Date of Birth: 16 August 1930, Oakland, California, USA
Date of Death: 24 March 2010, Los Angeles, California (heart attack)
Birth name: Robert Martin Culp
Height: 6' 2" (1.88 m)
A familiar face on the small screen for years, Culp had the lead in three of the scariest episodes of the sci-fi anthology The Outer Limits. In The Architects of Fear, Culp played a scientist who agrees to be transformed into a monster in order to unite the world’s powers against a common enemy (a premise later borrowed by the graphic novel Watchmen). Corpus Earthling was a precursor of Night of the Living Dead in which aliens inhabit the dead bodies of their victims. Speaking of precursors, Harlan Ellison’s The Demon With the Glass Hand, which featured Culp as a time traveler from the future trying to save mankind from destruction, became the inspiration for James Cameron’s The Terminator.
When I Spy debuted in 1965, it made television history by being the first show to star a black actor. Bill Cosby played C.I.A. agent Alexander Scott opposite Culp as fellow agent Kelly Robinson who posed as an international tennis champion. Produced by Sheldon Leonard, the series was filmed on location all over the globe. Outside of the first-rate direction and writing, the show was notable for the chemistry between Culp and Cosby which often recalled a Hope and Crosby-like comraderie. (Like his co-star, Culp had a definite flair for comedy. In an episode of Get Smart called Die, Spy that spoofed I Spy, Culp had a hilarious cameo as a waiter in an Arabian restaurant.)
Culp’s comic ability served him well when lightning struck twice with a starring role in another hit television series. In The Greatest American Hero, Culp was cynical F.B.I. agent Bill Maxwell who teamed with bumbling would-be super hero Ralph Hinkley played by William Katt. Some of the show’s most amusing moments came from the friction between Maxwell and Hinkley’s caustic lawyer girl friend Pam Davidson (Connie Sellecca) who Maxwell invariably addressed as “Counselor.”
In addition to I Spy and The Greatest American Hero, Culp made countless appearances on various television series and made-for-TV movies. He rivaled Patrick McGoohan’s record for playing the “guest villain” on the Columbo series starring Peter Falk. He also acted in some outstanding films, most notably as Natalie Wood’s husband in Paul Mazurky’s comedy about modern marriage, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
It should also be noted that Culp was something of a Renaissance man being a talented writer and director as well as a thespian. He wrote the scripts of several episodes of I Spy, one of which was nominated for an Emmy. (Culp was nominated twice for Best Actor Emmys for I Spy, but lost both times to his co-star Cosby.) In 1972, Culp made his feature film directing debut with Hickey and Boggs, which starred Cosby and had a screenplay by Walter Hill.
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