Saturday, June 30, 2018

Traipsing Through the Dale...

We have a photo essay for you today on one of Hollywood's longstanding, yet surprisingly under-sung leading men. Many of the pictures seem to spring from one of his many movies in particular, though I think you'll see why! Our subject today is Dale Robertson, a rather recent discovery stemming from the purchase of one of his successful TV shows on DVD.
Dayle Lymoine Robertson, born July 14th, 1923 in Harrah, Oklahoma, was predestined to be a western figure regardless of where life took him (and it took him all over the place.) Though he took up boxing while attending Oklahoma Military Academy, and was good enough to work at it professionally, he continued to work the ranch his parents Melvin and Vervel (!) ran.
In fact, he was approached by Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn for a screen test to play the lead in the 1939 Barbara Stanwyck film Golden Boy, based on the Broadway hit about a boxer who is also a talented violinist. Seventeen year-old Robertson declined the test citing his need to stay on the ranch with polo ponies he was training! The role finally went to William Holden, who was nearly fired from the picture until Stanwyck went to bat for him.
Before long WWII came calling and Robertson made a valiant soldier in both Europe and North Africa, wounded twice (once with shrapnel in his lower legs and another time with mortar to his knee) he recovered both times. A photo (not this one) of him in his uniform drew the attention of Hollywood talent scouts and, his boxing career now behind him thanks to the injuries, this time he went for it.
He made his debut opposite Robert Ryan and Dean Stockwell in 1948's The Boy with Green Hair, uncredited as a police officer trying to unravel the mystery of the strange boy (who at the start of the film has NO hair.)
Other "blink and you'll miss 'em" parts came in Flamingo Road (1949) and, as seen here, The Girl from Jones Beach (1949), in which he played a lifeguard (which seems reason enough to look up the movie sometime!)
Robertson soon won roles in two Randolph Scott pictures, Fighting Man of the Plains (1949) and Cariboo Trail (1950), before joining Joseph Cotten in Two Flags West (1950.) These westerns were followed by Take Care of My Little Girl (1951) with Jeanne Crain and Mitzi Gaynor and Golden Girl (1951) opposite Gaynor again. Robertson possessed a pleasant, if unspectacular, singing voice that he would repeatedly display here and there during his long career.
By 1952's Return of the Texan, Robertson had achieved first-billing status. His dreamy face was as if an alchemist put parts of Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster into a vial and created a new combination of the two.
Robertson had been befriended by Will Rogers Jr., son of one of Oklamhoma's most famous men, who advised him never to alter the natural quality that he had in his acting and personality. Robertson took heed and never took part in any further training as an actor.
After costarring in The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1952), second billed to Anne Baxter, Robertson enjoyed a slight change of pace, starring in Lydia Bailey, a French-flavored, Haiti-set adventure. He would look his most dashing and charming in the period clothing of the era and setting.
Anne Francis played the title character. Robertson was a lawyer searching for her in the midst of a revolution on the island. I loooovvvee his hair and sideburns in this sideview.
Robertson's trim, tight physique was advantageous when confronted with the Napoleonic clothing featured in the movie.
These next two shots are hooty as hell. Shirtless Robertson and a horse-whip-wielding Francis set out.... on a blank white soundstage!
Nothing like this appears in the movie. It's solely publicity craziness. He and Francis, fully clothed and quite muddy, do get lost in the jungle, but it's in no way like this.
After a small role in O. Henry's Full House (1952) and joining Rory Calhoun (who he also resembled) in The Silver Whip (1953), Robertson paired up with Betty Grable in The Farmer Takes a Wife (1953.)  (Again I have to point out the majesty of Dale Robertson's thick, curly hair. She, on the other hand, looks quite ridiculous to me...)
One of the big pluses of Farmer, though, is that Robertson takes himself a tub bath. He's probably dreaming of her at this moment, but he also looks as if he could be pleasuring himself! LOL He certainly pleases me...
Robertson, a lifelong smoker, not only looked a fair bit like Clark Gable, but he eventually began to sound like The King, too. He generally avoided sporting a mustache, however, perhaps in an attempt to downplay the resemblance. Devil's Canyon (1953), by the way, was a 3-D western, with Virginia Mayo's boobs among the special effects.
Robertson was a popular figure in Tinseltown, known for his stand-up reputation and finely honed manners, though he strenuously avoided cooperating with gossip columnists, earning him The Sour Apple Award for three years running! Here, he meets up with Marilyn Monroe at a celebrity softball tournament, protecting her - and very much enjoying it! - from the throngs of fans seeking her autograph.
Robertson starred or costarred in City of Bad Men (1953) and The Gambler from Natchez (1954) before headlining Sitting Bull, looking dashing in his cavalry uniform. His female costar here, Mary Murphy, would briefly become his wife for six months in 1956-1957.
His rival for Murphy's affections in Sitting Bull was played by a brunette William Hopper, who would later make his mark on the long-running Raymond Burr series Perry Mason.
Robertson was married four times. His first marriage to Frederica was from 1951-1956 and resulted in a daughter. His brief union to Mary Murphy was annulled after six months in 1957. A third marriage to Lula Mae lasted from 1959-1977 and yielded two more daughters. Then in 1980 he wed Susan, to whom he was with until his death in 2013. As so often happens, it's the third or fourth try (in Hollywood, anyway!) that becomes the most lasting union. In 1955, he starred in the Alaskan adventure Top of the World (which is where the earlier uniformed pic came from.)
Surely the biggest change of pace he ever undertook, and rather uncomfortably from the looks of it, was Son of Sinbad (1955.) Robertson cavorting around in a turban is a smaller-scale version of John Wayne playing Genghis Khan in The Conqueror (1956)!
I doubt Vincent Price much minded sharing a bed with him in it, however.
