In a career spanning six decades and more than 100 film and television credits, Mr. Robertson’s path to stardom was often thorny.
In the 1970s, he gained notoriety as a whistleblower in a check-forging scandal that fingered a studio chief as a thief and embezzler. He said that instead of being praised for his civic-mindedness, he was essentially blacklisted for several years for airing the indiscretion of a powerful mogul.
“The adage remains: ‘Thou shalt not confront big mogul on corruption, or thou shalt not work,’ ” Mr. Robertson said.
Mr. Robertson had long resented the Hollywood system that elevated him to stardom in “Picnic” (1955) with William Holden and “Autumn Leaves” (1956) with Joan Crawford, then seemed not to know what to do with him.
A versatile and subtle craftsman, Mr. Robertson bristled over the lack of quality control under a long-term studio contract.
He was cast as a pretty-boy hero in musicals, featherweight comedies and the most unlikely of dramas. He appeared as a beach-bum philosopher in “Gidget” (1959), opposite Sandra Dee, and as a Greek sponge diver in a trifle called “As the Sea Rages” (1960).
“Nobody ever did such a wide variety of mediocrity,” he told the New York Times years later.
While he held his own in virile parts — he was reportedly Kennedy’s personal choice for “P.T. 109” — Mr. Robertson was often at his best when he subverted his all-American good looks to play men of ruthless intelligence and sinister intentions.
As a right-wing presidential candidate in “The Best Man” (1964), based on a Gore Vidal play, Mr. Robertson was singled out by film critic Judith Crist for “dominating the screen with a ferocious and righteous passion.”
In “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), directed by Sydney Pollack, Mr. Robertson was a two-faced CIA officer who ordered a hit on an innocent researcher played by Robert Redford.
“Three Days of the Condor” was buoyed in popularity by its timeliness. It was made at the height of the political paranoia stemming from the Watergate scandal and congressional revelations of CIA misconduct. Film scholar Jeanine Basinger said Mr. Robertson “made a good villain for an era in which we were getting confused who were the good guys and who were the bad guys — because he looked like a good guy. There
was something quintessentially American about him.”
By starring in “Charly,” playing a simple-minded bakery janitor who temporarily gains a genius IQ through a scientific experiment, Mr. Robertson made a bold move for a relatively big star, Basinger said. It would be decades before it became common for leading actors — including Sean Penn, Dustin Hoffman and Billy Bob Thornton — to play mentally disabled characters. The role earned Mr. Robertson an Academy Award.