Robert Fuller (actor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named Robert Fuller, see Robert Fuller (disambiguation).
Robert Fuller
Robert Fuller 1968.JPG
Fuller (1968)
Born Buddy Lee
(1933-07-29) July 29, 1933 (age 81)
Troy, New York, USA

Near Gainesville

Cooke County, Texas
Alma mater Miami Military Academy
Occupation Actor; horse rancher

(1) Patricia Lee Lyon
(1962-1984, divorced)

(2) Jennifer Savidge[1]
Children Three children from first marriage

Golden Boot Award - 1989
Golden Boot

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Robert Fuller (born July 29, 1933) is an American former television actor and current horse rancher. In his five decades of television, he is best known for starring roles as Jess Harper and Cooper Smith on the popular 1960s western series, Laramie and Wagon Train, and for his work in the lead role, Dr. Kelly Brackett, in the 1970s medical drama Emergency!, opposite Julie London and her husband, Bobby Troup.

Early life[edit]

An only child, Fuller was born Buddy Lee in Troy, New York, to Betty Simpson, a dance instructor. Prior to Buddy's birth, Betty married Robert Simpson, Sr., a Naval Academy officer. The family moved to Key West, Florida, where Buddy took the name Robert Simpson, Jr.. The early highlights of Simpson's life were acting and dancing; his parents owned a dancing school. In 1952, he traveled to Hollywood, California, with his family, where his first job was a stunt man. He also worked at the prestigious Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Upon establishing his acting career, he changed his name to "Robert Fuller."

Acting career before and after military service[edit]

Fuller's first small role was in the 1952 film Above and Beyond. This part led to a few small roles, one of which was in I Love Melvin. In 1953, he again had another minor part in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which starred Marilyn Monroe, but Fuller's career came to an abrupt halt when he was drafted into the United States Army. He did a tour of duty in Korea and returned to the United States in 1955.[2]

Though he had considered giving up on acting, Fuller at the suggestion of his best friend, Chuck Courtney, attended Richard Boone's acting classes. Boone suggested that Fuller study under the tutelage of Sanford Meisner at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse.

Film career[edit]

Fuller landed a small role in Friendly Persuasion (1956), where he worked with his future Laramie co-star John Smith and another close friend, Doug McClure. Director William Wyler suggested that Fuller grow sideburns for the role, and he obtained the part when he did so.

In the 1956 episode "The Comeback" of the religion anthology series, Crossroads, Fuller, along with Edd Byrnes and Rhys Williams, played former soldiers. In the story line, Don DeFore portrays the Reverend C. E. "Stoney" Jackson, who offers the spiritual insight to assist Lou Brissie (Chuck Connors) to recover from his wounds sustained in World War II so that he can return to professional baseball. Grant Withers plays Coach Whitey Martin; Crossroads regular Robert Carson is cast as a coach in this episode. X Brands portrays another baseball player.[3]

In 1957, Fuller was cast in his first major film role in Teenage Thunder.

I always wanted to be in show business and with the help of my best buddy, Chuck Courtney, who was an actor then, he helped get me my first starring role in a movie called Teenage Thunder. It was a break for me and since Chuck had the pull at the time to get the director, Paul Helmick, use me for the bad guy and not another actor that he really wanted. It was the gateway to many other roles which led to the Laramie series and so on and so forth.[4]

Robert Fuller,

Also in 1957, Fuller starred in the science fiction film, The Brain from Planet Arous.

Fuller portrayed a gruff military pilot in the box office dud Megaforce (1982).

Character actor[edit]

Fuller became an immensely popular character actor, guest-starring in dozens of television series, including Buckskin,The Big Valley, Official Detective, The Californians, The Restless Gun, The Lawless Years (in the role of "Cutie Jaffe" on May 7, 1959), U.S. Marshal, Panic!, M Squad, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, and Lux Playhouse. He also appeared in the series Strange Intruder as a villain who dies in the third episode. In 1959, he played a character accused of arson in Broderick Crawford's syndicated series, Highway Patrol. He also made appearances in ABC's The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and Mickey Spillane's syndicated Mike Hammer. He made a cameo appearance in the film Maverick, with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner.

