Debonair, exceedingly handsome Roger Smith was born in South Gate, California to Dallas and Leone Smith on December 18, 1932. At age 6, his parents enrolled him at a professional school for singing, elocution and dancing lessons. By age 12, the family moved to Nogales, Arizona, a small town on the Mexican border where he appeared in high school theater productions, was made president of the school’s acting club and became a star linebacker for his high school football team. While studying at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Roger entered and won several amateur talent prizes as a singer and guitarist which led to a TV appearance with Ted Mack and his Ted Mack & the Original Amateur Hour (1948) program. While stationed in Hawaii at a Naval Reserve, Roger had a chance meeting with film legend James Cagney. Cagney, impressed with the boy’s clean-cut good looks and appeal, encouraged Roger to give Hollywood a try. Roger did so and it didn’t take long for Columbia Pictures to snap him up 1957. While there, he made such films as No Time to Be Young (1957), Operation Mad Ball (1957) and Crash Landing (1958). He also played the older “Patrick Dennis” role in the madcap Rosalind Russell farce Auntie Mame (1958). Roger reconnected with Cagney around this time who not only hired him to play his son, “Lon Jr.”, in the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), but made him his co-star in the musical comedy-drama Never Steal Anything Small (1959). Moving to Warner Bros., Roger won the role of private detective “Jeff Spencer” in the hip TV series 77 Sunset Strip (1958). After a few years of steady employment, doctors discovered a blood clot in his brain, which forced him to leave the show. Wed to budding actress Victoria Shaw in 1956, they had three children, but the marriage crumbled in the mid-60s. He next met singer-actress Ann-Margret and they eventually married in 1967. Roger’s health continued to decline after a co-starring role on the TV series Mister Roberts (1965) and, when he was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a muscle/nerve disorder, retired from acting, altogether. He stayed in the background and focused instead on managing and nurturing his wife’s career. In the 1970s, he proved instrumental in her successful comeback in Vegas (he produced her stage shows), TV and films while she battled personal tragedy and injuries. A devoted couple married for nearly 50 years, Roger’s health began to stabilize in the mid-1980s.
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