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R.I.P. Cliff Robertson (1923 – 2011)

by on 2011/09/11

 As a child, I sometimes went through the shelves of my parents’ bookcase, browsing through their “old” books. In truth, most were no older than I was. One always stood out in my mind, a white paperback with yellowed edges. On the cover were a woman and a man by a water’s edge.

The book was Flowers for Algernon, and the man was Cliff Robertson. He would win an Oscar for his portrayal of the adaptation’s title character, Charly.

I had no idea when I read that reprint I’d be seeing him from time to time in a variety of shows, films, and videos throughout the years to come.

His early career was marked by an unusually balanced mixture of both features and TV. He was Shame in Batman, long before I had heard of his parody subject, Shane. He appeared in many genre showcases, including The Outer Limits, Playhouse 90, Suspense, The Untouchables, and the proto-Star-Trek Wagon Train.

Over the years, he staged an evolutionary comeback, more frequently appearing as an authority figure. You’ll find him in such roles in several pieces, including Brainstorm, Escape from L.A., and Three Days of the Condor.

I have a weakness for those of his generation who appeared in what we’d now consider geeky roles and productions. That he was able to return to the new Outer Limits, more than a generation after his original appearance is catnip for us fans.

But my favourite role of all may be in the original Twilight Zone. He appeared twice, once as a ventriloquist manipulated by his dummy, and the other — the one I love — as a pioneer who glimpses an inspiring future. That episode was called “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” and you can find it in the second season set on DVD, and just recently released on Blu-ray Disc.

I know, I know. There’s going to be hell to pay if I don’t mention Spider-Man. Without a doubt, he was excellent as the young Peter’s Uncle Ben Parker. Martin Sheen will have his work cut out for him in the forthcoming reboot. It will be difficult to imagine anyone else giving us that poignant, persistent refrain: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

“Don’t ever forget that,” he told us. If there’s any justice in Hollywood, they won’t forget him either. A dedication in the reboot would be a respectable way to start.


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