Robert Fuller (actor)
July 29, 1933
Troy, New York, USA
|Alma mater||Miami Military Academy|
|Occupation||Actor; horse rancher|
(1) Patricia Lee Lyon
|Children||Three children from first marriage|
Golden Boot Award - 1989
Robert Fuller (born July 29, 1933) is an American horse rancher and former television actor. In his five decades of television, he is best known for co-starring roles as Jess Harper and Cooper Smith on the popular 1960s western series, Laramie opposite John Smith and Wagon Train with John McIntire, and for his work as one of the leading roles as Dr. Kelly Brackett, in the 1970s medical drama Emergency!, opposite Julie London and her husband, Bobby Troup.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.||”|
—Robert Fuller, emergencyfans.com
Fuller portrayed a gruff military pilot in the box office dud Megaforce (1982).
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.
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.
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. 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.
Laramie was eventually aired in more than 70 countries. On the set of Laramie, he met a young rising star, Julie London, who was seven years Fuller's senior, while off-camera, he met an established singer-songwriter, Bobby Troup, who was 15 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.
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 and 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. 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.
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.
Fuller and 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 the sixth year of Emergency! in 1976, Fuller decided to reduce his on-screen appearances. 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 20 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 supposed 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 cast as Wade.
Friendship with other actors
Fuller's longest-lasting friendship has been with James Drury, whom he met (along with Robert Horton, 9 years Fuller's senior), when the three were under contract at MGM, beginning in 1954; they have been friends for six decades. Drury put Fuller in touch with Jock Mahoney, who in turn contacted Dick Jones. When their contracts were up, both Drury and Fuller switched to Universal, where they each starred in their own Western series. In 1959, Fuller co-starred opposite his old friend, John Smith, in Laramie (before joining the cast of Wagon Train, after Laramie's cancelation), while Drury starred in The Virginian for 9 seasons; Fuller appeared in the same series, later in its run, in two episodes in which Drury did not appear.
Drury was a fan of Fuller and Julie London's Emergency! series, a show that lasted 8 1/2 years. In an interview with another of Fuller's best friends, Drury said, "I 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 lifelong friends with her, and so forth, but I never spent any time on the road with her, but I think Bobby Fuller did. ... 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."
After relocating from Los Angeles to Houston in 1976, Drury continued to act until his retirement in 2005. Before this, Drury appeared with Fuller in episodes of two series: The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and Kung-Fu: The Legend Continues (in an episode in which he was reunited with Fuller, Clu Gulager, and Clint Walker). He also appeared in three episodes of the first season of Walker, Texas Ranger, where he played a captain, almost five years before Fuller played a Texas Ranger in the flashback, and was brought back (again) as a different character, and in the series finale.
Drury and "Bobby", both are living in Texas, continue to travel to festivals, such as Festival of the West and the Memphis Film Festival. On July 8, 2011, both Fuller and Drury were featured actors at the Crossroads Festival of Western Legends, where they shared some stories of how they first met.
Prior to being a popular movie actress and singer, actor John Smith introduced her to Fuller on the first episode of the second season of Laramie ("Queen of Diamonds"), where London played the wife of the sheriff, who was an estranged card dealer using 'June Brown'. That one episode had brought Fuller to a wonderful relationship, right around the same time, he even met her real-life husband, Bobby Troup, where the two became lifelong friends, for four decades, from 1960 to 2000. Like Drury, London also called Fuller 'Bobby'.
When Fuller was strongly asked to do Emergency! with Troup and her in the 1970s, they both heard him and her ex-husband, Jack Webb, not wanting to play the lead role, who turned down the part, twice, but Fuller had no choice other than to play Dr. Kelly Brackett, because Westerns had already faded away, since 1969. Then, she was very happy when her friend had reconsidered in playing the character, for 8 1/2 seasons. Along with Fuller, both London and Troup, also grabbed the medical dictionary to study medical terms, along with studying dialogue. Plus, they also used a scalpel. Also, a real-life doctor and 2 real-life paramedics, would frequently come to the Emergency! set, everyday. On Emergency!, she was more than happy to play the head nurse, Dixie McCall, the secondary lead role to Fuller's/Troup's (Brackett/Early) and Mantooth's/Tighe's (Gage/DeSoto), where she had a wonderful on- and off-screen chemistry with him, also off-camera, London became a soul, surrogate mother to Mantooth, Tighe and Ron Pinkard, who played Dr. Mike Morton in the series, and became friends until London's own death. Also, during hiatus, both London and Troup, also invited Fuller (along with fellow actors, Mantooth and Tighe), for dinner at her house, as well as playing games, for being the avid game player that she was. When the series was canceled, after 8 1/2 seasons, and 130 episodes. After cancelation, thanks to London's popularity on Emergency! (after her best friend), Webb was going to promote her to become an executive producer of possible series, when she declined, and has retired from both music and television, too young.
