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Fuller as the star of Laramie, 1968.
July 29, 1933
Troy, New York, United States
Patricia Lee Lyon
Golden Boot Award - 1989
Fuller as the star of Laramie, 1968.
July 29, 1933
Troy, New York, United States
Patricia Lee Lyon
Golden Boot Award - 1989
Robert Fuller (born July 29, 1933) is an American former television Western actor and current rancher. In his five decades of television, he's best known for starring roles on the popular 1960s western series Laramie as Jess Harper, and Wagon Train as Cooper Smith, as well as his work for his lead role, Dr. Kelly Brackett, in the popular 1970s medical drama Emergency!, opposite his best friends 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 Lee's birth, Simpson married Robert Simpson, Sr., a Naval Academy officer. The family moved to Key West, Florida, where Lee took the name of his parents, becoming Robert Simpson, Jr.. The early highlights of Simpson's life were acting and dancing (his parents owned a dancing school), and after graduating from the Miami Military Academy in 1952, he traveled to Hollywood with his family, where Fuller's 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."
Fuller's first small role was 1952's Above and Beyond. This part led to landing in a few small roles such as 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 military. He did a tour of duty in Korea, and came back in 1955.
Fuller had considered another career, but at his parents' suggestion, he attended Richard Boone's acting classes, under the tutelage of Sanford Meisner at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse, and reconsidered.
Fuller landed a small role in Friendly Persuasion, where he worked with his future Laramie co-star John Smith and best friend Doug McClure. Director William Wyler suggested to Fuller that he grow sideburns for the role, and he was offered the part when he did.
The following year, his first major movie role was 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 he really wanted, it was the gateway to many other roles which lead to Laramie series and so on and so forth.||”|
—Robert Fuller, emergencyfans.com
Also in 1959, he played an arson character in 'Highway Patrol' starring Broderick Crawford.
Fuller also portrayed a gruff military pilot in the infamous box office dud Megaforce.
Fuller became an immensely popular character actor, guest-starring in dozens of TV series (primarily in Westerns), including Crossroads in 1956, The Big Valley, Official Detective, The Californians, The Restless Gun, The Lawless Years (in the role of "Cutie Jaffe" on May 7, 1959), Panic!, Buckskin, M Squad, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Lux Playhouse, Highway Patrol, Lawman. He also appeared in the series Strange Intruder, where he played a villain who died in the third episode. He also made more appearances in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and Mike Hammer, among many others.
Fuller's guest-starring appearance on February 24, 1959 in the episode "Blind Is the Killer" on NBC's Cimarron City television series 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 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, and Morgan Woodward as Flip.
Patrick Kelly called Fuller to his office in 1959. Kelly offered him an opportunity for a co-starring role opposite Academy Award-winner Ray Milland, in the 1950s detective series, Markham. However, Fuller quickly turned the role down, knowing he wanted to be a cowboy. He was also David Dortort's second choice, for the role of Lorne Greene's youngest cocky, impish son, Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza, only when he lost the role to another young, unfamiliar actor Michael Landon. Right around the same time, Fuller landed the co-starring role of Jess Harper on the NBC successful series Laramie, which ran from 1959 to 1963, opposite unfamiliar actor and best friend, John Smith and familiar 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 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. The show was eventually aired in over 70 countries.
When Laramie’ ended its run, Fuller jumped to another western, Wagon Train, opposite Frank McGrath, veteran movie actor, two-time guest-star of Laramie and future star of The Virginian, John McIntire and Terry Wilson. According to an August 17, 2009 interview with the actor on On Screen and Beyond, he wasn't brought into the show to replace Robert Horton (whom he resembled and who in turn shares the same birthday but is 9 years Fuller's senior) in the role of the wagon train's scout. While Horton had worn a dark cowboy hat, Fuller usually wore a light one, presumably so that viewers would realize that a change had occurred. Horton had already departed from the cast a season earlier, leaving McIntire to carry the series for a year. Fuller stepped in the following year, where he remained with the series, which switched to ABC until it ended its run in 1965.
