Stephen Roberts



Also Known As
Stephen R Roberts
Birth Place
Summersville, West Virginia, USA
November 23, 1895
July 17, 1936
Cause of Death
Heart Attack


An unjustly overlooked figure in the annals of film history, Stephen Roberts directed a dozen films during his five years as a feature filmmaker. Modest in scale, his films nonetheless reveal a director of warmth, grace and skill.The young Roberts served as a pilot in WWI and, after his discharge, continued his airborne activities as a stunt pilot. Engagements at county fairs ended abrup...


An unjustly overlooked figure in the annals of film history, Stephen Roberts directed a dozen films during his five years as a feature filmmaker. Modest in scale, his films nonetheless reveal a director of warmth, grace and skill.

The young Roberts served as a pilot in WWI and, after his discharge, continued his airborne activities as a stunt pilot. Engagements at county fairs ended abruptly when an accident curtailed his flying career, and he drifted into film work as a stuntman and double. A brief apprenticeship with Thomas Ince quickly led to his becoming a director of comedy shorts by the early 1920s. Feature work did not begin until 1932, though, when Roberts' aviation background led Paramount to assign him a bland Richard Arlen vehicle, "Sky Bride" (1932). The film's routine storyline hardly impressed the critics, but Roberts received some praise for his handling of a suspenseful child rescue scene.

Most of Roberts' films fall squarely into the category of programmers, in between "A" and "B" films in length and cost. Roberts began to find his way with "Lady and Gent" (1932), a warm seriocomic duet for the rough diamond pair of Wynne Gibson and George Bancroft, and "The Night of June 13" (1932), a superior courtroom drama boasting a top-flight cast. The charming period comedy "One Sunday Afternoon" (1933), showing Gary Cooper moving firmly into homespun roles, was later improved upon by Raoul Walsh's 1941 remake, "The Strawberry Blonde," but Roberts struck pay dirt with "The Story of Temple Drake" (1933). An admittedly toned down adaptation of William Faulkner's vivid descent into Southern debauchery, "Sanctuary," the film was maturely powerful, highly atmospheric, and extremely well-acted, with Miriam Hopkins splendid as a thrill-seeking heiress who falls in with some especially unsavory criminal yokels.

Roberts may have gained respect for managing to adapt a seemingly "unfilmable" novel, but "Temple Drake" caused controversy; it was one of the films directly responsible for the stronger enforcement of the Production Code. He left Paramount after "The Trumpet Blows" (1934), with George Raft and Adolphe Menjou miscast as a bullfighter and a Mexican bandit, and he signed with RKO. His first film there, though small, was another gem. "Romance in Manhattan" (1934) proved a beguiling invasion of Frank Capra territory, with Ginger Rogers and Francis Lederer wonderful as a chorine and the naive immigrant she befriends.

A one-shot at 20th Century-Fox, "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo" (1935), a very slender but sleek jaunt with Ronald Colman, continued the modest career upswing, and Roberts consolidated his gains with two back-to-back hits. Both "Star of Midnight" (1935), starring Rogers and William Powell, and "The Ex-Mrs. Bradford" (1936), teaming Powell with Jean Arthur, were unabashed imitations of the immensely successful 1934 comedy-mystery "The Thin Man." Powell was near his peak giving variations on his savvy sleuth Nick Charles, his female co-stars blithely held up their end of the banter, and the mystery plots were suitably tangy.

Roberts was almost a big-budget "A" league director and even the minor, if decent, Ann Harding sudser "The Lady Consents" (1936) did not stem his progress. He was also starting to become a critics' pet at the time of his abrupt death at age 40 in 1936.

Life Events


Directed first feature film, "Sky Bride", for Paramount Studios


Left Paramount; last film there, "The Trumpet Blows"; signed with RKO; first film for that studio, "Romance in Manhattan"


