Robert Cummings was born in Joplin, Missouri, a son of Dr. Charles Clarence Cummings and the former Ruth Annabelle Kraft. His father was a surgeon, who was part of the original medical staff of St. John’s Hospital in Joplin. He was the founder of the Jasper County Tuberculosis Hospital in Webb City, Missouri. Cummings’ mother was an ordained minister of the Science of Mind. While attending Joplin High School, Cummings was taught to fly by his godfather, Orville Wright, the aviation pioneer. His first solo was on March 3, 1927. During high school, Cummings gave Joplin residents rides in his aircraft for $5 per person. When the government began licensing flight instructors, Cummings was issued flight instructor certificate No. 1, making him the first official flight instructor in the United States. Cummings studied briefly at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, but his love of flying caused him to transfer to the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He studied aeronautical engineering for a year before he dropped out because of financial reasons, his family having lost heavily in the 1929 stock market crash. Since the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City paid its male actors $14 a week, Cummings decided to study there.Cummings studied drama for two years before appearing on Broadway in 1931. As British actors were in demand, Cummings traveled to England and learned to mimic an upper-class English accent. He had a brief career on Broadway under the name Blade Stanhope Conway, posing as an Englishman. In 1933, Cummings met and married his second wife, Vivian Janis, with whom he appeared (billed as “Brice Hutchins”) in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1934. In 1934, he moved to Hollywood, where he acted at first under the name “Bruce Hutchens”, having assumed the persona of a wealthy Texan. He made his film debut the following year in The Virginia Judge. Cummings then began to use his own name, acting throughout the 1930s as a contract player in a number of supporting roles.
He achieved stardom in 1939 in Three Smart Girls Grow Up, opposite Deanna Durbin. His many film comedies include: The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) with Jean Arthur, Moon Over Miami (1941), and The Bride Wore Boots (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck. Cummings gave memorable performances in three notable dramas. In Kings Row (1942), he played the lead role, Parris Mitchell, alongside friend Ronald Reagan, Claude Rains, Ann Sheridan and an all-star cast. In spite of its mixed critical reaction, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. Cummings starred in the spy thriller Saboteur (1942) with Priscilla Lane and Norman Lloyd. He played Barry Kane, an aircraft worker wrongfully accused of espionage, trying to clear his name. Cummings appeared in the Hitchcock film, Dial M for Murder (1954), as Mark Halliday, co-starring with Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. The film was a box-office smash. Cummings also starred in You Came Along (1945), with a screenplay by Ayn Rand. The Army Air Forces pilot Cummings played (“Bob Collins”) died off camera, but was resurrected ten years later for his television show.
Cummings was chosen by producer John Wayne as his co-star to play airline pilot Captain Sullivan in The High and the Mighty, partly due to Cummings’ flying experience; however, director William A. Wellman overruled Wayne and hired Robert Stack for the part. In 1955 Cummings announced he would form his own production company, Laurel (named after his daughter and the street he lived in, Laurel Way). He intended to make a film called The Damned from a novel by John D. MacDonald directed by Frank Tashlin. However no film resulted. Cummings made his mark in the CBS Radio network’s dramatic serial titled Those We Love, which ran from 1938 to 1945. Cummings played the role of David Adair, opposite Richard Cromwell, Francis X. Bushman, and Nan Grey. He was also one of the four stars featured in the short-run radio version of Four Star Playhouse. During the 1970s for over 10 years Cummings traveled the US performing in dinner theaters and short stints in plays while living in an Airstream Travel Trailer. He relayed those experiences in the written introduction he provided for the book “AIRSTREAM” written by Robert Landau and James Phillippi in 1984.
Cummings began a long career on television in 1952, starring in the comedy My Hero. He received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for his portrayal of “Juror Number Eight”, in the first televised performance of Twelve Angry Men, a live production that aired in 1954 (Henry Fonda played the same role in the feature film adaptation). Cummings was one of the anchors on ABC’s live broadcast of the opening day of Disneyland on July 17, 1955. From 1955 through 1959, Cummings starred on a successful NBC sitcom, The Bob Cummings Show (list of episodes) (known as Love That Bob in reruns), in which he played Bob Collins, an ex–World War II pilot who became a successful professional photographer. As a bachelor in 1950s Los Angeles, the character Bob Collins considered himself to be quite the ladies’ man. This sitcom was noted for some very risque humor for its time. A popular feature of the program was Cummings’ portrayal of his elderly grandfather. His co-stars were Rosemary DeCamp, as his sister, Margaret MacDonald, Dwayne Hickman, as his nephew, Chuck MacDonald and Ann B. Davis, in her first television success, as his assistant Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz. Cummings also was a guest on the NBC interview program Here’s Hollywood. In 1960 Cummings starred in “King Nine Will Not Return”, the opening episode of the second season of CBS’s The Twilight Zone.
The New Bob Cummings Show (list of episodes) followed on CBS for one season, from 1961 to 1962. Cummings is depicted as the owner and pilot of Aerocar N102D and this aircraft was featured on his show. In 1964–65 Cummings starred in another CBS sitcom, My Living Doll (list of episodes), which co-starred Julie Newmar as Rhoda the robot. Cummings’ last significant role was the 1973 television movie Partners in Crime, co-starring Lee Grant. He also appeared in 1979 as Elliott Smith, the father of Fred Grandy’s Gopher on ABC’s The Love Boat. In 1986, Cummings hosted the televised 15th Anniversary Celebration of Walt Disney World in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Robert Cummings’ last public appearance was on Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary Special in 1990. Cummings married five times and fathered seven children. He remained an avid aviator and owned a number of planes (all named “Spinach”). He was a staunch advocate of natural foods and a healthy diet and in 1960 authored a book, Stay Young and Vital, which focused upon health foods and exercise. Despite his interest in health, Cummings was a methamphetamine addict from the mid-1950s until the end of his life. Cummings began receiving injections from Max Jacobson, the notorious “Dr. Feelgood”, in 1954 during a trip to New York to star in the TV production of Twelve Angry Men. Rose and Cummings’ friends Rosemary Clooney and José Ferrer recommended the doctor to Cummings, who was complaining of a lack of energy. While Jacobson insisted that his injections contained only “vitamins, sheep sperm and monkey gonads”, they actually contained a substantial dose of methamphetamine.
Cummings continued to use a mixture provided by Jacobson, eventually becoming a patient of Jacobson’s son Thomas, who was based in Los Angeles, and later injecting himself. The changes in Cummings’ personality caused by the euphoria of the drug and subsequent depression damaged his career and led to an intervention by his friend, television host Art Linkletter. The intervention was not successful, and Cummings’ drug abuse and subsequent career collapse were factors in his divorce from his third wife Mary, and his divorce from his fourth wife, Gina Fong. After Jacobson was forced out of business in the 1970s, Cummings developed his own drug connections based in the Bahamas. Suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, he was forced to move into homes for indigent older actors in Hollywood. Cummings’ son, Tony Cummings, played Rick Halloway in the NBC daytime serial Another World in the early 1980s. On December 2, 1990, Cummings died of kidney failure and complications from pneumonia at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. He was interred in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.
- June, 09, 1910
- Joplin, Missouri
- December, 02, 1990
- Woodland Hills, California
Cause of Death
- kidney failure
- Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)
- Glendale, California