The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 1

Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

June 23rd, 2003, 8:09 am #1

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 1


While we are waiting .... here are the re-posts of Don McGregor’s interviews that I promised to post - these are absolutely the BEST Culp Interviews of them all - ever!

These interviews were originally printed in 2 parts in 2 issues of “STARLOG” Magazine (Nos. 54 and 55) in January and February of 1982. (Tatia has included some additional photos. :-) )

Just a small comment here before we begin. Don refers to Bob’s consummate storytelling abilities. Well, Don is himself a wonderful, wonderful storyteller, after all it is his craft. So the results - to our great benefit - is one superb storyteller regaling us with the tales of another marvelous storyteller. The end result is sheer enjoyment - not only is there fascinating information covered in the interviews, but the way they are presented is warm and witty, and capture the feeling of being right there in the middle of their conversation ....

HERE IT IS! - DON’s Interview 1 - Part 1


The Greatest American Hero’s ROBERT CULP - A Volatile Talent in the Electronic Wasteland by Don McGregor (StarLog No. 54, January 1982)

“In 1965 Robert Culp and Bill Cosby broke the racial barrier on network television in a series called “I SPY” - they were one of the great screen-teams of all time. They had a special rapport, a give and take, a beautiful camaraderie that is too seldom seen in real life, as Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott. Besides being one of the two stars of “I SPY”, Culp authored seven of its most memorable scripts - stories with evocative scenes and brooding dialogue, as with the Warlord Chuang remembering a game of musical chairs in the 1967 episode called, “The Warlord”:


“There is a game I remember seeing in England. A game of child’s play. To you perhaps, quite common. But to me strange, fascinating. The children dance around the chairs. One by one the chairs are removed and the children who have lost a place in the game drop out ... one by one. A whole history of activity, laughter, and shouting, about the chairs. Finally at the end, all the children have been forced out of the game ... and only one child remains ... the act of winning, to win ... (cold, quiet, distant) ... the child must finish ... alone. One child and one chair. And at last the game is over.”

“Robert Culp isn’t Kelly Robinson anymore. These days, he plays the frenetic, dogmatic FBI agent, Bill Maxwell, on ABC’s “The Greatest American Hero.” Culp invests Maxwell with a manic energy and patriotic fervor that makes Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.’s Lew Erskine (on TV’s FBI) look like a dope-dealing anarchist.

“As with many creative projects there was a circuitous route that linked “The Greatest American Hero” creator, Stephen J. Cannell, with Culp. Culp discusses those beginnings with the natural rhythm of an innate storyteller, with the pauses and intonations that let you know that telling stories is an exquisite, honorable tradition.

“Stephen Cannell doesn’t kid around. He’s a real straight-shooter,” states Culp. “Let me get that in there right now. I have never had a professional association with anybody - ever! - on the level of producer or executive producer that I have enjoyed so much. The guy just wins all the laurels going that way hands down. How he does what he does, having to juggle volatile talents like Bill Katt and myself, against his own, which are equally volatile, and the network, which is more volatile than anybody ... all of us put together ... when I say volatile I mean it could be a liquid and within an hour it can turn into a gas, and you’ve lost it!” He chuckles at the image. “A bad gas. Passing gas.”

“Culp continues speaking about Cannell, with obvious pleasure. “How he does all this, I’ll never now. He still keeps his sanity. In fact his wife is in the process of having a baby, too. They’re starting a second family. But he is a guy with enormous integrity and sense of humor. He’s a Renaissance dude. Nobody has the kind of instant affinity and skill that he has. He writes from the hip, like somebody pulling a shotgun.”

“Culp hasn’t always spoken so highly of people in control of series he has worked in. His relationship with producer Vincent Fennelly of “Trackdown,” his first series in 1957, was turbulent.

“Culp began writing scripts during “Trackdown,” and when he undertook his second series, “I SPY,” he wrote seven of the scripts, one of which received an Emmy nomination. His episodes, “The Loser,’ “The WarLord,” “The Enchanted Cottage,”{this became "Magic Mirror"} and “Home to Judgement,” are some of the most powerful television dramas since Sterling Silliphant’s “Route 66” and “Naked City” days and Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.”


“I’d had the word out for a long, long time, since “I SPY” folded, which was January 1968, that I would never consider doing another television series. I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to read any pilots. If you’ve got a pilot, that’s fine, give it to somebody else,” he says easily, perhaps remembering the few days of vacation he had during the three years of making “I SPY.” “A friend of mine said, ‘I know how you feel, but if you don’t read this, “just read it,” you’re making a big mistake.’ Well, if someone whose opinion I respect says a thing like that to me, I’m going to sit down and read it.”

Well, I got about 30 pages into the pilot for “The Greatest American Hero,” and I got on the phone. First of all, I’ve got to meet this guy, “ he says, referring to Cannell, “because I don’t know him at all. But Bobby Blake, who’s been a dear friend of mine for 25 years, spoke to me about Steve at the beginning of his association with Universal. I happened to be on the Universal lot one day. I was looping (re-recording a soundtrack) I think, and when I started for the commissary, Bobby came out of the crowd. He runs up, throws his arms around me, and says, ‘Listen, I’m in a terrible jam, you’ve gotta help me!’ I said, ‘What is it?’ ‘Well, I just signed with these ... um ... “expletive deleted,” and I don’t know what I’m doing, and you’ve gotta help me, because somebody’s gotta write the stuff. And come over and direct it too.’”Blake was speaking about his new show, “Baretta,” which Stephen J. Cannell was connected with.

“Culp continues: “I said, ‘Jesus, man! I can’t! I’m swamped!’ But a little while later I was talking to Bobby about a feature I wanted him to do, and we went round and round on that, and then we started talking about Cannell, and he said, ‘If you ever get a chance to work with this guy, don’t miss it!’” Now, Robert Blake gives rare praise, and he has certainly not championed television scripters. “That stuck in my head, so after I read the rest of “The Greatest American Hero” script, I sat down with Cannell at the house of my personal manager, whom I’ve known longer than anybody in the whole world except my mother.”

