Veteran character player Roy Roberts proudly claimed over 900 performances in a 40-year career. He might not have been known necessarily by name, but the face was distinct and obviously familiar. The prototype of the steely executive, the no-nonsense mayor, the assured banker, the stentorian leader, Roberts looked out of place without his patented dark suit and power tie. His silvery hair, perfectly trimmed mustache, nonplussed reactions and take-charge demeanor reminded one of the “Mr. Monopoly” character from the classic board game.
Roberts was born Roy Barnes Jones on March 19, 1906, in Tampa, Florida, the youngest of six children. The year 1900 is given as his birth date in several reference books, which seems compatible with his noticeably aged appearance in the last decade or so of his life, but his final resting stone bears the year 1906. His early career was on the Broadway stage, gracing such plays as “Old Man Murphy” (1931), “Twentieth Century” (1932), “The Body Beautiful” (1935) and “My Sister Eileen” (1942). In 1943 he made a successful switch to films, debuting as a Marine officer in Guadalcanal Diary (1943). Usually billed around tenth in the credits, he played a reliable succession of stalwart roles (captains, generals, politicians, sheriffs, judges, et al.). He was also a semi-standard presence in film noir, appearing in such classics as Force of Evil (1948), He Walked by Night (1948) and The Enforcer (1951) as both good cop and occasional heavy.
When Roberts made the move to TV he began to include more work in comedies. The 1950s and 1960s would prove him to be a most capable foil to a number of prime sitcom stars, including Gale Storm and Lucille Ball. His patented gruff and exasperated executives often displayed their prestige by the mere use of initials, such as “W.W.” and “E.J.” While he never landed the one role on film or TV that could have led to top character stardom, he nevertheless remained a solid and enjoyable presence, a character player who added stature no matter how far down the credits list.
A stocky man for most his life, Roberts gained considerable girth in the late 1960s, which made his characters even more imposing. He died of a heart attack on May 28, 1975, in Los Angeles and was buried in Fort Worth, Texas. He was survived by his wife, actress Lillian Moore.
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