In his five decades as a dramatic actor, Cliff Robertson played John F. Kennedy, Hugh Hefner and Henry Ford, but he won his Oscar for playing a mentally disabled bakery worker in Charly. Clifford Parker Robertson III was born in California to wealthy parents, who divorced when he was one year old. He was raised by a grandmother and studied journalism briefly at Antioch College in Ohio before serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II. After the war he studied at the Actors Studio in New York City and began getting work in the theater and on TV dramas. Soon enough he was a lean and handsome young star in movies like Picnic (1956, with William Holden) and The Naked and the Dead (1958, based on the war novel by Norman Mailer). His big break came when he played Lt. John F. Kennedy in the World War II memoir PT-109. (The film came out in 1963, while Kennedy was president.) In 1968 Robertson starred in Charly (based on the story Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes), playing a mentally disabled man who is briefly and tragically made super-intelligent by an experimental operation. He won the Academy Award as best actor, but held on to the recalcitrant streak that blocked him from joining the first tier of Hollywood stars. He was effective as a creepy CIA boss in Three Days of the Condor (1973) and took a memorable turn as Hugh Hefner in the Dorothy Stratten biopic Star 80 (1983). His 1980s were mostly about TV for Cliff Robertson: he had a recurring role on Falcon Crest and played Henry Ford in the 1987 TV movie Ford: The Man and the Machine. In 2002 he made a comeback of sorts, playing the gentle but doomed Uncle Ben in the movie Spider-Man. Robertson also dabbled in directing, most notably directing himself in the 1972 rodeo film J.W. Coop.
Cliff Robertson was a flying enthusiast and liked to restore planes from World Wars I and II… Robertson was married to Cynthia Stone from 1957 until their divorce in 1960; they had one daughter, Stephanie. Robertson then was married to Dina Merrill from 1966 until their divorce in 1989; they had one daughter, Heather. Cynthia Stone was the ex-wife of actor Jack Lemmon, and Merrill the wealthy daughter of financier E.F. Hutton and heiress Marjorie Meriweather Post… Cliff Robertson co-starred in Brainstorm, which was Natalie Wood‘s last film… 1969, the year in which Robertson was awarded the Oscar, was also the year that Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn shared the Oscar for best actress… Robertson played the gunfighter-villain Shame on two episodes of the farcical 1960s TV series Batman… He also played The Big Kahuna, the beloved veteran surfer dude, in Gidget (1959).
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