Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trent, Kelly Robinson, Bill Maxwell...they were ALL Robert Culp!


One of the underappreciated talents of the genre, actor / writer / director Robert Culp, passed away.

Best known for his genre work, he made three appearances (more than any other lead actor) on the original Outer Limits, "Architects of Fear", "Demon with a Glass Hand"*, and  "Corpus Earthling".
He even played the villain in the 1st season Man From U.N.C.L.E. ep "The Shark Affair"!


His greatest success came on the tv series I Spy, one of the many secret agent shows of the 1960s, but one with a distinctive twist...it co-starred a Black actor as an equal part of the lead duo!
Bill Cosby's Alexander Scott posed as "trainer" to Culp's "pro tennis player" Kelly Robinson, but the pair were equals in every way, including fighting abilities and opportunities for romantic entaglements, though Scott was the better-educated of the two, and Robinson was more experienced at espionage work.
Both Culp and Cosby liked improvising their wise-cracking dialogue, and, after doing a couple of takes as scripted, usually did one or two off the tops of their heads, with the resulting episode being a combination of takes.
Culp and Cosby were both nominated for Emmys as Lead Actor in all three years, with Cosby winning each time.
Culp was also Emmy-nominated for one of the seven episodes he wrote. (Culp insisted on no improv when filming those episodes!)
Like most 60s shows, there was both a reunion tv-movie I Spy Returns, and an awful updated movie version I Spy with Eddie Murphy as Kelly Robinson.
There were eight original novels (no novelizations of episodes like Star Trek) and a comic book. (Remember, there were no videotape or dvds of the show!)

After  I Spy, Culp did various tv guest-star roles as well as both starring and supporting roles in feature films, most notably Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.

He was the first choice for Commander John Koenig on Space: 1999, but when he insisted on the opportunity to write and direct as well, producer Gerry Anderson went with Martin Landau.

He returned to genre tv in the early 1980s as old-style FBI agent Bill Maxwell in The Greatest American Hero (which,like I Spy, ran three years), and it's spin-off pilot The Greatest American Heroine.
Robert Martin Culp
August 16, 1930 – March 24, 2010

A special tribute treat: The pop-culture spy blog Mister 8 provides the I Spy comic story "The Missing Man", while the Gold Key Comics blog samples the I Spy comic "A Deadly Friend".

*There were plans by "Demon with a Glass Hand" writer Harlan Ellison to use Trent (again played by Culp) in an episode of Babylon 5 (which Ellison was serving as a creative consultant on), but they never came to fruition.

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