Robert Preston (actor)
|Born||Robert Preston Meservey
June 8, 1918
Newton, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||March 21, 1987
Montecito, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Catherine Craig (1940-1987) (his death)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||U.S. Army Air Forces|
|Years of service||1942–45|
|Unit||386th Bomb Group|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Robert Preston (June 8, 1918 – March 21, 1987) was an American stage and film actor best remembered for originating the role of Harold Hill in the 1957 musical The Music Man and the 1962 film adaptation. He is also known for his Oscar-nominated role as Carroll "Toddy" Todd in Victor Victoria (1982).
Preston was born Robert Preston Meservey in Newton, Massachusetts, the son of Ruth L. (née Rea; 1895-1973) and Frank Wesley Meservey (1899–1996), a garment worker and a billing clerk for American Express respectively. After attending Abraham Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, he studied acting at the Pasadena Community Playhouse.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into World War II, he joined the United States Army Air Corps and served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. 9th Air Force with the 386th Bomb Group (Medium). At the end of the war in Europe, the 386th and Captain Robert Meservey, an S-2 Officer (intelligence), were stationed in St. Trond, Belgium. Meservey's job had been receiving intelligence reports from 9th Air Force headquarters and briefing the bomber crews on what to expect in accomplishing their missions.
When he began appearing in films, the studio ordered Meservey to stop using his actual family name. As Robert Preston, the name by which he would be known for his entire professional career, he appeared in many Hollywood films, predominantly Westerns but not exclusively. He was "Digby Geste" in the sound remake of Beau Geste (1939) with Gary Cooper and Ray Milland, and featured in North West Mounted Police (1940), also with "Coop".
Preston is, however, 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 stage production of The Lion in Winter, which Peter O'Toole portrayed in the film version and received an Oscar nod. In 1974, he starred alongside Bernadette Peters in Jerry Herman's Broadway musical Mack & Mabel as Mack Sennett, the famous silent film director. That same year 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 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, written and composed by Meredith Willson, 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 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. Preston's character died in the ninth of the 13 episodes which also included co-stars Ben Murphy, Brian Kerwin, Brett Cullen, and James Van Patten. The story chronicled how the Chisholm family lost their land in Virginia by fraud and migrated to 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 other film roles include Ace Bonner in Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner (1972), "Big Ed" Bookman in Semi-Tough (1977), and Dr. Irving Finegarten in Blake Edwards 1981 Hollywood satire, S.O.B.. His last theatrical film role was in The Last Starfighter (1984), as 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. Indeed, the role of Centauri was written for him with his performance as Harold Hill in mind. He also starred in the HBO 1985 movie Finnegan, Begin Again with Mary Tyler Moore. His final role was in the television film Outrage! (1986).
He was an intensely private person. There are no official biographies of Preston but he gave several interviews late in his career, and interviews and articles at Tumblr refer both to his career and to his personal life.
- 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)
|1950||Lux Radio Theatre||Alexander's Ragtime Band|
- Ross, Lillian; Ross, Helen (1962). The Player: A Profile Of An Art. New York City: Simon and Schuster. p. 404. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
- "Robert Preston Meservey". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
- Mano, D. Keith (June 28, 1982). "Playing Devilishly Against Type in Victor/victoria, He's Bigger—and Campier—than Life". People. 17 (25). Retrieved 2015-10-27.
- "Theater: Pied Piper of Broadway". TIME. July 21, 1958. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
- Plummer, Ryan (July 10, 2014). "Everything You Never Knew About The Making Of Last Starfighter". io9. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
- Page, Tim (March 23, 1987). "Robert Preston, Actor, is dead at 68". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-10-27.
- "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.