scandal that would ultimately confer even greater status on the actor, but which in the short run all but brought his career to a halt.
In 1976, Columbia Pictures president David Begelman forged Robertson's name in order to cash a check for $10,000, made out to Robertson by the studio. Robertson only found out about this much later, when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) contacted him, demanding payment of taxes on the money, which Robertson did not even know he had earned. He reported Begelman, and in what many regard as a typical Hollywood response to a problem, the film industry took swift action—against Robertson. While Begelman received a slap on the wrist, Robertson was blacklisted throughout Hollywood, and could get no work between 1979 and 1982. As for Begelman, the studio head went on to MGM/United Artists, but several failures led him to leave and form his own production company. When that company failed, too, he shot and killed himself in August 1995. The scandal involving Robertson is the subject of David McClintick's 1982 book, Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street.
Ultimately Robertson returned to favor, with successful roles such as his portrayal of Playboy's Hugh Hefner in Star '80. The incident, however, only confirmed his suspicions of Hollywood: Robertson is famous for his refusal to move to Los Angeles, a fact that brought an end to his marriage to actress Dina Merrill, and he has chosen instead to reside on Long Island.
Ever the independent, Robertson reportedly wrote a sequel to Charly, the rights to which he had purchased long before. In 1996, he told People that he intended to make the picture, but needed to raise $4.6 million to do so. In 2002, he appeared in, and wrote the screenplay for, a film made for an even smaller budget—just $1.5 million. Released just in time for Halloween, Thirteenth Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil takes as its premise a centuries-old folk tale regarding a horned, cloven-hoofed demonic figure that is said to roam the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Supposedly the devil was the child of a woman named Mother Leeds, who already had twelve children, and who cursed the thirteenth, born in 1735. In the film, Robertson plays Mr. Shroud, an old man who lives alone in the Pine Barrens as part of a pact with the devil.
By contrast, Robertson himself is famed for his refusal to make a pact with the real-life devils of fame and fortune. "I've lived long enough to learn," he told Luaine Lee of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, ". . . where the top of the totem pole should be. To me it's my kids, family, a kind of a religion, and a sense of self."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, volume 32, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Crist, Judith, and Shirley Sealy, Take 22: Moviemakers on Moviemaking, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
McClintick, David, Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.
Christian Science Monitor, May 5, 2000, "A Man with a Moral Mission: Hollywood Stories" (interview), p. 19.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 5, 1996, Luaine Lee, "Cliff Robertson Still Breaking Hollywood's Rules," p. 805.
New York Times, October 13, 2002, Margo Nash, review of Thirteenth Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil, Volume I, p. 11.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), October 25, 2002, John Curran, review of Thirteenth Child, p. A12.*