“Cannell had called Culp about playing the role of Bill Maxwell, but though they parted amicably, they had not resolved the negotiations. Culp had previously played a “Columbo” villain in a script that Cannell had written with Culp in mind.Odd are the ways of fate - the studio hired Culp to play the role, unaware he had been Cannell’s choice. Still, it seemed that Culp might not play Ralph Hanley’s modern-day wizard/mentor. “It was a very cordial meeting, but no sale. My personal manager followed Steve out to the car and they talked for a little while, and when he came back in, he said, ‘I don’t know, he’s going to think about it.’ Well, he did think about it, and he came back and said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ Four days later we were shooting.”

continued in Part 2 ...

Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 2

June 23rd, 2003, 8:14 am #2

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 2

DON’s Interview 1 - Part 2

The Greatest American Hero’s ROBERT CULP - A Volatile Talent in the Electronic Wasteland
by Don McGregor (StarLog No. 54, January 1982)


“Culp normally likes enough time to research a role to touch the life-style he is going to portray, but four days is hardly enough time to even learn the script.

“I didn’t have enough time to meet any F.B.I. guys,” Culp says, “I didn’t have a chance to go through the offices, which are in the Federal Building down on Wilshire, which would have been real simple to do, but there was no time! We jumped into it, and we shot hot and heavy for two -and-a-quarter weeks, and we all knew we had a real good show! It was really cooking! We had a marvelous director Rod Holcomb, a huge man with a dynamic sense of humor. We started to seesaw and build stuff, pyramid ideas upon one another while we were working from the printed page.” Culp’s enthusiasm for his work begins to show, like a flame leaping up a trellis. “I was very unsure of the character, I knew I wanted to play the guy because I had to. Nobody had ever played this character on TV, or anything like him.”

“Culp laughs, recalling the hectic turmoil of that production, and its aftermath, when he and Cannell finally had a chance to talk about what they were doing.

“I remember talking to Steve after we finished shooting, because there was no time for anything prior to that. I asked him where he got the idea for the character. He said, ‘Well, several sources, but primarily, from the quintessential moment in “Patton,” when Patton was sitting up on a hill watching his corp rout Rommel for the first time.’ The truth was, Rommel wasn’t even there, Patton jumps up and screams, ‘Rommel, you beautiful bastard! I read your book!’ Steve said to me that was one of the most beautiful moments n modern film. I had been drawing in my head from the same sources he had. Plus I had the added value of my grandfather. who oddly enough, fits into this character, as he has fit into all the really neat stuff that I’ve done in my lifetime.”

“(From Robert Culp’s “I SPY” telescript, “Home to Judgement”- 1967)

(softly) Who are you?
(no answer)
What is your name?

Young feller, my wife has asked you a question.

It doesn’t matter. You couldn’t possibly know me if I told you. If you remember me at all, it was as a child ... who doesn’t exist any more.

(Scott steps up quietly, sets down some wire, surrounding three sticks of dynamite, on the car. Kelly picks up the instruments of death.

This is what I am now. And this is what I’ve brought you.”

“Culp’s grandfather, Joe Collins, was not only the inspirational source for Bill Maxwell, but also for Kelly Robinson’s Uncle Harry in “Home to Judgement.” Will Geer portrayed the farmer with the keen eye, the firm hand, and the reassuring wisdom. Una Merkle played his grandmother/aunt. It is quite possible that someone saw Will Geer as Uncle Harry and decided he was perfect for the role of the grandfather on “The Waltons.”

“Mr. Collins was 60 years old when Culp was born, but he was Culp’s most affecting teacher. His love and respect for his grandfather is still evident, though he died many years ago.

“In “Home to Judgement,” Kelly has returned to the home of his youth, with golden afternoons and comic strips in his memory, but he has returned with killers on his trail, and equates himself to sticks of dynamite, a far different kind of agent than Bill Maxwell. Maxwell seldom questions the means and ethics of his profession. Culp did not find any difficulty in playing a character so far removed from the other he is most famous for.

continued in Part 3

Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 3

June 23rd, 2003, 8:17 am #3

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 3

DON’s Interview 1 - Part 3

The Greatest American Hero’s ROBERT CULP - A Volatile Talent in the Electronic Wasteland
by Don McGregor (StarLog No. 54, January 1982)


“I’m older by 15 years than when I did “I SPY,” Culp says carefully, considering the differences of time and character. “I lived through the thick and thin of the ‘60s, and the movement. Out on the other side, I am not the same guy that I was then. I’m just not the same human being. My thinking processes are not the same, either. But above and beyond everything else, when I’m acting, as opposed, to let’s say writing, or directing, or producing, when I’m acting it is the joy and delight of my life to find characters who are absolutely idiosyncratic ... that are living, walking contradictions to themselves.”

“I’ve written a piece, for example, which I wanted to get in for Christmas. We’ll never make it now. It’s a two-parter where Ralph gets bored and disgusted with what he and Maxwell are doing. Maxwell sets it up for them to bust this gambling ship offshore which turns out not to be a gambling ship at all. It’s having a gala benefit for really rich people in the Western United States, to benefit Cousteau’s projects - only one of the most worthwhile causes of research. Ralph is standing there with egg of his face, and they’re all staring at him in the red suit. Ralph cons his way out of it by pretending to be a magician and jokester. He tells jokes. One liners. Henny Youngman style. It’s a very funny sequence, but afterwards, he’s so disgusted and defeated. And Maxwell doesn’t give a damn.” Culp’s voice changes, and suddenly it is Bill Maxwell speaking, a complete transformation with the cadence and intensity of Maxwell all intact. The storyteller is beginning to hit his stride. “Oh, well, so we got the wrong night, we’ll hit ‘em tomorrow night!” A typical, unphased-even-in-the-face-of-disaster Maxwell comment.

