The Acadamy Award winning actor Cliff Robertson passed away on Sept 10th. Perhaps the name is familiar to you. Perhaps not. He was a great actor who never quite reached the level of fame of other actors of the day like Marlon Brando, Jack Lemmon or Paul Newman. But talent for talent Robertson was every bit as good an actor. During his career which included stage,tv and, film Cliff Robertson played a wide range of rolls from an alcoholic to a pool player to a Navel Lieutenant trying to save the lives of his men to a mentally challenged patient who couldn’t out race a mouse. Each of these rolls would earn him rave reviews from the critics and applause from the audience.
Robertson began his acting career on television and broadway. He would star in the first tv production of “The Days Of Wine and Roses”. For all the praise Robertson received for his role in the teleplay when plans were made to make “Days” into a motion picture he wasn’t considered for the role. It would go instead to Jack Lemmon. When Robertson starred in “The Hustler”, another teleplay, he would once more get high praise for his acting only to see the part he made famous go to Paul Newman when it was made for the big screen. Success in films would find Robertson and he would build an impressive list of movies. Among them “Picnic”, “The Naked and The Dead”, “Gidget” and “The Best Man”. It would be a movie about John Kennedy as a lieutenant in the navy during World War II that would bring much attention to Robertson. “PT 109” was about the naval boat that was under the command of Lieutenant Junior Grade John Kennedy during the second world war. When casting for the movie it is said that President Kennedy himself gave the approval to the producers of “PT 109” to have Cliff Robertson play him. The movie did well at the box office but critics did not like the movie. They did like Robertsons’ performance however which made his star quality rise.
Cliff would continue acting in television while making movies. One such TV production was “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon” based on the book “Flowers For Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. Once more Robertson received outstanding reviews. Cliff Robertson this time though would see to it that when the teleplay was being made in a movie he and not someone else would play the part of Charlie. He bought the movie rights to the show. Renamed “Charly” it took Robertson eight years to get “Charly” made into a movie with him in the lead roll. The story is about a man who is mentally challenged named Charly. Charly is so mentally challenged that he can not beat a mouse named Algernon in a race through a maze. No matter how many times he tries Charly can’t win against Algernon. Doctors start medical treatment on Charly that start changing him into a genius. Before long he is able to win all the time against Algernon. He was able to solve complicated problems and finds he is getting smarter everyday. The treatment however is only temporary and in time Charly reverts back to his old self. The movie is very touching and very well made. It was Cliff Robertsons’ best work as an actor. He would win the 1968 Academy award for best actor for “Charly” and was one of the best performances ever by an actor for any median. Robertson’s performance of Charly both before, during and after having had the medical treatment is very convincing and had to be a challenge for him as an actor. It is the kind of roll actors dream of having but I think there is no actor who could have come close to matching the level of excellence that Robertson did in making the movie.
Robertson would go on to make other films but none would ever come close to the success he had making “Charly”. Towards the end of his career, Cliff Robertson would find a new generation of fans with his appearances as Uncle Ben Parker in the first three Spiderman movies. “Spiderman 3” would be Cliff’s last film appearance in 2007. Cliff Robertson died of natural causes at age 88. He is definately up there as one of my favorite actors and rates with the likes of Brando and Lemmon and Newman as among the best. I highly recommend if you get the chance watch “Charly”. Especially if you only know of Cliff Robertson through his work in the Spiderman films and see for yourselves just what a fine actor he was.