- Category : Actor
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Unexpected 2
Jason Nelson Robards, Jr., (July 26, 1922 – December 26, 2000) was an American actor. He became famous playing works of American dramatist Eugene O'Neill, and would regularly play O'Neill's works throughout his career. Robards' was cast in both common-man roles and as well known historical figures.
Robards was born in Chicago, the son of Hope Maxine (née Glanville) and Jason Robards, Sr., an actor who regularly appeared on the stage and in such early films as The Gamblers (1929) and was among the better-known actors of the first half of the twentieth century. The family moved to New York City when young Jason was still a toddler, and then moved to Los Angeles when he was six years old. Later interviews with Robards suggested that the trauma of his parents' divorce, (which occurred during his grade-school years) greatly affected his personality and worldview. Jason as a youth also witnessed firsthand the decline of his father's acting career; the elder Robards had enjoyed considerable success during the era of silent films, but he fell out of favor after the advent of "talkies," leaving Jason Jr. soured on the Hollywood film industry. The teenaged Robards excelled in athletics, running a 4:18 mile during his junior year at Hollywood High School. Although his prowess in sports attracted interest from several universities, upon his graduation in 1940 Robards decided to join the U.S. Navy.
Naval service in World War II
Radioman 3rd class Robards joined the heavy cruiser USS Northampton (CA-26) in 1941. He was aboard her at sea 100 miles away when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and, contrary to some stories, witnessed the devastation of the attack only afterwards, when Northampton returned to Pearl two days later. Northampton was later directed into the Guadalcanal campaign, where it was involved in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
During the Battle of Tassafaronga on the night of November 30, 1942, Northampton was sunk by hits from two Japanese torpedoes. Robards found himself treading water until near daybreak, when he was rescued by an American destroyer. Although a 1979 Hy Gardner column states that Robards was awarded the Navy Cross and "13 battle stars" (actually awarded to the ship, not the individual), Robards's name does not appear on any official or semi-official rolls of Navy Cross winners.
Two years later in November, 1944 Robards was in another dramatic engagement this time as a radioman on the USS Nashville (CL-43) which was the flagship for the invasion of Mindoro. On December 13 she was struck by a kamikaze off Negros Island. The aircraft itself hit one of the port five inch gun mounts while her two bombs set the midsection ablaze. There were 223 casualties and the Nashville was forced to return to Pearl Harbor and then Puget Sound for repairs. It was also on the Nashville that he first found a copy of Eugene O’Neill’s play Strange Interlude in the ship’s library.
It was in the Navy that he first started thinking seriously about being an actor. He had emceed for a Navy band in Pearl Harbor, gotten a few laughs and decided he liked it. His father suggested he enroll in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
Robards decided to get into acting after the war. His career started out slowly. He moved to New York City and found small parts there, first in radio and then on the stage. His big break was landing the starring role in José Quintero's 1956 off-Broadway production and the 1960 television film of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, as the philosophical salesman Hickey, winning an Obie Award for his performance. He also played Hickey in a 1985 Broadway revival staged by Quintero, who directed Robards in Broadway productions of O'Neill's plays Long Day's Journey Into Night, Hughie, A Touch of the Poet and A Moon for the Misbegotten. He repeated his performance in Long Day's Journey Into Night in the 1962 film and televised his performances in A Moon for the Misbegotten and Hughie.
Robards also appeared on stage in a 1988 Broadway revival of O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! directed by Arvin Brown, as well as Lillian Hellman's Toys in the Attic, Arthur Miller's After the Fall, Clifford Odets' The Country Girl and Harold Pinter's No Man's Land.
He made his film debut in the 1946 two-reel comedy Follow That Music, but after his Broadway success he was invited to make his feature debut in The Journey in 1959. He became a familiar face to movie audiences throughout the 1960s, notably for his performances in A Thousand Clowns (1965) (repeating his stage performance), The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968), and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
Robards played three different US Presidents on film - namely Abraham Lincoln in The Perfect Tribute and a television production of Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Ulysses S. Grant in The Legend of the Lone Ranger (a role he also voiced in the PBS miniseries The Civil War), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in FDR: The Final Years. He also created a sensation as the fictional president Richard Monckton (based on Richard Nixon) in the television miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977). He also voiced a number of documentaries, including Ken Burns' Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
Robards received eight Tony Award nominations, more than any other male actor, and won in 1959 as Best Actor for his work in The Disenchanted, which was also his only stage appearance with his father. Robards received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in consecutive years for All the President's Men (1976) and Julia (1977). He was also nominated for another Oscar for his role in Melvin and Howard (1980) and received the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special for the 1988 production of Inherit the Wind. He was among the recipients at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1999.
Robards had six children from his four marriages, including actor Sam Robards by his third wife, actress Lauren Bacall, whom he married in 1961 and from whom he was divorced in 1969.
In 1972, he was in a terrible automobile 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.
A resident of the Southport section of Fairfield, Connecticut, he died of lung cancer in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His death was mourned by both fans and actors, and at a memorial service at Broadway's Broadhurst Theater to honor Robards, it was actors who seemed to feel most profoundly the loss of one of the greats, one of their own. "He was the last of a breed of actors who dedicated themselves to a life in the theater," said Kevin Spacey.
Jennifer Jason Leigh chose her middle name in honor of Robards. Robards was a major US Civil War buff and scholar. He ultimately did the voice of Ulysses S. Grant for Ken Burns' miniseries The Civil War, and received an Emmy nomination for playing Abraham Lincoln in Abe Lincoln in Illinois for The Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1963.
The Jason Robards Award was created by the Roundabout Theatre Company in honor of the late actor and his relationship with the theatre.