Robert I. Clarke, a versatile character actor who appeared in scores of television programs, including “The King Family Show,” and more than 85 motion pictures, specializing in such horror films as “The Hideous Sun Demon,” has died. He was 85.
Clarke died Saturday in Valley Village of natural causes.
An actor whose face was more familiar than his name, he became a cult favorite for his work in so-called monster films of the 1950s, including “The Man from Planet X,” “The Astounding She-Monster,” “The Incredible Petrified World” and “Sun Demon,” the last of which he wrote and produced. Clarke, alluding to his starring roles in such movies, titled his 1996 autobiography, written with Tom Weaver, “To ‘B’ or Not to ‘B.’ ”
The 1959 “Sun Demon,” reissued over the years as a comedy cult film under various titles, was featured in the 1982 sendup “It Came From Hollywood,” starring Dan Aykroyd and John Candy.
Clarke portrayed Dr. Gilbert McKenna, a radioactively contaminated scientist who turns into a lizard-like monster when exposed to the sun.
He said in his autobiography that the film was made for less than $50,000, including $500 for the rubberized lizard suit. As a producer, Clarke said he shot the movie over 12 weekends to get two days’ use of rental camera equipment for one day’s fee.
The prolific actor became a regular on the King family’s musical variety show, not for his musical ability, but through marriage. The series, which ran on ABC from 1965 to 1969, featured the King Sisters -- Yvonne, Luise, Marilyn, Alyce, Maxine and Donna -- and about three dozen members of their families.
Clarke, who was married to Alyce from 1956 until her death in 1996, performed comedy sketches and sentimental readings on the show.
Born June 1, 1920, in Oklahoma City, he attended Kemper Military College, planning a career in the military. But after asthma precluded his service in World War II, he switched to the University of Oklahoma and then the University of Wisconsin, where he began acting.
Moving to Hollywood in 1942, he landed a contract with RKO. By 1950 he had been seen in small roles in about 40 motion pictures, including his first horror films, “The Body Snatcher,” starring Boris Karloff, and “Zombies on Broadway,” starring Bela Lugosi.
Clarke became a regular in westerns, including “Riders of the Range” and “Pistol Harvest,” and swashbucklers such as “Blades of the Musketeers” and “Tales of Robin Hood.”
He made his television debut in 1950 on “Ford Theatre” in the series’ presentation of “The Three Musketeers.”
As television developed, Clarke appeared frequently in such series as “Dragnet,” “Perry Mason,” “Sea Hunt,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Simon & Simon” and “Dynasty.”
He is survived by a son, Cam Clarke; two stepsons, Lex and Ric de Azevedo; 11 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren.
Services will be private.