Robert Fuller (actor)
Fuller in 1968.
|Born||Leonard Leroy Lee
July 29, 1933
Troy, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Actor, horse rancher|
|Spouse(s)||Patricia Lee Lyon
|Children||Three by Patricia Lee Lyon:
Robert “Rob” Fuller Jr. (older son)
Christine Fuller (daughter)
Patrick Fuller (younger son)
(dates of birth of each unknown)
|Website||The Official Robert Fuller Website|
Leonard Leroy “Buddy” Lee (born July 29, 1933), better known by his stage name of Robert Fuller, is an American horse rancher and retired actor.
In his five decades of television, Fuller became known for his deep, raspy voice and was familiar to television viewers throughout the 1960s and 1970s from his co-starring roles as Jess Harper and Cooper Smith on the popular 1960s western series Laramie and Wagon Train, and was also well known for his starring role as Dr. Kelly Brackett in the 1970s medical drama Emergency! This last is the role for which he remains best known.
Fuller was born as Leonard Leroy Lee on July 29, 1933, in Troy, New York, the only child of Betty Simpson, a dance instructor. Prior to his birth, Betty married Robert Simpson, Sr., a Naval Academy officer. The family moved to Key West, Florida, where, already known by the nickname of “Buddy,” he took the name Robert Simpson Jr. The early highlights of his life were acting and dancing; his parents owned a dancing school in Florida. His family also moved to Chicago, Illinois, where they lived for 1 year, before moving back to Florida. Simpson Jr., as he was then still known formally, attended the Miami Military School for fifth and sixth grade, and Key West High School for ninth grade. He dropped out in 1948, at the age of 14, due to the fact that he disliked school and was doing poorly there. In 1950, when he was 16, he traveled with his family to Hollywood, California, where his first job was as a stunt man. He also worked at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, beginning as a doorman and working his way up to Assistant Manager at 18. At the urging of friends, the up-to-then Simpson Jr. joined the Screen Actors Guild, embarked on a career in acting, and changed his name from Robert Simpson Jr. to Robert Fuller, the name by which he would be known at his most prominent.
Early work--films and television
Fuller's first small role was as an extra in the 1952 film Above and Beyond. This part led to much extra work on many projects, 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 then went on hold for service in the United States Army. He served a tour of duty in Korea and returned to the United States in 1955. Though he had been considering 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's first speaking role was in Friendly Persuasion in 1956, where he worked with his future Laramie co-star John Smith and another close friend, Doug McClure.
In the 1956 episode "The Comeback" of the religion anthology series, Crossroads, Fuller acted out the role of a former soldier. In the story line, Don DeFore acted out the Reverend C. E. "Stoney" Jackson, who offers the spiritual insight to assist Lou Brissie (Chuck Connors) to recover from the wounds he had sustained in World War II so that he can return to professional baseball. Grant Withers appeared as Coach Whitey Martin; Crossroads regular Robert Carson appeared as a coach in this episode. X Brands acted out another baseball player.
In 1957, Fuller was cast in his first major film role in Teenage Thunder. He said of it:
|“||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|
Television work in the late 1950s and 1960s
Fuller became an immensely popular character actor, guest-starring in dozens of television programs 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 the Lux Playhouse. He also appeared in the series Strange Intruder, as a villain who dies in the third episode. In 1959, he acted out 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.
On February 24, 1959, Fuller guest-starred in the episode "Blind Is the Killer," in 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 appeared as Joe Cole, a young gunfighter seeking a reputation, who found his target in Cimarron City Mayor Matt Rockford, acted out by George Montgomery. Cole temporarily blinded Rockford with glass from a broken whisky bottle. The two were ultimately reconciled after each had had a chance to prove his courage. John Smith, Fuller's co-star on Laramie, was a regular in Cimarron City, and the two appeared together briefly in this episode, which also featured Dennis McCarthy as Dr. "Doc" Hodges, who successfully treated 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, acted out 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. But 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, Joseph "Little Joe" Cartwright, on NBC's Bonanza, but he lost the role to another young and then unfamiliar actor--Michael Landon, whose career was made by him being so signed. 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. Being the unfamiliar, struggling actor that he was, 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 7 years Fuller's senior, while off-camera, he met an established singer-songwriter, Bobby Troup, who was 15 years Fuller's senior; the two men would be best friends until Troup's death in 1999, almost two years before the death of London, in 2000.
