Teaching Students About Cliff Robertson


Cliff Robertson was an Emmy Award-winning actor whose career spanned over six decades in Hollywood. Best known for his role as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man films, he left an indelible mark on the film industry. Teaching students about Cliff Robertson not only provides an opportunity to discuss his impact on popular culture but also offers a peek into the history of acting and cinema itself.

Early Life and Education

James Clifford “Cliff” Robertson III was born on September 9, 1923, in La Jolla, California. He grew up in a middle-class family and attended La Jolla High School. After graduation, he enrolled at Antioch College in Ohio as a theater major but dropped out to serve in the United States Merchant Marine during World War II.

When the war ended, Cliff moved to New York City to pursue acting. He continued honing his skills at the prestigious Actors Studio under legendary mentor Lee Strasberg until he landed his first Broadway role in “Late Love” in 1953.

Television and Film Career

Robertson started his television career in various series, including “The Philco Television Playhouse” and “The Ford Theatre Hour.” His film debut came with the movie “Picnic” (1955), after which he went on to star in many notable films such as “Gidget” (1959), “PT 109” (1963), and “Charly” (1968).

His portrayal of Charly Gordon, a mentally disabled man who undergoes brain surgery to become intellectually gifted, earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor. This groundbreaking performance helped spread awareness about mental disabilities and demonstrated Robertson’s versatility as an actor.

Later Career and Legacy

Robertson continued acting throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, most notably in “Obsession” (1976) and “Class” (1983). But it was his role as Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy that endeared him to a new generation of fans.

Cliff Robertson passed away on September 10, 2011, just one day after his 88th birthday. He left behind a legacy of powerful performances and a reputation for speaking out against corruption in Hollywood. In teaching students about this influential actor, they can learn about the importance of perseverance, staying true to one’s principles, and embracing diverse stories in cinema.


Introducing students to the life and career of Cliff Robertson allows them to explore not only the fascinating world of film history but also the importance of resilience and moral integrity. From his humble beginnings to his success as an award-winning actor, Robertson’s journey is a story worth sharing with future generations of actors, filmmakers, and movie lovers alike.

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