Over the next six years, Fuller would appear 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, he also 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 Fuller to 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. He also said in an 2009 interview with On Screen and Beyond, he politely turned down the role, twice, but Webb said to Fuller, all Westerns have been canceled for the previous five years since 1971, and wouldn't come back, with the exception of one, that same decade (which were Little House on the Prairie and Kung Fu) so he again didn't have a choice. In an interview with his best friend, James Drury, he said of Fuller's decision (after Drury was asked if he had met Julie London through him), "No, I had known Bobby Troup, her husband very well, we've done several shows together. But I never really knew Julie, except just to meet her. Bobby [of course] became their very lifelong friends with her, and so forth, but I never spent any time on the road with her, but I think Bobby Fuller did. Bobby Troup and I did Perry Mason, and we did several other shows before he ever started Emergency!. 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." Also starring on Emergency!, were previously unfamiliar actors, Randolph Mantooth as Paramedic Johnny Gage and Kevin Tighe as Paramedic Roy DeSoto - the entire cast got along great with Fuller and London. During its first season, as a mid-season replacement in the 1971–1972 season, despite competing against another popular series, All in the Family, it became a hit, as the network decided to renew the show for the 1972-73 season, where it stayed on the air for the next five years. 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 series' star/best friend, Julie London) appeared on Good Morning America.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Fuller played supporting roles in more than 20 television shows, including The Love Boat, The Fall Guy, Murder, She Wrote, Matt Houston, Tour of Duty, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., JAG, and Diagnosis: Murder. Toward the end of his acting career, he had a recurring role as Jess's supposedly, great, great grandson, Wade Harper, before and on the last episode of Walker, Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris and Clarence Gilyard. He also played a different character on the same series, before playing Wade.
Fuller was also an accomplished vocalist and did several 'bandstand gigs' with Bill Aken's 'Los Nomadas' rock group at holiday festivities in Whiskey Flats, California. While acting as Grand Marshall for the local Memorial Day parade, He brought down the house with his vocal rendition of the 1950s song 'Caribbean' singing the same verse over and over. (He later told the band, the first verse was the only verse he knew the lyrics to.) In 1967, he had recorded an EP in Munich, Germany. Most of the songs were recorded in German. Some of the songs include Ein Einsamer Cowboy or "Lonesome Cowboy", Adios Mexicana or "Goodbye Mexican Girl", which was ironic since the title's 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. He has been married to actress Jennifer Savidge (best known for TV's St. Elsewhere) since May 19, 2001. Formerly he was married to Patricia Lee Lyon, with whom he has three children. The two were divorced after 22 years of marriage in 1984.
Since March 18, 1990, Fuller is currently one of the celebrity panels (along with James Drury), who in turn attends the annual Festival of the West, a public/private party where die hard fans of his ask him questions about his roles on Laramie, Wagon Train, among the many of his legendary roles on television. He also tells the story about being a cowboy, himself, included at his party, are some country-western dancing, lunch and dinner.
From Oct. 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 suffered a stroke in 1995, and died 5 years later in 2000). Bobby Troup, who died just 4 months after attending the party, was there despite being in frail health. Fuller and the rest of the stars/crew answered some of the fans questions and remembered the times where their cast-mates gotten along so well.
In Mid-2004, Fuller and Jennifer Savidge moved from Los Angeles to Texas, where they live on a ranch.
Fuller presented while honoring another one of his best friends of four decades, James Drury, to award himself with the 2010 Cowboy Spirit Award at Festival of the West, on March 20, 2010. He also paid tribute to his best friend, John Smith, who died 15 years earlier on January 25, 1995. In the tribute, he recounted everything in Smith's life, especially Fuller's on- and off-screen chemistry with him, during his days on Laramie. Smith also attended the Festival of the West, for two seasons, before declining health prevented him from attending.
On Oct. 9, 2010, Fuller was also invited to attend the Wild West Toy Show. He participated along with best friends Drury, Don Kay and Don Reynolds. The Wild West Toy Show was held in Azle, Texas, and was an event specializing in buying and exchanging Western merchandising, plus horse riding.
In 1961, he won the Best Actor Award in Japan, also that same year, he won the Japanese Golden Order of Merit, which was awarded to him by the Empress of Japan. Fuller was the first American ever to earn this award. In 1970, he won 5 Ottos, which are the German equivalent of the Emmy award. That same year, he won the Buffalo Bill award for Outstanding Western Entertainment.