Untimely Passing - Robert Cushman

Robert Cushman 1946-2009

If you have ever have visited the Margaret Herrick Library to do any research and your research included a look at any of the gazzillions of photo files in the collection of the Herrick, you owe a fervent and silent thank you to a gentleman and gentle man who passed away a few days ago, Robert Cushman. Cushman was the curator of the Roddy McDowall Photograph Archive housed at the Margaret Herrick Library in The Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Research on La Cienega Blvd.

I learned this incredibly sad news a few days ago and this news that affects me very deeply. As many may or may not know I am reaching the conclusion of my project, Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol, His Life and Films in Photographs. I could not, nor today can I comprehend that my finished project will not be seen and critiqued by this man. His unerring eye, his experience, what a loss.

Robert was a generous man with his time and his expertise. His work at the Herrick enriched the collection by leaps and bounds. His work on the massive Fairbanks collection, incredible. He was a huge fan and expert on the work of Mary Pickford. There is his book on Mary Pickford a collaboration with Kevin Brownlow, Mary Pickford Rediscovered. It is a stunningly gorgeous book and remains a book that is a standard by which I judge all photo books on Hollywood. He set a pretty high bar.


I was not a close personal friend of Robert's and the afternoon I spent in the back at his cubicle looking at original photos with him will remain a treasured memory. His work touched my life and I am grateful to have crossed paths in this small way. Anyone who does research at the Herrick owes him a thank you and I can only hope the future generations who will conduct research will know they have Robert to thank.

I have no doubt his colleagues will miss him greatly and I mourn their loss and send my condolences. I cannot imagine who can replace him. I think it is a testament to his greatness as an archivist and curator that the Academy will have a very tough time finding one so qualified. None will know the collection as Robert did.

Farewell Robert, you've gone too soon. I'm so glad you were here and I got to say hello, even for so brief a time.

Apologies to Jeffrey and Tony for cropping you out of this photo, nothing personal.

Comments

Mercurie said…
That is so sad. He sounds as if he was a true gentleman and a great man.
rudyfan1926 said…
he was a lovely, gentle man and we have an awful lot to thank him for. Generations beyond mine will have some really wonderful stuff in the way of research material thanks to Robert.
Anonymous said…
Bob was my friend. My close friend. We shared the same passions about "Hollywood". We met in 1965 at Olney Hall. We were partners in running the best damn film series at UCLA dorms---it was so good that industry professionals attended regularly and Westwood Village theater managers complained to UCLA high-ups. We were showing features BEFORE they were released to local movie houses.
After graduation, Bob and I and Mike and Ira lived within blocks of each other in West Hollywood. Bob once told me his father was a WWII general. Bob set-up a great darkroom and accumulated an envious still collection during that time.
Bob had befriended Mary Pickford who had gifted him with a handsome wristwatch. I recall Bob often visiting Matty Kemp's office on Wilshire---Marys business manager. She had total ownership of all her films and half the real estate, too!
As Mary was one of the founders of the Academy and Bob was so dedicated and knowledgable, his placement as head of the still collections was quite logical.
I haven't seen Bob for years. He was so intense and focused on his work, maintaining friendships with me just wasn't to be. I will always love Bob. I know you were happy doing what you loved and relished being needed. Always, Byron
Christel Schmidt said…
Robert's impact on film history during his long career at the Academy cannot be overstated, but it was his scholarship on Mary Pickford's life and career along with his efforts to save, preserve, and promote her legacy that I will remember most. During the late 1960s Robert, who wrote his Master's thesis on Pickford, helped restore 47 of the actress's Biograph shorts for the American Film Institute. In the 1970s, while working for AMPAS, he actively pursued and eventually acquired Pickford's photograph and paper collections for the archive. Without Robert's dedication to preserving her collection these materials would have been sold off to various collectors or simply thrown away. As it was, when he arrived at Pickfair shortly after Pickford's death, a portion of her collection was already gone.

Robert, like former George Eastman House (GEH) curator James Card before him, played a vital and heroic role in saving Pickford materials for future generations. Card led an urgent effort to preserve Pickford's film collection in the 1950s and shortly after wrote the first major essay on her movies since her career had ended. Card also saw that her films were screened publicly to audiences at GEH's Dryden Theater and shared in private screenings with interested students and scholars, one of which, auspiciously, was Robert Cushman. Robert picked up the Pickford mantle from Card as well as from film historians George Pratt and Edward Wagenknecht and carried it for over 40 years. I am one of numerous scholars who are forever indebted to him for his work.

