Interview with Oscar Winner Richard Dreyfuss

With my 15th birthday approaching, my father asked me what I wanted to do.  Having been intrigued by the television commercials for a new film, “Dog Day Afternoon,” I told him I wanted to see that movie.  On Sunday, September 21, 1975, my father dropped me off at the University Square Mall Cinema in Tampa to see the movie.  Sadly, I didn’t know it was rated “R” and was told I couldn’t buy a ticket.  As I began to dejectedly walk away, the girl in the ticket booth called out to me “have you seen JAWS yet?”  I hadn’t.  124 minutes later, my life was changed.

I include this because of what I did after the film.  Like a normal kid, I wrote fan letters to the three stars.  I soon received a letter from Richard Dreyfuss’ cousin, Arlene, who informed me that she ran Richard’s fan club.  If I wanted to join, it would cost me $5.00 (a week’s allowance at that time).  I immediately sent her the money, along with a note saying “if you ever need any help.”  Within a few months, I was helping her with the club – basically I handled the fans east of the Mississippi river.  It was a great time for a teenager.  I’d scour the newspapers for articles about Richard and each month would send out a packet to the fans, which usually consisted of Xeroxed newspaper clippings and the occasional photograph.  Not sure how many members were in the club, but when it disbanded in November 1978, shortly after the release of “The Big Fix,” I was dealing with almost 1,000 fans.

A collection of photographs sent to fans

I’ve been very fortunate to have met Mr. Dreyfuss twice in my life.  Once, in Baltimore, when he was on the set of the film “Tin Men,” and in July 2017 when we were both guests at a Hollywood Celebrity Show.  At that show I was able to stand near his table and listen to him tell the most amazing stories.  I mention this because Mr. Dreyfuss is currently traveling around the country, offering fans the opportunity to take in AN EVENING WITH RICHARD DREYFUSS.  He will be in Kansas City this week (April 4th) and I have been honored to have been chosen the moderator of the event.  Call it practice, but I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Dreyfuss and ask him some questions, a few of which may be included when we’re together Thursday night.

Mike Smith:  What led you to pursue a career in acting?

Richard Dreyfuss:  Wow!  I don’t know….what leads someone to follow what they love?  I don’t think I really had a choice. 

MS:  Was there a film or performer that inspired you?  I acted a lot through my 20s but couldn’t make a living at it, but the inspiration came from wanting to do what YOU did.  I know you’re a fan of actors like Charles Laughton, Irene Dunne and Spencer Tracy, among others.  Were they the catalyst?

RD:  They were, of course.  I have no memory of NOT wanting to be an actor.  I think the first time I got on record was when I was nine years old.  We had just moved to California from New York, and I said to my mother, “I want to be an actor.”  And she said, “Don’t just talk about it.”  So I went down to the local Jewish Community Center and auditioned for a play.  And I really never stopped.  I realistically never had more than ten days when I wasn’t acting in a play, or a scene or a class or a job until I was 27. 

MS:  You made your film debut in two very different films in 1967 – “The Graduate” and “The Valley of the Dolls.”  What do you think is the biggest difference between filmmaking then and today?

RD:  There are so many.  The general level of quality for an actor has plummeted.  When I was younger I never hesitated telling young actors to “go for it”…to pursue it.  And now I don’t say that, because the real rewards are so rare…so few and far between  The quality of scrips, from an acting viewpoint, suck.  The sequel syndrome that we’re in, which we can’t seem to get out of, has really lessoned the level of quality of writing.  Of story.  And it seems more arbitrarily decided upon as an element of chicanery and thievery, even for a business that’s famous for it, it goes on.  Film acting is not something I really recommend.  If you want to be an actor in America you can live a very great and satisfied life if you never think about being a star.  You can have a great life in Kansas City.  Or St. Louis.  Or a million other places.  But if you want to go for that kind of brass ring, which I would question – if you do want to go for it, go to therapy first – you’ve got to go to L.A. or New York.  And those towns are pretty sick.

Mr. Dreyfuss’s break-out role – Curt in “American Graffiti”

MS:  You famously almost turned down your role in “Jaws.”  Are there any roles you turned down and then later regretted your decision?

