Robert Dowdell
Date of Birth
Mar 10, 1933
Birth Place:
Park Ridge, IL


Robert Dowdell is mostly remembered on television for his portrayal of Lt. Commander Chip Morton, the executive officer of the submarine Seaview on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea for four seasons (1964-1968). During the late '50s and early '60s, however, Robert Dowdell was one of the busier and more promising up-and-coming actors on stage and television, with appearances onstage opposite performers such as Joanne Woodward, and on the small screen starring with the likes of Richard Burton. Born in Park Ridge, IL, Dowdell grew up in Chicago and set his sights on an acting career while attending Parker High School. He attended Wesleyan University and the University of Chicago before the army interrupted his studies, and later, after a number of jobs (including railroad brakeman and auto assembly line worker), he got his first break when he landed the lead role in an off-Broadway production of The Dybbuk. The latter experience brought to light his utter lack of professional training, and led to Dowdell's studying with renowned acting coach Wyn Handman, which resulted in his being cast in a small role in Time Limit, a Broadway drama set in the aftermath of the Korean War. It was after meeting producer/author Leslie Stevens that Dowdell was cast in Stevens' play The Lovers, working alongside Hurd Hatfield and a young Joanne Woodward. The play's director, Arthur Penn, in turn brought Dowdell to television when he began directing Studio One. He was back on Broadway in Love Me a Little, starring opposite Susan Kohner, and he followed this with a role in the John Frankenheimer-directed play The Midnight Sun. That led to Dowdell's appearance with Richard Burton in Frankenheimer's television presentation of The Fifth Column on CBS/Buick Electra Playhouse. Dowdell also worked with Buddy Hackett on Broadway in Viva Madison Avenue and portrayed the role of the German tutor in the road company production of Five Finger Exercise, starring Jessica Tandy. It was during the Los Angeles engagement of the latter show that he was offered a co-starring role of Cody Bristol on Stoney Burke, which was being produced by Leslie Stevens. It lasted one season but led to his being cast in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which kept him working for four seasons. Although many of the episodes didn't give Dowdell too much to do beyond relaying orders from other characters, the series' first two seasons allowed him some acting leeway that showed a real talent present beneath the bland dialogue and increasingly childish plots; and there were at least two programs in each of the last two seasons in which Chip Morton actually had scenes by himself or one-on-one with whatever force, alien or Earth-spawned, was threatening the ship. In the years since its cancellation, Dowdell has done some theatrical and film work, and reappeared on television occasionally, as recently as the mid-'90s. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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