Robert Horton Dead at 91

Robert Horton
Actor and singer Robert Horton died on March 9 in Los Angeles. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by his niece, Joan Evans, who said that he was injured in a fall last November and had recently been placed in hospice care.

Meade Howard Horton Jr. was born to a well-off family in Los Angeles on July 29, 1924.

As a child, he overcame operations for a hernia and an enlarged kidney to play football at a military school in North Hollywood. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1943 but was medically discharged because of the enlarged kidney. In 1945, a chance encounter with a talent scout led to an uncredited part in the World War II film A Walk in the Sun.

After earning a bachelor's degree in theater arts at the University of California, Los Angeles, Horton moved to New York, where he struggled to find work. He returned to California and appeared in the movie Apache War Smoke in 1952. Horton acted in six more pictures for MGM and appeared on television shows like The Lone Ranger and The Public Defender.

During his career, Horton recorded albums, appeared on As the World Turns, and sang at the London Palladium, but he was never entirely successful in shedding the frontiersman image from his years starring in primetime drama Wagon Train.

He played Flint McCullough from the first episode of Wagon Train, in 1957, until the show moved from NBC to ABC in 1962. The series, inspired by the 1950 John Ford film Wagon Master, detailed the travails of people aboard a wagon train journeying from Missouri to California after the Civil War. Horton was the show’s heartthrob, often given occasions to remove his shirt.

Horton left the show when it was at the height of its popularity, turning down a lucrative contract because, he said, he wanted to avoid becoming typecast.

Horton pursued a recording and musical theater career while he worked on Wagon Train, making albums and performing in nightclubs. His appearance at the Palladium in London drew "squeals and shrieks," one newspaper reviewer said.

He also played the rainmaker in "110 in the Shade," a musical version of N. Richard Nash's play "The Rainmaker," on Broadway in 1963. Despite lukewarm reviews, the show ran for nearly a year, after which Horton performed in regional theater.

In 1965 he returned to westerns to star in A Man Called Shenandoah, an ABC series about a man with amnesia who roams the West searching for clues to his past. He also sang the show's theme song, and his rendition was included on an album, “The Man Called Shenandoah.” Though the show lasted one season, the recording remained his most popular.

Horton returned to television during the 1980's in the CBS daytime soap opera As the World Turns. For two years, he lived in New York City and played the part of publishing tycoon Whit McColl, a tough, ruthless executive of a newspaper empire.

Horton said of playing Whit, "I've known a lot of top TV executives, and they're all the same type. They're bright, they're charming, and they're deadly. When the time comes for them to cut your throat, they'll do it in a snap!"

Horton loved doing the soap and considered it a really good job with great pay and reasonable hours. Though he enjoyed the job, he and his wife were happy to return to California when Whit was murdered off the show in 1984.

Horton married the former Marilynn Bradley in 1960. She is his only immediate survivor.

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In the scene below from a 1983 episode of As the World Turns, Horton's Whit McColl clashes with his daughter, Diana (played by Kim Johnston Ulrich).



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