Robert Fuller was born in Troy, New York on 29th July 1933 at 1.50pm and was raised in Key West, Florida. He was an only child and his birth name was Leonard Leroy Lee, but he was nicknamed Buddy Lee by his friends. However when his mother Betty remarried a man called Robert Simpson, Robert took the name Robert Cole Simpson Jnr. This was changed when Robert started acting and the decided he needed a different handle. He had no idea what his name would be so he discussed it with his family. His mother knew that they had an ancestor called Fuller who sailed from England on the Mayflower in 1620, so she suggested the name of Fuller. Robert thought it was good name so adopted it as his own becoming Robert Fuller.
From his early years entertainment was an important part of his life, as his parents ran a Dancing School. Both his mother Betty and his step father Robert Simpson were in fact dancers. His step father's stage name was Robert Cole. They both danced in partnership until Betty had to retire due to a pinched nerve. At that point his step father carried on alone. Robert is a very good dancer himself, but more of that later. Following his graduation from Miami Military Academy, he moved to Hollywood with his parents. It was there that he started his show business career as a stuntman and working as an extra.
To make extra money, Robert worked at the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre, a movie theatre in Hollywood whilst at the same time trying to develop his acting career, and in 1952 was given his first role as an extra in the war film "Above And Beyond" which starred Robert Taylor. This was followed in 1953, when on the advice of his father, Robert tried out for dancing roles in musicals. This resulted in him appearing in musicals such as "I Love Melvin" which starred Debbie Reynolds, Latin Lovers with Lana Turner and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" which starred Marilyn Monroe.
In 1953 Robert was drafted and had to put his career as an actor on hold. He did his tour of duty in Korea, then when he returned home in 1955 he decided to give up his career in show business as he did not see much future in it. However his parents persuaded him to attend Richard Boone's acting class which impressed him so much he changed his mind and decided to continue with acting. Soon after Richard Boone had to give up the classes as he had secured the role of Paladin in "Have Gun Will Travel", but he had been so impressed with Robert that he sent him to study with Sanford Meisner at the New York Neighbourhood Playhouse School Of The Theatre. Meisner was a highly respected acting teacher who taught people of the calibre of Gregory Peck, Jon Voight, Robert Duvall, Edmund O'Brien and Grace Kelly. So Robert was in good company.
Then in 1956 came his first speaking part in a movie where he played a union soldier and said to Gary Cooper "Bet you a dollar you can't do that again". The film was "Friendly Persuasion", and not only was it Robert's first talking part in a movie, it was also the first time he worked with his Laramie co-star John Smith. Director William Wyler wanted an actor with sideburns to play Robert's part. He had auditioned an actor with false sideburns but when he saw Robert's real sideburns he asked him if he could act - Robert said "I sure can" and the part was his.
His big break came in 1956 when he landed his first major movie role in "Teenage Thunder". To get the part he and his good friend Chuck Courtney staged a fight to convince the Director, Paul Helmick, that he was the man for the part. Originally Helmick had wanted Edd Byrnes but after seeing Chuck and Robert perform Helmick gave the role of bad guy Maurie Weston to Robert. The very same year Robert did another film for the same company that produced Teenage Thunder and again worked with the same production team. This film was the cult science fiction movie "The Brain From Planet Arous" After over 50 years on this film is still available and can be bought on DVD.
This was followed by a part in a science fiction series where he played a bad guy and was killed in the 3rd episode. The name of this series was Outpost In Space.
He spent the next couple of years doing featured and guest star roles in a variety of TV programs mainly westerns, details of which can be found in our FILMOGRAPHY.
In February 1959 Robert appeared again with John Smith. This time he had guest star status in the western series Cimarron City. It was this appearance that led to his being offered the role of Jess Harper in "Laramie". The story goes as follows. Following his appearnce in Cimarron City Robert was summoned to the Vice President Of Talent, Patrick Kelly's office. He went there thinking he was going to be fired. However Kelly told him that he liked the work he had done in a number of shows over the previous year and wanted him to do a TV series. This must have been a very exciting prospect for Robert, however excitement soon turned to disappointment when Kelly offered him the second lead in a detective series starring Ray Milland called "Markham" Robert refused the role on the grounds he wanted to do a good western. Kelly was naturally dumbfounded that his offer was being refused but he accepted Robert's decision and Robert left his office. Then a couple of weeks later Robert was summoned again to Patrick Kelly's office. This time he offered Robert a part in a new 30 minute western called Laramie. Robert read the script and loved it, but again things were about to turn awkward. Kelly offered Robert the role of Slim Sherman - Robert wanted the part of Jess Harper !!! So again Kelly found himself being refused. He explained to Robert that the role of Jess had already been given to John Smith who was already under contract with Revue. But yet again Robert stuck to his guns and again the two men parted without agreement. The very same day Robert's agent called him to say that he was required to test for the part of Jess Harper. The next day he was given the role that he wanted so much, a role that was truly made for him. John Smith was given the role of Slim Sherman and hindsight shows that these were the right roles for each of them. Robert Fuller WAS Jess Harper and John Smith WAS Slim Sherman. Had that role change not happened then Laramie would not have worked. Over the next 4 years Robert immortalized the character of JESS HARPER and gained millions of fans worldwide. Robert said of this role that it was the best part he ever had.
