Oscar Actors: Robertson, Cliff–Background, Career, Awards

Cliff Robertson Career Summary

Occup. Inheritance: No

Social Class: upper-middle, father rancher; divorce

Education: La Jolla High School

Training: Antioch College

Theater Debut

Film Debut

TV Debut


Oscar Award: Charly, 1968; age 45

Other Oscars

Other Awards:

Last Film: 2007; age

Career Output

Career Span: Years active, 1943–2007; 64 years

Marriage: 2; Cynthia Stone (m. 1957; div. 1959)l Dina Merrill (m. 1966; div. 1989)

Politics: Democrat

Death: 2011; age 88

Clifford Parker Robertson III (born September 9, 1923 was an American actor with a film and television career of over 60 years.

Robertson portrayed a young John F. Kennedy in the 1963 film “PT 109,” and won the 1968 Best Actor Oscar for his role in the film Charly.

On TV, he portrayed retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the 1976 adaptation of Aldrin’s autobiographic Return to Earth, played a fictional character based on Director of CIA Richard Helms in the 1977 miniseries “Washington: Behind Closed Doors,” and portrayed Henry Ford in the 1987 Ford: “The Man and the Machine.”

His last well-known film appearances were from 2002–2007 as Uncle Ben in the “Spider-Man” trilogy.

Robertson was born in La Jolla, California, the son of Clifford Parker Robertson Jr. and his first wife, Audrey Olga Robertson. 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 Great Depression, he tapped the trust for $500,000, and six months later he was back for more.”

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 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.

Robertson studied at the Actors Studio, becoming a life member.

In the early 1950s he worked steadily on TV, including a stint in the lead of “Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers” (1953–54).

He appeared in Broadway in Late Love (1953–54) and The Wisteria Tree (1955), the latter written by Joshua Logan.

Robertson made his film debut in Picnic (1955), directed by Logan. Robertson played the role of William Holden’s best friend, a part originated on stage by Paul Newman. The film was a box office success and Robertson was promoted to Joan Crawford’s co star in Autumn Leaves (1956), also at Columbia, playing her mentally unstable younger lover.

This meant he had to pass up the chance to replace Ben Gazzara on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. However he returned to Broadway to appear in “Orpheus Descending” by Tennessee Williams, which only had a short run.

Robertson went to RKO to make two films: The Naked and the Dead (1958), an adaptation of the famous novel, co-starring Aldo Ray; and The Girl Most Likely (1958), a musical – the last film made by RKO Studios.

Robertson received superb reviews for “Days of Wine and Roses” on TV with Piper Laurie. The 1962 movie version starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.

He was in Columbia’s Gidget (1959) opposite Sandra Dee as the Big Kahuna. It was popular and led to two sequels, neither of which Robertson appeared in. Less successful was a war film at Columbia, Battle of the Coral Sea (1959).

Robertson had better luck on TV, appearing in “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” for The Twilight Zone. He was the third lead in Paramount’s All in a Night’s Work (1961) and starred in Samuel Fuller’s “Underworld U.S.A.” (1961) at Columbia.

Robertson supported Esther Williams in The Big Show (1961). He had his first film hit since Gidget with Columbia’s “The Interns” (1962). After supporting Debbie Reynolds in My Six Loves (1963), Robertson was President John F. Kennedy’s personal choice to play him in 1963’s “PT 109,” which was not a success at the box office.

More popular was Sunday in New York (1963), where Robertson supported Rod Taylor and Jane Fonda, and The Best Man where he was a ruthless presidential candidate.

Robertson appeared in a popular war film “633 Squadron” (1964), then supported Lana Turner in a melodrama, Love Has Many Faces (1965). In 1965, his contract with Columbia was for one film a year.

Charly: Teleplay and Movie

In 1961 Robertson had played the lead role in a United States Steel Hour television production titled “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon,” based on the novel “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. Frustrated at the progress of his career, Robertson optioned the rights to the teleplay and hired William Goldman to write a script. Robertson arranged for Goldman to be hired to Americanize the dialogue for Masquerade (1965), a spy spoof which Robertson starred in, replacing Rex Harrison.

Robertson then made a war film, Up from the Beach (1965) for Fox and guest-starred on that studio’s TV show, “Batman” (1966). He co-starred with Harrison in “The Honey Pot” (1967) for Joseph L. Mankiewicz, then was in another war film, “The Devil’s Brigade” (1968) with William Holden.

Robertson disliked Goldman’s Algernon script and replaced the writer with Stirling Silliphant for what became Charly (1968). The film was box office success and Robertson won the 1968 Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a mentally disabled man.