“Well, Ralph runs away. He splits. He goes North, to save the whales. And we figure out a way to actually do it by changing their migratory habits. Anyway, it was a real wild notion, and I thought it was a great story for Christmas. It’s a real tear jerker, The point is, in this story, Maxwell says one thing and does another.”

“The transformation happens again, easily, as Culp assumes Bill Maxwell’s machine gun style of delivery, scattering his comments over his listeners, “He says, ‘I don’t like fish. I don’t even like to eat fish! I don’t care about ‘em!’ and so forth. But the first time he sees the whalers killing the whales, he goes bananas. He goes completely berserk! And he attacks the ship with a .30-.30. He attacks a 500 tonner. And he attacks the sucker with a .30-.30 ... and causes an international incident. The photograph is flashed all the way around the world, to every newspaper. It’s complete humiliation. It’s a very funny sequence, and very touching at the same time, but the point is this, this guy says one thing and is another. Constantly, I mean, it’s constant! We just finished yesterday doing the tag for the show, I guess it’s number five, in which the kids form their own rock group and get mixed up with a bad promoter and go to something like a Woodstock, where the Woodstock is going to be blown up with nerve gas. We have to stop that. At the end, I take out the heavy in a fist fight - break my hand doing it. Ralph comes up behind me, sits down and says, ‘Are you okay?’ I can hardly answer. I’m puffing so hard. And he says, ‘Bill, you saved the concert.’ The music is still going on, blaring all over this valley. They never even knew what happened. ‘You saved the concert and you don’t even like rock and roll.’” Culp continues in Maxwell’s voice, drawing in the air as if his hand is truly broken, the pain evident in his gasping words, “And he says, ‘Uhhh, I DON’T EVEN LIKE MUSIC!’ These contradictions are total. Then he’ll sit there and listen to Bach, if it happens to hit his whim at that moment. He’s a completely off-the-wall dude, who is half nuts, totally right-wing on the one hand, and would not in any way allow his name to be connected with conservatism of any sort.”


“During his days doing “I SPY,” Culp not only wrote, directed, and acted in episodes, he also choreographed his own stunts. In one episode he fenced with samurai swords, in another he used Martial Arts techniques to take out guest villain Jack Cassidy. All of this was before Bruce Lee brought the martial arts to American consciousness. Culp does not pursue these elaborate stunts as fervently these days.

“I finished the fight yesterday, and by nightfall I couldn’t even move. I’m not gonna do that stuff anymore,” he says with good humor. “I’m 51 years old. Give me a break.” He recalls some of those “I SPY” stunts. “Yeah, I used to do all that stuff till I was 35, and one morning I did this very elaborate stunt, series of stunts, swinging on a bunch of pipes on the backside of a yacht in Greece. It was really a great set of stunts. A lot of kips, walking on top, kicking guys over the side, jumping down. It was terrific. The following morning I couldn’t get out of bed. I said, ‘I’m 35, I’m through with this shit.’ I stopped doing it after that.’”

“Fights and stiffening joints aside, Culp hasn’t given up his love affair with writing, and the two-part script concerning the whales isn’t the only one he has written for the second season.

“Officially, I was supposed to finish the first script for the show, which is where I take Ralph to Knott’s Berry Farm as his agent. I bill him as the greatest stuntman in the world. He has to meet the old six-gun artists and fall off a roof as the authentic death of Billy the Kid. He falls off a three story roof and lands in the dirt. But he can’t wear the cape, and he can’t wear the belt, just the original red long johns of the period, see. And the guy that I’m selling Ralph to says, “What’s that thing on his chest? I say, ‘Wait a minute. You’re kidding! You never saw one before? That’s real. That’s an authentic one!” And he says, ‘Authentic what?’ This is a trademark, 1880. They were trying to beat Levi Strauss. Now, Ralph, back it off a little, and then come off the edge, will ya?’ He’s operating at about 25% of power, so every time he hits the dirt, it hurts a little bit worse, until finally he says, (and Culp chuckles) ‘It’s going to break every bone in my body.’ That was supposed to be the eighth show of the first year, but we found out we were going to be putting it up against reruns. The network said, ‘That’s crazy! We won’t even be able to get our money back.’ So, we put it off and it was going to be the first show of the fall. I was directing it, and I was getting all geared up, ready to go to work, and the networks hated it, changed their minds, threw it out: ‘We don’t want to do it!’” Culp pauses, and the verdict of the network hangs in the air. “There’s no sense asking any questions of these people. A ‘no’ is a ‘no’. There’s no sense discussing it. But Steve did ask. And I asked. And they said it wasn’t ‘high concept’ enough.”

“There is a trick, apparently, that many ruling powers of the entertainment media have. When something seems to violate the narrow confinements they have set for genre material, when it appears that the creative team have gone beyond the rigidly defined formula they have devised for a specific genre, they often appear to get panicky, as if they are afraid they have stepped too far out onto thin ice. Since the ruling powers seldom like to admit fear, of cracked ice or anything else, they offer ambiguous phrases meant to obfuscate the issue. This attitude not only shows a disrespect for the genre from which they hope to make a fortune, but also to the audience they hope to attract. This is a perennial battle, the necessity for writers, actors and directors to go beyond what they have done before, to make something fresh out of the stale clay they have been handed. It is a battle that is sometimes won, and more often, lost.

“The term ‘high concept’ is an anomaly,” Culp says, “but it is very much applicable to this kind of network thinking. To them, this show is about Ralph flying in a suit, and my doing comedy. That’s what they think it’s about, but of course, it isn’t about that at all. The show [episode] has been put in limbo. We will do it later. We will do it some time this year. Now, officially, I’m directing the eleventh show. I’m half way finished with the screenplay now, and I should be finished with it, totally, in a week and a half.”

