Robert Cummings

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named Robert Cummings, see Robert Cummings (disambiguation).
Robert Cummings
Robert Cummings 1956.jpg
Robert Cummings, 1956
Born Charles Clarence Robert Orville Cummings
(1910-06-09)June 9, 1910
Joplin, Missouri, USA
Died December 2, 1990(1990-12-02) (aged 80)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA
Cause of death
Renal failure; pneumonia
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
Other names Bob Cummings
Blade Stanhope Conway
Bruce Hutchens
Alma mater American Academy of Dramatic Arts
Occupation Actor
Years active 1931–1990
Political party
  • Emma Myers (m. 1931–33)
  • Vivian Janis (m. 1933–45)[2]
  • Mary Elliott (m. 1945–70)
  • Gina Fong (m. 1971–87)[2]
  • Martha Burzynski (m. 1989–90)

Charles Clarence Robert Orville Cummings (June 9, 1910 – December 2, 1990)[3][4] was an American film and television actor known mainly for his roles in comedy films such as The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) and Princess O'Rourke (1943), but was also effective in drama films, especially two Alfred Hitchcock films, Saboteur (1942) and Dial M for Murder (1954).[5] Cummings received five Primetime Emmy Award nominations, and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Single Performance in 1955. In 1960, he received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures and television.[6]

Early life[edit]

Cummings was born in Joplin, Missouri, a son of Dr. Charles Clarence Cummings and the former Ruth Annabelle Kraft.[7] His father was a surgeon, who was part of the original medical staff of St. John's Hospital in Joplin. He was the founder of the Jasper County Tuberculosis Hospital in Webb City, Missouri.[8][9] Cummings's mother was an ordained minister of the Science of Mind.[7]

While attending Joplin High School, Cummings was taught to fly by his godfather, Orville Wright, the aviation pioneer.[5][8] His first solo was on 3 March 1927.[10] During high school, Cummings gave Joplin residents rides in his aircraft for $5 per person.[8][9] When the government began licensing flight instructors, Cummings was issued flight instructor certificate No. 1, making him the first official flight instructor in the United States.

Cummings studied briefly at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, but his love of flying caused him to transfer to the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied aeronautical engineering for a year before he dropped out because of financial reasons, his family having lost heavily in the 1929 stock market crash.[9] Since the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City paid its male actors $14 a week, Cummings decided to study there.[2]

Acting career[edit]

Cummings studied drama for two years before appearing on Broadway in 1931.[9] As British actors were heavily in demand, Cummings traveled to England and learned to mimic an upper-class English accent. He had a brief career on Broadway under the name Blade Stanhope Conway, posing as an Englishman.[2][9]

In 1933, Cummings met and married his second wife, the actress Vivian Janis. They were both appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies, with Cummings as the male lead opposite comedian Fanny Brice.[11] In 1934, he moved to Hollywood, where he acted at first under the name Bruce Hutchens, having assumed the persona of a wealthy Texan.[2] He made his film debut the following year in The Virginia Judge.[9]

Cummings then began to use his own name, acting throughout the 1930s as a contract player in a number of supporting roles.[9]

Achieving stardom[edit]

Robert Cummings in Saboteur, 1942

He achieved stardom in 1939 in Three Smart Girls Grow Up, opposite Deanna Durbin. His many film comedies include: The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) with Jean Arthur, and The Bride Wore Boots (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck and Moon Over Miami (1941).

Cummings gave memorable performances in three notable dramas. In Kings Row (1942), he played the lead role Parrish Mitchell alongside friend Ronald Reagan, Claude Rains, Ann Sheridan and an all-star cast. In spite of its mixed critical reaction, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture.

Cummings also starred in the spy thriller Saboteur (1942) with Priscilla Lane and Norman Lloyd. He played Barry Kane, an aircraft worker wrongfully accused of murder, trying to clear his name.

Cummings appeared in another Hitchcock film: Dial M for Murder (1954), in which he played Mark Halliday with Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. The film was a box-office smash.[5][9] Cummings also starred in You Came Along (1945), which featured a screenplay by Ayn Rand. The Army Air Forces pilot Cummings played ("Bob Collins") died off camera, but was resurrected ten years later for his television show.

