- Robert Preston (actor)
in This Gun for Hire (1942)
Born Robert Preston Meservey
June 8, 1918
Newton, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died March 21, 1987(aged 68)
Montecito, California, U.S.
Years active 1938–1985 Spouse Catherine Craig (1940-1987) (his death)
Robert Preston (June 8, 1918 – March 21, 1987) was an American stage and film actor.
Preston was born Robert Preston Meservey in Newton, Massachusetts, the son of Ruth L. (née Rea) and Frank Wesley Meservey, a garment worker and billing clerk for American Express. After attending Abraham Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, California, he studied acting at the Pasadena Community Playhouse. He would later serve in the United States Army Air Forces as an intelligence officer with the U.S. 9th Air Force during World War II.
In 1940, he married actress Catherine Craig, to whom he remained married until his death.
When he began appearing in films, the studio ordered Meservey to stop using his actual family name. As Robert Preston, by which name he would be known for his entire professional career, he appeared in many Hollywood films, predominantly Westerns, but is probably best remembered for his performance as "Professor" Harold Hill in Meredith Willson's musical The Music Man (1962). He had already won a Tony Award for his performance in the original Broadway production, in 1957; when Willson adapted his story for the screen, he insisted on Preston's participation over the objections of Jack L. Warner, who had wanted Frank Sinatra for the role. Preston appeared on the cover of Time magazine on July 21, 1958. In 1965 he was the male part of a duo-lead musical, "I Do! I Do!" with Mary Martin, for which he won his second Tony Award. He played the title role in the musical Ben Franklin in Paris and originated the role of Henry II in the original production of The Lion in Winter (Peter O'Toole got an Oscar nod for the film version). In 1974 he starred alongside Bernadette Peters in Jerry Herman's Broadway musical "Mack and Mabel" as Mack Sennett, the famous silent film director. That same year (1974) the film version of Mame, another famed Jerry Herman musical, was released with Preston starring, alongside Lucille Ball, in the role of Beauregard Burnside. In the film, which was not a box-office success, Preston sang "Loving You," which was written and composed by Herman especially for Preston to sing in the film.
In 1961, Preston was asked to make a recording as part of a program by the President's Council on Physical Fitness to get schoolchildren to do more daily exercise. The song, "Chicken Fat," which was written and composed by Meredith Willson and performed by Preston with full orchestral accompaniment, was distributed to schools across the nation and played for students in calisthenics every morning. The song later became a surprise novelty hit and a part of many baby-boomers' childhood memories.
In 1979 and 1980, Preston portrayed determined family patriarch Hadley Chisholm in the CBS western miniseries, The Chisholms. Rosemary Harris played his wife, Minerva. The Preston character died in the ninth of the thirteen episodes of the program. Other co-stars were Ben Murphy, Lance Kerwin, Brett Cullen, and James Van Patten. In the story line, the Chisholms lost their land in Virginia by fraud and left for California to begin a new life.
Although he was not known for his singing voice, Preston appeared in several other stage and film musicals, notably Mame (1974) and Victor Victoria (1982), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. His last role in a theatrical film was in The Last Starfighter (1984), in which he acted out the role of an interstellar con man/military recruiter called "Centauri;" he said that he based his approach to the character of Centauri on that which he had taken to Professor Harold Hill. He also starred in the HBO 1985 movie Finnegan, Begin Again along with Mary Tyler Moore. His final role was in the TV movie Outrage! (1986).
Preston died of lung cancer on March 21, 1987, at the age of 68.
- The Male Animal (May 15, 1952 - Jan 31, 1953)
- Men of Distinction (Apr 30, 1953 - May 2, 1953)
- His and Hers (Jan 7, 1954 - Mar 13, 1954)
- The Magic and the Loss (Apr 9, 1954 - May 1, 1954)
- The Tender Trap (Oct 13, 1954 - Jan 8, 1955)
- Janus (Nov 24, 1955 - Jun 30, 1956)
- The Hidden River (Jan 23, 1957 - Mar 16, 1957)
- The Music Man (Dec 19, 1957 - Apr 15, 1961)
- Too True to be Good (Mar 12, 1963 - Jun 1, 1963)
- Nobody Loves an Albatross (Dec 19, 1963 - Jun 20, 1964)
- Ben Franklin in Paris (Oct 27, 1964 - May 1, 1965)
- The Lion in Winter (Mar 3, 1966 - May 21, 1966)
- I Do! I Do! (December 5, 1966 - June 15, 1968)
- Mack & Mabel (Oct 6, 1974 - Nov 30, 1974)
- Sly Fox (Dec 14, 1976 - Feb 19, 1978)
- King of Alcatraz (1938)
- Illegal Traffic (1938)
- Disbarred (1939)
- Union Pacific (1939)
- Beau Geste (1939)
- Typhoon (1940)
- North West Mounted Police (1940)
- Moon Over Burma (1940)
- The Lady from Cheyenne (1941)
- Parachute Battalion (1941)
- New York Town (1941)
- Night of January 16th (1941)
- Pacific Blackout (1941)
- Reap the Wild Wind (1942)
- This Gun for Hire (1942)
- Wake Island (1942)
- Star Spangled Rhythm (1942)
- Night Plane from Chungking (1943)
- Wings Up (1943)
- The Macomber Affair (1947)
- Variety Girl (1947)
- Wild Harvest (1947)
- Big City (1948)
- Blood on the Moon (1948)
- Whispering Smith (1948)
- The Lady Gambles (1949)
- Tulsa (1949)
- The Sundowners (1950)
- Cloudburst (1951)
- When I Grow Up (1951)
- Best of the Badmen (1951)
- My Outlaw Brother (1951)
- Face to Face (1952)
- The Last Frontier (1955)
- Sentinels in the Air (1956) (narrator)
- The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960)
- The Music Man (1962)
- How the West Was Won (1962)
- Island of Love (1963)
- All the Way Home (1963)
- Junior Bonner (1972)
- Child's Play (1972)
- Mame (1974)
- Semi-Tough (1977)
- S.O.B. (1981)
- Victor Victoria (1982)
- The Last Starfighter (1984)
- Finnegan Begin Again (1985)
- Outrage! (TV) (1986)
- Robert Preston at Find a Grave
- Robert Preston at the Internet Broadway Database
- Robert Preston at the Internet Movie Database
- An online MP3 recording of "Chicken Fat"
- Photographs and literature
Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (1948–1975)
Paul Hartman (1948) · Ray Bolger (1949) · Ezio Pinza (1950) · Robert Alda (1951) · Phil Silvers (1952) · Thomas Mitchell (1953) · Alfred Drake (1954) · Walter Slezak (1955) · Ray Walston (1956) · Rex Harrison (1957) · Robert Preston (1958) · Richard Kiley (1959) · Jackie Gleason (1960) · Richard Burton (1961) · Robert Morse (1962) · Zero Mostel (1963) · Bert Lahr (1964) · Zero Mostel (1965) · Richard Kiley (1966) · Robert Preston (1967) · Robert Goulet (1968) · Jerry Orbach (1969) · Cleavon Little (1970) · Hal Linden (1971) · Phil Silvers (1972) · Ben Vereen (1973) · Christopher Plummer (1974) · John Cullum (1975)
Complete list · (1948–1975) · (1976–2000) · (2001–2025)
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