Halls of Fame
Robert David Hall
“When I think of my time at Santa Ana College, I mainly recall my time at the college newspaper, el Don,” says Robert David Hall, an actor, musician and tireless spokesman for disabled persons in the professions.
Yet it was the irresistible lure of watching play rehearsals across the hall from the newsroom that ultimately led Mr. Hall into theatre classes at UCLA and from there on to a career first in broadcast journalism and, most recently, to fame in the role of coroner Dr. Albert Robbins on the CBS prime-time show, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which just wrapped its ninth season.
Mr. Hall was born in East Orange, New Jersey in 1947; he moved with his family to Tustin in 1951. He graduated from Tustin High School in 1964 at age 16 and enrolled in UCLA.
“At the end of my first year at UCLA my father and I had a strong disagreement about my grades,” he says, with a smile in his voice, “and I told him I would pay for my own education. So I dropped out of UCLA and got a job as ‘Dangerous Dave’ on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. In 1965 I enrolled at Santa Ana College while I continued working to earn money for my tuition and expenses.”
A number of lessons learned in and out of class have served Mr. Hall well in his career. “Being young, brash, and arrogant, I decided I really did not need to attend my English class as long as I passed the exams. When I showed up—late─ to take the final exam, Prof. Harold Milnes kicked me out and gave me the only ‘F’ I ever got in college. Believe me, I never have been late for an audition or an appointment since then!”
Fortunately, his experiences working on el Don were less dramatic, although no less valuable. “I’d never worked on my high school paper, and I was skeptical about writing for the SAC weekly paper. These were pre-computer days and you had to type pretty well and get your stories in on deadline. I owe a lot to my editor, Michael Wilde, and the journalism advisors, Carl Venstrom and, later, Charlotte Huber. Michael taught me a lot about journalistic writing, photography in and out of the lab, and life on campus. He was my ideal of a reporter or editor─a great newspaper man, and an even better friend. He was very centered, even-keeled and extremely creative, with a great instinct for solving problems. When I felt overwhelmed, Michael had a way of putting things in perspective. His mother, Helen Wilde, was secretary to the college president and is also in the Alumni Hall of Fame. She was very supportive and helped me grow a lot in the three semesters I spent at SAC.”
Other memorable professors include Victoria Stephenson, “my sophomore English teacher, who was a stickler on writing economically and expressively; Prof. Walter Brooks, who taught astronomy, and Prof. John Verleur, who taught philosophy.
“Some professors and classmates are friends to this day,” he says.
When he re-entered UCLA in 1967, he began exploring the world of theater arts, and graduated with a B.A. in 1970 with a major in English Literature and a minor in Theater Arts.
“I worked the whole time, so completing my education took awhile,” he explains.
Mr. Hall had a promising career in radio broadcasting when, in 1978, an 18-wheel truck struck his car and he was severely burned when the car’s gas tank exploded. He was treated at the University of California Irvine Regional Burn Center. Both of his legs were amputated. After multiple reconstructive surgeries and extensive physical therapy, he now walks comfortably with two prosthetic limbs. “It was the care and compassion of the staff at the Burn Center that allowed me to recover and continue my career,” he says.
It was Mr. Hall’s role as a burn survivor in the film “Class Action” (1991) with Gene Hackman and Laurence Fishburne that most closely parallels his real life, and ultimately led to numerous television guest-starring roles in both dramas and comedies. Mr. Hall also works as a voice-over actor, and can be heard on hundreds of commercials, animated series, and narrations.
This season, Mr. Hall and Mr. Fishburne were reunited on camera when Mr. Fishburne created the role of the newest member of the CSI team, Prof. Raymond Langston, a criminal pathologist.
The list of Mr. Hall’s awards and accomplishments is lengthy and impressive, but none more than his commitment to helping other burn survivors transition from “victims to survivors to VICTORS.”
A member of SAG/AFTRA, Mr. Hall chairs the Disabled Actors Committee for the Screen Actors Guild and works tirelessly to promote the disabled in the professions.
“My personal hero is my father, Robert F. Hall, a graduate of the California Institute of Technology and Rutgers University School of Law. He was the silent type but he taught his children that there are always people who are better off and those who are worse off than we are; I think his message was to not become too hung up on circumstances, and always accept responsibility for our actions.”
Certainly Mr. Hall’s own guiding philosophy has served him well: “Prepare as hard and smartly as you can, then let it go and have some fun. Listen, and stay in the moment.”
It’s a philosophy that touches on a life lesson well-learned, “As John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.’”