Cummings was chosen by producer John Wayne as his co-star to play airline pilot Captain Sullivan in The High and the Mighty, partly due to Cummings's flying experience. However, director William A. Wellman overruled Wayne and hired Robert Stack for the part.[12]

Cummings made his mark in the CBS Radio network's dramatic serial titled Those We Love, which ran from 1938 to 1945. Cummings played the role of David Adair, opposite Richard Cromwell, Francis X. Bushman, and Nan Grey. He was also one of the four stars featured in the short-run radio version of Four Star Playhouse.

World War II[edit]

In November 1942, Cummings joined the United States Army Air Forces.[13] During World War II, he served as a flight instructor.[5][9] After the war, Cummings served as a pilot in the United States Air Force Reserve, where he achieved the rank of Captain.[14] For a time he was the owner of a Porterfield 35-70 aircraft, named "Spinach",[15] which is still airworthy in the USA.[16]

Television career[edit]

Robert Cummings and Julie Newmar in a publicity still for My Living Doll

Cummings began a long career on television in 1952, starring in the comedy My Hero. He received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for his portrayal of "Juror Number Eight," in the first televised performance of Twelve Angry Men, a live production that aired in 1954 (Henry Fonda played the same role in the feature film adaptation).[9] Cummings was one of the anchors on ABC's live broadcast of the opening day of Disneyland on July 17, 1955.

From 1955 through 1959, Cummings starred on a successful NBC sitcom, The Bob Cummings Show (list of episodes) (known as Love That Bob in reruns), in which he played Bob Collins, an ex–World War II pilot who became a successful professional photographer. As a bachelor in 1950s Los Angeles, the character Bob Collins considered himself to be quite the ladies' man. This sitcom was noted for some very risque humor for its time. A popular feature of the program was Cummings's portrayal of his elderly grandfather. His co-stars were Rosemary DeCamp, as his sister, Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman, as his nephew, Chuck MacDonald and Ann B. Davis, in her first television success, as his assistant Charmaine "Schultzy" Schultz. Cummings also was a guest on the NBC interview program Here's Hollywood.[9]

In 1960 Cummings starred in "King Nine Will Not Return," the opening episode of the second season of CBS's The Twilight Zone.

The New Bob Cummings Show (list of episodes) followed on CBS for one season, from 1961 to 1962. Cummings is depicted as the owner and pilot of Aerocar N102D[17] and this aircraft was featured on his show.[18][19]

In 1964-65 Cummings starred in another CBS sitcom, My Living Doll (list of episodes), which co-starred Julie Newmar as Rhoda the robot. Cummings' last significant role was the 1973 television movie Partners in Crime, co-starring Lee Grant. He also appeared in 1979 as Elliott Smith, the father of Fred Grandy's Gopher on ABC's The Love Boat.[20]

In 1986, Cummings hosted the televised 15th Anniversary Celebration of Walt Disney World in Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.

Robert Cummings' last public appearance was on The 35th Anniversary Special of Disneyland in 1990.

Personal life[edit]

Cummings married five times and fathered seven children. He was a staunch advocate of natural foods and a healthy diet and in 1960 authored a book, Stay Young and Vital, which focused upon health foods and exercise.[21]

Despite his interest in health, Cummings was also a methamphetamine addict from the mid-1950s until the end of his life.[22] In the 2013 book Dr. Feelgood: The Shocking Story of the Doctor Who May Have Changed History by Treating and Drugging JFK, Marilyn, Elvis, and Other Prominent Figures,[22] authors Richard Lertzman and William Birnes describe how Cummings began receiving injections from Max Jacobson, the notorious 'Dr. Feelgood', in 1954 during a trip to New York to star in the TV production of Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men.

Rose and Cummings' friends Rosemary Clooney and José Ferrer recommended the doctor to Cummings, who was complaining of a lack of energy. While Jacobsen insisted that his injections contained only 'vitamins, sheep sperm and monkey gonads', they actually contained a substantial dose of methamphetamine.

