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!


Alan Scott said...

Nice ending! :)

Gregory Moore said...

Well, thank you for that! A wonderful salute to a much-"under-remembered" great beauty of his day. I think he falls somewhat in the category of being perhaps best known for television shows that are either lost or no longer shown and gets lumped into the category of "TV Western actor of yesteryear". Your excellent photo excavation shows what a singularly exquisite specimen he was. He always seemed sincere, dedicated and solid in most of his films I've seen. I'm glad there is now a place that future queens can click on, to see what a hunk he was. Another category he'd fall into, I guess, is that of the godlike beauties who aged poorly, and before their time--and just sort of fell apart, looks-wise, seemingly overnight (see Gable, Clark, Wayne, John, Flynn, Errol et al). Those were different times...chain-smoking...drinking booze like water...not to mention, a time when one would slather themselves in oil and broil on the beach. I was abashed to see that I'm just a few years off from the photo of him in the "Dynasty" pilot...and it made me feel a little better, seeing how in these more "enlightened" (insert irony) times, maybe that aphorism, "60 is the new 40" has some validity (or I'm or the other). In any case, he kept that amazing head of hair, it seems, to the end (ish). I mean, who in Hollywood history had better hair than him? Young Gilbert Roland, maybe?

D ODay said...

One of those names I recognized but could never put a face to - for some reason, I always confused him with Robert Preston.
Another flawlessly researched and enjoyable essay. Oh, and I always thought Bo Hopkins would be an ideal lazy Sunday morning companion, ahem.

Poseidon3 said...

Alan Scott, I try...! ;-)

Gregory, I have to agree about the age thing. I'm fifty (and some day really FEEL it!), but I still think I hold up better than some of the 50-somethings I see from yesteryear. And I am only marginal about trying to pickle myself so I'll live to be a hundred. LOL I did quit smoking in 1997, thank God. I do still like my pool time, however.

D ODay, thank you! I'm glad you liked this profile on Mr. R. Bo Hopkins was pretty popular in the 1970s and a bit beyond. I seem to recall him in little white briefs in a Burt Reynolds flick? He tended to play so many trashy parts, so it was kind of nice to see him as a very dedicated and affectionate working man on "Dynasty." But they NEVER should have brought him back in season 8. Lord.... He figures into a future post about actors in towels, by the way. :-)

Gingerguy said...

He is a cutie, and to me a cross between Burt Lancaster and Robert Preston as mentioned above.
(I still don't know the secret of the boy with green hair but maybe someday will find it out).
I see why the focus of photos is on Lydia Bailey. No one looks good usually in those high waisted pants but he sure does.
Flabbergasted when I got to Dynasty at the end of this. I would have never connected those dots. I just watched seasons 1&2 recently and he certainly was the one who tried to get poor Steven Carrington laid in a cathouse. The show was really blue collar and could have just been called Oil Rig. This was a nice read, and I always appreciate your research.

Gingerguy said...

Forgive me...but I also see a little Rip Taylor in the Dynasty years

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, I deliberately made no reference early on to "Dynasty" in the hope that I could spring it on the unsuspecting when the time came! ;-) Glad it worked in your case. I am SCREAMING about the Rip Taylor thing... but Dale's hair was the real deal. He couldn't rip it off and shake the confetti out of it like Rip always did. Ha ha!

Poseidon3 said...

FYI, y'all, it is THIS young Clark Gable to which Dale Robertson drew comparisons, not the more familiar mustached, weathered look:

joel65913 said...

While never exactly the most magnetic screen presence Dale could be counted on for a reliable performance and an attractive appearance. His hair was truly a marvel of volume aided by product!

One of my faves of his films is Dakota Incident (yes partly because of Linda Darnell-and her dress while very becoming is almost eye-straininly red-but because its an entertaining movie). Two of the others you reference were two I sought for years and finally tracked down. Lydia Bailey is visually stunning (in all areas) but after a promising start became a dull slog. One of my more recent finds was The Farmer Takes a Wife-it's bandbox pretty which is rather ridiculous since it's about life on the Erie Canal and flatboats! Betty Grable is a bit mature for her role and her outfits are a mite outre but she gives it the old college try and as a bonus there's Thelma Ritter-in a red wig!-as a saloon owner and Dale looking handsome as ever.

I don't remember him on Dynasty but seeing those pictures I'm not surprised although I'm shocked at how suddenly he seemed to age.

Poseidon3 said...

See, Joel, now I know how to snake you out of hiding... Just mention Linda Darnell! LOL I love simple, but engrossing, westerns like "Dakota Incident." No one would dream today of filming such straightforward stories of brevity like that. I need to see "The Farmer Takes a Wife" sometime, it sounds like. (Again, I had no clue it was in color!) Dale's role on "Dynasty" was rather abbreviated, not helped by a mere 13 episode first season, so it's not really a key part of the show over the long haul... Thanks.