William "Smokey" Roberts

Born in Oklahoma in 1925, William “Smokey” Roberts was one of three children. An acquaintance suggested he sit in on a session with the band The 101 Ranch Boys - and he spent the next 17 years touring, generating 12 gold albums, 2 movies and backing many of the famous western stars of the day including Gene Autry and Poncho Villa. That’s also where Smokey picked up a talent for the accordion, and the nickname that sticks to this day.

World War II interrupted his musical career, but also planted the seeds of his next job. After his destroyer was struck by a kamikaze, Smokey was stationed with a group of Sea Bees. This macho crowd told him he was going to “see the fishes.” The next day, with only a few hours of training, Smokey was on the bottom of the bay in Scuba gear helping to remove unexploded ammunition and bombs. It was 1944, only two years after the invention of the Aqua-Lung.

Introduction to Photography

After the war, Smokey returned to music, eventually met his wife Dotty and settled down in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1959, Smokey decided to return to Scuba Diving, and opened Smokey’s Divers Den, one of the first Scuba shops on the east coast. Two and a half decades ago, most people did not believe him when he described what he saw underwater. Because of this, he began to shoot still pictures, and eventually 16MM film. At that time, one of the country’s only underwater photographers, Smokey was called upon to work for such organizations as the National Ocean and Atmospheric Agency, the Manned Undersea Technology program, and National Geographic.

Photography (and video) as a business
While Smokey was accumulating some impressive credits he met a Danish film maker named Gene Bergman. Gene convinced Smokey that he had a real future in film and video production, beyond underwater work. They formed Bergman and Roberts Productions to work on many business and documentary film productions, visiting many beautiful blue water locations, and joining expeditions with team leaders like Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Bob Ballard and well known treasure hunters Burt Webber and Mel Fisher. Smokey went on to win many awards for his independent documentary productions, “Truk Lagoon,” “The Medusa Affair,” Undersea Research”, and accumulated such business clients as Welches Foods, Gulf and Western, and Eastman Kodak among many others.

Gene Bergman passed away in the early 80’s and along with many other film companies, Smokey decided to convert a portion of his business to video tape. Now "semi" retired and in his 80th year, Smokey Robert continues to work on underwater projects, and is also in the process of cataloguing his extensive library of underwater film for both stock purposes, and is actively working on the production of new documentary projects. 

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