Cliff Robertson passed away yesterday, just a day after his 88th birthday. Younger filmgoers will know Robertson best as Uncle Ben Parker in all three Spider-Man movies.
Robertson won an Academy Award in 1968 for his heartbreaking starring turn in Charly. He was especially memorable in 1963’s PT 109 for his portrayal of President Kennedy—in fact, Robertson was Kennedy’s own first choice for the role. Robertson wasn’t above TV, however: he appeared in episodes of Batman and The Twilight Zone, among others.
But Robertson is best remembered for, of all things, reporting that his then-employer, David Begelman—who was, at that time, the head of Columbia Pictures—had forged a check for $10k. Robertson’s report launched “Hollywoodgate“; in all, Begelman had embezzled $75,000 (in 1978 dollars!).
Blowing the whistle on Begelman had been a gutsy decision, and indeed, Robertson was blacklisted as an actor in the following years. His career never quite rebounded. (In 1980, Begelman became CEO and president of MGM.)
On the subject of his latter-year career revival, Robertson said:
Since Spider-Man 1 and 2, I seem to have a whole new generation of fans. That in itself is a fine residual.
Robertson was reported dead once before—in 1941, following the attacks on Pearl Harbor. (Obviously, he was OK.) In a twist of irony, he wasn’t actually able to serve in WWII due to his eyesight—which is funny, considering how many “war pictures” Robertson made as an actor.
He was also a hobbyist aviator and licensed pilot. Ten years ago today, Robertson was flying a small, two-engine plane directly over the World Trade Center when the first attack occurred. Crazy.
Pictured: Cliff Robertson in 1978; image via the Associated Press.