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Robert Livingston, 83; 1930s Cowboy Film Hero

March 08, 1988|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Robert Livingston, the handsome cowboy star whose roles included saddle heroes such as Stony Brook and the Lone Ranger and whose film career spanned half a century, died Monday at his Tarzana home. He was 83.

Livingston's career started in 1926 in slapstick comedy of the silent-film era and, after a two-decade retirement, ended with roles in off-color films in the 1970s.

In between, he established himself in the 1930s as a cowboy star with a national following, particularly in Republic Pictures' popular "Three Mesquiteers," a 29-feature Western series in which he played the popular character, "Stony Brook." When Livingston moved on to other roles, the part of Stony was assumed by a young actor named John Wayne.

In 1939, Livingston cemented his image as a Western hero star, playing the screen's second Lone Ranger in Republic's serial, "The Lone Ranger Rides Again."

100 Features

In all, Livingston made at least 100 features, including 47 leading roles, several short subjects, two serials and about 15 television episodes, according to Merrill McCord, a Washington, D.C., journalist who is writing the actor's biography.

Reflecting on his career, Livingston once told McCord that he felt that he would have been a bigger star in more serious productions if he had stayed at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he worked from 1934 to 1936. Instead, he joined Republic, where his cowboy hero roles made him a household name.

Even so, "he said that was a mistake," McCord recalled in a telephone interview from his suburban Washington residence. "He thought if he had stayed at MGM, he would have had leading roles there."

A native of Quincy, Ill., Livingston did bit roles in silent movies in the late 1920s before being discovered in the early 1930s by an MGM talent scout who saw him as a serious stage actor in Shakespeare and other productions at the Pasadena Community Playhouse.

At MGM, he performed in supporting roles, including scenes as a mutinous seaman in "Mutiny on the Bounty."

In 1936, Livingston joined Republic, at the time a small new studio, where he specialized in portraying masked heroes--"The Eagle" in "The Vigilantes Are Coming"; "Zorro" in Republic's first color feature, "The Bold Caballero"; and as the Lone Ranger.

By the mid-1940s, Livingston had begun to do character roles in both Westerns and B films, such as "Valley of the Zombies" and "Undercover Woman." He retired in 1958, only to return to the screen in the mid-1970s to co-star in three sexually oriented films. "He had the talent to do much better than he did," McCord said. "One of his directors at Republic, William Witney, said he was the best actor of all the cowboy stars."

In 1987, Livingston was honored by the Motion Picture and Television Fund and presented with a Golden Boot award by cowboy star Gene Autry.

Livingston was married five times, including to Margaret Roach, the daughter of producer Hal Roach. He is survived by a son, Addison Randall of Tarzana.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Livingston's name to the Motion Picture Fund in Calabasas.

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