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Dale Robertson

Dale Robertson

Dayle Lymoine Robertson (July 14, 1923 – February 27, 2013) was an American actor best known for his starring roles on television. He played the roving investigator Jim Hardie in the television series Tales of Wells Fargo and Ben Calhoun, the owner of an incomplete railroad line in The Iron Horse. He often was presented as a deceptively thoughtful but modest Western hero. From 1968 to 1970, Robertson was the fourth and final host of the anthology series Death Valley Days.

Dale Robertson
Dayle Lymoine Robertson

(1923-07-14)July 14, 1923
Harrah, Oklahoma, U.S.
DiedFebruary 27, 2013(2013-02-27)(aged 89)
La Jolla, California, U.S.
Alma materOklahoma Military Academy
Years active1948–1994
Spouse(s)Frederica Jacqueline Wilson (1951–1956) (divorced) (1 daughter)
Mary Murphy (1956–1957)
Lula Mae (m. 1959–1977, two daughters)[1]
Susan Robbins Robertson (married 1980–2013, his death)[2]

Early life

Born in 1923 to Melvin and Vervel Robertson in Harrah, Oklahoma, Robertson fought as a professional boxer while enrolled in the Oklahoma Military Academy in Claremore.[3]

During this time Columbia Pictures offered Robertson the lead in their film version of Golden Boy but Robertson turned down the trip to Hollywood for a screen test as he didn't want to leave the ponies he was training or his home.[4]

World War II

During World War II, he was commissioned through Officer Candidate School, and served in the United States Army 322nd Combat Engineer Battalion of the 97th Infantry Division in Europe. He was wounded twice and was awarded the Bronze and Silver Star medals.[5]


Early roles

Robertson began his acting career by chance when he was in the United States Army. Stationed at San Luis Obispo, California, Robertson decided to have a photograph taken for his mother; so he and several other soldiers went to Hollywood to find a photographer. A large copy of his photo was later displayed in the photographer's shop window.[3] He found himself receiving letters from film agents who wished to represent him. After the war, Robertson's war wounds prevented him from resuming his boxing career. He stayed in California to try his hand at acting. Hollywood actor Will Rogers, Jr., gave him this advice: "Don't ever take a dramatic lesson. They will try to put your voice in a dinner jacket, and people like their hominy and grits in everyday clothes." Robertson thereafter avoided formal acting lessons.[3]

Robertson made his film debut in an uncredited role as a policeman in The Boy with Green Hair (1948). Two other uncredited appearances led to featured roles in two Randolph Scott Westerns Fighting Man of the Plains (1949) where he played Jesse James, and The Cariboo Trail (1950). Popular acclaim to Robertson's brief roles led him to be signed to a seven-year contract to 20th Century Fox. Robertson's first role for Fox was a support part in a Western Two Flags West (1951). He had a support part in the musical Call Me Mister (1951). He soon advanced to leading roles in films such as Take Care of My Little Girl (1951), where he played Jeanne Crain's love interest, and Golden Girl (1951), where he supported Mitzi Gaynor.


Fox gave Robertson top billing in Return of the Texan (1952). He appeared opposite Anne Baxter in The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1952), and starred in the historical adventure Lydia Bailey (1952).[6]

Robertson was never very cooperative with the press, even shunning the powerful columnist Louella Parsons.[7] As a result, he won the press' Sour Apple Award for three years running. But then, commented Robertson, "that dang Sinatra had to hit some photographer in the nose and stop me from getting my fourth."[6]

He was one of several Fox names in O. Henry's Full House (1952) and was Betty Grable's love interest in The Farmer Takes a Wife (1953).[8]

RKO borrowed him for Devil's Canyon (1953) with Virginia Mayo and Son of Sinbad, filmed in 1953 but not released for two more years.

He returned to Fox for City of Bad Men (1953) with Crain; The Silver Whip (1954) with Rory Calhoun; and The Gambler from Natchez (1954).


