Robert Sterling, the handsome star of 1940s movies who appeared with his wife Anne Jeffreys in the 1950s television series "Topper," died Tuesday at his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. He was 88.
The New Castle, Pa., native died of natural causes, said his son, Jeffrey Sterling, following a decade-long battle with shingles. His wife and other close relatives were at his bedside.
Although he appeared in dozens of movies, Robert Sterling was best known for the 1953-1956 TV series "Topper," based on the Thorne Smith novel, and the 1937 film starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett.
Mr. Sterling and Miss Jeffreys played George and Marion Kerby, a fun-loving couple killed in an accident but who returned as ghosts to haunt the new occupant of their home, a banker named Cosmo Topper.
Robert Sterling was born William Hart on Nov. 13, 1917, in New Castle, the son of Chicago Cubs catcher William S. Hart. He attended the University of Pittsburgh and worked as a clothing salesman before breaking into movies.
He proved a versatile player, especially in romantic roles, and appeared in five films in 1941, including the romantic comedy "Two-Faced Woman" with Greta Garbo and "The Penalty" with Lionel Barrymore.
After "Topper," Mr. Sterling and Miss Jeffreys teamed again in the sitcom "Love That Jill," which failed to last the 1958 season. He retired from acting in the 1970s to become a businessman and worked in the early stages of computers.
Mr. Sterling was married to actress Ann Sothern from 1943 to 1949 and they had a daughter, actress Tisha Sterling.
He married Anne Jeffreys in 1951 and they had three sons.
Correction/Clarification: (Published June 2, 2006) The headline on this obituary as orginally published on June 1, 2006 for former television actor Robert Sterling misidentified him as "TV's 'Topper.'" Mr. Sterling played George Kerby, misspelled as Kirby in the report, in the 1950s series and Leo G. Carroll played Cosmo Topper.