R.I.P. Robert Culp

Robert Culp had more than "The Greatest American Hero" as his Sci-Fi cred.  He starred in 3 episodes of the original "Outer Limits" TV show, two of which are very well known.  "Architects of Fear" had him, as one of the few unmarried men in the space program, undergo a transformation into the Alien-of-the-Day, but which instilled the viewer with a great sense of loss as his entire personality subcombed to the completeness of the transformation.  This episode was also known to have been the only episode of the "Outer Limits" to be censored, as the visage of the alien creature was so horrific that black boxes were superimposed on the screen to cover the sight of the fully-transformed being.  It would be considered comically tame by today’s standards.

 

"Demon with a Glass Hand" marks the first time Culp worked with infamous writer, Harlan Ellison.  Ellison offered great praise to Culp, calling him very intelligent, and they maintained a great friendship for untold years.  Though they had not previously met, Ellison wrote this script with Culp particularly in mind.  "Demon with a Glass Hand" was also a point of litigation, along with Ellison’s other "Outer Limits" script, "Soldier", for together, Ellison was able to declare that "The Terminator" was based on these stories.

 

Culp played multiple spies of the day, starring in "I, Spy" groundbreaking as the first truly respectable black/white buddy team where the characters considered each other equals (though Culp still got most of the girls).  He also guest starred in other spy genre including, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", "Get Smart".

 

Hitting the most popular genre of the day, Culp appeared in many western television shows, and a few doctor genres.  With the 70’s came many detective show guest spots, not to mention the obligatory "Love Boat" episode.

 

Despite what the general public remembers him for, as fandom people we tend to remember him best as Bill Maxwell in the 80’s show, "The Greatest American Hero".  For great, great Culp Action, please see episode number 2, "The Hit Car."  This writer acquired an endearing affection for Culp in understated, muttered lines in a hallway at a courthouse, about three-quarters the way through the episode, as he finally realizes the truth of the situation their characters are in.  Later, Maxwell purposely taunts a dangerous gunman in an Italian restaurant, dumping his plate of spaghetti in the man’s lap.  Delivered with perfection, Culp’s grandstanding line is, "You got a little sauce…on your shirt…" and he walks out.  Also, please see, "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" (episode 6) for a heart-wrenching look at an actor who must play a stoic character, yet who is emotionally hurt to his core by the failings of his personal hero.

 

Other Sci-Fi genre shows have included voicing the character Halceon Renard in "Gargoyles", and episodes of "Lois and Clark," and "The Dead Zone."

 

He played a character named Kelly Scott in an episode of "The Cosby Show" in 1987, but reprised his character of Kelly Robinson from "I, Spy" in a televised movie in 1994 and also in an episode of "Cosby" in 1999. 

 

He reprised his character of Bill Maxwell in a 2007 episode of "Robot Chicken".

 

This writer will be watching two episodes of "The Greatest American Hero" tonight.  And keeping a hankie closeby.

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