Robertson went over to United Artists to star in Sitting Bull (1954), and Top of the World (1955), an adventure film.

Robertson did A Day of Fury (1956) for Universal and Dakota Incident (1956) for Republic, then travelled to Britain for High Terrace (1956).


Dale Robertson 1959

Dale Robertson 1959

Described by TIME in 1959 as "probably the best horseman on television",[9] for most of his career, Robertson played in western films and television shows—well over 60 titles in all. Tales of Wells Fargo, his best-remembered series, aired on NBC from 1957 to 1961, when it moved to ABC and expanded to an hour-long program for its final season in 1961-1962. The show originally was produced by Nat Holt whom Robertson felt he owed his career to for giving him his first leading roles.[10] Robertson also did the narration for Tales of Wells Fargo through which he often presented his own commentary on matters of law, morality, and common sense. He was unique among his television contemporaries, stating that he hated the gun he was forced to carry, but saw it as a necessary evil, a "tool of the trade", and kept practicing. In its cover story on television westerns, published March 30, 1959, Time reported Robertson was 6 feet tall, weighed 180 pounds, and measured 42-34-34. He sometimes made use of his physique in "beefcake" scenes, such as one in 1952's Return of the Texan where he is seen bare-chested and sweaty, repairing a fence.[9]

In 1960, Robertson guest-starred as himself in NBC's The Ford Show, starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.[11] In 1962, he similarly appeared and sang a perfect rendition of "High Noon" on the short-lived western comedy and variety series The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show.[12] In 1963, after Tales of Wells Fargo ended its five-year run, he played the lead role in the first of A.C. Lyles' Law of the Lawless.

Robertson created United Screen Arts in 1965[13] which released two of his films, The Man from Button Willow (1965, animated) and The One Eyed Soldiers (1966). Robertson filmed a television pilot about Diamond Jim Brady that was not picked up as a series.

In the 1966–67 season, Robertson starred in Scalplock another television pilot released as a movie that became The Iron Horse, in which his character wins an incomplete railroad line in a poker game and then decides to manage the company.[3] In 1968, he succeeded Robert Taylor as the host of Death Valley Days, a role formerly held by Stanley Andrews and future U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan. In rebroadcasts, Death Valley Days is often known as Trails West, with Ray Milland in the role of revised host.

Robertson guest-starred on the Nov. 17, 1969 episode of The Dean Martin Show.

Later career

He portrayed legendary FBI agent Melvin Purvis in two made-for-television movies Melvin Purvis: G-Man (1974) and The Kansas City Massacre (1975).

In 1981, Robertson was in the original starring cast of Dynasty, playing Walter Lankershim, a character who disappeared after the first season.

In 1983, Robertson made Big John, another television pilot, where he played a Georgia Sheriff who becomes a New York Police Department detective.[14] In 1987, he starred as the title character on J.J. Starbuck. Robertson also played Frank Crutcher in five episodes of the TV series Dallas during the 1982-83 season. In December 1993 and January 1994, Robertson appeared in two episodes of Harts of the West in the role of Zeke Terrell.[15] During an appearance on The Tonight Show, Robertson said he was of Cherokee ancestry. He joked, "I am the tribe's West Coast distributor."

Robertson played a central part in two episodes of Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury but he was not credited in either appearance.

He received the Golden Boot Award in 1985, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and is also in the Hall of Great Western Performers and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

In 1999, Robertson won the award for film and television from the American Cowboy Culture Association in Lubbock, Texas.[16]


In his later years, Robertson and his wife, the former Susan Robbins, whom he married in 1980, had lived on his ranch in Yukon, Oklahoma. He died at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California on February 27, 2013, from lung cancer and pneumonia.[17][18]


  • The Boy with Green Hair (1948) - Cop (uncredited)

  • Flamingo Road (1948) - Tunis Simms (uncredited)

  • The Girl from Jones Beach (1949) - Lifeguard (uncredited)

