March 24th, 2010

I Spy Animated (Short)

One Less Hero

One of the things that makes me hate my age is that the icons of my childhood are dying. Every one who goes takes another piece of my soul with him.

One of the greats of my boyhood, whose work has come to renewed life for me, Robert Culp, writer and actor was best known as the star of the 1965-1968 NC-TV espionage adventure series I Spy. I wrote a bit about that series, and Mr. Culp, here:

There's more to say about Culp. There is the fact that the seven episodes of I Spy that he wrote were far and away the series' best.

There is the fact that, when the series debuted, the opening credits showed his name slightly larger than Bill Cosby's. By the second season, Cosby's name was as large as Culp's. This was no doubt a decision made by Executive Producer Sheldon Leonard, but -- and this is unprecedented in Hollywood, where even such minutia as font sizes in credits -- there was no negotiation with Culp, no argument, no complaints, no demands.

There is the fact that he generously did everything he could to help a 28-year-old stand-up comedian who had never acted before look good, and to help him learn the craft of acting. Cosby initially hired himself an acting coach. He eventually released him, because every day he came to work with Culp was an acting lesson beyond price. Culp would, when Cosby seemed uncomfortable, deliberately blow takes, and then go into a huddle with Cosby to help him find and solve the problem.

There are a lot of facts, none of them as meaningful as the power of a great man's work.

Here is a scene, just a sample of the dramatic strength of Robert Culp, and the power of the relationship and chemistry he had with Bill Cosby. To set it up: Bad guys are holding Cosby's mother and sister hostage, demanding a top secret prototype, which he has stolen to use as a bargaining chip in rescuing his family. He has ducked out on his partner, and gone into a bar to call home for instructions. Look at the power of Culp's performance, knowing at first that his partner has betrayed him, but not yet why. The pain and gravitas. Wow.

Robert Martin Culp
August 16, 1930 – March 24, 2010

In the US, the entire 83-episode run of the series can be viewed for free here:

The first five or six episodes of the series (At the moment five, but a sixth has been there in the recent past) can be viewed for free, internationally, here:

Godspeed, Mr. Culp. Flights of Angels...