RD:  Oh yeah.  I was once watching a movie and I kept thinking, gosh, this seems so familiar.”  I thought “oh, shit,” and then I remembered why.  And I didn’t ALMOST turn down “Jaws,” I did turn it down.  I turned it down twice.  And then I changed my mind and begged for the part.  (NOTE:  The story goes like this.  After turning down “Jaws” – twice – Mr. Dreyfuss saw his upcoming film “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” and thought his performance was so terrible that he’d never work again.  He then called director Steven Spielberg and accepted the role.  Of course, when “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” was released, Mr. Dreyfuss received rave reviews for his performance, even being named Runner Up as the Best Actor of 1974 (tied with Gene Hackman for “The Conversation”) by the New York Film Critics Circle.)

I will never tell you the ones I turned down that became hits.  Thank God there aren’t that many of them!

As Matt Hooper in “Jaws”

MS:  What fuels the passion for your work?

RD:  If you asked me a question about my process – how do you do this…what’s your method? – I would completely be unable to answer that.  And I’ve always known I’d never be able to answer those kind of questions.  But I know that, in a business where if you’re a successful actor you want to direct, I’ve never wanted to direct.  So I didn’t.  I wanted to act!  I had made a decision when I was very young, which probably wasn’t the most strategist thing to do in the world, but it was the way I chose to live.  Which is to day, if I do a drama, then I’ll do a comedy.  Then I’ll do a drama.  Then I’ll do a comedy.  That’s basically what I tried to do.  And the mistake in that is that I don’t think I ever did something enough times to establish a kind of signature recognition of what I do.  I did both.  I did lots.  And I thought that was the best way for me to pursue my life.  And that’s what I did for sixty years. 

MS:  Where do you keep your Oscar? (NOTE:  Mr. Dreyfuss received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Elliot Garfield in “The Goodbye Girl.”  At age 30, he was, at the time, the youngest actor to win that award).

As Elliot Garfield in “The Goodbye Girl”

RD:  For the most part, in the refrigerator.  (laughs).  I always want people to know about it, but I don’t want to brag.  But I figure that sooner or later they’re going to open the refrigerator. 

And I’m also very aware that the list of actors who were ever nominated or won an Oscar is as great a list as the ones who never were.  It’s a wonderful evening, but it’s rarely more than that.  It’s a great evening.  You’re aware of the film work because the audience for film is in the millions.  But I make no distinction between film and theater.  And, of course, the audience for the theater work I’ve done will be 1/100th of that of the film audience.  But to me, it was always – if not equal than more important –so that is something that I travel with.  I have a little bucket list of things that I check off every once in a while.  “OK, you did a Broadway show…check.”  From the time I was nine, into my teenage years, I was always in acting classes.  At acting schools.  I was always with actors.  And they would always talk about a “National” theater.  And I would say, “There’s never going to be a National theater in this country.  However, there could be fifty “State” theaters.  And, as someone who lives in Kansas City, I would say to you that, something that people should not ignore, is the fact that we are from so many different places…so many different cultures…that we come together as Americans only when we’re HERE, and we learn to be Americans.  And each of us, whether you live in Seattle or Mississippi, you have different strains of a culture.  And I have always wanted each state to have its own theater.  And, in a state like California, which is huge, you could have two, anchored North and South.  And, instead of trying to get everyone to agree on A National Theater, we could have one in every state.  It’s silly to think we can’t afford a State theater, to be able to see how Missourians and Floridians and North Dakotans approach theater.  I think that would be a great endeavor and a great thing to do.  Only because we teach so few things that we share. We’ve actually given up on the notion of teaching things that are of shared values.  And that’s causing this terrible breach in the country.  And we should try to find things that we can share.  And one of them could just be the artistic endeavor of a State theater. 

MS:  That makes a lot of sense.

RD:  And they’ll never do it (laughs).

MS:  Quick follow-up to the Oscar question, one of your fellow nominees that year was Richard Burton.  When Sylvester Stallone read the name of the winner, and you heard “Richard” did you think Burton had one?

RD:  My competition was Burton, Marcello Mastroianni, John Travolta and Woody Allen.  There was no easy answer.  But I just knew I was going to win it.  (laughs)  That’s all I cared about. 

Richard Dreyfuss with his Oscar – named Best Actor of 1977 for “The Goodbye Girl”

MS:  Me too, that night.  I always wonder how people sometimes vote.  You were also nominated for “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” but I thought you were most deserving four years earlier for “Once Around.”

RD:  It’s probably the easiest vote to define.  There are two ways people vote in the Academy.  One is, you vote for your friend.  Or, you vote for who you think is best.  In that order.  It’s simple.  You may not be able to predict it, but that’s the way people vote.  And it’s the reason why people do vote.  It’s not a mystery.  The only thing wrong with the Oscars now is that there are too many other awards, and it’s cheapened the whole thing. 