  • Fighting Man of the Plains (1950) - Jesse James

  • The Cariboo Trail (1950) - Will Gray

  • Two Flags West (1950) - Lem

  • Call Me Mister (1951) - Capt.Johnny Comstock

  • Take Care of My Little Girl (1951) - Joe Blake

  • The Secret of Convict Lake (1951) - Narrator (voice, uncredited)

  • Golden Girl (1951) - Tom Richmond

  • Return of the Texan (1952) - Sam Crockett

  • The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1952) - John Oakhurst

  • Lydia Bailey (1952) - Albion Hamlin

  • Lure of the Wilderness (1952) - Opening off-screen Narrator (voice, uncredited)

  • O. Henry's Full House (1952) - Barney Woods (segment "The Clarion Call")

  • The Silver Whip (1953) - Race Crim

  • The Farmer Takes a Wife (1953) - Dan Harrow

  • Devil's Canyon (1953) - Billy Reynolds

  • City of Bad Men (1953) - Brett Stanton

  • The Gambler From Natchez (1954) - Capt. Vance Colby

  • Sitting Bull (1954) - Major Robert 'Bob' Parrish

  • Top of the World (1955) - Maj. Lee Gannon

  • Son of Sinbad (1955) - Sinbad

  • A Day of Fury (1956) - Jagade

  • Dakota Incident (1956) - John Banner

  • High Terrace (1956) - Bill Lang

  • A Tall trouble (1957) - Sheriff Caleb Wells

  • Anna of Brooklyn (1958) - Raffaele

  • Gunfight at Black Horse Canyon (1961, TV Movie) - Jim Hardie (archive footage)

  • Law of the Lawless (1964)[19] - Judge Clem Rogers

  • Blood on the Arrow (1964) - Wade Cooper

  • The Man from Button Willow (1965) - Justin Eagle (voice)

  • Coast of Skeletons (1965) - A. J. Magnus

  • The One Eyed Soldiers (1966) - Richard Owen

  • East Connection (1970)

  • Aru heishi no kake (1970) - Major Clark J. Allen

  • The Kansas City Massacre (1975, TV Movie) - Melvin Purvis

Radio appearances

1952Lux Radio TheatreTake Care of My Little Girl[20]


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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgMarshall, Peter Backstage with the Original Hollywood Square Thomas Nelson Inc, 17 Jul 2002
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Citation Linkwww.time.com"The Six-Gun Galahad". TIME. 1959-03-30. Archived from the original on 2008-02-14.
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Citation Linkwww.westernclippings.comMagers, Boyd. "Tales of Wells Fargo". westernclippings.com. Retrieved July 6, 2017.
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Citation Linkwww.ernieford.com"The Ford Show Season 4 1959-'60". ernieford.com. Retrieved July 6, 2017.
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Citation Linkwww.youtube.com"The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Show - October 20, 1962". YouTube. July 18, 2016. Retrieved July 6, 2017.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgp.34 Billboard 21 Aug 1965
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgp.30 Terrace, Vincent Encyclopedia of Television Pilots, 1937-2012 McFarland, 26 Feb 2013
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Citation Linkwww.imdb.comFull cast and crew of Harts of the West at the Internet Movie Database
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Citation Linklubbockonline.comYoung, Teresa Cox (September 10, 1999). "Cowboy life rides high at awards show; Symposium saddles up with tribute to heritage". lubbockonline.com. Retrieved July 6, 2017.
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Citation Linkwww.nytimes.comMartin, Douglas (February 27, 2013). "Dale Robertson, a Horse-Savvy Actor in Westerns, Is Dead at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2017.
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Citation Linkwww.sacbee.com"Actor Dale Robertson dies in California hospital". The Sacramento Bee. February 27, 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-03-02.
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Citation Linkwww.imdb.com"Law of the Lawless". IMDb. May 13, 1964. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
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Citation Linkwww.newspapers.comKirby, Walter (February 3, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 3, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
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