Robert Sterling

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Robert Sterling
Robert Sterling 1956.jpg
Sterling in 1956
William Sterling Hart

(1917-11-13)November 13, 1917
DiedMay 30, 2006(2006-05-30) (aged 88)
Alma materUniversity of Pittsburgh
Years active1939–1986
Political partyRepublican
(m. 1943; div. 1949)

(m. 1951; died 2006)
Children4, including Tisha Sterling

Robert Sterling (born William Sterling Hart; November 13, 1917 – May 30, 2006) was an American actor. He was best known for starring in the television series Topper (1953–1955).[1]

In 1960, Sterling was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the television industry.

Early life[edit]

Sterling was born William Sterling Hart in New Castle, Pennsylvania, 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Pittsburgh. The son of Chicago Cubs baseball player William S. Hart,[2] he attended the University of Pittsburgh[3] and worked as a clothing salesman before pursuing an acting career.


Columbia Pictures[edit]

After signing with Columbia Pictures in 1939, he changed his name to Robert Sterling to avoid confusion with silent western star William S. Hart.[3] His name was legally changed while he was a second lieutenant attending flight training in Marfa in West Texas in 1943.[4]

Sterling appeared in small parts for Columbia movies, often uncredited: Blondie Meets the Boss (1939), Romance of the Redwoods (1939), First Offenders (1939), Outside These Walls (1939), The Chump Takes a Bump (1939), That Girl from College (1939), and a serial Mandrake the Magician (1939).

He was in Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Missing Daughters (1939), and a short with Buster Keaton, Pest from the West (1939). Sterling was in Good Girls Go to Paris (1939), The Man They Could Not Hang (1939), Golden Boy (1939), The Gates of Alcatraz (1939), A Woman Is the Judge (1939), The Story of Charles Goodyear (1939), Scandal Sheet (1939), Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Beware Spooks! (1939), Blondie Brings Up Baby (1939), The Amazing Mr Williams (1939), Glove Slingers (1939), The Awful Goof (1939) (a short), and Crime's End (1939).

He was in Nothing But Pleasure (1940) a Buster Keaton short, and The Heckler (1940) a short with Charley Chase,

20th Century Fox[edit]

At 20th Century Fox he played the lead in Manhattan Heartbeat (1940) and Yesterday's Heroes (1940). He was in The Gay Caballero (1940)


In November 1940, Sterling went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[5] He appeared in The Penalty (1941) and had the lead in I'll Wait for You (1941), The Getaway (1941), and Ringside Maisie (1941) with Ann Sothern, whom he would later marry.

He had a good support role in Two-Faced Woman (1941) with Greta Garbo and Johnny Eager (1941) with Robert Taylor. Sterling could also be see in Dr. Kildare's Victory (1942) and This Time for Keeps (1942). He was billed third in Somewhere I'll Find You (1942), after Clark Gable and Lana Turner - one of MGM's biggest films of the year. But just as it seemed Sterling was about to break through as a star he joined the service.[6]

Post war[edit]

Sterling served in World War II as a United States Army Air Corps flight instructor. He got out of the army in October 1945 and MGM announced him for The Last Time I Saw Paris but the film would not be made for several years, and not with Sterling.[7] He appeared in The Secret Heart (1946) at MGM.

At RKO he had the lead in Roughshod (1949). He made an independent Western, The Sundowners (1950) with Robert Preston and John Drew Barrymore, and did Bunco Squad (1951) at RKO.

He was appearing on Broadway in The Grammercy Ghost when he formed a relationship with actress/singer Anne Jeffreys.[8]

On television, Sterling starred in "The Man Who Had Influence", the May 29, 1950, episode of Studio One.[9] He also appeared on such shows as The Ford Theatre Hour, Showtime, U.S.A., The Clock, The Web (starring in the episode "Homecoming"), Faith Baldwin Romance Theatre, Celanese Theatre, Lights Out (one episode with Grace Kelly), Betty Crocker Star Matinee (an episode with Audrey Hepburn), Suspense, The Gulf Playhouse, Robert Montgomery Presents, Studio One in Hollywood (an adaptation of The Ambassadors), and Climax!.

Sterling had an excellent part as Steve Baker, opposite Ava Gardner as Julie, in the hit MGM 1951 film version of Show Boat. He supported Audie Murphy in Column South (1953). He and his second wife, actress Anne Jeffreys, also developed a night club act.[8]


Sterling and Anne Jeffreys (1956)

Sterling is perhaps most well known for starring with Jeffreys as the spirited George Kerby, to Jeffreys' Marion Kerby in the television program Topper, based on the 1937 original film Topper; Sterling played Cary Grant's role in the TV series, which aired on the CBS network from 1953 to 1955. Leo G. Carroll starred in the title role. Wife Marion Kerby was referred to as "the ghostess with the mostest", while Sterling's character was known as "that most sporty spirit".

In 1955 he and Jeffreys appeared in a TV production of Dearest Enemy, adapted by Neil Simon. He continued to guest star on shows like The Loretta Young Show, Lux Video Theatre, Star Stage, The 20th Century-Fox Hour, The Ford Television Theatre, Cavalcade of America, and Telephone Time.

