The scion of a prosperous California ranching family, actor Cliff Robertson took up drama in high school simply because it was the only "legal" way to cut classes. After wartime service, Robertson entered Ohio's Antioch College, beginning his professional career as a radio announcer. His first extensive stage work consisted of two years with the touring company of Mister Roberts. He made it to Broadway in 1952 in a play directed by Joshua Logan, and in 1955 made his film debut in the Logan-directed movie version of Picnic. As Joan Crawford's schizophrenic boyfriend in Autumn Leaves (1955), Robertson achieved the critical acceptance that would enable him to seek out choice film roles. In 1963, Robertson became the first American actor to portray a living American president when he was selected to play John F. Kennedy in PT 109; one year later, he showed up as a paranoid Nixon type in The Best Man. Equally busy on television, Robertson was universally applauded for his grueling performance as an alcoholic in the 1958 TV staging of Days of Wine and Roses, and in 1965 won an Emmy for a guest appearance on the dramatic anthology Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre. Having lost the film version of Wine and Roses to Jack Lemmon, Robertson made certain that he'd star in the filmization of his 1961 TV drama The Two Worlds of Charly Gordon by buying up the story rights. The result was the 1968 film Charly, in which Robertson played a retarded adult turned into a genius by a scientific experiment -- for which he won an Academy Award. In 1977, Robertson made headlines when he was one of the whistle-blowers in the embezzlement scandal involving Columbia executive David Begelman -- a fact that did more harm to Robertson's career than Begelman's. Robertson continued to act into the 2000s, including the recurring role of Ben Parker in the Spider-Man franchise reboot. He died of natural causes a day after his 88th birthday in 2011.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Was chosen to portray John F. Kennedy in the 1963 film PT 109 by Kennedy himself.
- Was on location in the Philippine jungle (filming Too Late the Hero) when he won the 1968 Oscar for Best Actor.
- For nearly four years after blowing the whistle on a Hollywood embezzlement scam in 1977, he was unable to get film or TV work.
- Was an avid pilot and collector of vintage aircraft.