In 1956, Robertson costarred with Linda Darnell (wearing truly the reddest dress in all of cinema) in Dakota Incident. This same year, he made his TV debut on shows such as The Ford Television Theatre and Schlitz Playhouse. Ever attempting (and never with great success) to adjust his typecast image, he also did a British thriller High Terrace (1956) as well as another western A Day of Fury (1956.)
Robertson began to appear as a guest on Studio 57, Climax!, Undercurrent and The 20th Century Fox Hour. One of his two appearances on Schlitz Playhouse served as the pilot for what would be a very successful first series for him.
Tales of Wells Fargo featured Robertson as upstanding company detective Jim Hardie, who found himself all over the American west investigating robberies, accidents and other incidents of the venerable stage/transport line. During one hiatus, he went to Italy to play opposite Gina Lollobrigida in Fast and Sexy (1958.)
Wells Fargo was produced by Nat Holt, who'd been responsible for giving Robertson his first breaks in the biz a decade earlier. The half-hour western was a Top 10 hit its first two seasons. The last year it aired (1961-1962), it switched from NBC to ABC, went to an hour-long format and was filmed in color.
Even after all the movies he'd appeared in, it was Tales of Wells Fargo that made Robertson a household name at the time. He was a rare thing, too, in that his character was a left-handed draw. Right-handed Robertson practiced to learn the draw and was one of the few such gunmen on TV until Michael Landon came on in Bonanza. Even so, the morally upright Robertson never liked resorting to gunplay unless it was completely necessary.
Now closing in on forty, Robertson continued to star in minor western movies such as Law of the Lawless (1964), Blood on the Arrow (1964) and the first full-length animated (!) western The Man from Button Willow (1965.) Another unusual blip came with the foreign-made adventure Coast of Skeletons (1965) with Richard Todd.
After the failed pilot Diamond Jim (1965) - one of the few times he wore a mustache in his earlier days - he landed another series. This one in 1966 was called The Iron Horse and involved a gambler who won an unfinished railroad line and was determined to see it through.
Co-starring with him on the show was young Gary Collins. Robertson blamed network interference with ruining what started out as a promising series. It lasted two seasons, ending in 1968.
Now in his mid-forties, the still formidable hair was sporting a prominent white tuft, which Robertson declined to cover up or color.
The once-beautiful, still-handsome, Robertson had other things on his mind by now anyway. He embarked on a singing career - appearing on variety shows like The Mike Douglas Show, The Johnny Cash Show and Hee Haw, served as host of Death Valley Days and Hollywood Palace and generally enjoyed his free time more than he had when on the Tinseltown treadmill of movies and TV. He had an Oklahoma ranch of his own, which generated many well-heeled steeds.
In the wake of his third divorce, however, Robertson took renewed interest in his acting career. He popped up on Aaron Spelling's shows Fantasy Island and The Love Boat, which ultimately led to his third TV series, a new prime-time soap opera called Dynasty.
This was how Dynasty's audiences first saw the fifty-eight year-old Robertson in his return after a considerable absence. Granted "Special Guest Star" billing, he was part of the decidedly blue-collar side of the fledgling show's debut season as a hardscrabble oil wildcatter named Walter Lankersham.
It was quite a shock to fans to see the shaggy-haired older man take to the boxing ring one more time, but without the physical impressiveness that had marked his screen career for so long. I didn't even know who he was when I watched the three-hour pilot in 1981 (at age fourteen!), but even I sensed a certain dissipation on display.
The bulk of Robertson's scenes were with Bo Hopkins, his oil-drilling partner on the series. After that initial 13-episode season (the show was a mid-season replacement), all of the "have nots" except for Pamela Bellwood as Claudia, were abruptly written out of the show. Robertson claimed that he was uncomfortable with some of the sexual elements of the plotlines (one sequence had him wallering around in a brothel, trying to get gay Steven Carrington laid!) and thus was written out, but in truth audiences just wanted to see more of the wealthy characters.
This might have served as the end of Dale Robertson's screen career, but it was not. He ventured onto Dallas for a 5-episode arc and then in 1987 came bounding back to the tube once more in a mystery series called J. J. Starbuck. The Stephen J. Cannell show focused on a Texas billionaire who took on impossible cases. In several episodes prior to cancellation, Ben Vereen (of the cancelled 1980 show Tenspeed and Brown Shoe) came on board as Tenspeed! The series only lasted 5 more episodes with him, however.
As was the fashion in 1987, Starbuck featured many "name" guest stars from Telly Savalas (as seen here) to Patty Duke, Robert Conrad, Jill St. John and others. Mr. Robertson went on to appear on Murder, She Wrote and did a couple of guest shots on the short-lived Beau and Lloyd Bridges series Harts of the West in 1993 before retiring. He was seventy.
Beautiful Dale Robertson not only had attributes similar to Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, but also contained sprinkles of the aforementioned Rory Calhoun as well as John Bromfield (and there's even a splash of Tom Selleck in some pics.) His unfortunate cigarette habit did take its toll on his looks voice and, eventually, body. He died of lung cancer and pneumonia in 2013, but at the ripe age of eighty-nine.
In this magazine clipping, he's referred to as a "courtly cowboy" and I think that's tremendously appropriate. As a former boxer and twice-wounded war veteran, he was never going to take a lot of guff from anyone, yet he had a strong backbone of integrity, refusing to allow unsavory elements into his life and work. Ordinarily, this would be my send-off, but.....!
BONUS PICS:  Having seen all those black & white shots from Lydia Bailey, I just had to seek out the movie (a movie that is highly unlikely to be aired most places these days) and was stunned to see that it's in color!
Handsome as Robertson is in black & white, he's devastating in the color photography. If only there were a truly decent print of the film someplace.
At least the publicity didn't totally lie when it showed him shirtless and in those trim French pants.
I think you can really see strong Gable and Lancaster resemblances here. Only Burt could give Dale a run for his money when it came to thick curly hair (and I believe Dale held onto his longer.)
And now... The End!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Delving Below the Surface