On December 18, 1957, Sterling and Jeffreys played a couple with an unusual courtship arrangement in "The Julie Gage Story" on the first season of NBC's Wagon Train.[10]

Love That Jill[edit]

In 1958, the couple co-starred in another comedy series, Love That Jill on ABC. Sterling and Jeffreys portrayed heads of rival modeling agencies in New York City.[11]: 631 

Sterling appeared on The United States Steel Hour, then returned to features at Fox. He had good roles in Return to Peyton Place (1961), as Mike Rossi, husband of Eleanor Parker, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) for Irwin Allen.

Ichabod and Me[edit]

In the 1961–1962 television season, Sterling co-starred with George Chandler and Reta Shaw in CBS's Ichabod and Me, a sitcom set in New England. He portrayed 44-year-old Bob Major, a newspaper reporter from New York City, who purchased and ran the paper in a small town called Phippsboro.[11][12]

In 1963, Sterling starred in The Twilight Zone episode "Printer's Devil" alongside Burgess Meredith. He was also in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Naked City, plus A Global Affair (1964) with Bob Hope.

Later career[edit]

After some additional television work in the early 1960s, Sterling made only sporadic appearances in later shows such as the hospital drama The Bold Ones, the sitcoms Nanny and the Professor, Love, American Style, Diana and The Brian Keith Show, the TV movie Letters from Three Lovers (1973), and the miniseries Beggarman, Thief in 1979.[13]

In the 1970s Sterling was a vice president and the spokesman for a company that implemented the software for one of the first supermarket barcoding and computer inventory systems. He later launched Sterling & Sons, a Santa Monica company that manufactured custom golf clubs.[8]

In the 1980s he guest starred on shows like Fantasy Island, Simon & Simon, Masquerade, Murder, She Wrote, and Hotel.

Sterling's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 1709 Vine Street.

Personal life[edit]

Sterling and then-girlfriend, later wife Ann Sothern at a Hollywood Stars baseball game (1942)

Sterling was married twice. His first marriage, in 1943, was to noted actress-singer Ann Sothern. They had a daughter, Patricia, who became an actress. Sothern and Sterling divorced in 1949.[3]

Sterling met actress-singer Anne Jeffreys soon after his Broadway debut, and they wed in 1951 and remained married for 55 years until his death. They had three sons.

Sterling was a Republican who campaigned for Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election.[14]

Sterling died Tuesday, May 30, 2006, aged 88, at his home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. According to the Associated Press, his son, Jeffrey, indicated that Sterling died of natural causes and also suffered from debilitating shingles for the last decade of his life.[2] He was cremated and his ashes were returned to his family in residence.[15]


  1. ^ "Robert Sterling, 88, of 'Topper', Is Dead". The New York Times. June 1, 2006. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Thomas, Bob (1 June 2006). "Obituary: Robert Sterling / New Castle native was cast member in TV's 'Topper'". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Associated Press.
  3. ^ a b c Lentz, Harris M. III (2007). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2006: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre, Dance, Music, Cartoons and Pop Culture. McFarland. p. 359. ISBN 9780786452118. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  4. ^ 1994 personal memoirs of Col. (Ret.) John B. Boynton, Mr. Hart's flight instructor.
  5. ^ Churchill, Douglas W. (11 November 1940). "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD; Frank Lloyd Buys Rights to 'l, James Lewis'--Robert Sterling Signed by Metro 7 NEW FILMS THIS WEEK 'Fantasia,' 'You'll Find Out,' 'Kit Carson' and 'Youth Will Be Served' to Arrive (Published 1940)". The New York Times. ProQuest 105301833.
  6. ^ Schallert, Edwin (17 September 1942). "SCREEN: Sterling, Taylor to Vie for Leading Man Honors". Los Angeles Times. p. 12. ProQuest 165369876.
  7. ^ "STERLING TO STAR IN M-G-M THRILLER; Named for Lead in 'The Last Time I Saw Paris'--2 New Attractions Due Today". The New York Times. 19 October 1945. ProQuest 107220733.
  8. ^ a b c McLellan, Dennis (1 June 2006). "OBITUARIES; Robert Sterling, 88; Played Ghost in 1950s TV Sitcom 'Topper'". Los Angeles Times. p. B.8. ProQuest 422095168.
  9. ^ "Television Highlights of the Week". The Boston Globe. May 28, 1590. p. 30-A. Retrieved May 5, 2021 – via
  10. ^ "The Julie Gage Story". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
  11. ^ a b Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of television shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. pp. 494–495. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  12. ^ "Ichabod and Me on". 2009-11-13. Retrieved 2010-02-15.
  13. ^ "Robert Sterling ; 1917-2006; Actor part of ghostly couple in 'Topper'". Chicago Tribune. Los Angeles Times. 2 June 2006. p. 13. ProQuest 420428906.
  14. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
  15. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016-08-19). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. ISBN 9781476625997.

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