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Cliff Robertson, who played JFK in ‘PT-109,’ dies
He added that the film obviously couldn’t be done with heroics, “like Errol Flynn gunning down 30 of the enemy. This young naval officer just does things because they have to be done.”
“PT-109” was plagued with problems from the start: script changes, switch of directors, bad weather, snakes and mosquitoes in the Florida Keys where it was filmed.
The troubles were evident on the screen, and critics roundly rapped the film, although Robertson’s work won praise.
In 1977, Robertson made the headlines again, this time by blowing the whistle on a Hollywood financial scandal.
He had discovered that David Begelman, president of Columbia Pictures, had forged his signature on a $10,000 salary check, and he called the FBI and the Burbank and Beverly Hills police departments. Hollywood insiders were not happy with the ugly publicity.
“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, but he returned to the film business. He committed suicide in 1995.
Robertson said neither the studios nor the networks would hire him for four years.
He supported himself as a spokesman for AT&T until the drought ended in 1981 when he was hired by MGM for “Brainstorm,” Natalie Wood’s final film.
Born Sept. 9, 1923, in La Jolla, Calif., Robertson was 2 when he was adopted by wealthy parents who named him Clifford Parker Robertson III. After his parents divorced and his mother died, he was reared by his maternal grandmother, whom he adored.
Robertson studied briefly at Antioch College, majoring in journalism, then returned to California and appeared in two small roles in Hollywood movies. Rejected by the services in World War II because of a weak eye, he served in the Merchant Marine.
He set his sights on New York theater, and like dozens of other future stars, profited from the advent of live television drama. His Broadway roles also attracted notice, and after avoiding Hollywood offers for several years, he accepted a contract at Columbia Pictures.
“I think I held the record for the number of times I was on suspension,” he remarked in 1969. “I remember once I turned down a B picture, telling the boss, Harry Cohn, I would rather take a suspension. He shouted at me, `Kid, ya got more guts than brains.’ I think old Harry might have been right.”
Robertson’s first performance for Columbia, “Picnic,” was impressive, even though his screen pal, William Holden, stole the girl, Kim Novak. He followed with a tearjerker, “Autumn Leaves,” as Joan Crawford’s young husband, then a musical, “The Girl Most Likely” with Jane Powell. In 1959, he endeared himself to “Gidget” fans as The Big Kahuna, the mature Malibu surf bum who takes Gidget under his wing.
He remained a busy, versatile leading man through the `60s and `70s, but lacked the intensity of Brando, James Dean and others who brought a new style of acting to the screen.
By Tom Fitton
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