When Laramie ended its run, Fuller jumped to another western, Wagon Train, alongside John McIntire, a veteran film actor, a 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 for On Screen and Beyond, Fuller noted that he was not brought into the show to replace Robert Horton (an actor whom Fuller met, since 1954, when he and James Drury were all under contract at MGM, became friends for 62 years until Horton's death, in March 2016) in the role of the wagon train scout. He resembled Horton, and the two shared the same birthday, but Horton was 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. That same year, he acted out 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 1971 movie The Hard Ride, he insisted that Fuller star in his new NBC medical drama, Emergency! Webb had already signed his own ex-wife, 1950s/1960s singer and B-movie actress Julie London, as Nurse Dixie McCall alongside her by-then real-life husband, Bobby Troup, as Dr. Joe Early. Fuller was reluctant to act out a doctor, especially in a series with a contemporary urban setting, but the persistent Webb gave him an opportunity to accept the role of Dr. Kelly Brackett, Chief of Emergency Medicine at the fictitious Rampart General Hospital. Fuller said, in the 2009 interview with On Screen and Beyond also cited above, that he had twice, politely, rejected the role of Brackett. Webb then reminded Fuller, much less politely, both that Western shows had been repeatedly cancelled over the previous five years and that the genre was on the decline.
Fuller's, Troup's, and London's co-stars on Emergency! were previously unfamiliar actors, Randolph Mantooth as John Roderick "Johnny" Gage and Kevin Tighe as Roy DeSoto, both playing paramedics. The other cast members got along very well with both Fuller and London. During its first season, as a mid-season replacement in the 1971–1972 season and despite the especially fierce and vigorous 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 season of Emergency! in 1976 and 1977, Fuller's appearances were reduced because he had grown very unhappy with the direction the show was taking; at the same approximate time, he was looking for Westerns. 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 the 1990s
In the 1980s and 1990s, Fuller played supporting roles in more than 20 television shows, including The Love Boat, The Fall Guy (in two episodes which reunited him with Lee Majors, who met Fuller on The Big Valley), Murder, She Wrote (which reunited him with Eddie Albert, who guest-starred with Fuller on Laramie), Matt Houston, Tour of Duty, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., JAG, and Diagnosis: Murder, in 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 acted out 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.
Like London and Troup, Fuller is an accomplished singer; he did several "bandstand" gigs with Bill Aken's Los Nomadas rock group at holiday festivities in Whiskey Flats, California. While acting as grand marshal for the local Memorial Day parade, he 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" ("Lonesome Cowboy"), "Adios Mexicana" ("Goodbye Mexican Girl"), "Uberall Auf Der Welt" ("All Over the World"), "Sind Wie Blumen" ("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, known for her role on NBC's St. Elsewhere series. Through Savidge, Fuller also became very good friends with her acting coach, veteran producer and actor Norman Lloyd, who played Dr. Daniel Auschlander. Formerly, Fuller was married for 22 years to Patricia Lee Lyon, on December 20, 1962, with whom he has three children: Rob, Christine and Patrick. The two divorced in 1984; his ex-wife died a decade after the divorce.
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 to October 11, 1998, Fuller was again reunited 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 suffered a stroke in 1995; she died in 2000. Troup attended just four months before his own death. Fuller and the rest of the stars/crew answered fans's 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 the middle of 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 shared 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.
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Fuller's longest-lasting friendship has been with James Drury, whom he met (along with the late Robert Horton, 9 years Fuller's senior), when the three were under contract at MGM in 1954. Drury put Fuller in touch with Jock Mahoney, who in turn contacted Dick Jones. When their contracts were up, both Drury and Fuller moved to Universal, where they each starred in their own Western series. In 1959, Fuller co-starred opposite another 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's 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."