On February 24, 1959, Fuller guest starred in the episode, "Blind Is the Killer", on NBC's Cimarron City television series. This appearance propelled him into a lead role seven months later in Laramie, one of the comparatively few network programs set in Wyoming. Fuller plays Joe Cole, a young gunfighter seeking a reputation, who finds his target in Cimarron City Mayor Matt Rockford, played by George Montgomery. Cole temporarily blinds Rockford with glass from a broken whisky bottle. The two are ultimately reconciled after each has had a chance to prove his courage. John Smith, Fuller's co-star on Laramie, was a regular in Cimarron City, and the two appear together briefly in this episode, which also features Dennis McCarthy as Doc Hodges, who successfully treats Rockford's eyes.[5]

Television roles[edit]

In the summer of 1959, Fuller guest starred as a young outlaw, Buck Harmon, in the episode "The Friend" on the ABC/Warner Brothers western series, Lawman. In the story line, Harmon is estranged from his minister father, played by Robert F. Simon. When the outlaw gang comes into Laramie, Buck switches sides to help his old friend, Deputy Johnny McKay (Peter Brown). In the shootout, Harmon is gunned down, but his father is spared.[6]

In 1959, Patrick Kelly called Fuller to his office to offer him an opportunity for a co-starring role opposite Academy Award-winner Ray Milland, in the CBS detective series, Markham. However, Fuller quickly turned down the role because he wanted to be in westerns. He was David Dortort's second choice for the role of Lorne Greene's youngest cocky, impish son, Little Joe Cartwright on NBC's Bonanza, but he lost the role to another young, unfamiliar actor Michael Landon.[7] About this same time, Fuller landed the co-starring role of Jess Harper on Laramie, which ran from 1959 to 1963, as Fuller was cast opposite another of his best friends, John Smith, along with Hoagy Carmichael, child actor Robert L. Crawford, Jr., Stuart Randall, and later with another child actor, Dennis Holmes, and veteran actress Spring Byington. Fuller was asked to do a screen test for the character of Slim Sherman, and John Smith had originally been cast as Jess Harper. Fuller insisted that he would be better cast as Harper, and after the screen test he won the role of Jess, while Smith got the part of Slim.[8]

Laramie was eventually aired in more than seventy countries. On the set of Laramie, he met a young rising star, Julie London, who was seven years Fuller's senior, whilst off-camera, he met an established singer-songwriter, Bobby Troup, who was fifteen years Fuller's senior, and would be best friends until Troup's passing in 1999, almost two years, before the death of London, in 2000.[9]

Fuller as Cooper Smith on Wagon Train.

When Laramie’ ended its run, Fuller jumped to another western, Wagon Train, opposite John McIntire, a veteran film actor, two-time guest-star on Laramie, and a future star of The Virginian, Frank McGrath, and Terry Wilson. According to an August 17, 2009 interview On Screen and Beyond, Fuller was not brought into the show to replace Robert Horton (an actor whom Fuller met, since 1954, when he & Drury were all under contract at MGM) in the role of the wagon train scout. He resembled Horton, and the two share the same birthday, but Horton is nine years Fuller's senior.[10] While Horton had worn a dark cowboy hat, Fuller usually wore a light one. Horton had already departed from the cast a season earlier, and McIntire had carried the series for a year. Fuller stepped in the following year, where he remained with the series, which switched to ABC in 1962 until it ended its run after two additional seasons.

Over the next six years, Fuller appeared in a handful of nondescript films. It seemed his career was stalling as the western was slowly being retired from the American film industry. The one exception was his role as Vin in Return of the Seven (1966) which was a modest, if lackluster, sequel to The Magnificent Seven.

In 1966, Fuller starred in the western film Incident at Phantom Hill, with Dan Duryea, Tom Simcox, Linden Chiles, and Claude Akins. That same year, he portrayed the ill-fated western military Captain William Judd Fetterman in the episode "Massacre at Fort Phil Kearney" near Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming of NBC's Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. His co-stars included Richard Egan, Phyllis Avery, Robert Pine, and Carroll O'Connor.[11]

After producer Jack Webb saw Fuller in the movie The Hard Ride, he insisted that Fuller star in his new NBC medical drama, Emergency!, which already starred legendary 1950s/1960s singer and B-movie actress, Julie London as head nurse, Dixie McCall alongside her real-life husband, Bobby Troup as Dr. Joe Early. Fuller was reluctant to play a doctor, but the persistent Webb gave him an opportunity to accept the role of head physician, Dr. Kelly Brackett. Fuller said in an 2009 interview with On Screen and Beyond that he twice politely turned down the role of Dr. Brackett. Webb then reminded Fuller that western series had been repeatedly cancelled for the previous five years and that the genre was on the decline. The exceptions to that pattern were Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie and to lesser extents David Carradine's Kung Fu and James Best's The Dukes of Hazzard.

