Monday, March 14, 2016

Obituary: Robert Horton

One of my favorite television actors of all time, Robert Horton, 91, has died. He died last Wednesday. He was seen all over the place on television during the 1950s and 1960s, but he is perhaps best known for his roles in Wagon Train and in the later television western, A Man Called Shenandoah.

Horton was very good in Wagon Train, and he had very good chemistry with star Ward Bond before the latter died a few years after the show began. This despite the fact the two did not get along. Horton had an edginess about him that I always liked. He was also good-looking. He was frequently seen shirtless in a number of television programs.

He was also an accomplished singer. He sang the theme song of A Man Called Shenandoah. He had done many musicals and plays on stage; in fact, he met his third and last wife, Marilynn Bradley Horton, in one such production. He married her on the day my nephew was born, December 31, 1960. They had no children.

Horton seemed to drop out of sight by the late 1960s. However, he was still in show business, as he and his wife toured all over the country playing the dinner theater circuit. He did, however, resurface for a couple of years in the early 1980s in the soap opera As the World Turns. He played the character of newspaper owner Whit McColl, who at one point was married to much-married Lisa, played by Eileen Fulton. I was pleasantly surprised to see him on there because I hadn't seen him in so many years.

A few years later, he retired from show business.

A Republican, he and wife Marilynn were close friends of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Horton usually played "good guy" roles, but he was great when he played heels, especially in gigolo-type parts. He made seven appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with two of them among my favorites: "Hooked" and "The Last Dark Step." In each of these he got his comeuppance.

You can view those online at Hulu and other sites.

The Last Dark Step. He starred with Fay Spain and Joyce Meadows.

Hooked. He co-starred with Anne Francis.

Both are worth seeking out.

Fun fact: His second wife was actress Barbara Ruick, who later married film composer John Williams. She passed away from cancer in 1974.

This Is Your Life:

He had just married Marilynn a couple of weeks prior.

According to the New York Times, his niece said he was put in hospice care after suffering from a fall last November.

Some interesting information about Horton, a UCLA graduate who was born and raised in California in a Mormon household:

Mr. Horton threw himself into the “Wagon Train” role. He studied the frontier era, drove the actual route the fictional wagon train took, and invented a back story for his character. He did most of his own horseback riding on the show.

He also often fought with the writers.

“I have to rewrite half the scripts,” Mr. Horton told The Saturday Evening Post. “Otherwise I’d get laughed off the screen.”

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