Vintage Hunk: Robert Cummings
By: Mike McCrann
Robert Cummings was a handsome leading man who starred in a number of fine films - including two for Alfred Hitchcock - but found his greatest fame on television.
Cummings was never a huge movie star, but two of his films are classics and both were made the same year 1942. They are Hitchcock's Saboteur and the great melodrama Kings Row.
Charles Clarence Robert Orville Cummings was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1910. While still in high school Cummings learned to fly - taught by his godfather Orville Wright (Yes - that Wright brother!). However, the stock market crash caused young Bob to stop his aeronautical engineering studies and he turned to acting.
His drama training included a trip to England where he learned to speak with an English accent. Ending up in Hollywood, Robert Cummngs became a star co-starring with singer Deanna Durbin in Three Smart Girls Grow Up.
1942 would give Cummings his two greatest movie roles. In Hitchcock's Saboteur he played an aircraft worker who is framed for the arson death of his best friend. He and beautiful Priscilla Lane go on a cross country search for the saboteurs and the film ends with the famous scene on The Statue of Liberty. Hitchcock wanted bigger stars than Cummings and Lane, but they were wonderful in this vastly under-appreciated mystery.
Robert Cummings' best film was Kings Row, the period story of a small American town with all its hidden secrets including incest, murder and butchery. Co-starring Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan in his best movie role, Kings Row was the Peyton Place of its time. With a gorgeous score by Eric Wolgang Korngold, the film is memorable for how much of the best selling novel got past the censors and on the screen. Kings Row is one of the great 40s melodramas and is as fascinating today as the day it was released.
Unfortunately at the peak of his career Cummings joined the Army Air Corps. When he returned from the war the career heat for Cummings (and Reagan) was pretty dim. He did make a number of films including Dial M For Murder with Grace Kelly, but true fame came on TV with The Bob Cummings Show where he played a sexy swinging bachelor. This sitcom was pretty risque for its day as bachelor Bob just wanted pretty girls and was not interested in marriage - very naughty in the mid century Eisenhower years. In real life Robert Cummings was married 5 times and had seven children.
Robert Cummings worked steadily for the rest of his life. He died in 1990 at age 80. Cummings was an expert farceur. His comedies are still vastly entertaining as he seems oblivious to his matinee idol looks. Ironically his two great movies were serious dramas. If you want to see Robert Cummings at his zenith buy or rent Saboteur and Kings Row. These 1942 films are true classics and they show sexy Robert at his very best.