Nationality: American. Born: Jason Nelson Robards Jr., in Chicago, Illinois, 26 July 1922; son of the actor Jason Robards Sr.; often billed as Jason Robards, Jr. in early years of his career. Education: Attended Hollywood High School; American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York, 1946–47. Military Service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1940–46: radioman first class. Family: Married 1) the actress Eleanor Pitman, 1948 (divorced 1958), sons: Jason and David, daughter: Sarah; 2) Rachel Taylor, 1959; 3) the actress Lauren Bacall, 1961
The Journey (Litvak) (as Paul Kedes)
By Love Possessed (John Sturges) (as Julius Penrose); Tender Is the Night (Henry King) (as Dick Diver)
Long Day's Journey into Night (Lumet) (as James Tyrone)
Act One (Schary) (as George S. Kaufman)
A Thousand Clowns (Coe) (as Murray Burns)
A Big Hand for the Little Lady ( Big Deal at Dodge City ) (Cook) (as Henry Drummond); Any Wednesday (Miller) (as John Cleves)
Divorce American Style (Yorkin) (as Nelson Downes); Hour of the Gun (John Sturges) (as Doc Holliday); The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Corman) (as Al Capone)
The Night They Raided Minsky's (Friedkin) (as Raymond Paine); Isadora ( The Loves of Isadora ) (Reisz) (as Paris Singer); C'era una volta il West ( Once upon a Time in the West ) (Leone) (as Cheyenne)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (Fleischer) (as Gen. Walter C. Short); Julius Caesar (Burge) (as Brutus); Fools (Gries) (as Matthew South); The Ballad of Cable Hogue (Peckinpah) (as Cable Hogue); Operation Snafu ( Situation Normal All Fouled Up ; Rosolino paternò, soldato . . . ) (Loy)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (Hessler) (as Cesar Charron); Johnny Got His Gun (Trumbo) (as Joe's father)
The War between Men and Women (Shavelson) (as Stephen Kozlenko); The Execution (Badiyi); The House without a Christmas Tree (Bogart—for TV)
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Peckinpah) (as Lew Wallace)
Mr. Sycamore (Kohner) (as John Gwilt); A Boy and His Dog (L. Q. Jones) (as Lew Craddock); Die Hinrichtung (Badiyi); A Moon for the Misbegotten (for TV)
All the President's Men (Pakula) (as Ben Bradlee)
Julia (Zinnemann) (as Dashiell Hammett)
Comes a Horseman (Pakula) (as Ewing); A Christmas to Remember (Englund—for TV) (as Daniel Larson)
Hurricane (Troell) (as Capt. Bruckner); Caboblanco (J. Lee Thompson) (as Gunther Berkdorff)
Raise the Titanic! (Jameson) (as Adm. James Sandecker); Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme) (as Howard Hughes); Haywire (Tuchner—for TV) (as Leland Hayward)
The Legend of the Lone Ranger (Fraker) (as President Grant)
Burden of Dreams (Blank—doc)
Max Dugan Returns (Ross) (title role); Something Wicked This Way Comes (Clayton) (as Charles Halloway); The Day After (Meyer—for TV) (as Dr. Russell Oakes)
Sakharov (Gold—for TV) (title role); America and Lewis Hine (Rosenblum—doc)
The Long Hot Summer (Cooper—for TV) (as Will Varner); The Atlanta Child Murders (Erman—for TV)
Johnny Bull (Weill—for TV); The Last Frontier (Wincer—for TV) (as Ed Stenning)
Laguna Heat (Langton) (as Wade Shephard); Square Dance ( Home Is Where the Heart Is ) (Petrie) (as Dillard)
The Good Mother (Nimoy) (as Muth); Bright Lights, Big City (Bridges) (as Alex Hardy, uncredited); L'Ami Retrouvé ( Reunion ) (Schatzberg) (as Henry Strauss); The Christmas Wife (David Hugh Jones—for TV); Breaking Home Ties (Wilder—for TV); Inherit the Wind (David Greene—for TV) (as Henry Drummond)
Dream a Little Dream (Rocco) (as Coleman Ettinger); Parenthood (Ron Howard) (as Frank Buckman); Black Rainbow (Hodges) (as Walter Travis)
Quick Change (Franklin and Bill Murray) (as Chief Rotzinger)
The Perfect Tribute (Bender—for TV) (as Abraham Lincoln); Chernobyl: The Final Warning ( Final Warning ) (Page—for TV) (as Dr. Armand Hammer); Mark Twain and Me (Petrie—for TV) (as Mark Twain)
Storyville (Frost) (as Clifford Fowler)
The Trial (David Hugh Jones) (as Dr. Huld); Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme) (as Charles Wheeler); The Adventures of Huck Finn (Sommers) (as the King); Heidi (Rhodes—for TV) (as Grandfather)
The Paper (Ron Howard) (as Graham Keighley); Little Big League (Scheinman) (as Thomas Heywood); The Enemy Within (Darby—for TV) (as Gen. R. Pendleton Lloyd)
Journey (for TV) (as Marcus); My Antonia (Sargent—for TV); Crimson Tide (Tony Scott) (Admiral)
The Great American West (Smoot) (as Narrator); A Thousand Acres (Moorhouse) (as Larry Cook)
Heartwood (Cotler) (as Logan Reeser); The Irish in America: Long Journey Home (Lennon and Zwonitzer—mini for TV) (as voice); The Real Macaw (Andreacchio) (as Grandpa Ben Girdis); Beloved (Demme) (as Mr. Bodwin); Enemy of the State (Tony Scott) (as Congressman Phillip Hammersley)
Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson) (as Earl Partridge)
Going Home (Barry—TV) (as Charles Barton)
"Coming Alive," interview with J. Craven, in Films and Filming (London), September 1978.