In an interview with another of Fuller's best friends, James Drury of The Virginian, Drury said that he had known Bobby Troup "very well, we've done several shows together. But I never really knew Julie, except just to meet her. Bobby [of course] became their very lifelong friends with her, and so forth, but I never spent any time on the road with her, but I think Bobby Fuller did. Bobby Troup and I did Perry Mason, and we did several other shows before he ever started Emergency!. Fuller didn't really want to do a modern show. He wanted to do another Western, but Jack Webb talked him into it or insisted that he do it, and he was very happy, [of course] because it was a great success and he had a wonderful time with Julie London and with Bobby Troup."[12]

Then, in a recent interview, Fuller said of his medical partner in the series, about his dearest friend's, London's potty-mouth was, "She should've been a sailor. I'm telling you, I loved Julie. I've known Julie for years; and one of the things that made me happy about doing Emergency!, was working with Julie and Bobby; because they were friends of mine. I've known them for years, before that, Julie did Laramie with me; and I loved her. I loved her singing and I loved his playing. But to Julie, to get away with anything and when it came out of her mouth; it sounded like candy and we loved it, she was wild."[13]

Fuller's & London's co-stars on Emergency! were previously unfamiliar actors, Randolph Mantooth as Johnny Gage and Kevin Tighe as Roy DeSoto, both playing paramedics. The cast got along great with Fuller and London. During its first season, as a mid-season replacement in 1971–1972 and despite the competition of CBS's All in the Family, Emergency! became a hit, and NBC renewed the show for the 1972-1973 season. It remained on the air for the next five years. In 1977, after a six-season run, Emergency! was put on hiatus, despite good ratings, and was eventually canceled in 1979, after eight and a half seasons and 134 episodes. In 1986, the entire Emergency! cast (with the exception of another series' star Julie London) appeared on ABC's Good Morning America.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Fuller played supporting roles in more than twenty television shows, including The Love Boat (with James Drury's former college classmate - Bernie Kopell), The Fall Guy (two episodes which reunited with Lee Majors, who met Fuller on The Big Valley), Murder, She Wrote (which reunited with Eddie Albert, who guest-starred with Fuller on Laramie), Matt Houston, Tour of Duty, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (with old friend - James Drury), JAG, and Diagnosis: Murder, an episode which reunited his ex-Emergency! co-star, Randolph Mantooth (Malibu Fire), which talked about the Malibu Fires that was used as a reference of Emergency!. Toward the end of his acting career, he had a recurring role as Jess's supposedly, great, great grandson, Wade Harper, before and on the last episode of Walker, Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris and Clarence Gilyard. He also played another character, on the same series (in the second part of the episode, Last of a Breed) that made Norris's character, a Texas Ranger, after being a bounty hunter, before being casted as Wade.

Personal life[edit]

Fuller is also an accomplished vocalist and did several 'bandstand gigs' with Bill Aken's 'Los Nomadas' rock group at holiday festivities in Whiskey Flats, California, though now he will tell you that he can't carry a tune in a bucket! While acting as grand marshal for the local Memorial Day parade, Fuller performed a vocal rendition of the 1950s song "Caribbean" singing the same verse over and over. (He later told the band that he only knew the first verse of the song.) In 1967, he had recorded an LP in Munich, Germany. Most of the songs were recorded in German, including Ein Einsamer Cowboy or "Lonesome Cowboy", Adios Mexicana or "Goodbye Mexican Girl", which was ironic since the title is in Spanish, but the song was sung in German, Uberall Auf Der Welt or "All over the World", Schone Madchen Sind Wie Blumen or "Girls are like Flowers". Whether the album was successful in Germany is unknown.

By the 1990s, Fuller had largely retired from the film business. Since May 19, 2001, he has been married to actress Jennifer Savidge,[1] best known for her role on NBC's St. Elsewhere series. Through Savidge, Fuller is also very good friends with her acting coach, veteran producer and actor Norman Lloyd, who played Dr. Daniel Auschlander.[14] Formerly, Fuller was married for twenty-two years to Patricia Lee Lyon, with whom he has three children. The two divorced in 1984.