For more information on attending AN EVENING WITH RICHARD DREYFUSS, either in Kansas City or at a later date, click HERE.

NOTE: Mr. Dreyfuss wanted me to stress that, even though his appearance will be followed by a screening of “Jaws,” he will be discussing his entire career. So whether you’re a fan of “American Graffiti,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” or want to know about his fantastic cameo in “Piranha,” come on out and listen to some amazing stories.

Blu-ray Review “Moonlight”

Actors: Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, Janelle Monae, Mahershala Ali
Directors: Barry Jenkins
Rated: R
Studio: Lionsgate
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Run Time: 111 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

First of all let’s start with a BIG congrats to “Moonlight” for winning Best Picture during the 2017 Oscars and also to Mahershala Ali for winning Best Supporting Actor, in which he deserves for another impressive performance.  This wasn’t a film that I originally rushed out to see and it features some great acting. Personally not my cup of tea and definitely not the best picture of 2016, but worth checking out for the performances.

Official Premise: A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. Anchored by extraordinary performances from a tremendous ensemble cast, Moonlight is profoundly moving portrayal of the moments, people, and unknowable forces that shape our lives and make us who we are.

The Blu-ray looks fantastic. I really love the way that this film was shot. The 1080p transfer is presented with a 2.38:1 aspect ratio. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also very effective with the film’s score. The special features are decent and worth checking out if you enjoyed the movie. There is an audio commentary with the film’s director Barry Jenkins. I enjoyed this during a second viewing to get some great insight. There are also three featurettes on the production. The first is “Ensemble of Emotion: The Making of Moonlight”, next is “Poetry Through Collaboration: The Music of Moonlight” and last is
“Cruel Beauty: Filming in Miami”. Overall pretty solid release!

Win a DVD of the New Film “Blackbird” Starring Oscar Winner Mo’Nique

Media Mikes has teamed up with RLJ Entertainment to give (2) of our readers a chance to win a DVD copy of the new film “Blackbird,” starring Academy Award winner Mo’Nique, Isaiah Washington and Julian Walker.

All you have to do is tell us below which Academy Award winning actor you’d like to see more of on the big screen. This is Mo’Nique’s first film since winning the Oscar five years ago for her work in “Precious.” Who else needs to return to the big screen?

(2) random entrants will be chosen and will receive a DVD copy of “Blackbird.” This contest runs through Sunday, August 23rd. Winners will be notified by email. Good luck!

SYNPOSIS
Seventeen-year-old Randy tries very hard to be a good person. Since his father left, Randy takes care of his emotionally disturbed mother, and he’s the kind of friend all of his classmates can depend on. As strong as he seems on the outside, Randy is hiding a secret inner struggle and denial of his true self. It’s not until he opens himself up to love that he discovers that becoming a man means accepting who you really are.

Grammy Winner, Michael W. Smith talks about new album “The Spirit of Christmas”

Photographer: Cameron Powell

A few weeks ago I got a weird text. It said “do you want to do an interview next week?” When I replied “with?” I got back “you. Michael Smith.” I was excited. Someone wanted to interview ME! Actually I was told that I would be the interviewer and the subject would be Christian singer Michael W. Smith. I was even more excited!

A winner of (3) Grammy awards, as well as (40) Dove awards, Michael W. Smith has enjoyed success not only on the Gospel/Contemporary chart but in the mainstream as well. This month he has released his fourth album devoted to Christmas, entitled “The Spirit of Christmas.” The album, on which Smith duets with such singers as Vince Gill, Michael McDonald and Bono, consists of both long time favorites (“Silent Night,” “What Child is This”) and new originals.

As he readied to embark on a short tour to support the album Smith kindly took some time out to speak with Media Mikes.

Mike Smith: This is your fourth Christmas-themed album. What is it about the music that makes you want to revisit it?
Michael W. Smith: You know this is the music I grew up with. All the way back to when my sister and I used to pull out the Christmas LPs and play them for four months straight! When I hear those songs they just take me back to my childhood. Especially the first part of this record, for sure.

MS: This album consists of duets. There are a few performers on it that your fans might surely expect, like Vince Gill and Amy Grant. But then you’ve also got Bono and Michael McDonald. How were you able to get them on board?
MWS: Well first let me tell you that I’m still pinching myself that it happened, you know? We had these people picked out from day one…before we even recorded one song. We had the whole record sequenced. We had a plan and we had a wish list of who we wanted to invite. And everybody said yes. I’ve known Michael for about 10 years and I’ve known Bono for 12 years. These guys get asked to do stuff all the time, so the thought that they said “yes” is still pretty miraculous to me and I’m very, very grateful.