“It has not been an easy task for Stephen Cannell to get any script passed, “You have no idea what the boss has been going through. He created the show, and they threw out his scripts and said, ‘Maybe we’d be better if you didn’t write any of these.’ ‘Are you saying that I shouldn’t write for my own show?’ Well, no, not exactly.’” The passion infiltrates into Culp’s precise, even tones. “It’s been very difficult for these guys to get their heads around to what this show is really about ... and what William Katt and Stephen Cannell and Robert Culp are about, because none of us want to do what they consider to be concept eight o’clock programming. And that was not Stephen’s original deal with them, either. And if I had found out that this is what we were going to be saddled with, I never would have come in a’tall! But now we’re in it! We’re going to try to get them a hit! And keep it a hit!”

2nd interview follows ....

Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 4

June 23rd, 2003, 8:27 am #4

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 4

DON’s Interview 2 - Part 1

ROBERT CULP - Building A Career in The Hollywood Jungle by Don McGregor (StarLog No. 55, February 1982)

OK, here’s the second interview ...

“We just finished an episode of “Greatest American Hero” where I play my grandfather.” - Robert Culp

“Robert Culp was born in August, 1930, in Berkeley, California. His grandfather, Joe Collins, influenced his life profoundly during the years of the second world war; Collins was teacher, friend, the man who first opened up the world for Culp. Collins was sixty years old when his grandson was born, and during his life he had many adventurous professions that read almost like a run-down of American folklore. the kinds of jobs that people make movies about: a professional hunter, trapper, gold-miner, carpenter and cowpuncher, among others.“In one of the scripts Culp wrote of “I SPY,” the part of his uncle was based upon his grandfather. Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott, the two hip secret agents, have returned to the summer home of Kelly’s youth, hunted and trapped, and with little time to be hip.

(From Robert Culp’s “I SPY” telescript, “Home to Judgment” - 1967)

You know, I’ve hidden and dodged and scratched to stay alive in a lot of places and never gave it a thought. Here I feel like a criminal.

Hang in. We’re in good shape.

My uncle taught me to shoot a gun and handle a saw and a hammer. And I can’t even remember his voice. What do they talk about? How do they sound?

They don’t talk much. Certainly not to me. I’m just a stranger.

Yeah. Me too.

“Culp’s Kelly Robinson mourns for innocent, sunlit pleasures of the past, and now Culp himself has the chance to portray Joe Collins, to pay his tribute to the man he has loved all his life.

“My favorite movie in the whole world is “Treasure of Sierra Madre.” It has some of the greatest images, truth ... everything. Anyhow, what Walter Huston was doing, that was my grandfather,” Culp says with great pleasure. “It was him right down to the last notch. He was a prospector all his life, never struck it, always right out there, ready to go again. Get a stake and “Go!” At the last of his life, he struck it real heavy, but he was too old to work it and he had to sell it out to two partners he hated.”


“The story is simple: I’m talking the kids, Ralph and Pam, into going on a field trip, and we get up there and discover that Maxwell has a secret map given to him by his mentor in the department, this geezer, who is now many years retired, and supposed to be dead. If Ralph can take ahold of the map he can holograph in on the mine ... it’s the Lost Diablo mine! The richest strike in the history of California! Lost a hundred years!” Culp says, in his miner’s voice; quick, excited, with the passion of a man lured by gold. “‘By God, Ralph, I know we can find it! Just hold onto the sonofabitch and go on out there and get it!’” There is a hint of his Bill Maxwell voice mixed in with the impression of a miner. “And he does, and we do, we find it. Some bad guys, weirdos, try to stop us. Some of the rest of it is kind’ve shitty, with earthquakes and crap like that, which is very unfortunate because it’s just fortuitous, it has nothing to do with what the characters are really about. Bill and Ralph get out of the mine, and the bad guys get buried in the mine. But, because it’s an eight o’clock show, we can’t have Maxwell bury them in the mine. It has to be (an act of) God, in terms of an earthquake, and I’m really sick of that shit, but that’s what we’re stuck with right now.”

“Joe Collins hasn’t seen the homages Culp has paid him, but he did see some of Culp’s first efforts on television, during the fifties. most notably “Trackdown,” where Culp played Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman.”

“By the time I was 26, he was 86. When “Trackdown” came on the air, he could still see. My grandmother could still see, sort of. They would huddle around the TV which was over in my Mom’s side of the duplex, and when I would go back to Berkeley, as often as I could, I would sit and talk to my grandad and he would say a thing that really knocked me out that I still remember so much. He says,” and Culp’s voice changes again, older, very assertive, a man with definite opinions, “‘Well, I was never one for watching movies, But, you got a good horse there.’ ‘What?’ I said. He said, ‘No, the most important thing that you got there is the horse. That horse is a good horse. And if you go back tomorrow, an’ open his mouth and look on the roof of his mouth, you’ll find it’s black, I’ll betcha, just as I’m sittin’ here!’ I went back, opened the horse’s mouth, whose name was Mexico, who tried to throw me every morning of his life, throw me and stomp me and kill me, and I loved him dearly, and the roof of his mouth was black. ‘That makes a good horse. Never doubt it. A horse or a dog, if the roof of his mouth is black, that’s a good horse or a dog!’”

continued ....
Last edited by TatiaLoring on June 23rd, 2003, 8:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 5

June 23rd, 2003, 8:31 am #5

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 5

DON’s Interview 2 - Part 2

ROBERT CULP - Building A Career in The Hollywood Jungle by Don McGregor (StarLog No. 55, February 1982)

“Culp seldom had the chance to go to the movies when he was a kid. “We didn’t have much money, and I wasn’t very good at cadging nickels and dimes out of my mother. My father used to take us to the movies, sometimes, maybe once a month. But I never knew the Saturday Matinee, the thing that I really do miss. In high school it was a different situation. I had a job. I stacked wood and delivered it, and I shoveled horseshit and cowshit into big bags and sealed them up and delivered that. I got 95 cents an hour, I believe. So, in 1946 and 1947, I would take the train to San Francisco, from Berkeley, where they were opening theaters which showed foreign movies. We had never seen foreign movies in America before, outside of 1 or 2 theaters in New York, 1 in Chicago, and maybe 1 in Los Angeles. My mom and her best friend, durin the war, took me to San Francisco to a brand-new theater called the Music Box to see “Henry the Fifth” with Olivier - and I went ban anas! At 14, I’d said I wanted to be an actor, and now I’m looking at the best “young” actor in the world. There was Richardson, Gielgud and Olivier in the world - “for me”!