Fuller was introduced to Julie London, through John Smith, on the first episode of the second season of Laramie, "Queen of Diamonds," where London had acted out the wife of the sheriff. That episode brought Fuller into a wonderful relationship; at the same approximate time he met London's by-then husband, Bobby Troup, where the two became lifelong friends, for four decades, from 1960 to 2000. Like Drury, London also called Fuller "Bobby."
According to his co-star and London's second husband, Bobby Troup, London was also known to be a very private and introverted lady; who spent most of her time with her extended family, who also hated attending shows. London died on October 18, 2000, one year after Troup.
In a June 2013 interview with Tom Blixa of WTVN, Fuller said of his Emergency! medical partner and secondary series lead Julie London that she had what he called a "potty-mouth;" he added, "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, in which Gulager acted out a private who showed up at the Sherman Ranch Relay Station beaten and half-starved looking for help from 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 did not appear in the episode.
In 1995, along with Fuller, Drury and Walker, Gulager also appeared on an episode of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, in which he acted out 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.
When he was no older than 23 years of age, Fuller had first met the unfamiliar actor, John Smith, along with another young unfamiliar tvactor, 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, at the same approximate time when he co-starred with Smith in Laramie, Fuller also guest-starred with Smith on an episode of Cimmaron City.
During the time when Smith 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 who went on to bigger and better things. When Laramie ended in 1963, after a 4-season run and 124 episodes, Fuller went on to the cast of Wagon Train, where he created part of a character after him, while Smith found himself a victim of typecasting 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.
Already being an immensely-popular character actor and a moviestar in several Westerns, Fuller met James Best, on the sixth episode of Laramie, where Best played a worried young man coming back to camp, who demanded Jess Harper, who'd know anything about snake bites, before that young man was to be dead. The two had a great connection, since the writers loved him on his first appearance, Best would later do two additional guest spots on Laramie with Fuller, long before landing a starring role in the popular Western satire, The Dukes of Hazzard, in the 1980s and later, two movies, in both 1997 and 2000.
Being the traveling man that he was, 'Jimmie' would travel to festivals, but ran into 'Bobby', many times.
On June 12, 2013, aged 86, and was very healthy, at the time, Best reunited with Fuller, Drury, Johnny Crawford and Henry Darrow at the Memphis Film Festival in Olive Branch, Mississippi, where massive die hard Western fans asked either one questions, before fans attending a sock hop dance.
On November 8, 2014, aged 88, Best's final appearance of what would become his last with Fuller, when the two (along with their own wives) who flew to Los Angeles, California, from their own residences (Best was living in North Carolina), to celebrate the 100th Birthday of their dear friend, Norman Lloyd, to reminisce Norman's memory. Then, five months afterwards, on April 6, 2015, Fuller lost Best to pneumonia. Fuller did not attend his funeral in North Carolina.
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.
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- Harris, Will. "A Chat with Robert Fuller ("Laramie," "Wagon Train," "Emergency")".
- ""The Comeback," October 5, 1956". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
- Robert Fuller Quote
- "Cimarron City: "Blind Is the Killer"". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- ""The Friend," Lawman, June 28, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
- "Bonanza Casting". Ponderosascenery.homestead.com. 1968-10-06. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- New Page 1
- "Photos From Julie London’s Television Appearances". Julielondon.org. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- Daniel Butterfield. "On Call, Vol. 1, No. 1 - Personnel File: Norman Lloyd ... "The Ultimate Pro" - StElsewhereWeb.com". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
- "Convention 98". Emergencyfans.com. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- "JAMES DRURY (THE VIRGINIAN) Awarded 2010 Cowboy Spirit Award". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- "John's Smith: A Tribute to Smitty". YouTube. 2010-12-01. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- "Wild West Toys 2010 toy show commercial". YouTube. 2010-08-19. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- "Delania Trigg, "Celebrities make North Texas their home"". gainesvilleregister.com, September 15, 2012. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
- "An Interview with Randolph Mantooth". News Radio 610 WTVN. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
- "Who is Robert Simpson, Sr.?". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
- "News Stream - The Official Website of James Drury The Virginian". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
- "Producer Tom". 610wtvn.com. 1961-10-04. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- "Robert Fuller". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
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