Sunday, September 11, 2011
Cliff Robertson, who was 88 when he died Saturday at his Stony Brook, N.Y., home of natural causes, had not been a force in the film industry for years, and had not been in the top ranks of leading men even at his prime. But he made a difference nonetheless. He was Hollywood handsome, which helped in his portrayal of the dashing President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 film, PT 109, depicting the former Navy officer's WWII heroics. It was the first film to portray a sitting president. But Robertson won the Oscar in 1968 playing the antithesis of dashing: He was Charly, a retarded man (as they then called it) who becomes a genius after an experimental operation. Robertson knew well it was the role of a lifetime; he played it on TV as well as the film.
Robertson was a popular and busy actor, especially on Broadway and on television; he won an Emmy and theater awards in addition to his Oscar. He played The Big Kahuna in Gidget in 1959; most recently, he played kindly Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man movies.
But in 1977, he called the cops on a Hollywood studio boss. The president of Columbia Pictures, David Begelman, had forged Robertson's signature on a $10,000 salary check, he told the FBI and the Beverly Hills police. The resulting scandal was bad for Hollywood, and the insiders let him know it. He said he couldn't get hired for four years. "I got phone calls from powerful people who said, 'You've been very fortunate in this business; I'm sure you wouldn't want all this to come to an end,'" Robertson recalled in 1984. (Begelman served time for embezzlement, returned to the film business, and killed himself in 1995.)
Born Sept. 9, 1923, in Los Angeles to a wealthy couple, the heir to a ranching fortune, he grew up in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego in the care of his grandmother.
Later, his second wife would be actress Dina Merrill, daughter of financier E.F. Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the massive Post cereal fortune. Their daughter, Heather, died from cancer in 2007; the couple divorced in 1986. Robertson's first wife was actress Cynthia Stone, the ex-wife of actor Jack Lemmon.
Their daughter, Stephanie Saunders, survives."He stood by his family, friends and colleagues through good times and bad," Saunders said in a statement, according to The Associated Press. "He made a difference in all our lives and made our world a better place. We will all miss him terribly"...