Robert J. Wilke

Robert J. Wilke (May 18, 1914 – March 28, 1989) was an American film and television actor noted primarily for his roles as villains, mostly in Westerns.

Robert J. Wilke
Wilke in a 1960 episode of Bonanza
Born(1914-05-18)May 18, 1914
DiedMarch 28, 1989(1989-03-28) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, US
OccupationFilm and television actor
Years active1936–1981
Spouse(s)Patricia Wilke

Early years

Wilke was a native of Cincinnati. Before going into acting, he had a variety of jobs, including working in a high-dive act at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933-1934.[1]


Wilke started as a stuntman in the 1930s and his first appearance on screen was in San Francisco (1936).[1] He soon began to acquire regular character parts, mainly as a heavy, and made his mark when, along with Lee Van Cleef and Sheb Wooley, he played one of the "three men waiting at the station" in High Noon (1952). In that film, Wilke’s character is ultimately killed by Grace Kelly’s character.

Television westerns

Wilke appeared in many, if not most, television westerns, including seven episodes each of NBC's Laramie and CBS's Gunsmoke.

He appeared eight times from 1951-1953 on the syndicated western series The Range Rider, starring Jock Mahoney and Dick Jones. He was a guest star five times thereafter on Cheyenne, five times on Bonanza, four times on Wagon Train and Death Valley Days, and three times on Clint Eastwood's Rawhide, Duncan Renaldo's The Cisco Kid, Pat Conway's Tombstone Territory, and Fess Parker's Daniel Boone. He appeared twice on The Virginian, Cimarron Strip, and The Guns of Will Sonnett, and once on Barry Sullivan's The Tall Man, Kirby Grant's Sky King, Andrew Duggan's Lancer, Robert Conrad's The Wild Wild West, and the ABC family western The Monroes.

Wilke appeared as a dishonest fight promoter in the 1958 episode "The Fighter" of NBC's western series, Bat Masterson, having engaged on screen in fisticuffs with Gene Barry, who played Masterson.

In 1960 Wilke was cast as Red Dog Hanlon in the episode "End of a Dream" of the NBC western series Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin and Noah Beery, Jr. In the story line, Cliff Robertson, as con man Martinius Van Der Brig, persuades series character Grey Holden (McGavin) to transport by riverboat a group of pioneers to "Rolling Stone", a tract of land which he recently purchased that cannot match the expectations of the settlers.[2]

In 1961 Wilke appeared as Gil Fletcher, a corrupt marshal in Billings, Montana, in the episode "The Fatal Step" of NBC's Laramie. Fletcher tries to steal the $20,000 payroll taken in a stage robbery by Wes Darrin (played by Dennis Patrick) and a younger partner, Tad Kimball (Gary Clarke, later a regular on The Virginian). Series character Jess Harper, played by Robert Fuller, is riding shotgun on the stage. Kimball regrets taking part in the crime and tries belatedly to make amends, as Fletcher tries to seize the loot stashed in an abandoned mine by Darrin and Kimball. Series character Slim Sherman, played by John Smith, shoots Fletcher in self-defense and remarks that he had never before drawn on a lawman and hoped never again to shoot at a badge.[3]

In the 1965-66 television season Wilke played Marshal Sam Corbett, in the 34-episode ABC western series The Legend of Jesse James,[4] who (in vain) tried to capture the outlaws Jesse James and his brother Frank James. Ann Doran co-starred as the James boys' mother Zerelda James Samuel. In 1960 Wilke played Jesse James' associate Cole Younger in the short-lived NBC western series Overland Trail with William Bendix and Doug McClure. In his only appearance on Perry Mason, Wilke played Deputy Sheriff Connors in the 1963 episode "The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito."

Wilke played a hitman in The Far Country (1954) and continued to work steadily in films and television over the next 20 years. More western credits followed in Man of the West (1958) and numerous lesser-known films.

In 1960 Wilke had a small but memorable part in The Magnificent Seven as the railroad bully, Wallace, who was quickly killed off by James Coburn in the memorable gun vs. knife fight. He had an unusually sympathetic (and large) role in Days of Heaven (1978) as farmer Sam Shepard's ally, the farm foreman.

