Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Robert Culp passed away.

Police say that he fell while jogging near his California home and suffered a fatal blow to the head.

Culp was 79 years old, and leaves behind a formidable legacy as accomplished actor, a nuanced screenwriter and a committed participant in the struggle for civil rights in America.

He headlined in theatrical films, like BOB & CAROL, TED & ALICE, did Broadway theater, and starred in three major television series, including TRACKDOWN, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, and had a supporting role in EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND.

But for me, I SPY was the pinnacle of an admirable career.

He played Kelly Robinson, a dashing, self-effacing spy working for an undisclosed, Pentagon intelligence agency. His cover was to travel the world posing as a tennis pro accompanied by his trainer, and secret partner in espionage, Alexander Scott, portrayed by Bill Cosby.

This was the groundbreaking role in which Cosby, a popular nightclub comedian and Temple University graduate, became the first African-American male to star in a network drama. The more experienced and better known Culp offered encouragement and friendship to the young North Philadelphian. Cosby won major awards, including EMMY's, and acknowledged that Culp's support was key in making the transition from doing stand-up on THE TONIGHT SHOW to co-starring in the serio-comic,adventure series.

While Televisionary Sheldon Leonard produced I SPY on remote locations around the globe for NBC-TV from1965 to 1968, it was Culp, serving as an actor/writer/director, who delivered some of the most telling scripts and textured performances.

The series debuted with an episode entitled 'SO,LONG PATRICK HENRY' that Culp wrote and which he tailored to provide Cosby with opportunities to demonstrate, both, his comic chops and his dramatic ability, while developing the special chemistry that became the currency of their relationship on and off the screen.Here is a link YOU CAN CUT & PASTE to WATCH that debut episode on YOU TUBE:

Together, Cosby & Culp, along with Sheldon Leonard plus producers David Friedkin and Morton Fine,decided,that even in the turbulent social upheaval of the late 1960's, the best statement their characters could make on race, was no statement, at all. They choose to showcase the colorblind qualities of friendship, humor and loyalty in LIVING COLOR,each week.

On a personal note, I SPY holds a special place for me. I learned a lot from the series, which was the first to be shot on locations around the world. Today, Sheldon Leonard is one of the producers whose work I study and admire. Like so many other kids in Philly during that era, Bill Cosby made it cool to go to Temple. I did attend Temple. I actually teach there, today.

But watching Culp and Cosby , as Kelly and Scotty, run the rooftops of Hong Kong, rescue the female guest star of the week from sudden danger amid the casitas of Acapulco's Las Brisas Hotel, or throw down with the bad guys on the steps of the Parthanon in Athens, I learned that the world is bigger than the front porch of a North Philly row house. I also learned that "cool" is timeless, because, even today , in my opinion,I SPY is cool.

Robert Culp R.I.P.

Below is an excerpt of a 2007 interview from the Archive Of American Television.

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