Monday, June 19, 2017

Top TV Moments: Roy Roberts

One of the most engaging qualities of the comfort TV era is the recurring presence of familiar character actors, who played different roles on different shows, all of whom were often variations on a single type.

Roy Roberts specialized in blustery authority figures – military men, bank presidents, CEOs. He had the gray hair of an experienced executive, the rotund figure of someone who rose to the top of his profession and is now enjoying the comforts of that position, and a booming voice that sent subordinates scurrying for cover. 

He’s one of those actors that are hard to picture in their younger days because, like Charles Lane and Doris Packer, he seems to have emerged fully formed into one steadfast, familiar persona.

You probably wouldn’t want him as a boss. But in a classic sitcom from the 1960s his arrival is always welcome. I hope he knew – or knows now from that executive boardroom in the heavens – how much his talent was appreciated.

The Gale Storm Show (1956)
TV’s original Love Boat was the S.S. Ocean Queen under the command of Roy Roberts as Captain Huxley. He appears in 89 episodes in support of singer and comedienne Gale Storm, once as a big a star as TV ever introduced, and now sadly almost forgotten. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes, but I would not be surprised if this is where Roberts gained his reputation for the kind of authoritarian roles that would keep him busy for the next two decades. 

The Dick Van Dyke Show (1962)
In “My Husband is Not a Drunk” Rob is hypnotized into feeling intoxicated every time he hears a bell ring. Carl Reiner wrote it just to give Dick Van Dyke a showcase for his brilliant drunk routine, which delivers an office scene that’s among the funniest in the show’s run. Roy Roberts plays the demanding, no-nonsense sponsor of The Alan Brady Show, who is reduced to hysterics by Rob’s antics. 

McHale’s Navy (1963)
If Roy Roberts turns up in a military sitcom, you can bet it won’t be as an enlisted man. Sure enough, his top brass credentials were fortified once more on McHale’s Navy where he recurred as the no-nonsense Admiral Rogers. Roberts played so many men in uniform that I wondered whether he actually served himself, but none of the biographies or obituaries I’ve read mentioned military service. Like John Wayne, however, he always looked the part.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1963)
In one of his busiest years as a character actor (more than 20 episodes of various shows) he popped up here as Nicholas J. Venderfeller, blue-blood father of a beautiful socialite. But appearances are not what they seem. The twist in “Two for the Whipsaw” is that father and daughter are both con artists looking to marry into money.  So why are they trying to get hitched to the always-broke Dobie?  

Gunsmoke (1963)
From 1963 to 1974, Roberts made occasional appearances as Dodge City’s gruff bank manager Harry Botkin. It was his final classic TV role. In the 1963 episode “Old York,” Botkin is held up at gunpoint by a coldhearted robber played by Edgar Buchanan, whom Roberts would soon meet again under very different circumstances on Petticoat Junction.  

Petticoat Junction (1963)
Norman Curtis, President of the C.&F.W. Railroad, is my favorite Roy Roberts character. He is introduced in the first episode of Petticoat Junction and we’re at ease right away because this is familiar territory  Curtis is a stuffed-shirt executive who we’re sure will prove a nemesis to the sympathetic folks in Hooterville. But when he first visits the Shady Rest in episode 3, “The President Who Came To Dinner,” he is charmed by the community and by Kate and her daughters. In several subsequent appearances he stops the schemes of his associate Homer Bedloe (Charles Lane, nasty as always) to shut down the Cannonball. 

The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (1964)
In “Ricky, The Law Clerk” Roberts plays…Judge Roberts, which certainly made it easy to remember his character name. He lobbies to get his nephew hired as a clerk at David’s law firm, unaware that Dave had already given the job to Ricky. David finds it difficult to broach the subject with the imposing judge, but of course no one is really ever that mean in the world of Ozzie & Harriet, which is why it’s always such a lovely place to visit.

The Beverly Hillbillies (1965)
Roberts appears in five episodes as John Cushing, a banker who will stop at nothing, including a romance with Granny, to get the Clampett fortune away from Mr. Drysdale.

Bewitched (1967)
Beginning with season 4’s “Out of Sync, Out of Mind,” Roberts takes over the role of Darrin’s father Frank Stephens. It wasn’t an ideal fit, as his predecessor (Robert F. Simon) had a mild-mannered quality more suited to someone who would put up with Phyllis’s sick headaches for 35 years. 

The Lucy Show (1967)
Viewers who felt sorry for Lucy after one of Mr. Mooney’s tirades probably enjoyed when Roy Roberts delivered an element of schadenfreude as Mooney’s boss, Mr. Cheever. There is always something satisfying about watching a bully get bullied. Cheever appears in several of the series’ better episodes, including “Lucy Gets Jack Benny’s Account,” “Lucy Gets Mooney Fired” and “Lucy the Starmaker,” with Frankie Avalon as Cheever’s nephew. Frankie wants to be a singer, but his uncle wants him to join the family business. Watch Roberts’ reaction when Lucy suggests show business might be more fun than banking. 


  1. You're only doing TV here, so I'll just mention an early feature film appearance by Roy Roberts:

    In the original 3D House Of Wax, Roberts is Vincent Price's partner, who sets fire to the wax museum at the start of the picture - so really, he's to blame for the whole thing. He also has a funny lech scene with Carolyn Jones, before meeting his eminently deserved finish a bit later.
    Roberts can also be seen in Chinatown as a crooked politician; it's one of his final roles.

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