Robert Martin Culp (August 16, 1930 – March 24, 2010) was an American actor, screenwriter, voice actor, and director, widely known for his work in television. Culp earned an international reputation for his role as Kelly Robinson on I Spy (1965–1968), the espionage television series in which co-star Bill Cosby and he played secret agents. Prior to that, he starred in the CBS/Four Star Western series Trackdown as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman from 1957 to 1959.
Robert Culp in a publicity photo in 1965
|Born||Robert Martin Culp
August 16, 1930
Oakland, California, U.S.
|Died||March 24, 2010
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Sunset View Cemetery, El Cerrito, California, U.S.|
|Education||Berkeley High School|
|Alma mater||University of the Pacific|
|Occupation||Actor, scriptwriter, director|
|Spouse(s)||Elayne Carroll (1951–1956)
Nancy Ashe (1957–1966)
France Nuyen (1967–1970)
Sheila Sullivan (1971–1976)
The 1980s brought him back to television. He starred as FBI Agent Bill Maxwell on The Greatest American Hero and had a recurring role as Warren Whelan on Everybody Loves Raymond. Culp gave hundreds of performances in a career spanning more than 50 years.
Culp was born on August 16, 1930, in Oakland, California. He was the only child of Crozier Cordell Culp, an attorney, and his wife, Bethel Martin (née Collins) Culp. He graduated from Berkeley High School, where he was a pole vaulter and took second place at the 1947 CIF California State Meet.
Culp attended the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California but did not graduate. He later attended Washington University in St. Louis, San Francisco State, and the University of Washington School of Drama, but never completed an academic degree.
Robert Culp first came to national attention very early in his career as the star of the 1957–59 CBS Western television series Trackdown, in which he played Ranger Hoby Gilman, based in the town of Porter, Texas, of which he is also the sheriff.
In 1960 he appeared in two episodes of Zane Grey Theater, playing different roles in "Morning Incident" and "Calico Bait". Trackdown then had a CBS spin-off of its own, Wanted: Dead or Alive, with Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall. After Trackdown ended in 1959 after two seasons, Culp continued to work in television, including a guest-starring role as Stewart Douglas in the 1960 episode "So Dim the Light" of CBS's anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson. In the summer of 1960, he guest-starred on David McLean's NBC Western series Tate.
He played Clay Horne in the series finale, "Cave-In", of the CBS Western Johnny Ringo, starring Don Durant. In 1961, Culp played the part of Craig Kern, a morphine-addicted soldier, in the episode "Incident on Top of the World" in the CBS series Rawhide. About this time, Culp was cast on the NBC anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show and in the NBC Civil War drama, The Americans. Culp was cast as Captain Shark in a first-season episode of NBC's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964). Some of his more memorable performances were in three episodes of the science-fiction anthology series on The Outer Limits (1963–65), including the classic "Demon with a Glass Hand", written by Harlan Ellison. In the 1961 season, he guest-starred on the NBC's Western Bonanza.
In the 1961–62 season, he guest-starred on ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!. In the 1962–1963 season, he guest-starred in NBC's modern Western series Empire starring Richard Egan. In 1965, he was cast as Frank Melo in "The Tender Twigs" of James Franciscus's NBC education drama series, Mr. Novak. Culp then played secret agent Kelly Robinson, who operated undercover as a touring tennis professional, for three years on the hit NBC series I Spy (1965–1968), with co-star Bill Cosby. Culp wrote the scripts for seven episodes, one of which he also directed and an episode earned him an Emmy nomination for writing. For all three years of the series, he was also nominated for an acting Emmy (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series category), but lost each time to Cosby.
In 1964, Culp played Charlie Orwell, an alcoholic veterinarian, in an episode of The Virginian (NBC 1962-71) titled "The Stallion". That same year, he appeared in yet another Western, Gunsmoke. In the series' episode "Hung High", he portrays an outlaw named Joe Costa, who attempts to frame Matt Dillon for lynching a prisoner who had killed the marshal's friend.
In 1968, Culp also made an uncredited cameo appearance as an inebriated Turkish waiter on Get Smart, the spy-spoof comedy series, in an I Spy parody episode titled "Die Spy". In this, secret agent Maxwell Smart played by Don Adams in effect assumes Culp's Kelly Robinson character, as he pretends to be an international table-tennis champion. The episode faithfully recreates the I Spy theme music, montage graphics, and back-and-forth banter between Robinson and Scott, with actor/comedian Stu Gilliam imitating Cosby.
In 1971, Culp, Peter Falk, Robert Wagner, and Darren McGavin each stepped in to take turns with Anthony Franciosa's rotation of NBC's series The Name of the Game after Franciosa was fired, alternating a lead role of the lavish, 90-minute show about the magazine business with Gene Barry and Robert Stack. Culp played the murderer in three Columbo episodes ("Death Lends A Hand" in 1971, "The Most Crucial Game" in 1972, "Double Exposure" in 1973) and also appeared in the 1990 episode "Columbo Goes To College" as the father of one of two young murderers. He also played the murderer in the pilot episode of Mrs. Columbo starring Kate Mulgrew in the title role.
