First, however, a little about Smith, an affable actor with collegiate good looks who was also a trained singer and dancer. But who would know that, considering how ill-used he was by the studios where he was a contract player? Hollywood is also often at a loss about nurturing and showcasing certain talents, which is odd considering that "talent" is what drives it.
And exacerbating matters for Smith was a debilitating neuromuscular disease, myasthenia gravis, which prematurely ended his acting career.
He was in his mid-30s when his life changed.
Smith was always prepared for an acting career and made the decision to actively pursue it at the advice of James Cagney, whom he happened to meet while in Hawaii in 1955. Smith was on a 30-month Naval tour of duty with the reserves there and Cagney was on location, filming "Mister Roberts." ("Mister Roberts" - Keep that title in mind. It's the first of a few connections to be covered here. There will be a Blue Book quiz following.)
Two years later, Smith went to Hollywood and appeared in several TV series before being signed by Columbia Pictures - where he appeared in such titles as "Operation Mad Ball" and "No Time to Be Young" and where he met his first wife, the Australian actress Victoria Shaw.
Unlike Smith, Shaw was groomed for stardom at Columbia. In 1956, she was given the second female lead in George Sidney's "The Eddy Duchin Story," starring Tyrone Power and Kim Novak, playing Duchin's second wife, Chiquita. (George Sidney - keep that name in mind. A connection.)
Smith, meanwhile, ended his lackluster association with Columbia and was eventually put under contract by Warner Bros., which promptly cast him in the TV series "77 Sunset Strip." There was a double-edge to this. "77 Sunset Strip" was hugely popular and ran for years, making Smith something of a celebrity, but then there was Jack Warner.
In his mind, Warner had only two sets of stars on his lot - movie stars and television stars. They never mixed and there was rarely a crossover. The movie stars at Warners made feature films exclusively; its TV stars made movies only occasionally and usually in small roles in quality films or lead roles in minor films. Smith's one major film role for Warners was 1958's "Auntie Mame," in which he played Mame's nephew Patrick as an adult.
Shaw, meanwhile, languished at Columbia, where she was oddly relegated to B-movies which were half-heartedly released. (Some were pretty good: Sam Fuller's "The Crimson Kimono.") Finally, the studio announced that Shaw would be the title star of "The Notorious Landlady," a comedy slated for a big summer release in 1962, but by the time that film reached the screen in '62, the lead was ... Kim Novak, Shaw's "Eddy Duchin" co-star.
Roger and Victoria, who had three children together, divorced in 1965. Shaw, who would go on to marry and divorce actor Elliott Alexander, died in her native Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in 1988 of emphysema.
The year of his divorce from Shaw, Smith was cast by Warners in another TV series ... "Mister Roberts." He played the title role created on stage and film by Henry Fonda. Yeah, that was the movie James Cagney was making years earlier in Hawaii where he encouraged Smith to try acting.
Smith met and married his second wife, Ann-Margret, in 1967 and they were together exactly 50 years, until his death on June 4. When Smith developed myasthenia gravis and his career ended, he devoted his attention to his talented wife whose career he managed throughout their marriage, giving her the courage to expand her goals and challenge herself, guiding her into such films as "Carnal Knowledge" and "Tommy," both of which brought her Oscar nominations - as well as "Joseph Andrews," directed by Tony Richardson, "The Outside Man" with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Richard Attenborough's "Magic" opposite Anthony Hopkins and the TV version of "Dames at Sea."
Ann-Margret, of course, had two huge back-to-back hits at the start of her career - "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Viva Las Vegas." Both movies were directed by - ta-da! - George Sidney.
That's right - George Sidney, the director who showcased the first Mrs. Roger Smith in "The Eddy Duchin Story." Perfectly circuitous, right?
Note in Passing: One final connection... Roger Smith actually got to appear opposite James Cagney in two films, both for Universal-International: "Man of a Thousand Faces," the Lon Chaney biopic, and "Never Steal Anything Small," a musical with Shirley Jones.
Naturally, Smith was not called upon to either sing or dance in that.
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~top: Roger Smith with Joanna Barnes in a scene from "Auntie Mame"
~photography: Warner Bros. 1958 ©
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~middle: Smith and Victoria Shaw at the Coconut Grove in the 1950s
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~bottom: Smith and Ann-Margret in the 1970s