Robert Preston (actor)

Robert Preston Meservey (June 8, 1918 – March 21, 1987) was an American stage and film actor best remembered for originating the role of Professor Harold Hill in the 1957 musical The Music Man and the 1962 film adaptation; the film earned him his first of two Golden Globe Award nominations. Preston collaborated twice with filmmaker Blake Edwards, first in S.O.B. (1981) and again in Victor/Victoria (1982). For portraying Carroll "Toddy" Todd in the latter, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at the 55th Academy Awards.[1]

Robert Preston
Robert Preston-publicity
Robert Preston Meservey

June 8, 1918
DiedMarch 21, 1987 (aged 68)
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1938–1985
Catherine Craig (m. 1940)
Military career
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchUS Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg U.S. Army Air Forces
Years of service1942–45
RankUS-O3 insignia.svg Captain
Unit386th Bomb Group
Battles/warsWorld War II

Early life

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.[2][3] 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 Forces 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.[4] 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 Cooper. He played an LAPD detective in the noir This Gun for Hire (1942).

Preston is probably best known 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 1957 Broadway production. When Willson adapted his story for the screen, he insisted on Preston's participation over the objections of Jack L. Warner, who had wanted to cast Frank Sinatra or Cary Grant for the role. Preston appeared on the cover of Time magazine on July 21, 1958.[5] 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, receiving an Academy Award nomination. 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 Herman wrote especially for Preston's film portrayal.

In 1961, Preston was asked to make a recording as part of a program by the President's Council on Physical Fitness to encourage schoolchildren to do more daily exercise. Copies of the recording of the song, Chicken Fat, written and composed by Meredith Willson, performed by Preston with full orchestral accompaniment, were distributed to elementary schools across the nation and played for students as they performed calisthenics. The song later became a surprise novelty hit and part of many baby-boomers' childhood memories.

Also in 1962, Preston played an important supporting role as wagon master Roger Morgan, in the epic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film How the West Was Won.

In 1979 and 1980, Preston portrayed determined family patriarch Hadley Chisholm in the CBS western miniseries, The Chisholms opposite Rosemary Harris who played his wife, Minerva. Preston's character died in the ninth of the thirteen 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.[6] 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).[7]

Personal life and death

Preston married actress Catherine Craig in 1940. He was an intensely private person and has no official biographies but he gave several interviews, especially late in his career.

Preston died of lung cancer on March 21, 1987, at the age of 68.[7]

Stage productions

  • The Male Animal (May 15, 1952 – January 31, 1953)
  • Men of Distinction (April 30, 1953 – May 2, 1953)
  • His and Hers (January 7, 1954 – March 13, 1954)
  • The Magic and the Loss (April 9, 1954 – May 1, 1954)
  • The Tender Trap (October 13, 1954 – January 8, 1955)
  • Janus (November 24, 1955 – June 30, 1956)
  • The Hidden River (January 23, 1957 – March 16, 1957)
  • The Music Man (December 19, 1957 – April 15, 1961)
  • Too True to be Good (March 12, 1963 – June 1, 1963)
  • Nobody Loves an Albatross (December 19, 1963 – June 20, 1964)
  • Ben Franklin in Paris (October 27, 1964 – May 1, 1965)
  • The Lion in Winter (March 3, 1966 – May 21, 1966)
  • I Do! I Do! (December 5, 1966 – June 15, 1968)
  • Mack & Mabel (October 6, 1974 – November 30, 1974)
  • Sly Fox (December 14, 1976 – February 19, 1978)
  • The Prince of Grand Street (March 7, 1978 – March 25, 1978, Philadelphia; March 28, 1978 – April 15, 1978, Boston; closed during pre-Broadway tryouts)[8]


Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1950 Lux Radio Theatre Alexander's Ragtime Band[9]

Honors and awards


Award Category Title Result
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actor S.O.B. Won
National Board of Review Awards Best Supporting Actor Victor Victoria
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Supporting Actor (3rd place)
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Musical or Comedy
The Music Man
Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actor The Last Starfighter


Award Category Title Result
Tony Awards Best Actor in a Musical The Music Man Won
I Do! I Do!
Mack & Mabel Nominated



  1. ^ Champlin, Charles (March 23, 1987). "The 'Music Man' --and His Song". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
  2. ^ Ross, Lillian; Ross, Helen (1962). The Player: A Profile Of An Art. New York City: Simon and Schuster. p. 404. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  3. ^ "Robert Preston Meservey". Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  4. ^ Mano, D. Keith (June 28, 1982). "Playing Devilishly Against Type in Victor/victoria, He's Bigger—and Campier—than Life". People. 17 (25). Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  5. ^ "Theater: Pied Piper of Broadway". Time. July 21, 1958. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  6. ^ Plummer, Ryan (July 10, 2014). "Everything You Never Knew About The Making Of Last Starfighter". io9. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Page, Tim (March 23, 1987). "Robert Preston, Actor, is dead at 68". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  8. ^ "The Prince of Grand Street: Closed on the road (1978)".
  9. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.
  10. ^ Richards, David (July 22, 1984). "Robert Preston, With a Capital P". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 4, 2018.

External links

1918 in film

The year 1918 in film involved some significant events.

1987 in music

This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1987.

