Robert J. Wilke

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Robert J. Wilke
The Rifleman. = Ward Haskins
Robert J. Wilke in Bonanza
Born (1914-05-18)May 18, 1914
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Died March 28, 1989(1989-03-28) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Cancer
Nationality American
Occupation Film and television actor
Years active 1936-1981
Spouse(s) Patricia Wilke (?-1989, his death) 1 son

Robert J. Wilke (May 18, 1914 – March 28, 1989) was a prolific American film and television actor noted primarily for his roles as villains, mostly in Westerns. Prior to his film and television career, Wilke was a star left half-back for the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He was the rushing leader for Notre Dame in 1936 and 1937. He was an All-Star Game Participant in 1937. On November 21, 1936, Wilke scored two touchdowns, both by way of Notre Dame's famous "Sucker Play" or "Perfect Play", versus then #1-ranked Northwestern, crushing Northwestern's Championship hopes. This game was ranked the #2 Greatest Victory in Notre Dame Stadium.

After his collegiate football career, Wilke started as a stuntman in the 1930s and his first appearance on screen was in San Francisco (1936). He soon began to acquire regular character parts, mainly as a heavy, and made his mark when, along with Lee Van Cleef and Sheb Wooley, he played one of the "three men waiting at the station" in High Noon (1952).

A western "bad guy", Wilke was among those actors who fall into the "man with no name" category. While his face was instantly recognizable, few cinemagoers actually knew his name.

Television westerns

Unlike Lee Van Cleef, Wilke never got the "big break" but did appear on many if not most television westerns, including seven episodes each of NBC's Laramie and CBS's Gunsmoke.

Wilke appeared eight times from 1951 to 1953 on the syndicated western series The Range Rider, starring Jock Mahoney and Dick Jones. He was a guest star five times thereafter on Cheyenne, five times on Bonanza, four times on Wagon Train and Death Valley Days, and three times on Clint Eastwood's Rawhide, Duncan Renaldo's The Cisco Kid, Pat Conway's Tombstone Territory, and Fess Parker's Daniel Boone. He appeared twice on The Virginian, Cimarron Strip, and The Guns of Will Sonnett, and once on Barry Sullivan's The Tall Man, Kirby Grant's Sky King, Andrew Duggan's Lancer, Robert Conrad's The Wild Wild West, and the ABC family western The Monroes.

Wilke appeared as a dishonest fight promoter in the 1958 episode "The Fighter" of NBC's western series, Bat Masterson, having engaged on screen in fisticuffs with Gene Barry, who played Masterson.

In 1960, Wilke was cast as Red Dog Hanlon in the episode "End of a Dream" of the NBC western series, Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin and Noah Beery, Jr. In the story line, Cliff Robertson, as the con man Martinius Van Der Brig persuades series character Grey Holden (McGavin) to transport by riverboat a group of pioneers to "Rolling Stone", a tract of land which he recently purchased that cannot match the expectations of the settlers.[1]

In 1961, Wilke appeared as Gil Fletcher, a corrupt marshal in Billings, Montana, in the episode "The Fatal Step" of NBC's Laramie. Fletcher tries to steal the $20,000 payroll taken in a stage roberry by Wes Darrin, played by Dennis Patrick and a younger partner, Tad Kimball, portrayed by Gary Clarke, later a regular on The Virginian. Series character Jess Harper, played by Robert Fuller, is riding shotgun on the stage. Kimball regrets taking part in the crime and tries belatedly to make amends, as Fletcher tries to seize the loot stashed in an abandoned mine by Darrin and Kimball. Series character Slim Sherman, played by John Smith, shoots Fletcher in self-defense and remarks that he had never before drawn on a lawman and hoped never again to shoot at a badge.[2]

In the 1965-1966 television season, Wilke played a lawman, Marshal Sam Corbett, in the 34-episode ABC western series The Legend of Jesse James, who in vain tried to capture the outlaws Jesse James and his brother Frank James. Ann Doran co-starred as the Jameses mother, Zerelda James Samuel. In 1960, Wilke had portrayed Jesse James' associate, Cole Younger, in the short-lived NBC western series Overland Trail with William Bendix and Doug McClure. In his only appearance on Perry Mason, Wilke played Deputy Sheriff Connors in the 1963 episode, "The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito."