“Culp played in little theater groups around Berkeley and he became very interested in make-up, because he was always playing older characters. This interest culminated in the elaborate make-up job that John Chambers did for an episode of I SPY, entitled “The Warlord,” which Culp wrote and in which he portrayed a Chinese warlord.

We worked every weekend for 6 months in Johnny Chambers’ backyard on the makeup. Finally, he said, ‘I know you don’t have any money, and you might not get this thing on, and if we don’t I won’t charge you anything. If we do get it on, I want to charge the company.’ I had posed him a very difficult problem that he had never had before, apparently. I said, ‘I want to become Chinese, but I don’t want any Fu Manchu hair.’ And he said, ‘But we always use the hair because it makes it work.’ And I said, “Yeah, I know, but this guy (the Warlord) was brought up in Burma, and he was educated at Cambridge. He doesn’t have a beard, and he doesn’t have a mustache.’ And he said, “Ohh-kay.’ I got nominated for the Emmy for best screenplay of the year because of John Chambers’ work. He made it work. I wouldn’t have gotten nominated any other way.”

“Culp has campaigned against the inequities the make-up people have faced in the Academy Awards. There is no specific category for their contribution to the art of movie making.”


“During his late teens, Culp earned money as a cartoonist. He was also offered athletic scholarships to six major American universities, due to his prowess as a pole vaulter. He went to the College of the Pacific, because of their Theatre Arts department, and in 1949 he switched to San Francisco State. He met the lady who would become his first wife, and then travelled to the University of Washington, Seattle.

from “Lady Windermere’s Fan” at the Univ. of Washington (talk about your obscure photos )

From there it was on to New York City to fight for the dream, to fulfill the ambition: to become an actor.

“In New York, the fight had him on the ropes.

“I finally realized I had to face up to my responsibilities to my then-wife,” Culp recalls matter-of-factly, “and to the two of us as an entity. I had to take a real job because we were starving to death. I went to work in a bank. This was in 1952. I promised to stay with the bank for at least a year, or they wouldn’t put me through their computer training program. They said you could have any shift that you want, and I said, ‘I choose the graveyard,’ If I worked from two a.m. to ten a.m. I could come right off the street, get on the subway, go uptown, and start hitting the offices, pounding on doors, it’s gonna be terrific!” The tempo of his speech picks up, as if remembering the fighter’s battle plan. “I was 22 years old and hadn’t thought it out too well. By the time I was about two weeks into the job I was so tired, by ten o’clock in the morning, that I just wanted to crawl into a hole. But I couldn’t do that because my then-wife was teaching speech, as we both wound up doing eventually, teaching phonetics and syntax to opera singers, and I couldn’t go home because we had a one room apartment and she was teaching. I went to a friend’s apartment and tried to sleep. That didn’t work out too well. Finally I said, “I don’t know what’s going on here with me! I can’t go home, and I can’t go to these people’s apartment, because they don’t really want me there,’ so I started to go to 42nd Street.”

“Culp points out, “That is not the 42nd Street of today. The golden days, the halcyon days, the classy days of 42nd Street were already on their way out, but the worst you got was some winos. I went to the 42nd Street movie houses. That’s where I first learned about Buster Keaton. I would go in about eleven o’clock and sit there until four-thirty. I would hide in the dark with the winos. I used to watch the movies. Walt Disney shorts. All the stuff of Max Sennett. All day long. “Our Gang.” That’s where I learned about Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. All the stuff no one wanted to see in the theaters any more they stuck in here. It was an education.”

continued ....

Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 6

June 23rd, 2003, 8:40 am #6

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 6

DON’s Interview 2 - Part 3

ROBERT CULP - Building A Career in The Hollywood Jungle by Don McGregor
(StarLog No. 55, February 1982)

“He had left Seattle, Washington with a letter of recommendation from the Dean of Theatre Arts, Glen Hughes, which got him in to see Howard Lindsey, who was part of a famous playwriting team. He had gone to see Lindsey, who was sick in bed with a cold, only to learn Lindsey had no shows in the works. He received the disheartening news in that room, filled with the smell of eucalyptus oil.

“The second time he went to see Lindsey, months later, the man had another cold.

“He was laid up in exactly the same bed,” Culp says, laughing at the memory, “exactly the same towels, and the same smell in the room.” He imitates Lindsey’s voice, and sounds approximately like Sidney Greenstreet in the “Maltese Falcon.” “He said, “Well we’re doing something, Mr. Culp, but I don’t know. What are you doing now?” Culp’s voice changes, a humble, meek reply. “‘Well, sir, I’m ... working in a bank.’” His voice changes now to a low snarl - Greenstreet antagonized. “He said, ‘You’re doing what? But you’re an actor!’ I said, ‘Yes, sir, but I don’t know what else to do.’ He said, ‘YOU’RE DISMISSED, MR. CULP!’”

“One night he fell asleep while working the computer and every check was punched in wrong. The fighter was on the floor. The count was nearing ten. But Culp didn’t quit.

