Closing Credits: Robert Culp
Robert Culp died on 24th of March of this year, and although I've sat with his obituary on my writing to do list, it's no reflection on the actor that he was and what an effect he had on many television watchers in the early eighties, for he was Bill Maxwell in The Greatest American Hero.
It strikes me as a terrible shame that the actor never got to see that series made into a feature film and receive a wonderful cameo for the role, or perhaps that is actually a good thing considering Hollywood these days.
Robert Culp always struck me as one of those leading Hollywood actors from back in the day who never quite made it to film and was always more than happy with his vast and varied television career, a career which is filled with many, many roles.
Trackdown from 1957 to 1959 was his first television breakthrough, with some episodes directed by Sam Pekinpah, and his lengthy television career began. However it was the role in PT 109 in 1963 that broke in into film.
I Spy then took a lot of his time, where he starred in the long running television show opposite Bill Cosby, seen as quite the ground breaking television series with the racially mixed pair of secret agents taking big audiences and marking both their careers. After this show they weren't done acting together either, as Culp directed them both in the feature film Hickey and Boggs where they played private detectives together.
Bill Cosby said the most moving thing about Culp in a Yahoo News article, the one I picked up at the time about the news, however the article has since been removed and I've relied on The Guardian story. Here's the quote I copied from that original article:
"The first born in every family is always dreaming of the older brother or sister he or she doesn't have, to protect, to be the buffer, provide the wisdom, shoulder the blows and make things right...Bob was the answer to my dreams...
...No matter how many mistakes I made on 'I Spy,' he was always there to teach and protect me."
The 1969 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice was seen as another breakthrough for the star, this time on the big screen, a film very much of it's time which was making fun of the sexual liberating sixties and also starred with Natalie Wood, Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon.
Cosby said of the star that:
"His proudest moments were when he was writing and directing I Spy and Hickey and Boggs...Bob was meticulous and committed."
Indeed he was writing more and more in his later years, and he wasn't just an actor. Both Cosby and Culp were involved in civil rights causes and travelled to Memphis to join striking garbage workers that Martin Luther King Jr. was organising just after the great man's assassination.
For me though, he will always be remembered as the agent in The Greatest American Hero, a role that endeared him to me so well that I took away a feeling that he really was a genuinely nice guy, and yet I'd never really seen him in a real life situation, he just caught me with that role.