MS: Is there anyone out there that you’d like to sing with that you haven’t so far? Do you have a wish list?
MWS: I grew up being a huge Barbra Streisand fan, you know. I’ve always loved her voice…I’ve loved her movies…”Funny Girl,” “Funny Lady.” Recently she’s kept a low profile though I know she has a new album out. (NOTE: Ironically, Barbra Streisand’s latest album, “Partners,” is also a duets album). I would love to record with her.

MS: Do you have a favorite song on this new record?
MWS: Oh, man…that’s so hard to pick. I mean, if I had to pick…gosh, it’s hard to pick! Wow. “Almost There,” which is an original song that I did with Amy (Grant). There’s something really special about it. I love…I think it’s one of my favorite songs that I have written….”All is Well,” that Carrie (Underwood) does. And the one song that I get choked up on is “Peace,” which is the one I do with Michael McDonald. And Michael actually co-wrote that song, so I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he wanted to jump in and be a part of it.

MS: When you’re writing songs, do you sit down and write about a certain theme, like Christmas? Or do you later go back and realize that a certain song is right for the project you’re doing at the time?
MWS: Definitely the latter, because I never know what I’m going to write. Obviously if I’m working on a Christmas record I’m going to be a little more intentional. I’m going to be thinking about textures…how a bell sound will go with a piano sound…something that might inspire me to be a bit festive. A bit “holiday-ish,” you know? On “Almost There” I knew I wanted it to be a little haunting. I mean when you’re on that 12 hour drive to the beach how many times do you ask mom and dad “oh my gosh, are we almost there?” My friend, Wes King, came up with the idea which was why not imagine Mary riding on that donkey. She’s pregnant and she can’t find any place and she’s wondering how long it’s going to take…you wonder if she ever said to Joseph, “are we almost there?” And that was the premise for the lyric.

MS: Are you going to tour at all to support the album?
MWS: Oh yeah! The Christmas tour started the Saturday night after Thanksgiving and we’ll be doing about fifteen shows around the country.

MS: What else do you have coming up?
MWS: I know it sounds a bit insane but I actually released three records this year. I did an exclusive record for Cracker Barrel called “Hymns.” That came out early in the year. Then the pop/worship record, “Sovereign,” came out in May. And now, of course, the “Christmas” album has just been released so it’s been a pretty busy year. After the “Christmas” tour we’re going to tour with “Sovereign” all over…South Africa…Asia…Europe. That will all happen in 2015.

MICHAEL W. SMITH’s Upcoming Tour Dates

December 18, 2014 Spokane, Washington
December 19, 2014 Portland, Oregon
December 20, 2014 Seattle, Washington
December 21, 2014 Abbottsford, British Columbia
January 11, 2015 Nashville, Tennessee

For more information go to www.michaelwsmith.com

Robin Williams, Oscar Winner and Beloved Actor, Dead at 63

This is going to be tough. I’ve had the great fortune, followed by genuine sadness, in the past to see a young talent break through, shine brightly and then die. Two people that come to mind are River Phoenix and Heath Ledger. Both great talents and both taken way too soon. The fact that I have been entertained by Robin Williams for almost four decades only makes the pain of his passing hurt more. Williams died earlier today, with the cause of death pointing toward suicide. He was 63.

I can remember Williams’ appearance on “Happy Days,” where he first gave life to Mork, the alien from the planet Ork. With his brightly colored suspenders and soon to be catchphrase “Nanu nanu,” Williams, like Mork, invaded our televisions and made them his own. I can still remember gathering at my friend Scott Gilbert’s house, just after my 18th birthday, with other friends to watch the debut of the new comedy “Mork and Mindy.” I can still remember the laughter, which peeled from the living room throughout the house. The show, and Williams, were such an instant hit that within a few weeks the movie theatre I was working at brought back an R-rated sketch comedy called “Can I Do It ‘Til I Need Glasses,” trumpeting in the ads that the film “starred” Robin “Mork” Williams. Williams really only had two brief appearances in the film, but that fact wasn’t enough to keep people from paying their money and selling out the opening weekend performances.