“A week later Lindsey called me on the phone himself. Not his stage manager. It’s proper by the way in the theater for the stage manager to call and tell you you are hired and to report. The phone rings about six o’clock, and my wife answers it, then shoves it out to me, ‘It’s him!’” he says, in her awed whisper. “And he said, listen to this, man, this is a mother, he said,” and Culp goes into the Greenstreet drawl, “How ... soon ... can you ... get out of ... the bank? Well, I started to cry, of course, I had been fainting in the bathroom at the bank. I said, ‘Two weeks.’ He said, ‘Make it one.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ The guy saved my life. The role was in “The Prescott Proposals” with Katherine Cornell.”


“After the play’s run Culp wrote his own play. Later, he won the first Obie Award for his performance in “He Who Gets Slapped.” He wanted to stay on Broadway, but the lure of money, and offers from the West Coast after he’d done live television in New York, finally convinced him to make the journey back to California. His manager, Hillard Elkins, had gotten every casting director around to come see his performances.

“It was in Hollywood that he did the pilot for “Trackdown” after not telling the producers that he didn’t know how to ride a horse. He took a brutal week’s training on how to ride from a tough old cowpuncher.

“Culp’s first marriage had dissolved in New York City. His second wife would administer alcohol to his bleeding butt after the riding sessions.

“He also learned how to do gun twirling and a fast gun draw, which he did diligently, in fact, becoming one of the fastest guns in Hollywood.

“I learned how to handle a gun at the foot of the bed. You stand at the foot of the bed, and you practice for about six months. You stand at the foot of the bed so you don’t break the gun, because you drop it constantly. And finally when you get your act together, and you don’t break the vase or the windows, you’re ready. Sammy Davis and Mel Torme were the fastest draws in Hollywood, and I had a bet with Sammy that I could beat him. I never came up against him, but I did come up against a time clock, and on a reasonable day, from an absolutely relaxed start, with a single-action, five-inch barrel, I was seventeen one hundredths of a second, to draw, fire, hit a target straight in the heart -- at twenty-five feet!”

“He pauses for a moment, and then recounts another fast gun anecdote. “I had never seen anybody on film get off three shots in one from a single-action gun. I said, ‘Some day I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna do it on film.’ In other words, you’re in a gunfight. You draw the weapon, cocking it with your thumb at the same time you’re drawing the weapon and it’s coming out. You pull the trigger, and your left hand, the thumb comes across the hammer again, cocking it, and you fire a second time, and the little finger of the left hand draws past it also, and you fire a third time. Onetwothree! I did it on film, and the take was never printed. I did it once, and I couldn’t do it twice! On film, to this moment, no one has ever done it, and I did it for an episode of “Trackdown.”

“When “Trackdown” was canceled, Culp often had to do fairs and rodeos. He wrote an episode for a series called “Cain’s Hundred” entitled “The Swinger,” with a Sinatra-esque character role he designed for himself. He also worked on three episodes of an anthology series in the mid-sixties, “The Outer Limits.”

“The first one I did was ‘Architects of Fear.’ I was at that time just getting re-established after “Trackdown,” as the guy who could play the heavy or the difficult guest role better than the next guy, and make something interesting out of it.”

“Culp would find he would have difficulties adding mannerisms, voice inflections - perhaps a hint of W.C. Fields for a wry line, perhaps a nod to Stan Laurel.”

“Most of the guys directing episodic TV are not very imaginative. They think that you are interfering with the basic simple-minded fabric of the story, which is true. I’m trying to stretch it, make it more elastic instead of less. ‘The Architects of Fear’ came off very well. Then Harlan [Ellison] wrote ‘Demon With the Glass Hand’ specifically for me, even though we’d never met. He said so to the producers, so they said, ‘Fine.’ They offered it to me and I took it, found it was really interesting on paper. It’s a bloody classic! It’s one of the few classic science-fiction pieces on TV. Harlan showed up on the set one night and said, ‘My name’s Harlan Ellison, and I wrote this for you.’ We got along famously. We’ve known each other ever since.”

“Recently Culp tried to resurrect “Demon” as a movie project, but was unable to bring the deal to fruition.

“Even with the guest roles on various shows such as “The Outer Limits.” “The Rifleman,” “Bonanza,” among others, Culp found that he was without work. He had sworn, after “Trackdown,” that he would not do another series.

continued ....

Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 7

June 23rd, 2003, 8:42 am #7

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 7

DON’s Interview 2 - Part 4

ROBERT CULP - Building A Career in The Hollywood Jungle by Don McGregor
(StarLog No. 55, February 1982)


“I had been too selective. I’ve got to get this career off the ground again for everybody, for the family. So I had created a couple of notions for a series for myself, half-hour, and I took one of them to Carl Reiner, who was a friend, and Carl had passed it on to Sheldon Leonard. I went to see Sheldon and he said, ‘I like your idea, kid, but I like mine better.’ He told me his, and “I said, ‘You’re right, yours is better.’ He said, ‘Will you hang loose for me?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I will.’ Four months later he called me and asked me if I wanted to work and I said, ‘You’re damn right, I do!’ That was September or October of ‘64. He told me the concept in one sentence, ‘You and this other guy, who’s black, are secret agents for the United States, working out of the Pentagon, pretending to be a tennis player and his trainer.’ That’s one sentence, and that was it!”

“I SPY” was born.

“Neither Bill Cosby nor Culp were aware of each other’s work before they met for the first time in Sheldon Leonard’s office to read over the first “I SPY” script.

“By the time we were finished with reading the script, I decided Bill was the most intelligent man I’d ever met. And I said ‘Whatever he wants, that’s what I want.’ Bill knew a lot of people that I knew from New York, and he knew he either had to trust me or get out of line. For him to get out of line about being an actor at that time would have been absurd, so he didn’t have any choice but to trust me, and fortunately, he trusted the right guy. I didn’t have any trouble with Bill at all, because every day that we talked on the telephone, which we did for the first several months, because he was in Chicago or New York or Quebec, we would talk on the telephone every day and I would tell him what I was doing about the scripts I was trying to write for us. We built the relationship that way, on the telephone.”

