Robert Dowdell, Actor on 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,' Dies at 85

ABC/Photofest
Robert Dowdell as Chip Morton on ABC's 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea'

Earlier, he appeared as Jack Lord's sidekick on 'Stoney Burke,' a TV Western.

Robert Dowdell, the versatile actor who had supporting roles on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Stoney Burke, two ABC series of the 1960s, has died. He was 85.

Dowdell died Tuesday of natural causes in Coldwater, Michigan, family spokeswoman Diane Kachmar told The Hollywood Reporter.  

On 109 episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea from 1964-68, Dowdell portrayed Chip Morton, the lieutenant commander on the submarine Seaview under the command of Adm. Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart). The series was created by Irwin Allen, based on his 1961 movie of the same name.

The filmmaker later would cast Dowdell in another underwater adventure — City Beneath the Sea (1971) — and on the TV series Land of the Giants and in the 1986 CBS telefilm Outrage.

Stoney Burke ran for 32 episodes in the 1962-63 season. It featured future Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord in the title role as a rodeo rider, with Dowdell as his sidekick, Cody Bristol, who follows him around the rodeo circuit. (Bruce Dern and Warren Oates also were regulars on the show.) Dowdell received $750 a week for his role.

Dowdell was born on March 10, 1932, in Park Ridge, Illinois. His early jobs were as a pinsetter at a Chicago bowling alley, a mail carrier for the ABC network, a hunting guide in Mexico and a railroad brakeman.

He enlisted with the Army Corps of Engineers, and it was then that he discovered his passion for acting. Dowdell appeared on Broadway opposite Joanne Woodward and Hurd Hatfield in The Lovers, a 1956 play that was written by Leslie Stevens; he later would produce and direct for Stoney Burke, and he encouraged Dowdell to audition for the TV show.

Dowdell polished his skills under noted acting coach Wynn Handman. His subsequent theater appearances included Love Me Little opposite Susan Kohner; Viva Madison Avenue! with Buddy Hackett; Five Finger Exercise opposite Jessica Tandy (with direction by John Gielgud); and The Midnight Sun, helmed by John Frankenheimer, who later cast Dowdell in the 1960 telefilm Fifth Column opposite Richard Burton and Maximilian Schell.

The actor also popped up on the 1950s anthology series Studio One in Hollywood and Buick-Electra Playhouse and on shows including Moment of Fear, Adam-12, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and CHiPs.

Dowdell was married to actress Sheila Connolly for 14 years until their 1979 divorce.

Survivors include his cousins Harry, Linda and Ted, who noted that Dowdell was "truly amazed so many of you were his fans and told him so, with posts, signed picture requests and cards."