Cliff Robertson starred as John F. Kennedy in a 1963 World War II drama and later won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a mentally disabled bakery janitor in the movie “Charly.”
In a more than 50-year career in films, Robertson appeared in some 60 movies, including “PT 109,” “My Six Loves,” “Sunday in New York,” “The Best Man,” “The Devil’s Brigade,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “Obsession” and “Star 80.”
Throughout his career, Robertson worked regularly in television, including delivering an Emmy Award-winning performance in “The Game,” a 1965 drama on “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre.”
Robertson first came to filmgoers’ attention playing Kim Novak’s wealthy boyfriend in “Picnic,” the 1955 romantic-drama starring William Holden.
While continuing to work on stage and in television, Robertson starred in a string of movies over the next seven years.
He was Jane Powell’s love interest in the 1957 musical comedy “The Girl Most Likely,” an Army lieutenant in the 1958 World War II drama “The Naked and the Dead,” a surf bum (the Kahuna) in the 1959 Sandra Dee surf-and-sand epic “Gidget” and a doctor in the 1962 drama “The Interns.”
Robertson appeared to be on his way after President Kennedy personally approved him to star in “PT 109,” the 1963 film about Kennedy’s heroic World War II exploits in the Navy as a motor torpedo boat skipper in the South Pacific.
Although described in a Look magazine cover story as “The Big Epic that Robertson’s career has always needed,” “PT 109” ultimately didn’t do much to advance the screen career of what the magazine called “one of the finest young actors in America today.”
In contrast to most of the movies he was making at the time, Robertson found some of his choicest roles on stage and in television.
On Broadway in 1957, he played the lead role of the drifter in Tennessee Williams’ “Orpheus Descending” — the same role Marlon Brando played in “The Fugitive Kind,” director Sidney Lumet’s 1959 movie version of the play.
Robertson continued to appear in films, notably playing a ruthless, conservative presidential candidate in “The Best Man,” a 1964 drama costarring Henry Fonda. In the meantime, he continued to do research for the title role in what became the movie “Charly.”
After his Oscar win, Robertson was a star in films such as “The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid,” “Man on a Swing,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “Obsession.”
More recently, he played Uncle Ben Parker in the “Spider-Man” films.