In 1973, Culp almost took the male lead in the sci-fi television series Space: 1999. During negotiations with creator and executive producer Gerry Anderson, Culp expressed himself to be not only an asset as an actor, but also as a director and producer for the proposed series. The part instead went to Martin Landau.
Culp co-starred in The Greatest American Hero as tough veteran FBI Special Agent Bill Maxwell, who teams up with a high-school teacher who receives superpowers from extraterrestrials. He wrote and directed the second-season finale episode "Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell", with free rein to do the episode as he saw fit. The show lasted three years from 1981-83. He reprised the role in the spin-off pilot "The Greatest American Heroine" and a voice-over on the stop-motion sketch comedy Robot Chicken. During that time, Culp was rumored to replace Larry Hagman as J. R. Ewing in Dallas. However, Culp firmly denied this, insisting he would never leave his role as Bill Maxwell. In 1987, he reunited with Cosby on The Cosby Show, playing Dr. Cliff Huxtable's old friend Scott Kelly. The name was a combination of their I Spy characters' names.
Culp had a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond as Warren Whelan, the father of Debra Barone and father-in-law of Ray Barone. He appeared on episodes of other television programs, including a 1961 season-three episode of Bonanza titled "Broken Ballad", as well as The Golden Girls, The Nanny, The Girls Next Door, and Wings. He was the voice of the character Halcyon Renard in the Disney adventure cartoon Gargoyles.
In I Spy Returns (1994), a nostalgic television movie, Culp and Cosby reprised their roles as Robinson and Scott for the first time since 1968. Culp and Cosby reunited one last time on the television show Cosby in an episode entitled "My Spy" (1999), in which Cosby's character, Hilton Lucas, dreams he is Alexander Scott on a mission with Kelly Robinson. Robert Culp also appeared on Walker, Texas Ranger as Lyle Pike in the episode "Trust No One" (February 18, 1995).
Culp worked as an actor in many theatrical films, beginning with three in 1963: As naval officer John F. Kennedy's good friend Ensign George Ross in PT 109, as legendary gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok in The Raiders, and as the debonair fiance of Jane Fonda in Sunday in New York.
He starred in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in 1969, with Natalie Wood. Another memorable role came as another gunslinger, Thomas Luther Price, in Hannie Caulder (1971) opposite Raquel Welch. A year later, Hickey & Boggs reunited him with Cosby for the first time since I Spy. Culp also directed this feature film, in which Cosby and he portray over-the-hill private eyes. In 1986, he had a primary role as General Woods in the comedy Combat Academy. Culp played the U.S. President in Alan J. Pakula's 1993 murder mystery, The Pelican Brief.
Culp appeared in the 1993 live action video game Voyeur as the game's villain, industrialist/politician Reed Hawke. He lent his voice to the digital character Doctor Breen, the prime antagonist in the 2004 computer game Half-Life 2. The video clip of "Guilty Conscience" features Culp as an erudite and detached narrator describing the scenes where Eminem and Dr. Dre rap lyrics against each other. He only appears in the music video. In the album version, the narrator is Mark Avery.
On November 9, 2007, on The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly interviewed Culp about the actor's career and awarded Culp with the distinction "TV Icon of the Week". Culp played "Simon", Blanche's beau, in the episode "Like the Beep Beep Beep of My Tom Tom" when Blanche needs a pacemaker on The Golden Girls.
Culp wrote scripts for seven I Spy episodes, one of which he also directed. He later wrote and directed two episodes of The Greatest American Hero, including the series finale. Culp also wrote scripts for other television series, including Trackdown, a two-part episode from The Rifleman, and Cain's Hundred.
Culp married five times and fathered three sons, Joshua (1958), Jason (1961), and Joseph (1963) and two daughters, Rachel (1964) and Samantha (1982). From 1967–70, he was married to Vietnamese-French actress France Nguyen (known as France Nuyen), whom he had met when she guest-starred on I Spy. She appeared in four episodes, two of them written by Culp. (Culp and Nuyen also co-hosted the second episode of the infamous TV comedy Turn-On in 1969, but the program was never shown, as the series was cancelled after its first airing.) His grandson, Elmo Kennedy O'Connor, is a rapper and performs under the alias Bones.
Culp took frequent walks in the Runyon Canyon, a park close to his apartment in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. On the morning of March 24, 2010, he left the apartment to go for a walk. Later, a jogger found him lying unconscious on the sidewalk close to the lower entrance of the canyon. Police officers and paramedics were summoned quickly, but they were unable to revive him.
Culp was taken to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center; but all efforts at resuscitation failed, and he was pronounced dead around 11:00 a.m. He was 79 years old. Although the first reports from the police suggested that Culp died from striking his head on the ground when he fell, it was subsequently determined that he had collapsed and died of a heart attack. The only apparent injury he had sustained in his fall was a minor cut on his head. Following that official investigation, Culp's body was buried at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito, California. Later, on April 10, 2010, a memorial service for Culp was held at Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, with his family, friends, and some of his fans attending.
