Jason Robards

Cussler described Admiral James Sandecker as being a little over five feet tall, with flaming red hair and a precisely trimmed Van Dyke beard.

Biography (Press Kit)     Tall, lean, almost gaunt, with dolorous deep-set eyes, Jason Robards is repose suggests a man on the edge of total defeat–or, a split-second later, just the opposite–an enormously successful businessman, perhaps, or a government official joyfully riding the apex of a brilliant career.  The latter characterization makes up, in part, the Robards role as Vice Admiral James Sandecker, U.S.N., Retired, in the ITC Films/Marble Arch Productions motion picture, “Raise The Titanic!”In the new film, Robards has been appointed by the President of the United States to administrate the workings of a proven defense scheme utilizing laser beams to form an invisible, impregnable screen around the country.  To power the beams, the country needs a few hundred pounds of a rare mineral which was found and mined only on a remote island in the U.S.S.R.The mineral is believed to be in the hold of the White Star liner Titanic which collided with an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic years ago during its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York.  The Titanic must be located and, since it is down too deep for divers, must be raised to the surface.Robards heads a cast of stars that includes Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer and Alec Guinness.  The contemporary adventure drama is directed by Jerry Jameson and produced by William Frye, from a screenplay by Adam Kennedy adapted from Clive Cussler’s best-selling novel of the same title.  It is a Lord Grade Presentation of a Martin Starger Production, and Starger is the executive producer.  The film will be released by AFD (Associated Film Distribution) in the United States and Canada.Jason Robards is set apart as an actor by several attitudes, as well as by his obvious talent.  For instance, while he does not scoff at what money can buy, it is not a promary consideration in his choice of assignments.  He has turned down impressive offers in order to perform on Public Television for $300.”My father gave me a love for the theater,” he says, referring to the late Jason Robards, Sr., who was for many years a top star on the stage, silent screen and in talkies.  “I learned what a fickle profession this is.  Big money is not always the reward.”Robards was born in Chicago on July 26, 1922 while his father was thre in a revival of his great stage hit, “Lightnin’.”  His mother, the former Hope Glanville, was not of a theatrical background, and his parents were divorced when Jason was five.  His mother moved to the state of Washington and Jason was left in his father’s custody.  The two were very close.  Jason claims his father was his closest friend, but Robards, Sr. was away touring with shows much of the time and Jason was enroleled in various boarding schools, which he abhorred.Robards, Sr. eventually quit the road and settled in a Beverly Hills mansion, where father and son were reunited.  Robards, Sr. made close to 175 motion pictures, and they lived in high style.  Then, suddenly, the senior Robards’ eyesight failed and he couldn’t find work.  The family moved to a more modest home in the Hollywood Hills when Jason was twelve.  The experience was traumatic for both father and son.”Here was my first intimation of how utterly insecure a profession show business really is, how it is filled with heartbreak,” Robards says.

Jason attended Hollywood High School, participated in baseball, basketball, football, track, and the drama class (“Where I got a passing mark because I was the best miler on the track team.”).  Upon graduation from high school in 1939, he joined the U.S. Navy and served through World War II as a radioman.  He was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese struck.  He won the Navy Cross for valor, 13 battle stars, and once floated around in an angry sea all night when his ship was sunk off Guadalcanal.

It was during his wartime service in the Pacific that he decided to follow his father’s footsteps and become an actor.  He began his studies in 1946, attended classes for eight months, then found work iwth a stock company at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  He worked hard in the theater for the next six years, barely earning enough to move from job to job.  He toiled for the Children’s World Theater for $16.00 a week, played bit parts with the D’Oyly Carte troupe, and did bit parts on radio.

In 1951, Robards became an understudy and assistant stage manager for “Stalag 17,” which ran for over a year on Broadway, then toured with it in one of the secondary roles.  It was the first job Robards had which provided temporary security.  It was not until 1953, however, that his career took definite turn in his favor when he met Jose Quintero, who cast him in the off-Broadway Circle In the Square production of “American Gothic.”

In 1956, Quintero acquired the rights to stage Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman cometh” off-Broadway, and Robards has called in to play the leading role of Hickey, the flamboyant traveling salesman whose mission in life-a vain one– is to bring a group of sodden barflies back to the realities of life.  Robards won unparalleled raves from the critics an became an overnight sensation.  It led to his being cast by the same director for the Broadway production of O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which won the Pulitzer Prize.  He later repeated the role in the film production, co-starred with Katharine Hepburn.

From that point on Robards’ career has been a succession of triumphs.  He played a season of Shakespeare in “Henry IV” and “The Winter’s Tale” at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  In 1958, he was back on Broadway in his first starring role as Manley Halliday in the “The Disenchanted,” a character closely resembling F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This performance gained for Robards his first acting awards–the Tony Award, the ANTA Award and the N.Y.. Drama Critics Circle Award for the best male lead in a straight play.

