Sunday, September 18, 2011

Shame Goes to Boot Hill: The Death of Cliff Robertson

by Joel Eisner

On Saturday September 10, 2011, actor Cliff Robertson who is known to Batfans as the Shame, the Conviving Cowboy of Crime passed away from natural causes one day after his 88th birthday.

Robertson was among the last of the remaining male villains still alive from the Batman series. With the death of Van Johnson (The Minstral) in 2008, and now Robertson, only three are left. Eli Wallach (3rd Mr Freeze), John Astin (2nd Riddler) and Malachi Throne (Falseface).

Years ago I spoke with Robertson (who had ventured into fantasy back in the 50's, with his Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers tv series and his appearances on Twilight Zone and Outer Limits) about how he came to appear on Batman. He replied “I remember the producers making several calls ahead of time, saying, ‘We would love to have you on the show’. I was doing two films, when I talked with them, and at one point they said, ‘What kind of character would you like to play?’ I said it might be kind of fun to play a very, very, very dumb cowboy, who took himself very, very seriously. Then they decided to do a takeoff on Shane. That is how they came up with his name, Shame. I recall they kind of let me pick my own costume, and I did a lot of my own stunts. I remember that the episodes that I did were the greatest fun—the most fun that I ever had on a show. The director gave me all kinds of latitude to work with the character

After his first appearance, during the second season, Robertson returned for a two part story and asked the producers if they would let him bring his new wife, actress Dina Merrill, they agreed and cast her as Calamity Jan.
Robertson also recalled an incident involving his his young daughter (from his previous marriage) and Adam West. “I recall taking my daughter to see Adam West. She was then five years old and, mind you, I was only starring in movies at the time, which didn’t make much of an impression on her. But when she met Adam, she said, ‘Daddy, I didn’t know you knew such important people.’”

In the last years of his life, Robertson switched from Batman to Spiderman when he portrayed Peter Parker's Uncle Ben in the new Spiderman features films.

He will be missed.


  1. Nice to see this tribute today, as Turner Classic Movies just started their special day long salute to Cliff Robertson a few minutes ago. Kudos to the Batscholar!

  2. A fine actor who will indeed be missed. Although Robertson was quite skilled at portraying bad guys, even comedic ones like Shame, he'll always be a symbol of human decency and intelligence to me, the ideal persona to represent our species in a fateful close encounter with the Galaxy Being. Happy trails, sir!

  3. My favorite Robertson film is one that I doubt anybody else would pick: THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE, in which he played Major Alan Crown, leader of the spit-and-polish Canadians who were joined with the DIRTY DOZEN-style U.S. rejects to form the brigade. Although it was the true story of the 1st Special Service Force, the film clearly came about because of Robert Aldrich's (fictional) blockbuster the year before; interestingly, Robertson worked with Aldrich on AUTUMN LEAVES and TOO LATE THE HERO. His interaction with co-stars such as William Holden and Vince Edwards in BRIGADE was classic, and Crown's underhanded killing at the end of the film--by a German who was "surrendering"--always hit me hard. May he rest in peace.

  4. And don't forget he also played PURE EVIL in John Carpenter's "ESCAPE FROM L.A." (he was the President of the United States).

  5. On one of the Dean Martin Roasts, Cliff Robertson was introduced thusly: "won an Oscar for playing an imbecile in the movie CHARLY, and when you see him you'll know why they picked him for that part!"