In 1980, the studios came calling properly, with Williams playing the title role in Robert Altman’s “Popeye.” Two years later, he showed he was much more than a funny man when he took the lead in the film version of John Irving’s classic novel “The World According to Garp.” He continued filling theatres in the 80s with a series of comedies, including “The Survivors,” “The Best of Times” and “Club Paradise.” In 1987, he teamed up with director Barry Levinson and earned his first Academy Award nomination (for Best Actor) for his role as Airman Adrien Cronauer in “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

Oscar nomination number two came in 1989 for the Peter Weir directed “Dead Poets Society.” He starred opposite Robert DeNiro in Penny Marshall’s “Awakenings” and alongside Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson in “Dead Again.” He even managed a small cameo in his friend Bobcat Goldthwait’s film “Shakes the Clown.”

1991 saw him star as the grown up Peter Banning in Steven Spielberg’s “Hook.” That same year he earned Oscar nod number three opposite Jeff Bridges in “The Fisher King.” The next year he exploded (literally) as the voice of the genie in the animated Disney hit “Aladdin,” So acclaimed was this performance that the Hollywood Foreign Press presented Williams with a special award for his work. He later amazed audiences when he donned a fake bosom and gray wig to portray everyone’s favorite housekeeper, “Mrs. Doubtfire.” During this time he would also show up in small cameo roles in films like “Shakes the Clown” and “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.” In 1996 he co-starred with Nathan Lane in Mike Nichol’s “The Birdcage” and as a young man who grows up too fast in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Jack.” The next year saw him co-star opposite two young actors who found work by writing their own script. The writer/actors were Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and Williams received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the duo’s “Good Will Hunting,” which also won Affleck and Damon an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Williams continued working in a mixture of comedies and dramas, including “Patch Adams,” “Bicentennial Man,” “One Hour Photo” and “Insomnia.” He also contributed his voice to such popular animated films as “Robots” and “Happy Feet.” He appeared as President Theodore Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum” and it’s sequel (and had just completed work for the third installment). He returned to episodic television last year opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar in the CBS series “The Crazy Ones,” which was recently canceled. Last year he also appeared as President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the critically acclaimed film “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” This past May he starred opposite Mila Kunis and Peter Dinklage as a man who is mistakenly told he has 90 minutes to live in “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.” The Internet Movie Data Base lists three remaining projects (including the third “Museum” film) to be released.

I’ve tried my best to sum up the highlights of a thirty-six year career in these past six paragraphs. I’ve hit the high notes of a career that also had low times. Williams, along with Robert DeNiro, were with the late John Belushi the night the comedian overdosed and died, and that experience supposedly scarred Williams straight for quite a while. He recently had a couple of return trips to rehab, which proves nothing except that he was human. But I’ve chosen to remember the best about Robert Williams. To me he will always be the young man in the bright suspenders, standing on his head on the closest chair and exploring the world with the wide eyes of a child. He had so much to learn, and so much to teach us. Good night, Robin. God bless you!

Oscar Winner Hal Needham Passes Away at Age 82

As “Smokey and the Bandit” is easily in my top 10 of all time favorite films I would be remiss if I didn’t remember the film’s creator, Hal Needham. Needham, whose Hollywood career took him from stunt man to director to Academy Award honoree, died earlier this week after a short battle with cancer. He was 82.

A paratrooper during the Korean war, the Arkansas-born Needham relocated to Hollywood after the war where he found work as a stuntman. After being hired to be Richard Boone’s stunt-double on the television western “Have Gun, Will Travel,” Needham quickly worked his way up to becoming one of the most sought after stuntmen in the business. In the 60s he worked in such classic westerns as “How the West Was Won,” “Little Big Man” and “McClintock.” He became Burt Reynold’s stunt-double and the two struck up a friendship that would last a lifetime. When he wasn’t standing in for Reynolds, Needham helped modernize the profession, introducing such safety features as inflatable air bags.

After getting a taste of filmmaking as a second unit director, Needham wrote a script entitled “Smokey and the Bandit” and showed it to his pal, Reynolds. Reynolds liked it so much he used his clout to get it made with Needham behind the camera. Since it’s 1977 debut, “Smokey and the Bandit” has grossed over $300 million worldwide. Needham and Reynolds teamed up again for an inside look at the world of stuntmen with “Hooper.” Other Needham/Reynolds collaborations include “Cannonball Run” and it’s sequel as well as “Stroker Ace.” He also wrote and directed (4) “Bandit”-based television movies.

In 2012 he became the second stuntman, after Yakima Canutt, to receive an honorary Academy Award for his stunt pioneering and film career.

