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Veteran character actor Robert Culp has passed away
March 25, 2010 7:41 PM   Subscribe

"Those of us who are the firstborn always dream of that imaginary brother or sister who will be their protector, the buffer, the one to take the blows. I'm a firstborn, and Bob was the answer to my dreams. He was the big brother that all of us wish for." ~ Bill Cosby on his I-Spy co-star Robert Culp (79), who died of a heart attack yesterday after a fall outside his Hollywood Hills home

During his extensive six decade television and film career, the versatile, debonair character actor played a number of roles that made him an instantly recognizable figure to audiences, including Hoby Gilman in Trackdown (his breakout role,) FBI Agent Bill Maxwell in The Greatest American Hero and Bob, in the movie "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice." He never won an Emmy.

And to at least one reviewer, he was the finest Columbo villain of all time.

During the 60's, he promoted civil rights causes with Bill Cosby. Most recently, he was an active proponent for animal rights.

Clips: I-Spy (hulu), Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (Youtube), The Greatest American Hero (hulu -- intro is available on Youtube)

Mr. Culp was married 5 times. He leaves behind 5 children and 5 grandchildren.
posted by zarq (39 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
And finally:

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I loved him on The Greatest American Hero. :(

He also guest-starred as Debra's father Warren on Everybody Loves Raymond.
posted by zarq at 7:44 PM on March 25, 2010


I never really watched anything he was in, but I wanted to duck in and say that this is a great post. Way to hold out and craft something that the subject deserves rather than shoot for the imdb/wikipedia route. Good show.

And, of course:
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posted by nevercalm at 7:50 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


He ate dog biscuits on Greatest American Hero, which solidified his position as the Coolest Person Ever to five-year-old me.

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posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:56 PM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I Spy was a ground breaking show... Culp was a very good actor.... another loss

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posted by HuronBob at 7:56 PM on March 25, 2010


Kudos for going outside of the standard obitfilter phrasing! You get a favorite based on that alone.

The rest I'll read later.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:00 PM on March 25, 2010


Is he walking on air?

I fear to admit to myself the impact The Greatest American Hero had on my development in those tender years of my life, so I leave that part of myself uncomfortably unexamined. Part of me knows, however, that Robert Culp had an awful lot to do with it.
posted by mollweide at 8:25 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


This wouldn't be complete without a reference to his three superb appearances on The Outer Limits*, including the incomparable "Demon with a Glass Hand".

*Not my list, just came up conveniently in a search

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posted by George_Spiggott at 8:28 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Greatest American Hero was one of my favourite shows ever when I was a kid and I thought Robert Culp was hilarious. I also always liked that episode of the Cosby Show where he played one of Cliff's friends who had recently had bypass surgery and they try to sneakily eat pizza and chips in defiance of their wives... wish I could find that clip somewhere.

also,

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posted by wabbittwax at 8:36 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of the great 'oh..that guy!' actors.

RIP, Mr. Culp.
posted by jonmc at 8:38 PM on March 25, 2010


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As a fan of his older work as well, I really dug having him as the voice of Dr. Wallace Breen in Half-Life 2. His work really added to the character, giving him an oddly calm, human demeanor as they guy who's selling out the human race. Voice acting can make or break a game's experience, and he was the perfect fit, and he was a very wise choice on Valve's part.

"Welcome. Welcome to City 17. It's... safer here."

posted by chambers at 8:44 PM on March 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


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posted by doctor_negative at 8:52 PM on March 25, 2010


Very sad. An awesome guy and fun to watch in anything he did.

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posted by OolooKitty at 8:59 PM on March 25, 2010


I stupidly pasted in the wrong link under "active proponent for animal rights." The one that's there now is okay, but this one's better, as it notes other causes and programs Culp raised awareness for than just his opposition to LA Zoo's elephant exhibit.

TBH, I wish I'd been able to find better links for this post. Most of the obituaries rehashed the same information. I tried to include links that seemed more thorough and included trivia I personally found interesting.

Also...

As huronbob notes above, I-Spy had a tremendous impact, as it was filmed and aired during the height of the Civil Rights movement. TV Tropes has a wonderful summary:
Not only was it the first show to be filmed in exotic locations around the world (and utilized revolutionary filming techniques to do it) but it was also the first to feature a black actor in a co-starring role that was in every way equal to the white lead actor's role. Bill Cosby was also the first black actor to win an Emmy Award because of his wonderful work on this show. It is also worthy of note that before being cast in I Spy he had no acting experience. Although Bill Cosby was second-billed (simply because Culp was the more well-known personality at the time) he was not simply a Token Minority but was to be an integral part of the show since its conception. Also, although both characters were created as equals, Alexander Scott was depicted as having a better education (including being a Rhodes scholar) than his partner Kelly Robinson. A very enjoyable series with some truly wonderful chemistry between its two leads.
The LA Times link in the FPP also contains an awesome quote from Bill Cosby: At Culp's suggestion, he said, "we agreed to make the relationship between the white character, Kelly Robinson, and the black man, Alexander Scott, a beautiful relationship, so that people could see what it would be like if two cats like that could get along."

I wanted to include that in the post, and decided against it because I thought it might focus attention away from Culp's life & accomplishments. But in retrospect, I should have left it in. Culp was obviously instrumental in making sure his brilliant yet unknown African-American co-star was not initially portrayed or perceived as some sort of racist Stepin Fetchit, and that deserves acknowledgment and respect.
posted by zarq at 9:04 PM on March 25, 2010


He ate dog biscuits on Greatest American Hero, which solidified his position as the Coolest Person Ever to five-year-old me.