In 1966 Wilke was cast as the courageous Sheriff McBain in the episode "Brute Angel" of the syndicated western series Death Valley Days, hosted by Robert Taylor. In the story line McBain must arrest young cutthroat Sam Bolt (Sherwood Price) and transport him stand trial for murder in Denver. McBain prays for divine intervention; his friend Pony Cragin (Jim Davis) hears the prayer and removes bullets from Bolt's gun prior to the arrest attempt. Jean Engstrom is cast as McBain's wife, Esther.[5]

Wilke guest-starred on many other television westerns, including Maverick, Tales of Wells Fargo, Have Gun – Will Travel, Bronco, The Westerner, Cheyenne, Lawman, Wanted Dead or Alive, Zorro, The Rifleman, and The Untouchables 1962 episode "The Eddie O'Gara Story" playing vicious gangster George "Bugs" Moran.

Other roles

Outside of westerns, Wilke appeared in such films as From Here to Eternity (1953) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). In the former film, Wilke’s character tells Maggio he has guard duty, which begins a series of events leading to the plot’s climax. In the later film, he was cast as the first mate of the Nautilus. It is Wilke who, in the film, warns Captain Nemo that a giant squid is approaching the ship, and who utters the line, "We understand, sir, and we're with you", when Nemo announces his final intentions.

His drama/adventure roles included U.S. Marshal, Peter Gunn, Tarzan, Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, and The Untouchables. In 1953 Wilke, playing a henchman for an East European counterfeiter, shoved John Hamilton and George Reeves into side-by-side steam cabinets, locked them in, turned up the thermostat to charbroil and left them to bake in "Perry White's Scoop", an episode of the popular series Adventures of Superman.

Wilke played Deputy Sheriff Connors in the 1963 episode, "The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito" on CBS' Perry Mason. He demonstrated his versatility by portraying golf professional Danny Donnigan in a 1962 episode, "Robbie the Caddie", on Fred MacMurray's ABC sitcom, My Three Sons (in real life Wilke was an expert golfer, and his friend actor Claude Akins noted that Wilke made more money on the golf course than he ever did as an actor). In 1964 Wilke played Tom Carter, the golf instructor of Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball), in The Lucy Show episode "Lucy Takes Up Golf".

Wilke's final film role was somewhat against type as Gen. Barnicke [6] in the 1981 comedy Stripes.[1]


Wilke was an excellent golfer. Author Dan Jenkins, in his book The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, describes a golf match at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles:

Mr. Wilke joined Mr. Jenkins, Vic Damone, James Garner, Jack Ging, Glen Campbell, Donald O'Connor, and Lindsay Crosby in the first and only Sports Illustrated Open Invitation at Riviera. The pro at Riviera at the time, Mac Hunter, is quoted as saying, "Bob Wilke used to be head and shoulders better than any of the actors and personalities. And he's still very good. A solid four handicap, but his putting is deteriorating. Wilke must have won more celebrity tournaments than you can count.[7]

Ging edged out Bob Wilke for the win that day.[7] James Garner also said that Wilke was the best golfer among the showbiz crowd at the Riviera in his book The Garner Files.[8]

In 1966, Wilke was rated the best amateur golfer in Hollywood. In 1960, 1963, and 1964, he won the World Entertainment Championship golf title.[9]

Selected filmography


  1. "Robert Wilke; Was Villain in Scores of Films". The Los Angeles Times. California, Los Angeles. April 1, 1989. p. 35. Retrieved October 14, 2018 via
  2. ""End of a Dream", Riverboat, September 19, 1960". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 21, 2013.
  3. ""The Fatal Step": Laramie, October 24, 1961". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  4. Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 593. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  5. ""Brute Ange" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 5, 1966. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  6. ""Stripes (1981) - Full Cast & Crew", Stripes". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved November 12, 2019.
  7. Jenkins, Dan (1970). "5: "Lights...Camera...Double Bogey"". The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate. Fireside/Simon & Schuster. p. ????. ISBN 9780671667504.
  8. Garner, James; Jon Winokur (2011). The Garner Files: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster. p. 159. ISBN 978-1-4516-4260-5. OCLC 709673421.
  9. "'Meanest Man' Coming to Pensacola". The Pensacola News. Florida, Pensacola. February 22, 1966. p. 12. Retrieved October 14, 2018 via
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