During the summer of 1959, Robards returned to Shakespeare to play the title role in “Macbeth” opposite Siobhan McKenna at the Cambridge, Massachusetts Drama Festival.  The following year, he appeared on Broadawy in Lilliam Hellman’s “Toys In The Attic” as Julian Berniers, the hapless brother who is destined for defeat despite his good intentions.  For this performance, he again won the Drama Critics Circle Award for the best male lead.  His subsequent stage appearances were in “Big Fish,” the stage production of “A Thousand Clowns,” and in leading roles with the Lincoln Center Repertory Company’s productions of Arthur Miller’s “After The Fall” and S.N. Behrman’s “But For Whom Charlie.”

Robards’ first Hollywood assignment was the 1959 film, “the Journey,” which was followed with “By Love Possessed,” and other early films included “Tender Is The Night,” “Act One” and “A Big Hand For The Little Lady.”

Academy Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award–Jason Robards has won each.  “A Thousand Clowns,” his favorite film in which he starred to date, garnered four Academy Award nominations following its release in 1966.  Since winning Oscars as Best Supporting Actor for “All The President’s Men” and for “Julia,” he has gone on to play leading roles in “Comes A Horseman,” “Hurricane,” and “Cabo Blanco.”  On television, his latest credits include “Washington:  Behind Closed Doors,” “Howard and Melvin,” “Haywire” and the title role of “F.D.R. The Last Year.”  Most recently, he signed to portray U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in “The Legend Of The Lone Ranger,” a Lord Grade and Jack Wrather Presentation of a Martin Starger Production which also will be released in the U.S. and Canada by AFD (Associated Film Distribution) In December.

In 1974, after recovering from an automobile accident in California that almost killed  him.  Robards appeared with Colleen Dewhurst in O’Neill’s “A Moon For The Misbegotten.”  It became the critical success of the season.

Robards helped to launch the Lincoln Center Repertory Company’s first season in New York with a highly lauded performance in Arthur Miller’s “After The Fall.”  In 1971, he appeared in the John F. Kennedy Center’s inaugural production of “The Country Girl” and, When he took it to Broadway, he was voted the year’s best actor in Variety’s poll.

*    *    *

JASON ROBARDS IN CANDID TALK ABOUT MOVIE ACTING Actor Jason Robards, currently starred in “Raise The Titanic!” was holding forth, in simple, straightforward language.”First, they show good-looking machinery.  Then, there’s excitement, and the stuff is thrilling.  Now, dialogue starts between the other actors, y’know, character development, plot continuity.”Then, they cut to me, and I always look authoritative and say something like:  ‘…And then, what will you do?'”That’s my role,” says Robards, now one of America’s leading actors, “and looks easy but it’s a damn good one.

Jason Robards didn’t put the letter “e” in the word “grey,” but he’s one of a few human beings who keep it there.  While his look is grey-grizzled or smooth, according to the role–he ranks high on the roster of actors whom leading ladies prefer.  Lauren Bacall, from whom he is now divorced, says he’s sexy in the Bogart and Sinatra tradition.  Lois O’Connor, his fourth wife and the mother of his two most recent children out of a total of six, just smiles and suggests that the interrogator read Jason’s soon-to-be-published book.

Jason says:  “Flaunt it.”

On the set of “Raise The Titanic!” Jason sat quietly in the Officer’s quarters of a U.S. Navy’s LST.  As usual, he was reading.

“It’s a new play,” he said.  “It’s great to start reading a new play.  It’s greater if you want to finish it.”

In “Raise The Titanic!” Robards portrays a retired U.S. Navy admiral who now heads an underwater research agency.  He is appointed by the President of the U.S. to act as his liaison and direct a long-shot project to locate, then raise to the surface of the North Atlantic, the wreck of the Titanic which struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York in 1912 and sank.  On board is a mineral which is vital to completing an impregnable defense system for America.  The team charged with the task are a polyglot: an adventurer, several scientists, many bureaucrats and the military.  Robards handles them all.

He’s the crisp voice of authority in a movie where a correctly-given command or a growled-out question starts spine-tingling action.

“Like the good old days,” said Robards.

“I believe in this type of film.  It’s instructive, it’s thrilling, it’s diverting.  It has no pretnetions.  And it’s entertainment in the same general sense as ‘Julia” or ‘All The president’s Men.’ ”

“Raise The Titanic!” was produced by William Frye and directed by Jerry Jameson, the team which brought in the very successful “Airport, ’77.”  (Frye also produced “Airport, ’75,” equally block-busting.)  Robards is starred with Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer and Alec Guinness.  The film was produced meticulously, but expensively, as a Lord Grade Presentation of a Martin Starger Production.  Location filming took place in San Diego, Calif., Washington, D.C., London and Cornwall, England, Greece, Alaska and on Malta.  Interiors were filmed at CBS Studio Center in Studio City, Calif.

What is it about this role specifically that has intrigued an actor who has done everything from Shakespeare to O’Neill and back again?