Longtime readers will recall a couple of podcasts I took part in two years ago (here and here.) In them I yak on and on about movies, television and myself... Last week, I recorded another one which can be listened to at this link. Again the origin of Poseidon's Underworld is revealed and a wide variety of showbiz topics are touched upon.

I share this link for those of you who might like to listen, though I feel the need to explain that I was not on my game this day at all...! I was suffering from an upper respiratory infection and was only 1-1/2 days into a heady regimen of steroids and antibiotics and just didn't feel (or sound!) particularly sharp. The first several minutes are, in fact, painful to me simply because I don't seem to know what the hell I'm talking about, no matter the topic! LOL (Perhaps it's always that way and I just don't realize it until I hear it for myself in all its "glory.") In fact, I'm still on said prescriptions nine days later...!

In this podcast, we discuss Hollywood scandals and tragedies (including little-known cowboy star-turned-murderer Spade Cooley, who I idiotically refer to as "Slade" Cooley in the discussion!)...

The Cassidys, including David Cassidy and Shirley Jones of The Partridge Family, as well as Jones' husband Jack Cassidy and one of their three sons together, Shaun Cassidy. Jones' fairly recent kerfuffle with Joan Collins is touched upon as well.

There are also references to child stars like Jay North of Dennis the Menace and tearjerkers like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn...

...and to recent Underworld profilees Michael Forest and Michael Dante, including why they received such an "honor." These and plenty of other people and projects are reflected upon.

If you listen, I hope you enjoy it. It would be better had I not been so ill. It would be better if I was a bit sharper. It would be better if I were not getting old and half senile... As Dorothy Zbornak once exclaimed to Rose Nylund, "It would be better with SHELLEY HACK, Rose! Just turn it on...."
The pics below are ones I took from my spot at the David Cassidy concert. Oh, and if you listened long enough to get to it and wonder, actress Mabel Albertson (Darrin's mother on Bewitched) was the mother-in-law of Cloris Leachman and grandmother to Cloris' five children with George Englund.