Monday, November 28, 2011

Roy Roberts - Another Familiar Face

I happened to catch Chinatown (1974) on TV this past holiday weekend.  This is a great Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway movie, made in the style of a 1930's murder mystery.  Lots of twists and turns to keep you thinking.  More movies should be made this way.  It is easy to watch.

I also saw the new Green Hornet (2011) movie, starring Seth Rogan.  It is the very antithesis of what could be called a classic film.  Rogan is severely mis-cast as the hero.  He would look more at home remaking Animal House (1978).  Plus the quick cuts in every action sequence makes it impossible to follow which car is being wrecked and who is being injured/killed.  Don't waste your time on that one.

Back to Chinatown.  Early in the film Mayor Bagby is talking about a reservoir project, and I knew I had to write about him.  Roy Roberts (1906 - 1975) is a face that everyone who has ever watched TV or been to the theater has seen. 

Chinatown was his second to last film.  He ended his movie career in 1975's The Strongest Man in the World, starring Kurt Russell.  (Chinatown was better with ten Oscar nominations and a win for Best Writer, compared to Strongest's no Oscars or nominations for anything.)  The funny thing is that he was 68 years old when he made Chinatown, but he looked the same at least ten years earlier as Admiral Rogers on "McHale's Navy."

Roberts' first major film was Guadalcanal Diary (1943) starring Preston Foster, Lloyd Nolan, and William Bendix.  Of course, there were loads of war movies turned out in the 1940s, and Roy was in many of them.  His next film was The Fighting Sullivans (1944). 

In 1946 he was in My Darling Clementine as the mayor.  It was his only time working with director John Ford.  Before moving to television, he made so many films with so many stars that it would be difficult to pick the best, or even to do enough research to find his larger parts.  He lists close to 200 titles on IMDb. 

Here are just a few pre-TV titles -
Gentleman's Agreement (1947 with Gregory Peck)
Captain from Castile (1947 with Tyrone Power)
Joan of Arc (1948 with Ingrid Bergman)
He Walked by Night (1948 with Richard Basehart)
Force of Evil (1948 with John Garfield)
Chain Lightning (1950 with Humphrey Bogart)
Skirts Ahoy! (1952 with Esther WIlliams)
Stars and Stripes Forever (1952 with Clifton Webb)
And so many more...

It was interesting that he could go from a co-starring role in one film to an uncredited role in his next.  A true sign of a great Bit Actor. 

Roberts' television work started in the early 1950s and it agreed with him.  His first regular role was "My Little Margie" but he appeared as a player in many shows before that.  He did teleplays and spots on series' but rarely more than three times. 

He hit it big as Captain Huxley on "The Gale Storm Show" appearing in over 80 episodes.  He went on to have regular parts on "McHale's Navy," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Lucy Show," "Bewitched," Petticoat Junction," and "Gunsmoke."  I also saw him in a "Gunsmoke" episode this weekend. 

I think we will be seeing Roy Roberts' face for many years to some.

What films did you watch over the Thanksgiving weekend?  And which Bit Actors did you see?


  1. Saw Parley Baer as a BAD Guy on a Rifleman episode.

    I was going through some Gunsmoke season 3 (1957) episodes taken out from the library and enjoyed Anthony Caruso in one episode and then another with both Robert Vaughan and Barbara Eden playing in a Romeo- and Juliet-themed episode.

    Thanks for your writings, I get a lot of enjoyment from it.


  2. Thanks for the kind words, Rich.

    Parley Baer is a great topic for my blog. He has 265 titles listed on IMDb, and I have probably seen most of them!

    It is truly amazing how many stars got their start on those old TV westerns. I just watched a "Cheyenne" episode from 1962 with Sally Kellerman, eight years before MASH. Then I saw a 1958 episode of "Have Gun, Will Travel" with Simon Oakland as a Mexican bandit. You gotta love it!

  3. And some more Gunsmoke episodes brought Val Avery and Pernell Roberts.

    I won't peek ahead to the credits listings, I look forward to be able to say "Oh yeah, I haven't thought of him in a while."


  4. This could go on forever if we keep talking about the old TV westerns! I saw John Drew Barrymore (Drew's dad and John's son) in "Gunsmoke" last night.

    Of course, Burt Reynolds got his start on Gunsmoke, after a regular part on "Riverboat." It seems that either you got your start in TV westerns if you were young at the time, or you ended up there if you were old. Either way, it is our good fortune.

  5. I could have sworn he was in many of the Three Stooges shorts.I guess I was wrong as he only made one appearance with them in the film Its A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.He looks like one of the bit players who were getting a pie in the face from Curly.

    1. Thanks for writing, Doug. It is certainly possible that Roberts appeared as an extra in some Three Stooges shorts. He is old enough, and the records kept for those films weren't the greatest. I think that many listings on IMDb have been added by people who recognize a face on screen.

      You may have been thinking of Vernon Dent (1895 - 1963) who looks a bit like Roberts. According to IMDb, Dent was in 43 films with Curley. Or even another actor if not Dent.

      You obviously know how important those Bit Actors are!


Please add your thoughts, but they will be monitored so keep it on topic.