Saturday, July 05, 2008

Robert Culp

For years I have thought of Robert Culp as a screen hero. My first encounter with him was in the TV show The Greatest American Hero when I was a kid and even if the show was never the best thing the performances (especially his) were great. He played a smart, sarcastic and highly competent man put into the position of having an extraordinary tool to use. The fact that the tool was in the form of someone he didn’t get along with well or was even able to deal with very effectively made that show fun. Even as a kid heavily into superhero comics I felt it was Culp’s non-super powered character who was the real hero of the show.

As I got older I occasionally ran across him in movies and other television shows with the standout being his amazing turn on the Outer Limits episode ‘Demon With A Glass Hand’ written by Harlan Ellison. Easily one of best OL shows ever made it stands out as one of the best pieces of science fiction for TV ever as well. Culp is fantastic in it making us feel for his amnesiac character so much that his fate is a real gutdrop. It was later reading Ellison’s thoughts on Culp that made me realize what a remarkable man the actor was. Ellison related how his first meeting of Culp was on the set of a show. The actor was patiently waiting on his set call by reading a serious, scholarly book on art. Ellison recognized a man of depth and culture and the two struck up a long lasting friendship.

So it was thinking of this that prompted me about four years ago to buy a single DVD of Culp’s 60s TV show I, SPY. Although the show is highly regarded it is rarely rebroadcast so this was my first chance to see it. I carefully chose the DVD I bought because it contained four episodes written by Culp himself and for which he had done commentary tracks. This seemed like a great chance to delve into his non-acting talents and see the real guy in fresh way. I have no idea why it took me so long to finally watch these shows but I’m glad I finally did! After only two of them I’m so impressed I have started looking for some kind of guide to the show. If these are any indicator of the rest of the series I Spy was a smart, intellectual show more interested in character and drama than guns or explosions. Not that there aren’t exciting fights and chases but the real meat of the show seems to be the people the stories are about. Quite a quality television show and one I will enjoy seeing more of.

The biggest surprise on the DVD so far is that the commentary track on ‘The Warlord’ is simply brilliant. Culp tells how the idea came to him, how he convinced the producers he could play two roles in it and his thoughts on the entire process. And Culp is so good at laying this information out that I was sorry when it ended. It’s actually more entertaining that the show itself!

Needless to say I’ll be watching the others on this DVD sooner rather than later. I expect my hero worship of Robert Culp will grow stronger with each new viewing.


Mona said...

Great blog! I am a huge fan of Robert Culp; your few lines about him as Bill Maxwell in TGAH are 100% accurate to me! You will probably be happy to learn a fantastic guide book to "I Spy" came out not long ago and is highly regarded by fans of the show: "I Spy" by Marc Cushman and Linda LaRosa. It goes episode by episode, details the entire history of the show and has tons of commentary by Culp and many other folks involved.

"Home To Judgment" is by far my (and many fans) all-time favorite "I Spy" episode, written by Culp himself.


Rod Barnett said...

Thank you for your kind comments. I need to look into getting that book.