"The Players," interview with Andrew Corsell and Amy Donohue, in Philadelphia Magazine , December 1993.
Lauren Bacall by Myself , New York, 1978.
Current Biography 1959 , New York, 1959.
Bryson, J., "Jason Robard's Long Journey Home," in New York , 24 December 1973.
Craven, Jenny, "Coming Alive: Jason Robards in an Interview," in Films and Filming (London), vol. 24, no. 12, September 1978.
Knutzen, Eirik, "Jason Robards Jr.: Peace at Last," in Dynamic Years , vol. 17, September-October 1982.
Geist, W.E., "Robards: An Actor at the Peak of His Art," in New York Times , vol. 132, section 2, 22 May 1983.
Bulnes, J., "Les immortels du cinema: Jason Robards," in Cine Revue (Brussels), vol. 64, 15 March 1984.
Ferguson, K., "Jason Robards as Sakarov," in Photoplay Movies and Video (London), vol. 35, March 1984.
Koenig, R., "Theater: Robards and Iceman Cometh Again," in New York Magazine , vol. 18, 16 September 1985.
Gamarekian, B., "Helen Hayes Awards Are Presented," in New York Times , vol. 135, C26, 30 April 1986.
Calanquin, L.V., "Saga of Jason Robards, Jr.," in Classic Images (Muscatine), no. 164, February 1989.
"Middle Man," in People Weekly , vol. 48, no. 15, 13 October 1997.
Molotsky, Irvin, "Kennedy Center Lauds 5 in the Performing Arts," in The New York Times , 15 September 1999.
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Jason Robards's acting career began in the 1950s on the New York stage, where he was quickly hailed as the definitive interpreter of the playwright Eugene O'Neill. His triumphant success in a 1956 revival of O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh prompted the playwright's widow Oona to allow her husband's autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night , which the author had refused to let be staged during his lifetime, to receive its Broadway premiere in 1959, with Robards as star.
To the general public, however, Robards is known more for his films roles—and for his highly publicized 1961 marriage to the actress Lauren Bacall following the death of her first husband, the legendary Humphrey Bogart. The two were divorced in 1973.
Anatole Litvak's The Journey , with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, launched Robards's film career, which, unlike his stage career, has often brought him more criticism than acclaim. In films such as John Sturges's Hour of the Gun , as Doc Holliday, and Sergio Leone's Once upon a Time in the West , as a mercenary gunslinger, Roabards's character is treacherous, unattached, and inaccessible; his minimal dialogue subtly conceals his violent nature. Just as often, however, Robards has a tendency to invest his film performances with a too-broad theatricality. His wildly over-the-top Al Capone in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre is a good case in point. The role, for which the slim, WASPish Robards was also physically miscast, was originally slated for Orson Welles.
In interviews, Robards often refers to his role as the loner symbol of America's pioneer and entrepreneurial spirit in Sam Peckinpah's The Ballad of Cable Hogue as one of his favorites. The highly anticipated film, following on the heels of Peckinpah's groundbreaking The Wild Bunch , was not a commercial success, largely due to Robards's gruff and grating interpretation of the character, who keeps losing our sympathy when he is most trying to gain it. The actor gave a much more human, and sympathetic, performance for Peckinpah as the doomed protagonist of the writer-director's Noon Wine , a television adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's haunting short story.
Robards is at his best on screen when either he, the director, or both keeps his scenery chewing in check. As evidence of this, he won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in 1976 and again in 1977 for two of his most restrained screen performances—as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men and as the writer Dashiell Hammett in Fred Zinneman's Julia . Given the alcoholic Hammett's brooding, self-destructive nature, the latter role gave Robards plenty of opportunities to engage in extravagant histrionics, but the tight rein he held on himself resulted in a Hammett that is both warm and likable. Robards received his last Academy Award nomination (so far) for his whimsical portrayal of billionaire-recluse Howard Hughes in Jonathan Demme's Melvin and Howard .
Though now in his seventies, Robards maintains a busy schedule on stage, television, and in the movies—his most notable recent role that of the villain in Jonathan Demme's AIDS drama Philadelphia .
—Rob Winning, updated by John McCarty