Since March 18, 1990, Fuller, along with James Drury, has been on the celebrity panels of the annual Festival of the West, a public/private party where die-hard fans question about his roles on Laramie, Wagon Train, and other westerns. He also tells the story about his being a cowboy. Included at his party, are country-western dancing, lunch, and dinner.

From October 9–11, 1998, Fuller was reunited once again with the rest of the surviving Emergency! cast, at the Emergency! Convention '98, which took place at the Burbank Airport Hilton in Burbank, California. All of the main actors attended except for Julie London, who had a stroke in 1995 and died in 2000. Bobby Troup attended just four months before his death. Fuller and the rest of the stars/crew answered fans' questions and remembered the times during which their cast-mates got along so well.[15]

On March 10, 2010, Fuller presented to James Drury the "Cowboy Spirit Award" at the Festival of the West.[16] He also paid tribute to John Smith, who died fifteen years earlier on January 25, 1995, of cirrhosis of the liver and heart problems. In the tribute, he recounted many details about Smith's life, especially their on- and off-screen chemistry during their days on Laramie. Smith had also attended the Festival of the West for two seasons, before declining health rendered it impossible for him to come.[17]

On October 9, 2010, Fuller, James Drury, and Don Reynolds, participated in the Wild West Toy Show, sponsored by Bob Terry in Azle near Fort Worth, Texas. The event promotes horse riding and the purchase and exchange of western merchandising.[18]

In September 2012, Fuller along with several other western celebrities attended the first annual Spirit of the Cowboy western festival held at Chestnut Square in McKinney, Texas. This event is being billed as the biggest and best western festival in north Texas.

In mid-2004, Fuller and wife Jennifer Savidge moved from Los Angeles to Texas to raise horses on a ranch in north Texas. His neighbor and long-term friend, Alex Cord, had urged Fuller to move to Cooke County. The two, who are the same age, had met in 1961 on the Laramie set when Cord made his television acting debut.[19] Fuller's former Emergency! co-star and long-time friend, Randolph Mantooth, said in an interview with Tom Blixa of WTVN that he would no longer keep in touch with Fuller because of the relocation.[20]

Fuller's stepfather, Robert Simpson, Sr., died in 2009.[21]

On July 29, 2013, Fuller celebrated his 80th birthday with his fans and wife while vacationing on a ranch in Libby, Montana.[22]


In 1961, Fuller won the Best Actor Award in Japan and the Japanese Golden Order of Merit, presented by the Empress of Japan. Fuller was the first American ever to earn this award.[2]

In 1970, he won 5 Ottos, which are the German equivalent of the Emmy Awards. That same year, he won the Buffalo Bill award for Outstanding Western Entertainment.[citation needed]

For his contribution to the television industry, Robert Fuller has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6608 Hollywood Blvd.[citation needed]

In 1989, he won the Golden Boot Award.[citation needed]

In April 2007 Fuller was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.[citation needed]

On Oct. 12, 2007, he won Silver Spur Award along with Stuart Whitman, Peter Brown, and Dean Smith, who received a lifetime achievement award.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Jennifer Savidge at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ a b Harris, Will (2008-11-28). "A Chat with Robert Fuller ("Laramie," "Wagon Train," "Emergency")". Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  3. ^ ""The Comeback", October 5, 1956". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 16, 2013. 
  4. ^ Robert Fuller Quote
  5. ^ "Cimarron City: "Blind Is the Killer"". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 8, 2012. 
  6. ^ ""The Friend", Lawman, June 28, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved March 29, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Bonanza Casting". 1968-10-06. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  8. ^ New Page 1
  9. ^ "Photos From Julie London’s Television Appearances". Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre: Massacre at Fort Phil Kearney". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved January 30, 2010. 
  12. ^ James Drury (I) - Biography
  13. ^ "Producer Tom". 1961-10-04. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Convention 98". Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  16. ^ "JAMES DRURY (THE VIRGINIAN) Awarded 2010 Cowboy Spirit Award". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  17. ^ "John's Smith: A Tribute to Smitty". YouTube. 2010-12-01. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  18. ^ "Wild West Toys 2010 toy show commercial". YouTube. 2010-08-19. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  19. ^ "Delania Trigg, "Celebrities make North Texas their home""., September 15, 2012. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^

External links[edit]