If dashing looks were all it took to make a go of it in Hollywood, Robert “Bob” Kenaston Jr., the son of silent film actress Billie Dove, would have been one of the screen’s top matinee idols of the ’50s and ’60s. In the looks department, he was right up there with Rock Hudson, John Gavin, and a handful of other personal favorites.
After my series of blogs ran on Billie Dove’s fan club president, Lee Heidorn, several readers asked for more information about the younger Robert Kenaston’s career in Hollywood. I dug around a little more.
Robert Alan Kenaston, the son of millionaire rancher Robert Kenaston and actress Billie Dove, was born April 18, 1934. In his youth, he was a lifeguard, surf board beacher, rodeo rider, and sports car driver.
When producer Bill Perlberg, an old family friend, asked him to play a pilot in The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954), Bob couldn’t say no. At age 20, young Bob got serious about a film career.
“I never encouraged or discouraged Robert from being an actor,” Billie told a reporter in 1957 (The reporter referred to Billie as the Elizabeth Taylor of the 1920s). “I started work very young, in my teens, and I decided that when I married I wanted to have a normal, or non-professional life.”
Bob echoed his mother’s recollection. “I was never exposed to show business at home,” he said. “We never discussed it. I’ve never seen my mother on the screen. I didn’t know what profession to follow.”
For reasons not totally understood, Bob Kenaston’s career never took off. Write it off to the fickleness of the business.
He appeared in uncredited roles in The Proud and Profane (1956), The Tin Star (1957), and The Rat Race (1960). He made television appearances in Crossroads (1956), Men of Annapolis (1957), and Lock Up (1959).
Bob married at least three times. When Lee Heidorn last saw him, in 1982, he and wife Denise were living in Fort Lauderdale.
In the course of conversation, Billie had little to say about Bob or her adopted daughter, Gail. When I visited Billie in December 1994, she confided that her son was in a serious battle with lung cancer. He died from the disease in February 1995. Nearly age 92, Billie, who experienced the pain of having to bury a child, was never quite the same. Her own health began to decline and she ended up at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills. She died there in 1997.