If Looks Were All It Took

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.

Robert Kenaston Jr., he had the looks!

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.

Billie Dove visits son Bob at the studio in 1957.

“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.

Bob Kenaston with wife Denise and Lee Heidorn in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1982.

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.

Billie Dove, the Elizabeth Taylor of the 1920s.

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5 thoughts on “If Looks Were All It Took

  1. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation however I find this topic to be actually something that I think I might never understand. It sort of feels too complex and very huge for me. I’m taking a look ahead on your subsequent submit, I will attempt to get the grasp of it!

    1. I knew Rob 3 months before he was killed in Ojai around 25 years ago. I didn’t know until recently that his grandmother was Billy Dove, or that his father had been famous. I can definitely see Rob in both his dad and grandmother which is a beautiful gift for me, since I don’t have any pictures of him. He had a unique and special
      impact on my life in those months.
      Thank you!

      1. Tamara Chappell or Michael Ankerich (author): Robert had a son who was put up for adoption. That son, also named Robert, different last name, is my ex husband, That makes Robert Kenaston my children’s grandfather and Billie a great-grandmother. This was only recently rediscovered by my older daugher (aged 23) who found your site once she had a name. If you know of any living relatives who are interested in sharing any family history via internet/email I think my 2 daughters may be interested. No interest in meeting, or anything intrusive. Just curious about geneaology. Thank you.
        PS I ordered “The Sound of Silence” for her.

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