At the time of his death, Culp had just completed performing a supporting role as "Blakesley" in the film The Assignment. Culp was also working on several screenplays at the time of his death. One of those screenplays, an adaptation of the story of Terry and the Pirates, had already been accepted for filming and was scheduled to start production in Hong Kong in 2012, with Culp directing the film. Terry and the Pirates had been Culp's favorite comic strip as a boy, and it was his long-time wish to make a film based on it.
- Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre in three episodes (1957–1960)
- Trackdown as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman in 70 episodes (1957–1959)
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents - "A Man Greatly Beloved" (1957)
- Bonanza as Ed Pason (1959)
- The Westerner as Shep Prescott in "Line Camp" (1960)
- Outlaws as Sam Yadkin in "Thirty a Month" (1960)
- Rawhide, season three, episode 12, "Incident at The Top of The World" as Craig Kern (1961)
- The Rifleman, two episodes (1960, 1962)
- Hennesey as Dr. Steven Gray in "The Specialist" (1961)
- The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor as Herbert Sanders in "Bad Apple" (1961)
- Target: The Corruptors! as Meeker in "To Wear a Badge" (1961)
- 87th Precinct as Curt Donaldson in "The Floater" (1961)
- PT 109 (1963)
- Sunday in New York (1963)
- Empire as Jared Mace in "Where the Hawk Is Wheeling" (1963)
- The Outer Limits TV - "The Architects of Fear", "Corpus Earthling", "Demon with a Glass Hand" (1963–1964)
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E., episode "The Shark Affair" (1964)
- Rhino! (1964)
- Gunsmoke, one episode (1964)
- I Spy as Kelly Robinson (1965–1968)
- Get Smart - "Die, Spy" (1968)
- Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
- Married Alive (1969)
- The Name of the Game - "Cynthia is Alive", "Living in Avalon/Little Bear Died Running" (1970–1971)
- Columbo - "Death Lends a Hand", "The Most Crucial Game", "Double Exposure", "Columbo Goes to College" (1971–1990)
- Hannie Caulder (1971)
- Hickey & Boggs (1972)
- What's My Line? (1972)
- Shaft premiere episode - "The Executioners" (1973)
- A Name for Evil (1973)
- A Cold Night's Death (TV movie) (1973)
- Outrage (TV) as Jim Kiler (1973)
- Match Game, five episodes (1973)
- The Castaway Cowboy as Calvin Bryson (1974)
- Houston, We've Got a Problem as Steve Bell (1974)
- A Cry for Help (1975)
- Police Story as Detective John Darri in three episodes (1975)
- Sky Riders as Jonas Bracken (1976)
- Flood! (Irwin Allen Production) as Steve Brannigan (1976)
- Spectre as William Sebastian (1977)
- Hot Rod as T. L. Munn (1979)
- The Dream Merchants as Henry Farnum (1980)
- The Greatest American Hero as Bill Maxwell (1981-1983)
- Turk 182 as the Mayor (1985)
- The Gladiator as Lt. Frank Mason (1986)
- The Blue Lightning as Lester Mclnally (1986)
- Murder, She Wrote as Norman Amberson in one episode (1986)
- The Cosby Show as Scott Kelly in one episode (1987)
- The Nanny as Stewart Babcock (1993)
- The Pelican Brief as the President of the United States (1993)
- Xtro 3: Watch the Skies as Major Guardino (1995)
- Most Wanted as Donald Bickhart (1997)
- Conan the Adventurer as King Vog in one episode (1998)
- Holding the Baby, one episode (1998)
- Everybody Loves Raymond as Warren Whelan in 11 episodes (1998)
- Chicago Hope as Benjamin Quinn in one episode (2000)
- NewsBreak as Judge McNamara (2000)
- Running Mates as Sen. Parker Gable (2000)
- Hunger as the Chief (2001)
- Farewell, My Love as Michael Reilly (2001)
- The Dead Zone as Jeffrey Grissom in one episode (2003)
- The Almost Guys as the Colonel (2004)
- Half-Life 2 video game, voice of Dr. Wallace Breen (2004)
- Santa's Slay as Grandpa (2005)
- Half-Life 2: Episode One video game, voice of Dr. Wallace Breen (2006)
- Robot Chicken as Bill Maxwell/Sheriff of Nottingham in one episode (2007)
- Obituary The Times, April 5, 2010.
- Grimes, William (March 24, 2010). "Robert Culp, Star in 'I Spy,' Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2010.
- McLellan, Dennis (March 25, 2010). "Robert Culp dies at 79; actor starred in 'I Spy' TV series". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 25, 2010.
- "California State Meet Results-1915 to present". Hank Lawson. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
- Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 103–06
- Robert Culp on IMDb
- Starburst issue 8 (April 1979)
- Profile, imdb.com; accessed February 27, 2016.
- "L.A. Rapper Bones Has Some of the Eeriest Videos in the Music Business, and a Sound All His Own". Retrieved February 27, 2016.
- Tucker, David (2010). "Robert Culp", Find a Grave memorial (50168919) with biographical profile and related photographs created March 24, 2010. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
- "Robert Culp Dies", World History Project, 2010. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
- T. Rees Shapiro (March 25, 2010). "Robert Culp dead; actor conveyed charm and wit on TV's 'I Spy'". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 27, 2016.