Oscar Worthy Award Winning Film “The Sea Is All I Know” starring Academy Award Winner Melissa Leo

Oscar worthy Award winning film ‘The Sea Is All I Know’ starring Academy Award Winner Melissa Leo

‘The Sea Is All I Know’ stars Oscar Winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and Peter Gerety (The Wire) and encompasses the controversial subject of assisted suicide.  Through this extraordinary journey the film shares a story of love in the face of death.

This wonderful picture has already won awards from Palm Springs International Film Festival ‘Best of Festival’ and the Rhode Island International Film Festival where Melissa won the ‘Grand Prize for Best Actress’.  Not surprisingly ‘The Sea Is All I Know’ is already receiving rave reviews; Darryl MacDonald, Executive Director of Palms Springs International ShortFest calls it “An Oscar Best Bet” and an “incredibly moving tale of family and faith” while praising the performances “Melissa Leo gives a heart-wrenching, typically brilliant performance.”   Jessica Gardner from BackStage praises the director Jordan Bayne saying she “allows the viewer to get pulled into the     characters’ inner conflict” as well as the stand out performance from Melissa “Leo’s raw, jaw-dropping performance can take an audience’s breath away” and Peter “Gerety is so perfectly cast, he turns in an outstanding and multilayered performance”.

‘The Sea Is All I Know’ is an honest portrait of a family coming to terms with their relationship to death. When estranged couple, Sara [Melissa Leo] and Sonny [Peter Gerety], come to the aid of their dying daughter, the experience sends them spiraling into spiritual crisis and brutal heartbreak. In the end, an act of selfless love, renews their lives, transcends their loss of faith, even death itself.

Jordan Bayne wrote, directed and produced this heartfelt film. Through excellent casting and classic story telling she has created an Oscar worthy unconventional love story  ‘The Sea Is All I Know’.

Official Website: www.seathefilm.com

Oscar Winner Cliff Robertson Dies at 88

Cliff Robertson, an Oscar winning actor whose career spanned seven decades, died earlier to day, one day after his 88th birthday. According to his secretary of 53 years, Evelyn Christel, Mr. Robertson passed due to natural causes.

Born in Los Angeles on September 9, 1923, Robertson began his acting career with small, uncredited appearances in low budget films. In 1952 he began working in early television programming, working up to the title role in “Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers.” Other early appearances include “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” “Celebrity Playhouse” and “Robert Montgomery Presents.” In 1955 he made his first credited film appearance opposite William Holden and Kim Novak in “Picnic.” Other roles followed including “The Girl Most Likely,” “The Naked and the Dead” and “Gidget.” He also continued working in television, appearing on programs like “The Twilight Zone,” “Ben Casey” and “The Untouchables.”

In 1962 his star rose when he was personally chosen by President John Kennedy to portray him in “P.T. 109,” which was based on the true story of the sinking of Kennedy’s boat during World War II. After the release of “P.T. 109” Robertson’s roles got a little better. He played Charly Gordon, a retarded man who, because of a medical experiment, becomes a genius, in “Charly,” the film adaptation of Daniel Keyes’ best selling book “Flowers for Algernon.” For his performance in the film Robertson received the Academy Award for Best Actor. He was that success to direct a script he had written called “J.W. Coop,” about a rodeo cowboy who returned to the circuit after spending several years in prison.

Despite his Oscar, Robertson continued to work in television as well as films, including a tongue in cheek performance as the villain Shame on “Batman.” Though he appeared in some fine films in the 1970’s, including “3 Days of the Condor” and “Obsession,” it was a film he didn’t appear in that earned him notoriety. In 1977, while preparing his taxes, he noticed a $10,000 payment from Columbia Pictures that he never received. Upon investigating it was discovered that David Begelman, then head of the studio, had written a check to Robertson and others and cashed them himself. Begelman was quietly fired and, in 1995, committed suicide. Urged to keep the dirty business secret, Robertson went to the press. The resulting investigation became the basis for the book “Indecent Exposure,” one of the best “Hollywood” books I’ve ever read.

His film output wasn’t as great in the 80’s, with Robertson claiming to have been blacklisted because he spoke out about Begelman. He did appear in Bob Fosse’s “Star 80” and Douglas Trumbull’s “Brainstorm ,” but neither were popular at the box office. He worked sporadically the next two decades. In 2002 he became a star to a new generation of fans when he appeared as Uncle Ben in “Spider-man,” a role he would continue in the two sequels.