In December 1962, while Laramie was still at its peak Robert married actress Patty Lyon.
Laramie ran from 1959-1963 and from there Robert went straight into "Wagon Train" as chief scout Cooper Smith. Coop was a less volatile character than Jess Harper and Robert played him very differently. The move into Wagon Train gave Robert the opportunity to work with some of the best stars in the business, people like John McIntire, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine and Rhonda Fleming.
When "Wagon Train" finished in 1965, Robert moved onto the big screen, and in 1966 got his first starring role in a movie. This was the western "Incident At Phantom Hill" where he was re-united with Dan Duryea who had made a couple of guest spots in Laramie. It was an all action western where Robert's character Matt Martin had many of the characteristics of Jess Harper. Also in 1966 Robert was given second billing to Yul Brynner in the sequel to "The Magnificent Seven", a film aptly titled "Return Of The Seven". He was so busy in 66 that the filming of his role in Return Of The Seven had to be held up while he was in Europe promoting "Incident At Phantom Hill". The character of Vin he portrayed in "Seven" was the part previously occupied by Steve McQueen who had now gone on to become a superstar. McQueen was not offered the role in the sequel because it is likely that if he had been in the film then Yul Brynner would not. The stories of Brynner's less than cordial relationship with McQueen are now legendary. With Robert it was different as he and Yul got along very well, and in fact remained friends until Brynner died in 1985.
Robert remained busy doing movies in Germany, Israel and the States over the next few years, then in 1970 he made one of his best ever movies "The Hard Ride". This was a stunning film about a vietnam vet, Phil Duncan who brought his dead buddie's body home and sets out to find his buddie's old biker friends to get them to attend the funeral. This was Robert Fuller at his best and while there were good performances he carried the film. Today you can still buy the soundtrack and the video.
Jack Webb saw Robert's performance in "The Hard Ride" and decided he wanted him to star in a new TV medical drama series called Emergency. Robert was grateful for the offer but did not want to play a doctor and he told Webb so. But Webb was determined and finally persuaded Robert to take the part. True, it was a departure from the action roles his fans were so used to, but Emergency was a major television success which ran for 7 years and resulted in another generation of fans - the show continues to be very popular still. Over 20 years after it was finished there was an Emergency re-union which was attended by most of the stars and fans from all over the world. Robert's old friend John Smith appeared in a couple of episodes playing a Fire Captain.
Since then Robert has been very busy in a wide variety of roles, sometimes to the delight of his fans, he returns to the western genre (check out FILMOGRAPHY)
Robert marriage to Patty Lyon ended in 1984 after 22years. They had 3 children Robert, Christine and Patrick. Nowadays Robert is married to the lovely Jennifer Savidge who played Nurse Lucy in "St Elsewhere" and appeared regularly in the hit TV series JAG.
Robert’s last performance was playing 2 roles in the final episode of Walker Texas Ranger. He played Ranger Wade Harper and an old west Town Sheriff.
Robert retired after that show and it is fitting that his final part was in a western role.
In July 2004 Robert and Jennifer re-located from Los Angeles to Texas where they now live on a beautiful ranch. He still enjoys his lifelong passion of fishing and he now has more time to enjoy it.
Despite being retired he attends a number of western festivals where he spends a lot of time with his fans who have stayed loyal for over 50 years. Indeed at the National Festival Of the West in Phoenix Robert hosted many private parties with his fans where he would sit for hours talking to them and enjoying telling stories of his time in show business. It is testament to the talent and personality of Robert Fuller that fans still travel from the four corners of the earth just to spend a couple of days with him at the Festivals he attends. He has always loved his fans and that remains true today. He still has an international fan club – The Robert Fuller Fandom.
Robert Fuller has had a long and very successful career which is proven by the awards he has received. Look at this !
1961 - Best Actor Award in Japan
1961 - Japanese Golden Order Of Merit - awarded to him by the Empress of Japan. Robert was the first American to receive this award
1970 - Best Actor in Germany. Robert actually won 5 Ottos which are German awards that are the equivalent of the Emmy.
1970 - Buffalo Bill Award for outstanding western entertainment.
1975 - Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame
August 5th 1989 - Golden Boot Award
The Golden Boot Award is given by the Motion Picture and Television Fund and is in recognition of the best personification and life style of a cowboy. The Golden Boot event is held over 2 days. There is a casual party the night before the award ceremony and the next night there is a huge dinner affair, ticket holders only. All proceeds from the ticket sales go to the Fund. The Fund is used to assist old actors, unemployed or indigent with medical expenses, treatment, food, clothing, families. They have a hospital, medical clinics and assisted care housing and a nursing home. (Information courtesy of Moira Purnell)
2002 - Western Legend Honoree - Kanab Little Hollywood Walk Of Fame
March 20th 2004 - Cowboy Spirit Award - National Festival Of The West, Phoenix, Arizona
April 12th 2008 - Inducted into the Hall Of Great Western Performers - National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma
All of the above information about Robert is to the best of our knowledge accurate and true, and is published in good faith.
Last Updated 8th June 2008
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