Nationality: American. Born: Clifford Parker Robertson in La Jolla, California, 9 September 1925. Education: Attended La Jolla High School, graduated 1941; Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, one year; studied acting at Actors Studio, New York. Family: Married 1) Cynthia Stone, 1957 (divorced 1959), daughter: Stephanie; 2) the actress Dina Merrill, 1966 (divorced 1989), daughter: Heather. Career: 1941—seaman on the tramp steamer Admiral Cole ; worked in merchant marine during World War II; 1943—film debut in We've Never Been Licked ; 1947—on tour with the play Three Men on a Horse ; 1948–50—on national tour with the play Mister Roberts ; 1953—New York debut in Late Love ; 1954—regular actor on TV series Robert Montgomery Presents ; 1955—contract with Columbia;
Films as Actor:
We've Never Been Licked ( Fighting Command ) (Rawlins) (as Adams); Corvette K-225 (Rosson)
Picnic (Logan) (as Alan)
Autumn Leaves (Aldrich) (as Burt Hanson)
The Girl Most Likely (Leisen) (as Pete)
The Naked and the Dead (Walsh) (as Hearn)
Gidget (Wendkos) (as Kahoona); Battle of the Coral Sea (Wendkos) (as Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Conway)
As the Sea Rages (Haechler) (as Clements)
All in a Night's Work (Anthony) (as Warren Kingsley Jr.); Underworld, U.S.A. (Fuller) (as Tolly Devlin); The Big Show (Clark) (as Josef Everard)
The Interns (Swift) (as Dr. John Paul Otis)
My Six Loves (Champion) (as the Rev. Jim Larkin); PT 109 (Martinson) (as John F. Kennedy); Sunday in New York (Tewksbury) (as Adam Tyler)
The Best Man (Schaffner) (as Joe Cantwell); 633 Squadron (Grauman) (as Wing Cmdr. Roy Grant)
Masquerade (Dearden) (as David Frazer); Up from the Beach (Parrish) (as Sgt. Edward Baxter); Love Has Many Faces (Singer) (as Pete Jordan)
The Honey Pot (Mankiewicz) (as William McFly)
The Devil's Brigade (McLaglen) (as Maj. Alan Crown); Charly (Nelson) (title role); The Sunshine Patriots (Sargent—for TV)
Too Late the Hero (Aldrich) (as Lt. Lawson)
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (Kaufman) (as Cole Younger)
The Man without a Country (Delbert Mann—for TV) (as Philip Nolan); Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies (Sampson) (as Eli)
Man on a Swing (Perry) (as Lee Tucker); A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Hardy—for TV)
Out of Season (Bridges) (as Joe); Three Days of the Condor (Pollack) (as Higgins); My Father's House (Segal—for TV)
Return to Earth (Taylor—for TV) (as Buzz Aldrin); Obsession (De Palma) (as Michael Courtland); Midway (Smight) (as Cmdr. Carl Jessop); Shoot (Hart) (as Maj. Rex Jeanette)
Fraternity Row (Tobin) (as narrator)
Overboard (Newland—for TV); Dominique (Anderson) (as David Ballard)
Two of a Kind (Roger Young—for TV) (as Frank Minor)
Class (Carlino) (as Burroughs); Brainstorm (Trumbull) (as Alex Terson); Star 80 (Fosse) (as Hugh Hefner)
Shaker Run (Morrison); The Key to Rebecca (Hemmings—for TV)
Dreams of Gold: The Mel Fisher Story (Goldstone—for TV)
Malone (Cokliss) (as Charles Delaney); Ford: The Man and the Machine (Eastman—for TV) (title role)
Dead Reckoning (Robert Lewis—for TV) (as Dr. Daniel Barnard)
Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (Miner) (as Dr. Carver)
Wind (Ballard) (as Morgan Weld)
Renaissance Man (Penny Marshall) (as Col. James)
Escape from L.A. (John Carpenter); "With God On Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America" (Skaggs and Van Taylor—mini for TV) (as Narrator)
Melting Pot (Musca) (as Jack Durman)
Assigment Berlin (Randel) (as Cliff Garret)
Family Tree (Clark)
March 2 (Hour of Valor) (Ray)
Films as Director:
J. W. Coop (+ title role)
The Pilot (+ co-sc, ro)
On ROBERTSON: book—
McClintick, David, Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street , New York, 1982.
On ROBERTSON: articles—
Current Biography 1969 , New York, 1969.
Hart, Henry, "Cliff Robertson," in Films in Review (New York), March 1969.
"Cliff Robertson and Hollywoodgate," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1978.
Bell, A., "Bell Tells," in Village Voice (New York), no. 27, 15 June 1982.
"Le vedette de la semaine," in Cine Revue (Brussels), vol. 63, 10 November 1983.
Green, Michelle, "Cliff Robertson: Hollywood's Mr. Clean Shot Down David Begelman; Now the Actor Has Pulled His Career Out of a Nosedive," in People Weekly (New York), 5 December 1983.
O'Hallaren, Bill, "'Sometimes You Have to Take a Step Backward to Make Two Forward,"' in TV Guide , vol. 32, 22 June 1984.
McCarthy, A., "Compassion Fatigue," in Commonweal , vol. 112, 11 January 1985.
Fink, Mitchell, "Cliff Robertson, Who Plays," in People Weekly , 9 September 1996.
Stedman, R., "Lobby Notes: Lines from L.A.," in Audience (Simi Valley), no. 198, December/January 1997/1998.
"A Man With a Moral Mission: Hollywood Stories," in The Christian Science Monitor , 5 May 2000.
* * *
A sturdy, interesting leading man and moderately versatile character actor/villain, Cliff Robertson played his most dramatic scenes thus far offscreen when he blew the whistle on Columbia president David Begelman for embezzlement. Although this led to his three-year blacklisting by the movie studios, Robertson weathered that particular storm, and is currently embarked on what is virtually a second movie career.
Initially, Joshua Logan, who had directed Robertson in the stage version of his Mister Roberts , provided him with his feature movie debut role in the film version of William Inge's play, Picnic ; Robertson plays the Kansan who loses Kim Novak to drifter William Holden. After appearing in a number of films of varying quality, Robertson attracted considerable attention when he was chosen by President John F. Kennedy to portray him in Leslie Martinson's straightforward PT 109 .
The group of films that followed were mostly routine, although his ruthless presidential candidate in Gore Vidal's political melodrama, The Best Man , is both effective and memorable. Ralph Nelson's Charly , however, in which Robertson portrays a retarded man whom a scientific experiment transforms to a genius and back again, gained him the Academy Award as Best Actor. Robertson had played the role on television in 1961 and purchased the rights to the material (Daniel Keyes's novel Flowers for Algernon ), ensuring his appearance in the film version. He also directed, scripted, produced and starred in the well-received 1972 film J. W. Coop , a character study of a dumb but cocky ex-convict rodeo cowboy. Despite this success, Robertson has only directed one other film, The Pilot , in which he also starred.
After a number of other films in the early 1970s, including supporting performances in two solid box-office hits, Midway and Three Days of the Condor , Robertson had few jobs for more than three years during his blacklisting. He resumed his career in the 1980s, however, with supporting roles in Douglas Trumbull's Brainstorm and Bob Fosse's Star 80 (portraying Playboy founder Hugh Hefner), among other film and television assignments. Robertson now seems well on his way back toward starring roles which call for quiet determination, evident authority, and understated intensity.
—Bill Wine, updated by Frank Uhle