Not in Any Way a Biography
Flowers for Algernon,
By Daniel Keyes, Bantam, 1970
Made into the film Charly (1968), for which Cliff Robertson won an Academy Award for Best Actor.
A Butch Anthony Perkins
For a handsome, talented guy, Cliff Robertson made a long, long line of forgettable pictures, punctuated by a pretty decent one every decade or so. From what I understand, his appearances on early television drama series -- Playhouse 90, Celebrity Playhouse, Chrysler Theater and the like -- were very good; he earned an Emmy in 1966 for one of his TV performances.
Unfortunately for Robertson, my first exposure to him was in the film Obsession, a dopey, Vertigo-ish Brian DePalma picture that did nothing for me (or Genevieve Bujold), but that I watched a bunch of times anyway on early HBO. Turns out it was kind of his "thing" to play slightly unstable, nerve-wracked leads, a fact confirmed by my next seeing him in The Twilight Zone as the jumpy ventriloquist in "The Dummy," one of the scariest episodes ever.* I remember him least fondly as Joan Crawford's love interest in the creepy May-October romance, Autumn Leaves (1956), where he plays a mentally unstable hotty to Joan's middle-aged spinster.**
Cliff Robertson was born in San Diego, California, into a bit of money. His parents divorced when he was a year old and his mother died a year later of peritonitis at the age of 21. Robertson was raised by his maternal grandmother and rarely saw his father, who was something of a ladies' man and spendthrift. After graduating from high school in 1941, Robertson joined the Merchant Marine and served the Second World War in that service. He attended (but did not finish) Antioch College to study journalism, which was his profession for a short time, until the dean suggested he try acting.
The handsome young ex-marine moved to New York to study at the Actor's Studio, earning roles in statewide and national touring productions of popular plays, and eventually making his Broadway debut in 1953.
His first film role was in Josh Logan's Picnic (1955), which should have propelled him into meatier film appearances. Instead, he became a very successful and acclaimed television actor, showing up every so often in a film about the military (he was President Kennedy's choice to star in PT 109, for instance), but then there's Gidget , so who knows?
In the 1970s, Robertson got in a surprising bit of professional blacklisting, when he blew the whistle on a Columbia Pictures executive after discovering that the exec had been forging Robertson's name on studio checks. Turns out the guy had embezzled tens of thousands of dollars, so he was fired and fined. But Robertson was given the cold-shoulder professionally for four years.
Along the way, Robertson was married and divorced twice and became a certified private pilot. Not that one has to do with the other; I just think those two things are interesting. He owned and flew a bunch of planes, including some WWII fighters and entered balloon races and stuff. Wikipedia says he was flying a Beechcraft private plane over the Twin Towers the morning of the 9/11 attack, which is scary for obvious reasons, but also that he was 78 years old at the time, which seems a little risky to me.
Cliff Robertson died of natural causes a day after his 88th birthday on September 10, 2011.
* Bwwooaah. Hate those dummies; they're worse than clowns.
** Eeeeeoogh. Speaking of clowns...