OMG I remember that now. I have this clear memory of him eating MilkBones out of a box and telling Ralph: "Kid, go put on the jammies, and let's go!" :D
posted by zarq at 9:06 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


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Demon with a Glass Hand, I Spy, and Greatest American Hero ("Here lies the Fed who did good.") And dog biscuits.
posted by SPrintF at 9:09 PM on March 25, 2010


The archive of American Television has an interview with him from 11/07 regarding I-Spy.

I'll stop adding stuff now, I promise!
posted by zarq at 9:12 PM on March 25, 2010


Not only was it the first show to be filmed in exotic locations around the world (and utilized revolutionary filming techniques to do it)

I've heard this a lot, but I've watched a few on video relatively recently, and maybe they were an unrepresentative sample, but these exotic locations consisted of the usual L.A. studio lots and soundstages dressed up to look to an unworldly viewership like the claimed location, and the "revolutionary filming technique" was to open with a stock footage establishing shot of some foreign capital like Madrid or something in the hope of giving the lasting impression that they actually shot it there. I dunno, maybe I rented the wrong episodes.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:23 PM on March 25, 2010


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I thought it was the magic jammies.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:33 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by Joey Michaels at 9:41 PM on March 25, 2010


Wow, that marks two simple and devastating elegies from Cosby. Two more than I hope to ever need to give.

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posted by NortonDC at 9:52 PM on March 25, 2010


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posted by LobsterMitten at 10:44 PM on March 25, 2010


Damn. I'm too old. I LOVED the original I-Spy. As a kid. Eating cookies and milk before bedtime.Now I want cookies and milk. And Bill Cosby to tuck me in.

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posted by Splunge at 12:23 AM on March 26, 2010


He never won an Emmy.

That's a fucking crime against humanity.

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posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:24 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not only was it the first show to be filmed in exotic locations around the world (and utilized revolutionary filming techniques to do it);i
George_Spiggott: I've heard this a lot, but I've watched a few on video relatively recently, and maybe they were an unrepresentative sample, but these exotic locations consisted of the usual L.A. studio lots and soundstages dressed up to look to an unworldly viewership like the claimed location, and the "revolutionary filming technique" was to open with a stock footage establishing shot of some foreign capital like Madrid or something in the hope of giving the lasting impression that they actually shot it there. According to this link I SPY (1965-1968) was the first American television drama to be filmed on location overseas. Episodes were filmed in Greece (8 episodes), Japan (9), Hong Kong (8), Italy (11), Mexico (18), Morocco (3), Spain (8) and in the US (15 episodes). A total of 82 episodes were made and a nice variety of cars are seen in this show.

Another link: locations where the show was filmed included Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Greece (just barely)*, and in the USA, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

*Apparently they were in Greece when the military overthrew the country.
posted by Davenhill at 12:38 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


sorry, "According to this link I SPY..." should be a new paragraph for the start of my reply to George.
posted by Davenhill at 12:40 AM on March 26, 2010


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posted by jlkr at 4:03 AM on March 26, 2010


I've had a speech performed by Mr. Culp playing in my head in fits and starts since I heard about his passing, but I couldn't quite place it. Finally, reading the post here, I broke my rule and went to IMDB. I was a fan of Greatest American Hero, and have enjoyed I, Spy reruns but the most indelable mark he left on my psyche was as the not quite dirty but not quite clean Mayor Tyler in Turk-182. He brought nuance, comedy, and conflict to what was essentially poorly-written bad-guy boilerplate.

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posted by dirtdirt at 4:17 AM on March 26, 2010


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posted by Halloween Jack at 5:36 AM on March 26, 2010


I watched Bob Carol Ted Alice a couple weeks ago and thought it was a terrific movie with four fine performances. I have heard it was shocking at the time with its swinging overtones but one of the characters does not actually commit an infidelity. Natalie Wood was phenomenal in it as she was phenomenal in just about anything she did that I have seen. The scene with Dyan Cannon's character and her psychiatrist is one of the funniest things ever in the movies.

Nice obit post zarq.
posted by bukvich at 5:36 AM on March 26, 2010


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posted by h00py at 7:40 AM on March 26, 2010


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posted by VanishingPoint at 7:50 AM on March 26, 2010


Very sad. I loved him in so much, all of which has been mentioned here. So...

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posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:52 AM on March 26, 2010


Outer Limits: The Architects of Fear
He was great.
posted by JackFlash at 8:11 AM on March 26, 2010


That's one hell of a eulogy from Cosby for a "Hey, it's that guy!" kind of actor. I'd like to hear more about that relationship. (And why are there so few "Hey, it's that gal!" types? I wish Hollywood would write more roles for good character actresses.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:26 AM on March 26, 2010


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posted by Smart Dalek at 8:27 AM on March 26, 2010


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posted by fook at 8:49 AM on March 26, 2010


Is it horrible that I was hoping he had a love-child named Mia Culp?

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posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 10:37 AM on March 26, 2010


As a longtime Mefite it does my heart good to see all these wonderful comments about Robert. He was my step-father and it's gratifying to see commentary stemming from such a knowledge of his extensive film and video history. He was involved in the nascent era of television when most dramas were broadcast live from New York. But the thing he was most proud of was his partnership with Bill Cosby. I don't think I would have understood this without being out with him in L.A. and seeing how often he was approached by older African Americans who wanted to say hello and tell him how much they admired him for I Spy. I hadn't really realized how important the show was in breaking down perceptual barriers until I saw how often he got this reaction. I think it's rare that people get a chance to change history, but he did and he made the right choice of insisting to the network that he and Cosby get equal billing or he wouldn't do the show.

For better and worse he was a dogged individual and he is deeply missed.
posted by gallois at 11:51 PM on March 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


Nice use of the Columbo tag. I caught him while watching Season 1 of Columbo and he was awesome. It's weird seeing the same actor play different villains on the same series but he did a great job.
posted by chairface at 10:58 PM on March 27, 2010


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