Unlike Fuller, but like Smith, London was known to be a very private lady, who spent most of her time with her family, and even listening to her music. In 1995, a chain smoker since age 15, Fuller was very devastated when London was hospitalized with a stroke, and was unable to attend the Emergency! Reunion in 1998. London died nearly two years later, on October 18, 2000; Fuller was very devastated by the loss.
In a June 2013 interview with Tom Blixa of WTVN, Fuller said of his medical partner/secondary series' lead, 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."
While struggling as an actor, Clu Gulager met Fuller, on the fourth episode of Laramie, where Gulager played a private who showed up at the Sherman Ranch Relay Station beaten and half-starved looking for help from his Jess Harper, who was his brother-in-law. The friendship took off from there, where the lifelong connection began. Gulager was also reunited with Fuller on 2 more episodes of Wagon Train, and 1 episode of The Virginian, where Gulager was credited as a star, but like Drury, Gulager didn't appear in the episode.
In 1995, along with Fuller, Drury and Walker, Gulager also appeared on an episode of Kung-Fu: The Legend Continues, where he played a drunken deputy.
In 2012, after six decades of acting, at 83, Gulager had retired from acting, but continues to stay in touch with Fuller, and travels with him at various festivals, Festival of The West and Memphis Film Festival.
Being only 23 years old, Fuller met the unfamiliar actor, John Smith, along with another young unfamiliar actor, Doug McClure (Drury's future co-star on The Virginian), in the movie Friendly Persuasion, where he only had a limited line, where the two began to develop a lifelong friendship, in 1956. Then, right around the same time he co-starred with Smith in Laramie, Fuller also guest-starred with Smith on an episode of Cimmaron City.
He also starred with Fuller in Laramie, where the two had a wonderful on- and off-screen chemistry together, and would even meet some familiar as well as unfamiliar guest stars that went on to do bigger and better things. When the show Laramie ended in 1963, after a 4 season run, and 124 episodes, Fuller went onto do Wagon Train, where he created part of a character, after him, while Smith was found himself typecasted as Slim Sherman.
Unlike Fuller, Smith was known to be a very private man, who was also known for traveling and raising horses. He was the very first guest at the Festival of The West, however, bad health prevented him from attending, hence, Fuller lost him on January 25, 1995, and Smith was cremated.
At only 28, and being the same age as Fuller, Cord met him on an episode of Laramie; Cord played the son of Dan Duryea's character, and this was Cord's first guest-starring role in his long career. Afterwards, the two remained friendly.
In 2002, one year after Fuller remarried with Cord as best man, Fuller attended Cord's wedding to Susannah Moller, where Fuller served as best man. Two years later, Fuller moved with his wife to Texas, where he and Cord became neighbors.
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, 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. 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.
On March 10, 2010, Fuller presented to James Drury the "Cowboy Spirit Award" at the Festival of the West. 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.
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.
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. 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.
Fuller's stepfather, Robert Simpson, Sr., died in 2009.
On November 9, 2014, Fuller along with wife, Savidge, commuted from Cooke County, Texas to Los Angeles, California, in time, to attend their longtime friend's/acting mentor's, Norman Lloyd's, 100th Birthday Party.
On Apr. 16, 1974, Fuller won the Outstanding Service Award for the Huntsville Fire Department. This award was for bringing recognition to the firefighting profession and for his support for emergency assistance personnel throughout the nation.
On Mar. 18, 2006, this bronze sculpture of Jess Harper on Traveller, which was awarded to him by The Robert Fuller Fandom and The National Festival Of The West in recognition of his years of work in the entertainment industry.
On Oct. 12, 2013, Fuller was the first recipient of this Spirit Of The Cowboy Lonestar Legacy Award, a new award which recognized his status in the industry, as a true western hero.
- Jennifer Savidge at the Internet Movie Database
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- Robert Fuller Quote
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- New Page 1
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- James Drury (I) - Biography
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- "Wild West Toys 2010 toy show commercial". YouTube. 2010-08-19. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
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- "News Stream - The Official Website of James Drury The Virginian". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
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