Vintage Hunk: Cliff Robertson

By: Mike McCrann

Cliff Robertson was a working movie actor for almost 50 years. He won an Academy Award, played John Kennedy on film and was in such cult films as Gidgetand Autumn Leaves.

While never a popular movie star or a box office winner, Robertson was a handsome man and a solid actor.

Robertson was also married to famous actress/heiress Dina Merrill and was the man who unearthed the famous forged check in the David Begelman scandal.

Cliff Parker Robertson was born in La Jolla, CA in 1923. His early life was grim as his parents divorced and his mother died when he was an infant. Raised by his grandmother, Robertson served in the merchant marine and then entered the theater. His first movie roles were in 1956 playing Kim Novak's wealthy boyfriend in Picnic and Joan Crawford's disturbed younger husband in the campy Autumn Leaves. (For "hunk" purposes check out Cliff in his bathing suit in this sudsy Crawford vehicle.)

In 1959 Cliff Robertson won his cult cinematic immortality playing "The Big Kahuna" in Gidget with Sandra Dee. Robertson was pretty sexy in his scantily-clad scenes and we will not venture into what "Kahuna" was referring to!

After a few more years of routine parts, Robertson was personally chosen by President John Kennedy to play him in PT 109- based on Kennedy's World War II exploits. Unfortunately, the resulting film was pretty much a bomb both critically and financially.

Robertson's best role to date was in The Best Man - the Gore Vidal political drama. Cliff played arch conservative Joe Cantwell with a secret in his past - a gay affair in the army! Finally Robertson hit Oscar gold in 1968 winning the Best Actor award for Charly. This study of a mentally disabled man gave him the best reviews of his life but truthfully both Peter O'Toole (The Lion in Winter) and especially Ron Moody (Oliver) deserved the award.

After a brief marriage to Jack Lemmon's ex-wife, Robertson married Post Cereals heiress Dina Merrill. Both marriages ended in divorce, but produced two daughters. In 1977 Cliff Robertson was the prime figure in the infamous David Begelman scandal when he realized that a check made out to the actor for $10,000 had been forged and cashed by Begelman who just happened to be the head of Columbia Pictures. When Robertson pursued the case he was vindicated, but also blackballed by Hollywood. Apparently you should never bite the hand that feeds you in La La land.

Ciff Robertson made a ton of movies and a lot of them were mediocre, but he was always professional and sometimes outstanding. My two favorite Robertson movies are two of his flops - Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Honey Pot and especially Brian de Palma's Obsession.

Sadly, Cliff Robertson died in 2011 at age 88.

If you want to see him at his campiest check out his Kahuna in Gidget. If you want to see him at his best watch Charly or Obsession. Cliff was trim and handsome for his entire career. Maybe he did not deserve his Oscar, but he certainly deserves the attention of any serious movie fan. (Plus, hasn't every gay man wanted to be called "The Big Kahuna!!!")