Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Cliff Robertson

For much of his early career, Cliff Robertson created roles on TV and the stage — like Joe Clay in The Days of Wine and Roses and Val Xavier in Orpheus Descending — only to find himself passed over when the opportunity arose to play them on the big screen. But in 1960, Robertson, who died Sept. 10 at 88, took matters into his own hands. While filming a TV movie about a mentally disabled janitor who raises his IQ through a scientific experiment, Robertson bought the film rights and worked for eight years to bring it to theaters. He won an Oscar for starring in that story's film version, Charly. Yet Robertson's career might have been even more prolific if not for a four-year exile after he exposed a studio head as a check forger. He once said of the scandal that he never intended to play Don Quixote. And indeed, there was never anything of the fool about Robertson, onscreen or off.

This text originally appeared in the Sept. 26, 2011 issue of TIME magazine.