Directed last film, "The Ex-Mrs. Bradford", for RKO


Movie Clip

One Sunday Afternoon (1933) -- (Movie Clip) All The Girls Were Kinda Crazy About Me At a turn-of-the-century amusement park, in flashback, bachelors Hugo and Biff (Neil Hamilton, Gary Cooper) have a loose appointment to meet the girls they will later marry, local belle Virginia (Fay Wray) and shy friend Amy (Frances Fuller), in One Sunday Afternoon, 1933.
Diary Of A Madman (1963) -- (Movie Clip) He's A Strange Fish Initiating a flashback after the funeral, gallery owner D’Arville and his daughter (Edward Colmans, Elaine Devry), with Capt. Rennedon (Stephen Roberts) attending, begin executing the will of magistrate Cordier (Vincent Price, introduced here), early in Diary Of A Madman, 1963.
Star Of Midnight (1935) -- (Movie Clip) I Never Bit A Dog In My Life Star William Powell as lawyer and amateur detective Clay Dalzell is introduced, as friend Tim (Leslie Fenton) talks about his disappeared fianceè, butler Swayne (Gene Lockhart) offers booze, and gal pal Donna (Ginger Rogers) arrives, Russell Hopton on the phone, in the RKO Thin Man lookalike, Star Of Midnight, 1935.
Star Of Midnight (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Maybe He Ought To Be Rubbed Out Lawyer and part-time sleuth Dalzell (William Powell) has departed a Broadway show to threaten gangster Kinland (Paul Kelly) in order to get back some letters belonging to a lady friend, getting his way, discussing a pesky reporter, when news comes from the theater, in RKO’s Star Of Midnight, 1935.
Star Of Midnight (1935) -- (Movie Clip) He Was Shot In The... Comical cops (Robert E. O’Connor, J. Farrell MacDonald) are leaving as lawyer and sometime sleuth Dalzell (William Powell) explains to kinda-girlfriend Donna (Ginger Rogers) that he got caught pretending he was on the phone with her, then she finds out he got shot, Gene Lockhart his butler, in Star Of Midnight, 1935.
Ex-Mrs. Bradford, The -- (Movie Clip) My Assistants Just Resigned Reluctant Doctor Bradford (William Powell) brings snoopy former wife Paula (Jean Arthur) and aide Stokes (Eric Blore) to the morgue, later getting a call from horse trainer North (Frank Thomas), then more surprises, in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, 1936.
Romance In Manhattan (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Let's See Your Money Sweeping introduction to New York for hunky Francis Lederer, Prague-born, already an international stage and screen star, in one of his first Hollywood roles as Czech immigrant Karel Novak, running into trouble with Immigration, opening Romance In Manhattan, 1934, also starring Ginger Rogers.
Romance In Manhattan (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Fancies Himself A Clark Gable Well-intentioned Czech immigrant Karel (Prague-born Francis Lederer) hasn’t shared every detail about his arrival in New York with showgirl Sylvia (Ginger Rogers), who’s letting him stay at the apartment she shares with her brother (Jimmy Butler), dining out on her paycheck, in Romance In Manhattan, 1934.
Romance In Manhattan (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Diet Or Necessity? Having dived out of the steamer shipping him back to Prague from New York because he was misinformed about immigration fees, Karel (Czech-born Francis Lederer) is running out of luck until he meets showgirl Syivia (Ginger Rogers), her first scene, in RKO’s Romance In Manhattan, 1934.
Story Of Temple Drake, The (1933) -- (Movie Clip) She Came With That Drunk Bootlegger Goodwin (Irving Pichel) considers assaulting car-wreck refugee Temple (Miriam Hopkins) until his wife (Florence Eldridge) steps in, then her drunken date (William Collier Jr.) tries to protect her from another thug, Trigger (Jack La Rue) lurking, in The Story Of Temple Drake, 1933.
Story Of Temple Drake, The (1933) -- (Movie Clip) It's Like There Were Two Me's Temple (Miriam Hopkins) at the dance, first with grand-dad (Guy Standing) and spurned suitor Stephen (William Gargan), then Bob (Grady Sutton), then Toddy (William Collier Jr.) who brought her, explaining herself, in The Story Of Temple Drake, 1933, from the William Faulkner novel.
Story Of Temple Drake, The (1933) -- (Movie Clip) Are They Back Yet Full-on Southern horror, even in this sanitized version of William Faulkner's novel Sanctuary, Temple (Miriam Hopkins) after her first night with the bootleggers, when Trigger (Jack La Rue) sneaks up on her hillbilly guardian Tommy (James Eagles), in The Story Of Temple Drake, 1933.



Vee Alice Roberts
Born c. 1929; survived him.
Joan Roberts
Born c. 1931; survived him.