Bob Sherman Obituary
The Times--Obituary Section. September
Expatriate American actor, playwright and freebooter
WHEN Bob Sherman dramatised Ernest Hemingway’s The Old
Man and the Sea, Rod
Steiger flew all the way from Los Angeles to London — for
a radio drama.
Sherman had attacked Hemingway’s fable of man, sea, fish
and sharks with
such relish that Steiger felt obliged to take on the role.
As well as being a writer, actor and sometime troubadour, Sherman
sailor. His love of the sea began when, as a teenager, he joined
the crew of
Errol Flynn’s yacht and cruised the coast of California.
Those weeks at sea
led to his own years of sailing — and carousing — before
he carved out a
career as an expatriate American actor in London.
Sherman’s love of the sea and his love
of freedom were counterbalanced by a
healthy scepticism about the American Dream. Having witnessed
red-baiting years of Senator Joe McCarthy, he would memorably
bring to the
English stage in 1977 a powerful and popular production of Eric
dramatisation of the congressional hearings on “un-American
You Now Or Have You Have Ever Been?
As well as taking the role of Larry Parks, the actor who was
the anti-communist fervour of the 1940s and 1950s after naming
admitting to the House Committee on Un-American Activities that
he had been
a communist, Sherman was a producer of the show, and reshaped
the script for
British audiences. It moved from the Bush Theatre in London to
tour and long residency at the Mayfair Theatre, London.
Sherman’s tales of his own life were rich, colourful
and sometimes lacking
in crucial detail. His relationship with the taxman meant that
years of on-stage stardom, when he played Chuck Baxter in the
musical Promises, Promises and appeared in Harvey, there were
when he was obliged to succumb to the lure of the sea.
A programme from the 1963 American Shakespeare Festival in
Connecticut, when he was briefly Bob Benedict, summarised his
started his career in San Francisco in TV, where he played with
Corey in Harbor Command. Went to Old Globe in San Diego while
major at San Jose College. Apprenticed at Stratford before becoming
regular member of the company. Born in Redwood City.”
This omits Sherman’s time in reform school and his first
appearance as Robert Sherman in the 1955 movie of Mickey Spillane’s
Deadly. It also gives no clue to his next few years as a rogue
in Europe, playing with Jacques Brel as a duo of troubadours.
maintains that he was born in San Francisco.
The reason he achieved an affectionate eminence among American
Britain was his huge heart. Renowned for his generous and instantaneous
gestures, he once leapt into his car and drove to embrace an
actor friend at
the moment of hearing that Aids had just been diagnosed in the
man. His own
love life was complicated: there were long-lasting relationships
and many spontaneous encounters.
As a dramatist, Sherman could attract the best actors to his
Steiger to Kenneth Haigh and John Sessions. But it was as an
actor that he
found steady employment, providing film-makers and theatrical
a resident American talent of considerable charisma and appeal.
included the portrayal of President Reagan in The Falklands Play
for BBC 4,
and his final role as a television host in this year’s
Reagan was not his first President; he regularly revived a
Franklin Delano Roosevelt opposite his good friend William Hootkins
Winston Churchill in the play Their Finest Hour, which he had
perform in New York this August until failing health made it
From a CIA agent in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, to head
of the CIA in
History Made at Night, Sherman’s persona for film was ruggedly
which was not far from reality. His favourite times were spent
on his boat
in the Mediterranean, bumming around.
In later life he lived and wrote on his houseboat, Helianthus,
Tagg’s Island on the Thames. It was there that he wrote
a dynamic pair of
plays for Radio 4, The Titanic Inquiry, based on little-known
the US Senate investigation into the Titanic disaster that showed
complicity of guilt that ran from Marconi to the White Star Line.
Other projects had not fared so well. His outrage at Britain’s
ceding of the island of Diego Garcia as a US military base led
him to write a screenplay
that became a stage play and a radio play. It was never to be
the passionate support of many, including Harold Pinter who had
himself to performing in it, it was considered too contentious.
better luck with final screenplay, Hotel, which is due to be
In the week before his death, Sherman married
his long-term partner Robin.
She survives him, as does his daughter from a previous relationship.
Bob Sherman, actor and writer, was born on November 16, 1940.
He died of
cancer on August 30, 2004, aged 63.