Robert Cummings

Active - 1938 - 1966  |   Born - Jun 9, 1910 in Joplin, Missouri, United States  |   Died - Dec 2, 1990   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance, Musical

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actor Robert Cummings studied for an engineer's degree at several colleges before concentrating his energies at the American School of Dramatic Arts. After returning from a trip to England, he became possessed with the notion that he could best conquer Hollywood if he passed himself off as a British actor, so for a brief uncomfortable period he called himself Blade Stanhope Conway. The best he could get was an extra part in Laurel and Hardy's Sons of the Desert (1933); after that, he renamed himself Brice Hutchens, under which name he played on Broadway with a magic act in Ziegfeld Follies of 1934. As plain old Robert Cummings, the actor made his film debut in Paramount's So Red the Rose (1935), in which he was killed off in the Civil War before the first reel was over. He finally got a meaty hysteria scene as a condemned prisoner in The Accusing Finger (1936) -- but thereafter played almost nothing but comedy at Paramount. Stronger dramatic roles came Cummings' way in Kings Row (1941) and Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942). By the early 1950s, the formerly callow Cummings had matured enough to be convincing as the "other man" in the Hitchcock thriller Dial M for Murder (1954), and in the difficult role of the compassionate Juror Number 8 in the original 1955 TV production of Twelve Angry Men. He also gained valuable off-camera prestige as an officer in the Air Force Reserves (he'd been a licensed pilot since age 17). Still, Cummings' main reputation in this decade rested on two lighthearted TV situation comedies: My Hero, which lasted 39 episodes in 1952, and the more famous Bob Cummings Show, a.k.a. Love That Bob, which ran from 1955 through 1958. Playing glamour photographer Bob Collins in the latter series, Cummings perpetuated public TV reputation as an eternally youthful ladies' man (though the biggest laughs went to supporting actress Ann B. Davis (as Schultzy). Newspaper and magazine articles of the period made much of Cummings' seeming agelessness, which the actor chalked up to careful dieting, plenty of vitamins and exercise. That anyone would find it unusual that a 50-year-old man could retain his looks and sex appeal is astonishing in these days of such over-50 movie idols as Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, but such was the state of press agentry in the Love That Bob days. Two later TV series didn't do so well for Cummings, nor did his performances in such 1960s films as The Carpetbaggers (1963); still, critics would marvel at how well the now sixtyish actor was "holding up." Unfortunately, Cummings fell victim to Parkinson's disease in the 1980s, and the once-virile actor deteriorated rapidly both in mind and body before his death at age 82. In his prime, however, Cummings was one of those rare film actors who managed to retain his fame and popularity even though he made relatively few films of importance.

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  • While in high school, was taught to fly by aviation pioneer Orville Wright; gave rides for $5 per person; and became the first official flight instructor in the U.S.
  • During World War II was a U.S. Army Air Force pilot.
  • Dropped out of Carnegie Tech due to financial problems, with his family greatly impacted by the 1929 stock market crash.
  • Posed as Blade Stanhope Conway, an upper-class Englishman, to work in Broadway.
  • Assumed the identity of Bruce Hutchens, a rich Texan, to get his career started in Hollywood and later reverted to his real name.
  • Often credited as Robert Cummings for dramatic roles and Bob Cummings for comedy.
  • In 1960, published a nutrition book, Stay Young and Vital.