It's been a sad week and a half for fans of classic television...first came word of the passing of Peter Graves, then we learned that Fess Parker had died...and I just found out that actor Robert Culp has died. He was 79.
I'm pretty sure I saw every episode of I SPY in syndicated reruns when I was a teenager. I loved the charming interplay between Culp's Kelly Robinson and Bill Cosby's Alexander Scott, secret agents who traveled the globe. I SPY is credited with being the first drama series to star a black actor.
The multi-talented Culp wrote several I SPY scripts and directed an episode. One of Culp's scripts was nominated for an Emmy award. He was also nominated for a few Best Actor Emmy awards but lost each time to Bill Cosby.
In the late '80s Culp guest starred as Cliff Huxtable's old friend, Scott Kelly, in an episode of THE COSBY SHOW -- note the way the name incorporates the names of their I SPY characters. The show seemed to be a reflection of real life, two very old friends simply sitting around talking over old times and cracking jokes.
In the early '80s Culp starred in another fun TV series, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. Culp played Bill Maxwell, the perennially exasperated FBI contact of the title hero. As he had on I SPY, Culp also wrote and directed episodes.
Culp's film roles included appearing as Jane Fonda's boyfriend in SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963).
Thank you, Mr. Culp, for many hours of wonderful entertainment.
Update: Here's an excerpt on YouTube from an Archive of American Television interview with Culp, where he talks about his relationship with Bill Cosby, and here's a brief interview where Culp aptly describes his GREATEST AMERICAN HERO character. (I believe Culp's Bill Maxwell was the key ingredient on GREATEST AMERICAN HERO.) More Culp interview excerpts are available on YouTube.
Thursday Update: Here is the full-length L.A. Times obituary. And a London Daily Telegraph writer looks at Culp's guest roles on COLUMBO.
Update: A great tribute to Culp's Bill Maxwell character by John Nolte at Big Hollywood.