Robert Dowdell was born and raised in Chicago and had his first taste of acting while participating in plays at Francis W. Parker School. He attended both Wesleyan University and the University of Chicago on scholarship before a stint in the Army interrupted his studies.  After completing his military service, he decided to pursue a career in acting and headed off to New York City.

While helping David Ross build the interior seating and sets in Ross' new off-Broadway venue, the Fourth Street Theatre, Robert got his first acting break, landing the romantic lead in the theatre's first production, a very successful English language revival of The Dybbuk. Following that role, Robert polished his craft under the direction of renowned acting coach Wynn Handman.  This lead to a role in Time Limit, a Broadway drama set in the aftermath of the Korean War. It was after meeting producer/author Leslie Stevens that Robert was cast in Stevens' play The Lovers, working alongside Hurd Hatfield and a young Joanne Woodward. The play's second director, Arthur Penn, in turn brought Robert to television when he began directing Studio One.  Robert would then appear in many other NY based television dramas such as Hallmark Hall of Fame, Kraft Television Theatre, Goodyear Television Playhouse, Deadline and Moment of Fear.  Soon he was back on Broadway in Love Me Little, working with Donald Cook, Joan Bennett and Susan Kohner.  This was followed by a role in the John Frankenheimer-directed play The Midnight Sun which led to Robert's appearance with Richard Burton in Frankenheimer's television presentation of The Fifth Column on CBS/Buick Electra Playhouse.

Robert also worked with Buddy Hackett on Broadway in Viva Madison Avenue and tackled the difficult and pivotal role of the German tutor, Walter Langer,  in the Broadway road company production of Five Finger Exercise starring Jessica Tandy and under the direction of John Gielgud.  After Five Finger Exercise wrapped up its highly successful national tour, Robert headed back to New York.  Leslie Stevens, who'd made the trek out to the West Coast, asked him to drive his father's Buick convertible to L.A. for him, which Robert did, ending up staying in the historic Montecito Hotel in Hollywood.  While there, Stevens offered him the co-starring role of Cody Bristol on the modern western Stoney Burke which Stevens was producing through Daystar Productions.  It lasted only one season but led to his being cast as Lt. Commander Chip Morton in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. VTTBOTS ran for four successful seasons and gained Robert a very devoted group of fans.

In the years since Voyage's cancellation, Robert has appeared in several films and in many television shows  ranging from Buck Rogers to Adam 12 to Max Headroom and including a three season stint as the devious Senator Josh Harrington on the CBS daytime drama, Capitol.  Robert retired from show business in the mid-'90s.