Allene Roberts, Actress in Humphrey Bogart's 'Knock on Any Door,' Dies at 90
She received high marks for her film debut, 'The Red House,' then appeared in 'Union Station,' 'The Hoodlum' and 'Adventures of Superman.'
Allene Roberts, who starred with Humphrey Bogart in Knock on Any Door, with Edward G. Robinson in The Red House and with William Holden in Union Station, died Thursday in Huntsville, Alabama, her family announced. She was 90.
Roberts also played the female lead opposite "jungle boy" Johnny Sheffield in Bomba on Panther Island (1949); was caught between onscreen and real-life brothers Edward and Lawrence Tierney in the film noir The Hoodlum (1951); and appeared with Randolph Scott and Leonard Nimoy in Santa Fe (1951) and Kid Monk Baroni (1952), respectively.
Roberts made a big splash in her feature debut at age 17 when she played a girl who ventures into the woods against the wishes of her adopted father (Robinson) in the dark drama The Red House (1947), directed by Delmer Daves and also starring Rory Calhoun and Julie London.
In Nicholas Ray's Knock on Any Door (1949), Roberts portrayed the sweet love interest of bad boy John Derek — Bogart expressly wanted her for the part, she said — and in Union Station (1950), she played a businessman's blind daughter who is kidnapped. (Holden starred as the cop out to rescue her.)
Throughout her career, Roberts donated 10 percent of her earnings to her church back home.
She was born on Sept. 1, 1928, in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother was a housewife, and her father was an electrician who died of a heart attack when she was young.
Roberts beat out some 85,000 other contestants to be selected "America's Most Charming Child" after her aunt sent a photo of her to the New York Daily Mirror. Her prize was $1,000 and a screen test with Warner Bros.
"I went out there [to Los Angeles]. The screen test really wasn't a big deal, you know, and I hadn't had any experience at all, and I just flunked it. I flunked the test!" she said in a 2009 interview for the magazine Films of the Golden Age.
Despite that, Roberts stayed in California with her mother and studied at a Sunset Boulevard acting school for two years (while also answering the phones). Meanwhile, her mom worked as a seamstress at Fox.
Producer Sol Lesser took her and her mother to lunch when he was considering her for The Red House.
"While we were eating and talking and getting to know one another," she said, "he asked me, 'Allene, I want to ask you a question. When you go to the beach, do boys whistle at you?' I said, 'No, sir, they don't.' He said, 'You've got the part.' And that's the truth, I was tellin' the truth, because when I went to the beach, they never noticed me."
Roberts transitioned to television in the 1950s and appeared on three episodes of Adventures of Superman and six installments of Dragnet. After she married, she quit show business to raise a family, with her final TV appearances coming in 1957.
Survivors include her children John, Leslie, Julie and Laurie; her grandchildren Amanda, Kay, Scott, Johnny, Allison, Will, Lauren and McKenna; and her great-grandchildren Connor, Carden, Chase, Carson and Campbell.