Wilke played a hitman in The Far Country (1954) and continued to work steadily in films and television over the next twenty years. More western credits followed in Man of the West (1958) and numerous lesser known films.

In 1960, Wilke played a cameo in The Magnificent Seven as the railroad bully, Wallace, who was quickly killed off by James Coburn in the memorable gun v. knife fight. He had an unusually sympathetic (and large) role in Days of Heaven (1978) as farmer Sam Shepard's ally, the farm foreman.

In 1966, Wilke was cast as the courageous Sheriff McBain in the episode "Brute Angel" of the syndicated western series Death Valley Days, hosted by Robert Taylor. In the story line McBain must arrest the young cut-throat Sam Bolt (Sherwood Price) and transport him for trial for murder in Denver. McBain prays for divine intervention; his friend Pony Cragin (Jim Davis) hears the prayer and removes bullets from Bolt's gun prior to the arrest attempt. Jean Engstrom is cast as McBain's wife, Esther.[3]

Wilke guest starred on many other television westerns too, including Maverick, Tales of Wells Fargo, Have Gun–Will Travel, Bronco, The Westerner, Cheyenne, Lawman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Zorro, and The Rifleman.

Other roles

Outside of westerns, Wilke appeared in such films as From Here to Eternity (1953) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), in which he was cast as the first mate of the Nautilus. It is Wilke, who, in the film, warns Captain Nemo that a giant squid is approaching the ship, and who utters the line "We understand, sir, and we're with you", when Nemo announces his final intentions.

His drama/adventure roles included U.S. Marshal, Peter Gunn, Tarzan, Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, and The Untouchables. And in 1953 Wilke, playing a henchman for an East European counterfeiter, shoved John Hamilton and George Reeves into side-by-side steam cabinets, locks them in, turns up the thermostat to charbroil and leaves them to bake in "Perry White's Scoop", an episode of the still popular series Adventures of Superman.

Wilke played Deputy Sheriff Connors in the 1963 episode, "The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito" on CBS' s Perry Mason. He demonstrated his versatility by portraying a golf instructor, Danny Donigan in a 1962 episode, "Robbie the Caddie", on Fred MacMurray's ABC sitcom, My Three Sons. In 1964, Wilke played Tom Carter, the golf instructor of Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball) in The Lucy Show episode "Lucy Takes Up Golf".

Wilke's final film role was somewhat against type as General Barnicke in the 1981 comedy Stripes.


Wilke was an excellent golfer. Author Dan Jenkins, in his book The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, describes a golf match at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles:

Mr. Wilke joined Mr. Jenkins, Vic Damone, James Garner, Jack Ging, Glen Campbell, Donald O'Connor, and Lindsay Crosby in the first and only Sports Illustrated Open Invitation at Riviera. The pro at Riviera at the time, Mac Hunter, is quoted as saying, "Bob Wilke used to be head and shoulders better than any of the actors and personalities. And he's still very good. A solid four handicap, but his putting is deteriorating. Wilke must have won more celebrity tournaments than you can count.[4]

Jack Ging edged out Bob Wilke for the win that day.[4] James Garner also said that Wilke was the best golfer among the showbiz crowd at the Riviera in his book The Garner Files.[5]

Selected filmography

See also


  1. ""End of a Dream", Riverboat, September 19, 1960". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 21, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. ""The Fatal Step": Laramie, October 24, 1961". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved November 17, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. ""Brute Ange" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 5, 1966. Retrieved May 28, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jenkins, Dan (1970). "5: "Lights...Camera...Double Bogey"". The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate. Fireside/Simon & Schuster. p. ????. ISBN 9780671667504.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Garner, James; Jon Winokur (2011). The Garner Files: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster. p. 159. ISBN 978-1-4516-4260-5. OCLC 709673421.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links