“Money,” he says candidly.  “And because my son, Jake, will like.”  “Right now, we’re working on one of those toy models of the Titanic–Jake and I.  It’s hard to do, y’know.  First, you have to paint those little parts, then glue them on.  It’s half-finished.  Jake knows all about the Titanic.  He’s an expert on it.”

Jake is five years old.

A few weeks earlier, while standing on a cold, wind-swept tarmac at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., enveloped in a tweed-lined trench coat, Robards declared:

“As an actor I think film is not an actor’s medium.  It’s the director’s.”  He nodded toward Jameson, who was laying out the geography involved in removing a critically-injured man from a jet and having him placed into a waiting ambulance.

“Jameson does what we do on the stage–cuts and makes focus.  And I find it hardest of all to adapt to film . . . I’ve always had a terrible time with film.”

“At first I didn’t know what I was doing.  As  a stage actor I was projecting all over the place.  I was trying to do too many things, not understanding anything about the camera.  I was always doing millions of pieces of business ands stuff that didn’t mean anything.  Then, I improved.  Lately, I’ve had good luck and success.”

“You have to forget about he camera’s stare.  The whole thing is you’ve got to try to forget about it and play with the other actors.

“If you get lousy material, you tend to try to make it look good, and somebody will see that you’re faking.  Improvisation still must be based on some material for anything worthwhile and lasting.  Otherwise, you get forgettable films and forgettable television.  With good material . . . like this script and the last few I’ve had, you don’t have to take it as much in front of the camera.  The credibility is there, so you can play to the other actors.”

It was Robards’ time to face his adversary–the camera.  High on the signal bridge of the Navy vessel, a hard northwest wind ruffling his hair, he leaned on a railing and stared aft toward the ship’s helicopter pad.  Actor David Selby, playing the scientist who created the defense system that now required a powering agent from the hold of the 68-year-old maritime disaster, leans next to him.

“. . . And then what did you do?”  says Robards predictably.

*    *    *

Biography-By Kim Elder

     Gruff, raspy-voiced supporting player and character lead, and who was one of the finest that ever worked in film. The son of actor and silent-screen star Jason Robards, and a Civil War buff,  he served in the Navy during World War 2 (surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor), and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before scoring a spectacular triumph in the 1956 Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.” After winning the prestigious New York Drama Critics Award for his turn in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” the following year, Robards became a bona fide stage star (and cemented an indelible association with the works of O’Neill). He won a Tony award in 1959 for “The Disenchanted.” His success in films hasn’t been quite as stunning, possibly because he has remained, with few exceptions, in character roles, often registering best playing real-life figures.

Robards made his movie debut in The Journey (1959), then didn’t appear onscreen for another two years, resurfacing in By Love Possessed (1961). His portrayal of F. Scott Fitzgerald protagonist Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night (1962) earned Robards considerable praise, as did his reprise of the Jamie Tyrone role for that year’s film adaptation of Long Day’s Journey Into Night and his turn as playwright George S. Kaufman in Act One (1963).

He had a rare starring role in A Thousand Clowns (1965), recreating his Broadway triumph as the irrepressible (and irresponsible) misfit and surrogate father to an adoring nephew. He then played gangster Al Capone in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and Western gunslinger Doc Holliday in Hour of the Gun (both 1967). His parts in the late 1960s and early 1970s ran the gamut from a divorce lawyer in Divorce American Style (1967) to a burlesque performer in The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968), from a gunman in the super-spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) to a wartime general in Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), from Brutus in Julius Caesar (1971) to a Western dreamer in Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970, the starring role). He rejoined Peckinpah to play New Mexico governor (and “Ben-Hur” author) Lew Wallace in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). Other credits during this period include Isadora (1968), Johnny Got His Gun (1971), and The War Between Men and Women (1972).

In 1972, he was in a horrifying accident on a winding California road. He drove his car into the side of a mountain and nearly died. His acute drinking problem contributed to the accident. He slowly recovered after extensive surgery and facial reconstruction.

But in the late 1970s he won back-to-back Oscars, playing “Washington Post” editor Ben Bradlee in the Watergate thriller All the President’s Men (1976) and following it with a skillful, sharply delineated turn as novelist Dashiell Hammett in the Lillian Hellman memoir Julia (1977). Robards, who juggles TV work and stage appearances with his movie assignments, made relatively few films in the 1980s, among them Raise the Titanic!, The Legend Of The Lone Ranger and Melvin and Howard in which he was nominated for an Oscar.  Formerly married to Lauren Bacall; their son Sam Robards has launched an acting career of his own.  He also had three children with Eleanor Pitman and two children with Lois O’Connor.

In his last remaining years, Jason Robards would appear in such movies as Enemy Of The State (1998), Magnolia, Going Home (2000) and the documentary, They Drew Fire (2000).  On December 26, 2000 Jason Robards died from metastasized lung cancer in Bridgeport, CT.

     Robards who preferred working in the theater, once said that he only performed in Hollywood films so that he could “grab the money and go back to Broadway as fast as I can.”

Filmography