Updated: January 24, 2020
ROBERT DOWELL PHOTO GALLERY #02
Robert Dowdell as Lt. Commander Chip Morton - Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
When Irwin Allen selected Bob Dowdell to play the role of Lt. Comdr. Chip Morton in the 20th Century-Fox Television adventure-drama VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, he picked a young man whose first and only aim in life was to be an actor.
"None of this fireman, policeman, cowboy and baseball business," Dowdell commented. "Since I appeared in the senior class play at Parker High School in Chicago, I knew acting was for me."
Born in Park Ridge, Ill., just outside Chicago, Dowdell attended public school, high school and then matriculated at Weslyan University in Connecticut on a scholarship, stayed a year and a half, then entered the University of Chicago, also on scholarship.
He left the university to enter the army, and upon discharge, held a number of jobs, including brakeman on a railroad, washing airplanes, driving a cleaner's delivery truck, selling books, working on an auto assembly line while waiting for his break.
His first role was in the off-Broadway production "The Dybbuk."
"Doing the lead in (Dybbuk) taught me one monumentally important thing," Dowdell recalls. "I didn't know how to act." The producers of the drama came to the same conclusion and after a month, Bob was replaced.
What money he had, Dowdell spent on acting lessons from Wyn Handman, a highly regarded acting coach. The lessons helped, and Dowdell was chosen for a small part in "Time Limit" on Broadway.
He was introduced to Leslie Stevens, who was casting his play, "The Lovers," for production by the Playwrights Company. He landed a part along with Joanne Woodward and Hurd Hatfield and the play was well received.
Arthur Penn, who had directed "The Lovers," gave Dowdell his first opportunity to tackle television in a "Studio One" segment that was a turning point for the young actor.
Another chance on Broadway in "Love Me Little" opposite Susan Kohner, with Joanne Bennett and Donald Cook, and frequent TV appearances followed, including "Kraft Theater," "Armstrong Theater, an additional "Studio One" and others. John Frankenheimer cast him in "The Midnight Sun," a drama headed for Broadway, and then selected him to team with Richard Burton and Maximilliam Schell in Hemingway's "The Fifth Column," on the Buick Electra Playhouse.
That success was followed by another Broadway stint, Viva Madison Avenue," with Buddy Hackett. Next, Dowdell was cast in the difficult and pivotal role of the German tutor in the national road company of "Five Finger Exercise" opposite Jessica Tandy.
While playing in "Five Finger Exercise" at the Biltmore Theater in Los Angeles, Dowdell was contacted by his friend from Broadway days, producer-director-writer Leslie Stevens, who had just formed Daystar Productions. He asked Dowdell to sign a contract and created the character of Cody Bristol in "Stoney Burke," a continuing role on that series that won a nationwide following and a ton of fan mail for Dowdell.