Abraham Lincoln High School (Los Angeles)

Abraham Lincoln High School, usually referred to simply as Lincoln High School, is a secondary school located in the Lincoln Heights district of Los Angeles, California, United States. It is located in the East Los Angeles-area community, surrounded by El Sereno, Chinatown, Boyle Heights and Cypress Park. The school is named after Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, and is one of the first public high schools established in California. It is one of the District 5 high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the nation.

Lincoln students are drawn from Chinatown and other areas. Cypress Park residents may attend either Lincoln or Franklin high school.

Goodyear Television Playhouse

The Goodyear Television Playhouse is an American anthology series that was telecast live on NBC from 1951 to 1957 during the "Golden Age of Television". Sponsored by Goodyear, Goodyear alternated sponsorship with Philco, and the Philco Television Playhouse was seen on alternate weeks.

In 1955, the title was shortened to The Goodyear Playhouse and it aired on alternate weeks with The Alcoa Hour. The three series were essentially the same, with the only real difference being the name of the sponsor.

Producer Fred Coe nurtured and encouraged a group of young, mostly unknown writers that included Robert Alan Aurthur, George Baxt, Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Howard Richardson, Tad Mosel and Gore Vidal. Notable productions included Chayefsky's Marty (May 24, 1953) starring Rod Steiger, Chayefsky's The Bachelor Party (1955), Vidal's Visit to a Small Planet (1955), Richardson's Ark of Safety and Foote's The Trip to Bountiful.

From 1957 to 1960, it became a taped, half-hour series titled Goodyear Theater, seen on Mondays at 9:30 p.m.

Goodyear Television Playhouse finished #16 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1951-1952 season, #15 for 1952-1953 and #22 for 1953-1954.

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This is a list of people buried at sea

Richard B. Anderson (1922–1944)

John Carradine (1906–1988)

Francis Drake (1540–1596)

Captain James Cook (1728–1779)

George Duff (1764–1805)

Frank Watson Dyson (1868–1939)

Zheng He (1371–1433/35)


Zachary Hickes (d. 1771), first lieutenant aboard HMS Endeavour on its voyage to Australia

Sir Arthur Kennedy (1809–1883)

Christopher Levett (1586–1630)

William Lowndes (1782-1822), U.S. Congressman from South Carolina

James Martin (Australian soldier) (1901–1915)

Atholl MacGregor (1883-1945), Chief Justice of Hong Kong

Edwina Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1901–1960)

Michael Parks (1940-2017)

Christian Ferdinand Schiess (1856–1884)

Frederic John Walker Royal Navy (1896–1944)

Dennis Wilson (1944–1983)


Alan Young (1919-2016)

Following the death of Osama bin Laden (1957–2011), he was buried at sea. One U.S. official stated that "finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world's most wanted terrorist would have been difficult." It was also done to prevent his burial place from becoming a "terrorist shrine".

List of people from Massachusetts

This is a list of people who were born in/raised in, lived in, or have significant relations with the American state of Massachusetts. It includes both notable people born in the Commonwealth, and other notable people who are from the Commonwealth. People from Massachusetts are called "Bay Staters" after the Commonwealth's nickname.

List of people from Newton, Massachusetts

Newton, Massachusetts has been the home of many notable people.

Lux Video Theatre

Lux Video Theatre is an American television anthology series that was produced from 1950 until 1957. The series presented both comedy and drama in original teleplays, as well as abridged adaptations of films and plays.

Plymouth Playhouse

Plymouth Playhouse, aka ABC Album, is a half-hour US television anthology series. Fifteen episodes aired on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) from April 12, 1953 to June 21, 1953. Some of the productions were live while others were filmed. It was hosted by David Cook. ABC, which had a reputation for producing shows that were not as good as their competitors, CBS and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), used this program featuring top notch casts to audition possible series in the hopes of gaining sponsorship for the 1953 TV season.

Three of the episodes went on to become series of their own: Colonel Humphrey Flack (1953–54), starring Alan Mowbray on DuMont TelevisionJamie (1953–54), starring Brandon De Wilde on ABC Justice (1954–55), starring Paul Douglas (actor) and Lee Grant on NBC

Other guest stars included Eva Marie Saint, Robert Preston (actor), Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin, Jane Wyatt, Gary Merrill, and Wendell Corey. Directors included two later Academy Award nominated feature directors, Martin Ritt, and Ralph Nelson.

Robert Preston

Robert Preston may refer to:

Robert Preston (actor) (1918–1987), American actor

Robert Preston (military lawyer)

Robert Preston, 1st Baron Gormanston (died 1396), Anglo-Irish nobleman, statesman and judge

Robert Preston (Westmorland MP), British MP for Westmorland, 1421

Robert Preston, 1st Viscount Gormanston (1435–1503), Irish politician

Sir Robert Preston, 6th Baronet, British MP for Dover, 1784–1790

Robert E. Preston (1836–?), Director of the U.S. Mint, 1893–98

Robert K. Preston, White House intruder

Robert Henry Preston (1840–?), Ontario doctor and political figure

Rob Preston (born 1982), American professional basketball player

Robert Preston (Coronation Street), fictional character in the British TV soap opera Coronation Street

Awards for Robert Preston

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