Cummings continued to use a mixture provided by Jacobson, eventually becoming a patient of Jacobson's son Thomas, who was based in Los Angeles, and later injecting himself. The changes in Cummings' personality caused by the euphoria of the drug and subsequent depression damaged his career and led to an intervention by his friend, television host Art Linkletter.

The intervention was not successful, and Cummings' drug abuse and subsequent career collapse were factors in his divorce from his third wife Mary, as well as his divorce from his next wife, Gina Fong.

After Jacobson was forced out of business in the 1970s, Cummings developed his own drug connections based in the Bahamas. Suffering from Parkinson's Disease, he was forced to move into homes for indigent older actors in Hollywood.

Cummings' son, Tony Cummings, played Rick Halloway in the NBC daytime serial Another World in the early 1980s.


On December 2, 1990, Cummings died of kidney failure and complications from pneumonia at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.[21] He was interred in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.



  • The Roof (1931)
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1934 (1934)
  • Faithfully Yours (1951)
  • The Wayward Stork (1966)





  1. ^ "The Republicans of Classic Hollywood." Retrieved: January 7, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e Lyon et al. 1987, p. 164.
  3. ^ "Robert O. Cummings. DOB: June 9, 1910. DOD: December 2, 1990." California Death Index. Retrieved: April 19, 2009.
  4. ^ "Robert Cummings. DOB: June 9, 1910. DOD: December 2, 1990." Social Security Death Index. Retrieved: October 3, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Wise and Wilderson 2000, p. 189.
  6. ^ "Robert Cummings". Matinee Classics. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Bob Cummings Biography." Film Reference. Retrieved: August 23, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c watson, John. "John Watson: A tour of Joplin Museum Complex." Cleburne Times Review (Cleburne, Texas), May 11, 2009. Retrieved: June 1, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Christensen 1999, p. 225.
  10. ^ "Meet Bob Cummings...Pilot, Actor, Businessman". Flying, March 1960, p. 45.
  11. ^ H.W. Wilson Company. "Current Biography", page 17. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1956.
  12. ^ McGivern 2006, p. 82.
  13. ^ Ashbu 2006, p. 265.
  14. ^ "Cummings, Robert Orville ('Bob'), Capt." Inc. Retrieved: October 16, 2012.
  15. ^ "N17029, 1936 Porterfield 35-70 (Of interest -'Spinach' was once owned, flown by the late actor Robert Cummings)." FLYABOUT 'Spinach,' Rev. 1.
  16. ^ "Airworthiness of N17029". FAA. Retrieved: August 23, 2013.
  17. ^ "Photographs of and registration data for Aerocar N102D." Retrieved: August 23, 2013.
  18. ^ Gilmore, Susan. "Tired of the commute? All you need is $3.5 million". The Seattle Times, September 5, 2006. Retrieved: October 11, 2012.
  19. ^ Video of Robert Cummings piloting "Aerocar N102D, during an episode of The New Bob Cummings Show, 1961." YouTube. Retrieved: August 23, 2013.
  20. ^ Maltin 1994, p. 189.
  21. ^ a b Flint, Peter B. "Robert Cummings Is Dead at 82; Debonair Actor in TV and Films." The New York Times, December 4, 1990.
  22. ^ a b Richard A. Lertzman & William J. Birnestitle (May 2013). Dr. Feelgood: The Shocking Story of the Doctor Who May Have Changed History by Treating and Drugging JFK, Marilyn, Elvis, and Other Prominent Figures. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62087-589-6.


  • Ashbu, LeRoy. With Amusement For All. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2006. ISBN 978-0-81314-107-7.
  • Christensen, Lawrence O., ed. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0-82621-222-1.
  • Current Biography. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1956.
  • Lyon, Christopher, James Vinson, Susan Doll and Greg S. Faller. The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. New York: St. James Press, 1987. ISBN 978-1-55862-041-4.
  • Maltin, Leonard. "Robert Cummings". Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1.
  • McGivern, Carolyn.The Lost Films of John Wayne. Nashville, Kentucky: Cumberland House, 2006. ISBN 978-1-58182-567-1.
  • Wise, James E. and Paul W. Wilderson. Stars in Khaki: Movie Actors in the Army and the Air Services. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 978-1-55750-958-1.

External links[edit]