During Robert's tenure at AMPAS he continued to acquire additional Pickford materials for the archive. In the late 1990s he worked with Kevin Brownlow on "Mary Pickford Rediscovered" a photographic tribute published by Harry N. Abrams. This gorgeous book is not only a visual showcase of the long and varied career of the movies' first superstar but a reflection of Robert's own achievements as keeper of Pickford's photographic collection. I was beginning my own professional journey with Pickford at the time and had been working in Los Angeles when I was introduced to him. One of the first things he said to me was that he could see my work was a labor of love. Robert knew this instinctively because we shared the same passion. I will never forget the assistance and encouragement he offered to me then and over the years. It inspired me when times were tough.

Robert was a very private man -- shy and incredibly modest. He told me little about his own accomplishments; I usually heard about them from others or discovered them for myself over the years as I continued my own work. I found Robert's fingerprints nearly everywhere I went. He paved the road I went down and I am grateful to him. Recently Mary Pickford had returned to Robert's working life, if she ever truly left, when he began working on a book with writer Jeffrey Vance on Douglas Fairbanks. He also assisted on AMPAS's recent Fairbanks exhibition. In December, Robert provided key testimony for AMPAS in a court battle over the ownership of Pickford's two Oscars, which the archive won. Most thrilling for me was Robert's work as a contributing writer to a book of essays on Pickford that the Library of Congress and University Press of Kentucky are publishing next fall. I am the book's editor and working with Robert on a Pickford project was a dream of mine. I could tell he was really enjoying the work, which meant more to me than I can ever say. I was researching at AMPAS when I learned of Robert's passing. It was very painful news to receive but I was so lucky to be surrounded by his colleagues in the place where I first met him.

I think Robert would find the tears I've shed over his loss a little ridiculous and my deep admiration for him a bit embarrassing. He was always modest to a fault. I'm simply glad to have known him and had an opportunity to work with him. And I will miss him very much.
Christel Schmidt, Library of Congress
Anonymous said…
he was a nice guy, but also extremely unethical. the man did not know how to reconcile his role as archivist with his passion for collecting. the archival profession will be better off when the generation of collectors has passed on. rest in peace.
David Sullivan said…
I met Robert in 1972. He was a very sweet and quiet guy.
I remember he taught me how to make Beef Stroganoff...he had the recipe from Droussie, who had the russian restaurant in hollywood back then.
In June 1972 on my 21st birthday, he took me to see The Rolling Stones in concert at the San Diego Sports Arena, and the same week he took me to see Ella Fitzgerald at The Santa Monica Civic.
He introduced me to Bessie Smith...gosh so many many singer's, if not for him i may never have heard their music.
he was very interested in Mary Pickford and i know he had been to see her before she passed away.
I remember his darkroom in his little house on Hayvenhurst Avenue...i was jealous of it because he spent more time in it than with me.
Im so sad to learn of his passing...the last time i saw him was in 1977 at Ralphs Market on 3rd avenue...i got to make an ammend to him for something i had done when we were together.
He was just a really really sweet man, and i have to say, the nicest boyfriend i would ever have.
I remember he said my sister, Mardi Marans, who was with Warner Bros at the time, and i had the same,"perfect teeth"
He was a true gem.
cushmanspal said…
Today is November 1, 2010 and I only just now learned about Bob Cushman's passing! My face is awash in tears. There isn't enough room here to begin to tell my little tale of how I met this dear man in the 1960's. He had not yet graduated from UCLA and would confide in me his dreams of hopefully one day meeting Mary Pickford! He was all about Mary Pickford back then, especially! I was too but leaned more towards Chaplin growing up. How very fortunate I was to be his 'little pal,' (7 yrs. his junior), who loved all he loved. We connected off an on through the years, usually when I needed help with a project, and he never forgot me. Was always so dear, caring and respectful. I must get all my BC thoughts organized and then write a real tribute to him one day. Even though I've lived in Oregon for the past 18 yrs.,and our conversations became much more infrequent, I still thought of him and missed him. All of us who considered him 'a friend' were so blessed. RIP dear, Bob. Thank you for having been such a wonderful friend to so many of us. I will treasure having known you always and ever! With great fondness, Cheryl Morris Monteiro
Sildenafil said…
I read that Cushman sailed to Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621 aboard the Fortune, but returned shortly thereafter to England to promote the colony's interests. There, he published an essay concerning the Lawfulness of Plantations, which was appended to Mourt's Relation. !!!
R H said…
In reference to ANONYMOUS comment about Robert Cushman being unethical. Do you have information the rest of us don't have regarding this or are you talking out of your a** and starting rumors with unsubstantiated comments? FYI, Robert Cushman donated his entire collection to the Academy Library during the past 20 years of his life. Over 2 Million dollars worth of donations!! He could have sold that material but wanted it to go to the Academy obviously. So I'm a little confused with the unethical part. He built the Library's photo collection from a million photos in the early 1970's to over 9 million photos by 2009. Nothing meant more to him than photographic preservation. He devoted his entire life to it. Would love to know your credentials and donation history, but you're anonymous. Am wondering if you've outdone Cushman's legacy in your lifetime.

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