Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rant #219: Robert Culp Spied Out

Robert Culp, the veteran actor and civil rights activist, died yesterday at the age of 79.

Culp was what you would call an actor made for television. Although he did have a number of movie roles--including starring in the groundbreaking sex comedy "Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice"--he is best known for the myriad number of TV roles that he portrayed for the past 50 years or so.

He was one numerous television shows, playing both good guys and villains, and he could do both convincingly because of his talent and rugged good looks.

But he will probably best be remembered by two generations of TV fans--first, for his lead role on "I Spy" opposite Bill Cosby, and then, opposite William Katt on "The Greatest American Hero."

He always had a coolness about him that some may have found smug, but I found engaging.

And in his last prominent semi-regular TV role, on "Everybody Loves Raymond," he chewed the scenery as much as he ever had. You could tell he loved doing the show, and it came out in his performance.

Culp was also a civil rights activist. First, he campaigned for untried--and black--Cosby to play the role of his trainer on "I Spy," and it worked to the hilt for the three seasons the show was on. In fact, Cosby won the acting Emmy a few times while on the show, while Culp won nothing. But Culp later said that he was as proud as Cosby as he could be, and you really believed him. There were no sour grapes displayed here, at least publicly, as the teacher applauded the student.

Then, when Martin Luther King was murdered in 1968, Culp and Cosby participated in numerous civil rights marches and other activities to show their support for his dream.

You didn't have to agree with him, but you had to admire his conviction to things he believed in.

This guy was good at what he did. Not only was he an actor, but he wrote numerous scripts for "I Spy," and often was allowed to change the scripts on the show where he saw fit. I believe he also embellished the pilot episode's script, to make it more current for the time.

He could do it all, and often did.

He will be missed.

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