Dale Robertson dies at 89; TV and western movie star

Dale Robertson starred as stagecoach troubleshooter Jim Hardie in the TV series "Tales of Well Fargo" from 1957 to 1962.
Dale Robertson starred as stagecoach troubleshooter Jim Hardie in the TV series “Tales of Well Fargo” from 1957 to 1962.
(L. J. Willinger / Getty Images)

Dale Robertson, an Oklahoma horseman who became a TV and western movie star during the genre’s heyday, died Tuesday at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. He was 89.

Robertson, who was best known for starring in the series “Tales of Wells Fargo” from 1957 to 1962, had pneumonia and lung cancer, his family said.

The handsome, square-jawed actor, who was often said to resemble Clark Gable, was an able horse rider by age 10 and was training polo ponies in his teens. He applied those skills in Hollywood, where he appeared in more than 60 movies, including a prime role as Jesse James in 1949’s “Fighting Man of the Plains.” His leading ladies included such glamour icons as Betty Grable and Mitzi Gaynor.


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In the 1950s, Robertson moved into television, where the faster pace appeared to suit his no-nonsense style.

Starring as stagecoach troubleshooter Jim Hardie in NBC’s “Tales of Wells Fargo,” he made the role memorable in part because he drew his pistol with his left hand, a quirk that became necessary because he drew so fast with his right hand that the camera missed the action.

“In truth, it was an honest gimmick that allowed Hardie to shake hands with a bad guy, hang on to his hand, and draw on him,” Robertson told the Toronto Star in 1987.

After that series ended, Robertson appeared in “Iron Horse” from 1966 to 1968 as a ladies’ man who wins a railroad in a poker game. The actor then was a host on the anthology series “Death Valley Days” from 1968 to 1970.

Robertson continued to work in TV through the 1980s, when he landed roles in the popular nighttime soap operas “Dallas” and “Dynasty.” He also starred in the short-lived 1987 series “J.J. Starbuck” as an eccentric, crime-solving Texas billionaire.


In 1993, he took what would be his final role, as Zeke in the television show “Harts of the West,” before retiring from acting to spend more time at his ranch in Yukon, Okla., where he raised horses. He lived there until moving to the San Diego area in recent months, according to his niece, Nancy Robertson.

Dayle Lymoine Robertson was born in Harrah, Okla., on July 14, 1923. He attended Oklahoma Military Academy at 17 and boxed in professional prize fights to earn money.

He joined the Army and fought in North Africa and Europe during World War II. Wounded twice, he was awarded Bronze and Silver stars and a Purple Heart.

While stationed in San Luis Obispo, he had a photograph taken for his mother. When a copy of it was displayed in the photo shop window, it attracted movie scouts. The 6-foot-tall, 180-pound Robertson soon was on his way to Hollywood.

He had strong opinions, especially about what he saw as latter-day Hollywood’s preoccupation with sleaze. His old-fashioned values, he suggested in an interview some years ago, were the reason his character in “Dynasty” was killed off-screen after the first season.

“They got me to do 15 episodes … but that was enough,” he told Canada’s Globe and Mail in 1988. “They kept putting all of this sex and stuff into it and I didn’t do it the way they wanted. I never had the ability to keep my big mouth shut.”


In 1985, Robertson received the Golden Boot Award, given by the Motion Picture & Television Fund to those who have made significant contributions to the western genre.

Married several times, he is survived by his wife of 33 years, Susan Robbins, and two children.