“During one of the first meetings, Culp made a statement to Cosby that the two of them would have to create a kind of marriage.

“It was true,” Culp says, “I understood it and he didn’t understand it. He thought that if a person said that, that person was weird and probably wanted to do something weird with his body. But it wasn’t true -- I wanted to do something real straight, with his mind.”

“Culp’s scripts for “I SPY” were darker, subtler, more complex than traditional television fare. They often dealt with emotional confrontations, with the complexities of love and hate. Events were often not at all what they first appeared to be.”

(From Robert Culp’s “I SPY” telescript “Magic Mirror” - 1967)

(Cold and clear to Kelly)
You ought to be brought up on charges.

You have my resignation.

IT’S NOT ACCEPTED. SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!! Your life, your body and your almighty soul are the property of the United States Government until it is finished with you. You are a gold fish, an ape in a zoo! The same applies to that girl! You are both out of line.

(very quiet)
I love her.

You have not the privilege!”

“When Culp speaks about those “I SPY” episodes he says he had little difficulty getting approval for such unusual scripts. Grant Tinker was in charge of West Coast programming for NBC. He now runs NBC, and he is about the most tasteful gent in the business. He was responsible for putting “I SPY” on the air. At first, “I SPY” was going to be taken off the air, because the pilot film, or the test film, as it was called, that we made in Hong Kong in November of ‘64 was so bad that, in fact, it had to be buried in Christmas week of the following year.” Culp makes the statement matter-of-factly. “They looked at it and said, ‘Let’s recast Cosby, or cancel the show.’”


“I said, ‘Please tell them, they’ve got to relax. This guy is going to be dynamite.’ Two of my shows, my scripts, were in post-production when they made up their minds to cancel it, and to pay Sheldon Leonard off for the thirteen episodes commitment. And let the whole thing die.” Culp’s voice is still unemotional, clear, precise. “‘So Long, Patrick Henry,’ which I had written, and co-starred Ivan Dixon and Cicely Tyson, was far enough into post-production that they said, ‘Oh, well, okay. If that’s what you’re about, we’ll let you get a start.’ So they put it on the air. And the rest is history. But I wrote those first four, that’s ‘So Long, Patrick Henry,’ ‘The Loser,’ and two others. From the beginning, I knew we were going to be in trouble on the writing, because I knew the only person who was going to be able to zero in on the dialogue for Bill and me was going to be me. I could feel it instinctively when Bill and I were first working together, in that so-called test film. So I closed the doors and locked them and turned off the phones for four months and wrote the first four. I didn’t tell anybody I was doing it. I just kept handing them in. Now, we had some arguments about that, because I was being unilateral about it, but nevertheless, Sheldon said, ‘Well, take them anyway, they’re still good scripts,’ and they, plus the next three, I wrote seven altogether, including the pilot, were all produced. ‘Home to Judgement’ was the last one I did. I just didn’t have anymore energy.”

continued .....

Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 8

June 23rd, 2003, 8:48 am #8

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 8

DON’s Interview 2 - Part 5

ROBERT CULP - Building A Career in The Hollywood Jungle by Don McGregor (StarLog No. 55, February 1982)

“I SPY,” of course, was the first series to have a black star, a black hero.

“This is real history we’re talking about,” Culp says, intensely. “Let’s get it real straight. I’ve never dealt with this with anybody before. This is the first time the racial barrier was broken. I kept trying to tell the people who were trying to drive a wedge - a spike - between Bill and me .... and there were hundreds of them, Jesus! It was unreal. People coming around saying, ‘Take it from him. It’s easy. You can take it away from him.’ But, see, Bill had said that way on back. And I knew it was true. And I said to them, I never said it to him, I said, ‘If I do that, the series is over the next week. It’s finished, because we won’t be able to work with each other anymore. That’s how strong this is when it’s vital ... when it’s right ... and how weak it is ... how negative it is ... if it were to go wrong. ‘Cause we’re really dealing here with something that’s historical. That’s the beginning and the end.’ We said, and we agreed, that we were making a statement by the non-statement. I’ve said it a couple of times before but nobody’s ever gotten the quote right.

“We can make a statement,” he says, with quiet deliberation, choosing each word carefully, “for the world, forever, by making a non-statement.” And Bill said, ‘Okay, that’s real cute, but what does it mean?’ ‘We say nothing. We make no racial references. No watermelon jokes, No shoeshine jokes. No jokes of any kind having to do with race. That’s the way we make the message clear. We don’t make any statement, that’s “how” we make the statement.’ He said, ‘Gotcha! Hundred percent!’”

“But even with the agreement between the two of them, and the beginnings of one of the great screen teams, they still weren’t left alone.

“He had an agent, I had an agent,” Culp says. ‘I did not at that point have a personal manager, but he did. Every one of those people are counseling you to take it away from the other person. Every one of ‘em! Without fail! They can’t help it. They keep saying, ‘The other guy’s getting this, are you getting that?’ There was real good reason, on every side, to get hostile with each other and blow it away. But we didn’t. And we never will.”

“He’s the best partner a man ever had. I want that quote in there,” he says, with the same quietness, with the same warmth and friendship for that partner.

“The possibility exists that Cosby and Culp will come together again, not as Scott and Robinson, but for a new movie that Culp has written. There were rumors that there would be an “I SPY” remake, but they were all untrue.

“At the close of “I SPY,” Culp was approached to play John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. It was ideal casting, but the script done for “Darker Than Amber” caught none of the essentials of MacDonald’s book and Culp bowed out of the project.

“During the late ‘60s he made a documentary on black economics called “Operation Breadbasket.” He began production in the aftermath of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. He financed the project out of his own pocket and sold it to ABC when it was finished. He lost fifty cents on the dollar, but it is still one of his proudest achievements.

