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Robert Cummings, TV and Movie Actor, Dies at 80

December 03, 1990|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Cummings, the perennially youthful bachelor photographer of the 1950s television series "The Bob Cummings Show," died Sunday at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills.

Cummings, 80, died of kidney failure and complications of pneumonia, hospital spokeswoman Louella Benson said. The actor, who also was in advanced stages of Parkinson's Disease, was admitted to the hospital Nov. 18.

Although best known for his three comedic television series--which also included "My Living Doll" and "My Hero"--Cummings won an Emmy in 1954 for a dramatic role in "Twelve Angry Men" on "Studio One."

A vociferous health food and vitamin devotee, Cummings prided himself on looking much younger than his years.

The actor was born Clarence Robert Orville Cummings on June 10, 1910, in Joplin, Mo.

To launch his career, he employed various enterprising techniques. On Broadway, he obtained roles by faking a British accent and introducing himself as Blade Stanhope Conway, an Englishman.

In 1935, Cummings moved to Hollywood and broke into films by faking a southern drawl and presenting himself as Brice Hutchens, a Texan.

He later reclaimed his own name, earning credits in a string of light romantic comedies.

Cummings also won critical acclaim, however, for dramatic roles in films like "Kings Row," "The Lost Moment" and "Dial M for Murder."

Although he achieved his greatest fame with his television series in the 1950s and 1960s, Cummings continued to make occasional movies in those years. His last film credits were "What a Way to Go!" and "The Carpetbaggers" in 1964; "Promise Her Anything" and a remake of "Stagecoach" in 1966, and "Five Golden Dragons" in 1967.

In his long-running television series, "The Bob Cummings Show," Cummings portrayed Bob Collins, a studio photographer who photographed--and dated--the world's most beautiful models.

Incorporated into the scripts were several details of Cummings' real life: his penchant for maintaining youthful good looks, his home town of Joplin, and his hobby of flying small aircraft--including assuming the role of "Grandpa Collins," who took great glee in bombing his "enemies" with jugs of cider while flying his beloved World War I era "Jenny."

In his personal life, Cummings also admired beautiful women--but rarely remained a bachelor. Married five times, Cummings quipped at his 80th birthday party last June: "I'm trying to catch up with Mickey Rooney."

His drawn-out divorce from his third wife, actress Mary Elliott, mother of five of his seven children, was somewhat historic in California.

Cummings sued his wife for divorce in 1969 on grounds of cruelty, filing under California's former divorce laws which required proving one party was at fault in order to obtain a divorce. Claiming she still loved him, despite his roaming the world with a Macao beauty, Mary Elliott Cummings denied the cruelty charge and contested the divorce.

When California adopted its "no-fault" divorce law in 1970, however, Cummings renewed his petition and quickly obtained a divorce. He only had to state that the couple had "irreconcilable differences." The trial of the divorce excluded evidence about whether any cruelty existed, and was limited to division of the couple's $700,000 community property.

Cummings married his fifth wife, Janie, of Nashville, Tenn., in August, 1989, after she wrote a fan letter that came to his attention.

He is survived by his wife; three sons, Robert, Bob Jr. and Anthony; four daughters, Laurel, Michelle, Melinda Cameron and Patricia Goldhamer and nine grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending.

He wrote a book on nutrition called "How to Stay Young and Vital," and for a time operated Bob Cummings Inc., which sold vitamins and food supplements. In 1972, the firm was accused by the state attorney general of operating an "endless chain," or pyramid scheme, by making its profits from recruiting investors rather than from product sales.

Lauded by his friends when he turned 80 as the same old boyish Bob, Cummings insisted, "It's my 40th birthday!"

Cummings recently joined old pal Art Linkletter and former President Ronald Reagan at the 35th anniversary celebration of Disneyland, reprising their appearances when the amusement park was opened in 1955.

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