“In the ‘70s he gained custody of his four children from his second marriage and decided he wanted to devote more time to writing and directing. And then Stephen J. Cannell approached him to do the “Greatest American Hero,” and there he was, after saying a second time he would never do another series, caught right in the middle of one.

“He has recently finished scripting a “Greatest American Hero” episode that resolves a big conflict he had with the Bill Maxwell character.

“There is a big problem playing a geezer, with being the mentor, or the wizard, or whatever you want to call it, to Ralph. The figure that I’m playing is basically asexual, and that’s a “BIIIG” problem with me. From December 2nd to December 10th I’m directing, hopefully, Mariette Hartley and me in the piece that’s going to get me an Emmy. It’s a monster. The love scenes are unreal. I sent the script to Mariette, and she’s got a problem - a conflict - but she’s gonna try to work it out. I hope so because I don’t think anyone else can play it. This is the one where Maxwell falls in love with this dame who is an efficiency expert at the Bureau. It turns out she’s a KGB agent sent to kill him. The love scenes are between mortal enemies, and very funny.

“Culp sees the “Greatest American Hero” series as being a part of the universal myth. “I’m not positive that Stephen was aware of this when he created the series, but the myth that I’m talking about is the universal myth in every society, in every language for that matter around the world. Dig it! There’s a magician named Merlin, who knows about a sword in a stone. And when the kid or man comes along who can pull it out, he’s going to have magical powers. Everybody tries, everybody fails, and this little kids goes over and yanks it out. Every mythology has an old geezer who has wisdom, essentially, and the callow youth, the kid who doesn’t know anything but has the robust purity of innocence. And that’s Ralph. This is like “I SPY” in a lot of way. You take two really human, ordinary people, and drop them into remarkable situations. There is no camp involved in this. It has to do with two real people trying to deal with the impossibility of the situation they’ve been dropped into.”

“In a business where ethics are sold at the price of a contract, where greed is as infectious as the lure of gold in the Sierra Madres, Culp has maintained the values he learned as a child.

“His grandfather would be proud.

“Finally, when asked about his views on the Moral Majority, which threaten what can appear on the medium in which he works, Culp answers carefully. “I don’t know exactly what to say, because you don’t know what to say to a bully. Your instinct is to put up your dukes or pull a gun. And what we’ve got here is guys who are trying to seize power - for money - money and nothing else - Rev. Falwell, Sun Myung Moon, the cats who run the Hare Krishnas - all these men are the same. They are Christians. They believe in Christ, and what they want to do is knock down their neighbor, when, in fact, they ought to observe Christ’s most personal maxim: Let he who is without fault cast the first stone. Period. End of report.”



Don - THANK YOU for an amazing interview!

As ever,
Tatia (a posting from Don McGregor follows next)


Joined: December 17th, 2001, 6:53 am

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 9

June 23rd, 2003, 8:53 am #9

The BEST Culp INTERVIEW Ever ... Part 9

BEST INTERVIEW EVER ...   Don McGregor's Follow-Up Letter!


(This is re-posted from 3/2/00)

....  Don sent this along after we first posted the Interviews ....


Thanks for your kind words about the interviews with Bob. I was pretty select in doing interviews, normally only with people and/or topics that I was passionate about. The editor, Howie Zimmerman, understood this, especially being a comics fan who had chronicled some of my battles with Marvel Comics over the BLACK PANTHER and KILLRAVEN series, among others. So, it was agreed that while I would cover GREATEST AMERICAN HERO in the interview, that what I really wanted to do was a long piece about Bob's career. And Howie knew I wouldn't turn down doing an interview with Bob.

However, my wife, Marsha, will tell you, it is the ONLY interview I ever did that I researched and had a questions list prepared. I didn't need it. Bob was such an inveterate story-teller and he took me into areas I had no knowledge about that it went in many different directions.  However, despite having made the deal that this would be a two-part interview, there were still lots of things I couldn't get into these pieces. Great stories.

{{DON ... we’d STILL love to hear those stories that were left out :-) .....}}

When Bob and I started the second interview he'd by then read DETECTIVES INC. and RAGAMUFFINS. When he told me how much he enjoyed RAGAMUFFINS and how the first story brought tears to his eyes, I had to tell him, "TILT!" I'm supposed to tell you how much I've enjoyed your work and what it's meant to my life, and how, like people like Evan Hunter, Ian Fleming, Sterling Silliphant, Bill Cosby and Bob, well, let's put it this way, I'm not sure who I would be as a human being and a story teller.

I should also note that at the time I hadn't seen any TRACKDOWN episodes, since I was a kid. I know I knew about the show, and had trading cards that included TRACKDOWN. In fact, I made up and wrote my own story for the backs of the trading cards, and pasted them onto the cards!  

He took me to lunch at the Russian Tea Room with Candace, and we had a great time, except I wanted to ask him questions, and he wanted to ask questions about comics, and loved looking at original art.

{{I had asked Don if knew anything about the “I SPY” movie script that Bob had written ...}}

While it would be Bob's business to discuss his I SPY MOVIE VERSION, I will say it was totally in keeping with who Scotty and Kelly are in the series. My guess is the producers thought they'd be getting a LETHAL WEAPON clone, because in their minds that's what they thought I SPY was. But as Dennis Miller says, "I could be wrong."

I'm sure if you went into the DETECTIVES INC. page: A TERROR OF DYING DREAMS you saw the sequence on Culp and Cosby and jello pudding pops.

And that Top 10 list was off the top of my head. I keep feeling remiss for not including THE TROUBLE WITH TEMPLE in there. Great use of locations. A nice fight between Bob and Jack Cassidy. Bill being brain-washed and doing Fat Albert. And a classic Cosby/Culp sequence at the end over Scotty's relatives and shirts.

Or as Rainier once said to Denning, "The bizarreness of your Captain Queeg-esque mind." Just part of the things I wonder about.



...... and you can visit Don's website at:

or you can stop by his discussion group ONELIST if you’d like to say hi!